As election day approaches, SaharaReporters’s newest news partner, Niger Delta-based On Our Radar, has dispatched citizen reporters to cover the developments on the ground.
The On Our Radar team has shared their concerns about the rising tensions in their own communities, claiming that despite the recent signing of the anti-violence peace accord, there has been evidence of violent skirmishes and even deaths amongst supporters of the political parties. Intimidation tactics, they observe, are also on the rise, leading to fears that some voters may stay away from polling stations on the day.
As election tensions rise in some areas of the Niger Delta, it has been reported from Rivers State that religiously-inspired and cult gangs have been sponsored by politicians to use violence against opponents. Citizen reporters, like On Our Radar’s Eze Ahuju claim that violent skirmishes at Akabuka happened between PDP and APC supporters at a recent rally.
“Many youths were injured and bleeding. 5 people were killed in my community a few days ago,” Ahuju said. “The politicians are making use of cult gangs to attack opponents. The gangs are paid. They are ready to do anything. This may make people afraid to go and vote.”
“Many people I have spoken to here are voting Jonathan because he is Christian, he is their son. They believe God would want people to vote that way,” he said.
Isaac Cotterell, a citizen journalist from Port Harcourt City, reported that the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has heightened tensions in the region.“There is physical intimidation [by the PDP] - if you don’t vote for who they say you should vote for, you will be beaten up. The people are scared.”
Godgift Azeri, a resident of Bayelsa State, condemned the recent violence involving youth in the region, stating, “Voting is your right, voting is your power...but the absence of security forces mean that people are able to intimidate youths.”
“Everybody has been running. Party offices have been destroyed. People are worried for their lives. Both parties are just fighting each other. Everybody is afraid. It is scaring people,” Best Uso also added in his assessment of the political climate.
Some voters remain optimistic, though recognize there is cause for concern
Despite the rise in violent activities in areas across the Niger Delta, these issues are not yet widespread. Many remain optimistic that the 2015 elections may be conducted in a free and fair manner, though cautious.
Collins Newuwumi of Warri North, Delta State, says he has asked his wife to bring his children to Lagos, out of fear of violence on the part of Niger Delta militants might threaten his family’s safety. “I told my wife to take them [my children] to Lagos because we don’t know what might happen.”
Despite this, Newuwumi is hopeful that the contest will run smoothly. “The atmosphere here in Gbokoda (Warri North) is well. Both parties are doing their campaigns. The community is calm and both parties are preparing in a full manner, people are preparing themselves with their PVC.”
“The rumour that people are selling their PVC is just a rumour. Both parties are canvassing so they can have more votes, but the expectation from both parties is calm."
"Here in my community,” he adds, “it is a 50:50 thing who will win for now.”
“If APC [the All Progressives Congress] wins there are people clamouring that there will be a problem and tensions on the ground. The militants will cause the problems, the militants we have in the community - we have the Itsekiri and Ijaw and those are the people who are threatening the peace if APC wins. The current President is an Ijaw and they want him to remain for a second term, it is their home tribe and this is a major issue.”
Tension are slowly rising on both sides of the political fence, however. Supporters of the principal opposition party, the All Progressives Congress, are wary of and angry with the ruling party’s actions in the region.
“No one can tell you who to vote for”
Nkaiso Akpan, of the Obio/Akpo Local Government Area, Rivers State, reports that people he has spoken to are concerned that the PDP will “turn the state upside down.”
“Yesterday when I was in a cab one of the passengers was furious,” Akpan said. “He was saying that the PDP want to ‘turn the state upside down.’ He was from the APC and he said they [PDP] are going to cause problems.
“He said the PDP was intimidating others, and that they don’t want other people’s voices to be heard. He really was in anger.”
Akpan advises voters to allow the contest to be as safe as possible. “You don’t have to allow people to intimidate you,” he says. “You don’t have to vote for someone you don’t wish to vote for. You can put your PVC in your pocket and walk away. No one can tell you who to vote for.”
"I am feeling more positive - I feel that everything has been put in place and there will be a free and fair election,” he furthered.
“In terms of violence- Port Harcourt is the epicentre”
Though many concerns have arisen in the Niger Delta region, with just one day to the election, Roland Digieneni of Bayelsa State, says that the violence is mainly centered in Rivers State.
“The atmosphere is very tense in anticipation of the election. A lot of people have their PVC and everybody is looking forward to D-Day.”
“As far as intimidation is concerned, it is non-existent in my community,” Digieneni says. In terms of violence in these elections - Port Harcourt is the epicentre of these violent activities. They just struggle, the PDP, but not in Bayelsa State. In general, in Bayelsa the opposition party is well accommodated, even when General Buhari came for a rally there was no intimidation.”
“There is a lot of political maturity here and a spirit of accommodation,” he concludes.