The election that had generated so much tension in the state was characterized by widespread violence, diversion of electoral materials and intimidation. Hence, the decision of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to suspend polls in: Khana, Bonny, Gokana, Andoni, Tai, Eleme, Etche and Asari-Toru local government areas.
The rerun elections was necessitated by a Court of Appeal judgment which nullified the 22 House of Assembly, 12 House of Representatives and 3 senatorial seats won by the PDP in the March and April 2015 general election, following a petition by the APC challenging the results declared by INEC.
In the run-up to the elections, the APC was hoping that a good performance in some of the state and national assemblies constituencies could help it push its way through back to the corridors of power in Rivers State. But then, Governor Nyesom Wike, who was not a candidate in the polls, had fought hard to ensure that this does not happen because an APC in-road in the state legislature would have been a major setback to his firm grip on power.
But as the dust raised by the keenly contested combative elections settles, and the APC absorbs the results, it has to come to terms with the reality that the political dynamics in the state has changed.
Cognisance that the electorates most times would not evaluate a political party based on his party’s manifesto, but that they vote according to how they feel about a particular candidate, Governor Wike had consciously since the assumption of office in May 2015, attempted to address issues of infrastructural decay and delay in the payment of workers salaries which the past APC-led government in the state failed to tackled before it exited power.
While some of the APC candidates were indeed electable people, their party misread the sentiments on ground in the state. The APC also came late into campaign frenzy and appeared ill-prepared for the contest.
From the beginning to the end of their campaigns, the party was not really focused on issues of governance and on the candidates of the ruling party, but was busy castigating the state government. By failing to effectively campaign, the APC squandered the chance to seize power from the PDP.
Besides kicking off its campaigns late, APC hinged its confident to wrest political party from the ruling PDP solely on the Minister of Transportation and immediate past governor of the state, Chibuike Amaechi.
Considering the PDP’s popularity in Port Harcourt and Obio-Akpor councils, Governor Wike, awrae that the rural areas were likely going to be the real battleground in elections, spent considerable time since the polls were annulled to mobilise PDP supporters using the caretaker council chairmen.
The Supreme Court judgment, which validated Governor Wike’s victory in the 2015 governorship further, served as a morale booster for the PDP ahead of the re-run polls.
Prior to the polls, the PDP had attempted to taint the past administration as corrupt, hinging it on Amaechi administration’s inability to pay workers salaries and address the decaying infrastructural deficits before exiting office. Following vitriol verbal attacks between Wike and Amaechi, PDP had created the impression in the minds of the people that there was going to be massive deployment of security apparatus on the election day to pave way for INEC to subvert the will of people. The APC, however, did not adequately counter PDP’s propaganda.
A political analyst, Mr. Steve Woke, told The Guardian that the PDP had been successful at creating doubt in the hearts of its supporters and voters, causing them to feel that the election will be rigged, hence, the resistance seen in four Ogoni councils namely Eleme, Khana, Gokana and Tai where elections were suspended.
“Some of us had expected the APC to earn more seats, but the party misread the situation on ground. It had depended on Amaechi’s laudable performance in office during its governorship election campaign last year, and repeated the same during the just concluded rerun polls.
“A lot has changed in Rivers state. The PDP’s early start during the campaigning period gave it the necessary edge. If the APC had been more on the ground, they would have had a clearer picture of how voters actually felt about their last days in power.
The voting was merely sentimental than reasoning,” said Woke.
Another political observer, Mrs. Sandra Maduka, said the striking difference between PDP and APC supporters was that the PDP supporters have remained the feelers, the hands, and the feet of the party since the party’s attempt to wrest power from the Amaechi-led APC government since 2013.
“The PDP had governed Rivers uninterrupted between 1999 to 2013 when the then governor, Chibuike Amaechi, decamped to the APC. But then power returned to the PDP in 2015. The strength of party is in its numbers and this made it possible for the party to reach every constituent in the state to canvas for votes. I doubt if the APC possess the same numbers as the PDP who worked really hard to win voters back with their grassroots going around canvassing support” she said.
The rerun national and state Assemblies elections in Rivers State were characterized by violence, hijack of electoral materials and voters apathy.
Of note, is the scuffle that ensued on Saturday at the registration area center (RAC) in Abalama, Asari-Toru local government area, as APC and PDP members tried to undo each other in the bid to hijack the voting materials.
Amid the pandemonium, three white Toyota Hilux van conveying persons in police and army uniform stormed the place and opened fire on people. One person was allegedly killed and several persons injured. The gunshot, which lasted several minutes, forced people to, scampered into the nearby bush for safety.
Similarly, in Abonnema waterfront in Akuku Toru Local Government Area, argument broke out between APC and PDP members as election materials were about to be transported to riverine communities, particularly Kula. It was gathered that supporters of both parties had attempted to snatch the election materials. Amid the disagreement that ensued, some of the youths allegedly began shooting as well as detonated dynamite forcing people to flee the area while the materials were said to have been taken away by one of the parties.
The Assistant Inspector General of Police Zone 6 Calabar, Baba Bolanta, told journalists in Port Harcourt that the police arrested 24 suspects during the election comprising 22 males and two females. Bolanta said the suspects were currently in police custody and were undergoing interrogations on allegations of criminal and electoral offences.
He also stated that the massive deployment of police officers drastically assisted in leveraging the palpable fear associated with the re-run election, adding that pockets of security breaches were recorded.
Meanwhile, Governor Wike has declared that the rerun elections in the state have shown clearly who was on ground and which party was the accepted one by the people.
According to him, the rerun elections have proven that the control of INEC, Federal might, military, police and other security agencies do not translate to electoral victories, as the people will always resist agents of rigging.
The APC hopes now depended on the remaining constituencies in the eight local government areas where INEC has suspended polls.