At least one security operative was killed yesterday in yet another clash between unknown militants and a combined team of soldiers, policemen and officials of the Department of State Security Services, ahead of today’s rerun polls in Rivers State as tension continued to mount in the state.
This is coming on the heels of a road accident in which no fewer than 100 policemen escaped death.
The policemen, who were drafted from Akure in Ondo State for today’s rerun, were traveling in a police truck with registration number “NPF 5205 C”.
The truck collided with another truck carrying cows along the East-West Road near Akala-Olu community in the state and left several policemen with various degrees of injuries while at least five cows died in the accident.
There was uneasy calm as normal socio-economic activities prevailed despite the two-day public holidays declared by Governor Nyesom Wike on Wednesday.
In most parts of Port Harcourt, the state capital, residents rushed to make last minute purchases to beat deadline for the restriction of movement ahead of today’s state and national assemblies’ rerun polls.
The Nigerian Army confirmed that unknown gunmen killed a security operative in Omoku area of the state, during a shoot-out that lasted for hours.
According to the spokesman of the 2 Brigade, Port Harcourt, Captain Lazarus Eli, the gunfight took place in Egi, Omoku in Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Local Government Area of the state, where there have been raging battles among cultists and some political thugs.
Eli said that a joint military patrol made of soldiers, policemen and officials of the DSS were on a patrol when the gunmen attacked.
“A joint security team consisting of the army, police and DSS while conducting patrol at Egi in Omoku Community of Ogba/Ndoni/Egbema Local Government Area of Rivers State were attacked by unknown gunmen.
“The criminals engaged the security team for several hours before they were eventually dislodged. Sadly, a security agent lost his life in the unfortunate incident. Reinforcement has been sent to beef up security in the area and normalcy has been restored.
“The general public is hereby advised to remain calm and be law abiding throughout the election period and beyond as security agents will continue to work assiduously to ensure security of lives and property”, Eli said.
This is coming as Wike, the Director-General of the Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dakuku Peterside, and the Consul-General of the United States of America, Mr. John Bray, stressed the need for peaceful elections.
Wike and Peterside spoke differently in a last minute effort to show support for a free, fair and credible election.
The governor, who spoke when the US envoy visited him in the Government House, Port Harcourt, noted that the people of the state were committed to peaceful and credible polls.
He explained that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and security agencies must work within the law so as not to provoke violence, just as he condemned the death of soldiers in a gun battle with sea pirates.
Wike also denied that the killing of soldiers has anything to do with the rerun elections, but complained that result sheets were missing for some wards ahead of the rerun elections.
“Rivers State is key to this country. Let nobody think that anything can happen to Rivers State“, the governor said.
He commended the US government for showing interest in the election, urging the Consul-General to spread the embassy’s tentacles across the state in order to have a comprehensive idea of the rerun.
Peterside, who spoke with reporters in Port Harcourt, said there was no need for anybody to be intimidated, since security operatives would be around to ensure their security.
“The Federal Govern-ment has assured of adequate security during the rerun, nobody should feel intimidated and I urge the people to go out and vote for their candidates. There is nothing to fear because security agencies are there to protect you.
“Our people were intimidated and scared to come out to vote last year; that fear is still there, but we urge them that there is nothing to fear. That era is gone. Government has provided security for the election,” he said.
However, the US Consul- General noted that the American team was in the state as part of international observers and to ensure peaceful, credible, free and fair elections.
In the same vein, a coalition of accredited civil society groups has appealed to the security agencies to avoid being partisan during the election in order to make the outcome credible.
The coalition, made up of seven out of the 10 monitoring groups, also urged the security operatives to be peaceful and orderly in their interaction with civilians in order not to scare them away.
The Executive- Director of West African Network of Election Observers, Prince Herbert Ezechinyere, who spoke on behalf of the coalition noted that the populace stand to gain if security operatives play according to the rule.
He stated: “Security agencies should do their job professionally, they should not intimidate voters. They should resist any attempt by politicians to influence their call to duty. We also feel that over militarisation of the state may cause panic amongst the electorates”.
Ezechinyere also lamented the small number of civil society groups accredited to monitor the elections, saying are not enough, just as he urged the INEC to carry election monitors along in subsequent elections, while noting that election observers deployed to riverine areas were not given life-jackets considering the turbulence associated with the waterways.
Meanwhile, a group under the aegis of Ijaw Professionals Association (IPA) has criticised the federal government for what it described as militarisation of Rivers State and other parts of the Niger Delta to intimidate the voters.
The group in a statement signed by its Secretary- General, Mr Efiye Bribena, said: “The growing trend of deploying soldiers in large numbers to Rivers State is worrisome especially at a time when citizens are expected to perform their civic responsibility.”
The group also warned the authorities to avoid a repeat of what happened in Bayelsa State governorship election where several innocent lives were lost due to the alleged activities of the military, adding that “elections are civic matters and the police are well prepared to ensure adequate security of lives and property.”
The IPA maintained that military deployment would provoke the anger of the people and heighten the general restiveness in the Niger Delta region, if the trend is not checked.
“We find it difficult why troops have not been deployed to Agatu, Benue State, where innocent citizens are being slaughtered by armed Fulani herdsmen but troops are massively deployed in Delta State to intimidate and destroy the communities and the psych of the people.
The people of the Niger Delta are becoming restive and should not be further provoke to anger,” it said.
The group also enjoined stakeholders to ensure maintenance of peace during and after the election.
The IPA’s statement was coming on the heels of a court order, which barred the military from deploying soldiers for the election.
Specifically, the Chief of Defence Staff, the Brigade Commander of Amphibious Brigade and the Chief of Army Staff were restrained by a Rivers High Court from deploying soldiers for today’s rerun in the state.
Justice George Omereji of the Rivers State High Court sitting in Port Harcourt delivered the ruling in a suit filed by the state chairman of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Felix Obuah.
The court ruled that “an order of interim be made and is hereby made restraining, Chief of Defence Staff, Chief of Army Staff, Brigade Commander, 2nd Amphibious Brigade, whether by themselves, their agents, servants, officers and operatives or privies from interfering with the applicants right to freely participate”.
The judge also ordered the PDP to serve the judgment on the military in order to comply.