The Nigerian military on Saturday commenced a public relations effort to clear itself of responsibility for last week’s botched governorship election in Bayelsa State. Last Monday, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had cancelled polling results from Southern Ijaw local government area, declaring the Bayelsa election inconclusive.
Earlier, voting in Southern Ijaw was shifted from December 5 to December 6, and continued till the early hours of Monday December 7.
Domestic and foreign election observers had criticized the military. In a joint report issued by the Transition Monitoring Group (TMG), the observers stated that the military disappointed Nigerians in their conduct in the Bayelsa election.
Rattled by the criticism, Brigadier-General Stephenson Olabanji, Commander of the 2nd Brigade of the Nigerian Army, read a prepared statement, but declined to take questions from reporters, further stoking suspicion of the military’s complicity in the messy elections.
General Olabanji, who addressed the press conference along with Police Commissioner Nasiru Oki, disclosed that the Operation Safe Conduct, comprising all security agencies, oversaw the election.
He stated that some thugs armed with dangerous weapons tried to disrupt the smooth process of the election, despite the presence of soldiers and other security agents. He added that some 17 suspects were arrested for violence that marked the December 5, 2015 governorship election in Bayelsa.
The general disclosed that troops were deployed to all the eight local government areas of the state for the election, but noted that some flashpoints like Southern Ijaw and Ekeremor were more volatile than others.
“In Ekeremor local government area, three youths were apprehended with suspected stolen 30 PVCs,” said the officer.
“Similarly, on 6th December 2015, along Olugbobiri River, a speed boat carrying 9 persons was intercepted carrying 5 AK47 rifles and some ammunition.
“The suspects were duly handed over to the Nigerian police for further investigations.
“In Southern Ijaw, troops met a highly tensed situation caused by members of contending political parties.
“There was also information on the high influx of arms into the communities particularly in Oporoma, the headquarters of the local government.
“Sporadic gunshots were later heard from Oporoma where it was discovered that unidentified rival gunmen had entered the community in [an] attempt to storm the INEC collation center and hijack sensitive materials,” the general said.
According to him, the action of the gunmen had compelled the military to respond swiftly in order to track down the electoral materials.
“Consequently, there was [an] exchange of fire which led to the arrest of five suspects and recovery of five AK 47 rifles and some ammunition, and the suspects also handed over to the police,” he stated.
General Olabanji said the election was postponed till December 6 2015 to enable the tension in the area to calm down. He blamed the unfortunate and sudden appearance of one of the candidates for fueling the already charged atmosphere in Oporoma.
The military officer urged residents of Bayelsa State to be wary of armed men who might be dressed as security agents but without proper identification, adding that his command was committed to boosting the confidence of the civilian populace.