The winner in the bye-election that took place in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, on Saturday, is violence. Those who said the bye-election to fill a local assembly slot called Port Harcourt 3 was a test of power between the ruling PDP and opposition APC in the state may have been proved right. It was not a test of popularity but of power and access to violence.
Now, the most important factor in the state, violence, has made a bold move and has forced INEC to apply the law, suspension. Some say it is almost like a cancellation. The lesson has been learnt, which is that this time, the two parties are equally matched on force and that there can be no winner in any election in the state with violence as the arbiter. Guns began early to boom on election day around Diobu as youths freely moved about chanting slogans and carrying out violent actions even as the ban on movement seemed to affect only law-abiding citizens.
By noon, guns increased and teargas took over all of Emenike Junction area as the police battled with fearless groups. The boasts of leaders both parties to match force with force came to practical reality. Those who said you cannot kill all the people proved right as the youths massed everywhere and blocked everything. Those who said the security forces would stand bold also had a point as they too fought all the way, though on either side of the political divide.
Groups of youths pounced on any bag around Diobu and in front of St Andrews Primary School where collation was done.
INEC Obo Effanga who suspended the election at collation state said wild miscreants and hoodlums backed by those he described as heavily armed security men stormed the voting centres and destroyed, snatched and ruined voting materials and card readers.
The theatre was the state capital, Port Harcourt, which is dry land, which is the headquarters of all armed forces, DSS, Police, Army, Air Force, etc. It is left to be seen what would happen in the creeks and in rural areas where movement would be restricted by natural barriers and where there may be no reasonable presence of security agencies. Homes around Diobu were filled with teargas. A government run healthcentre likely with new born babies and the sick was filled with fumes.
The involvement of armed security personnel loyal to different political party lords in the state would mean that there would be no single authority and no central command for the armed forces in the elections of 2019. Thus, the combination of the actions of armed hoodlums from both parties and factional security forces loyal to different leaders would simply create huge violence that would never be impossible to handle by any person.
This could lead to unpredictable consequences and outcomes.
The test has been conducted and the signals are clear. Those who have something to do, now is the time, else…
Meanwhile, APC says it was leading before the suspension and wants the process concluded. The PDP has not made an official statement but private talks show they want it cancelled. This is another pointer.