By Simon Utebor, Yensgoa
No fewer than four police personnel on elections duty have drowned in a river in Bayelsa State on their way to Southern Ijaw Local Government Area of the state.
It was learnt that the incident, which cause has yet to be established, occurred during the by-elections holding across the two senatorial districts in the state.
It was further learnt that the deceased policemen were reportedly on their way to the place of assignment when the boat capsized.
Spokesman for the Bayelsa State Police Command, SP Asinim Butswat, confirmed the incident.
He said the boat capsized on their way to Oporoma, headquarters of Southern Ijaw Local Government Area of the state.
He also said the police authorities were yet to ascertain number and details of the police officers involved in the boat mishap.
Butswat said: “The command is monitoring the incident. From the information we gathered, there was a boat mishap and some of our policemen are declared missing and some have been rescued.
“But let me say that it was not an attack. It was a boat mishap. We cannot say that someone is dead because it will be too hasty to say so. Some may have swum to safety. It is when it is confirmed by medical personnel that we can say they are dead. For now, they are missing.”
It was also learnt that there were heavy shootings in Ekeremor, Southern Ijaw, Sagbama and Yenagoa.
It has yet to be established if people died during the shootings but the electoral umpire confirmed the shootings and alleged snatching of ballot boxes in some places.
The Bayelsa State Resident Electoral Commissioner Cyril Omoregbe confirmed the shootings and alleged snatching of some electoral materials from INEC officials.
He, however, said all the pockets of incidents were few compared to over 1,000 voting points in the state, noting that they were not enough to discredit the outcome of the by-elections.
He said: “We are not looking for 100 per cent perfect in the election. Once we are able to get up to 85 per cent, we are satisfied.
“Despite our earlier warnings, most electorate did not comply with the COVID-19 directives. Our concern really is for free, fair and credible election, not on the enforcement of COVID-19 directives. Our earlier directive that without facemasks, not vote were not complied with.”
Also, the National Commissioner in charge of the by-elections in Bayelsa, May Agbamuche-Mbu, confessed that election materials arrived late in some of the polling units due to lack of security personnel at RACs.
She said materials left RAC centres late because they were waiting for police escort to provide cover for INEC officials meant to distribute them at different units.
She said on the part of INEC personnel, they complied strictly with the COVID-19 protocols.
The Bayelsa State Government says it respects the right of its people to elect candidates of their choice in any poll and will continue to cooperate with all stakeholders to create an environment that endorses peaceful coexistence.
Governor Douye, who voted in Sampou, Kolokuma/Opokuma Local Government Area early on Saturday, offered his heartfelt condolences to the Inspector General of Police and the entire force on the unfortunate death of some officers on elections duty to Oporoma, in the Southern Ijaw LGA for the Bayelsa Central senatorial bye-election.
Furthermore, he urged INEC to ensure that the people would be allowed to vote, that their votes would be counted and most importantly, that their votes would count.
He stated: “It is my further hope that unauthorised persons, including members of the security forces, party agents or observers will not interfere in the process of polling or the expression of the people’s right to elect candidates of their choice.
“It is of critical interest to our democratic journey that we continue to grow voter confidence, giving assurances that the outcome of our electoral contests are not perceived as products of violence, brigandage, intimidation or inhibition of the people from casting their votes according to their individual will.
“I wish to thank the good people of Bayelsa State for their maturity, support and being law-abiding in the course of my administration with regard to what has been a difficult season.
“We are monitoring events from the various polling units and wards and will make appropriate statements as events unfold. We look forward to to a new era of elections in Bayelsa State, devoid of violence and bloodletting, where the manifest choices of the people will be reflected in the final results.
“In the meantime, we encourage all citizens of Bayelsa to please feel able to continue to go about your legitimate business without fear, let or hindrance.
The candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party and former Governor of Bayelsa State, Chief Henry Seriake Dickson, voted in the senatorial by-election in his country home of Toru-Orua.
The former Governor, who voted in company with his wife, Dr.Rachael Dickson, said that preliminary reports indicated an impressive turnout of voters.
Dickson commended the electoral officers and security agencies for the impressive level of conduct and urged them to sustain their vigilance until a winner is returned at the end of the election.
He stressed that it was his expectation that the displayed level of professionalism was sustained to prevent people with dubious intent to distort the process.
He said: “As I voted this morning at my polling unit at Toru-Orua, I was glad to see that voter turnout was impressive and from available preliminary reports from other units and wards, there is indication of a massive and impressive turnout.
“I want to thank the officials of the electoral body for their professionalism and we hope and expect that this level of conduct is sustained to the very end culminating in a return.
“Every election is in stages. Voters will come out en masse, get accredited and vote and after that, other processes also continue up to the declaration.
“I thank the security agencies for their vigilance so far. Once again, I expect that this level of professionalism is sustained throughout the process because very often during collation, people try to do funny things and so on.”
He thanked the people of the senatorial district for the sustained support for him all through his years as a former member of the House of Reprewentatives and as governor for eight years.
Also, Bayelsa State Deputy Governor, Senator Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo, has applauded the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for the measures taken so far to sanitise the conduct of elections in the country.
Ewhrudjakpo gave the commendation while speaking with newsmen shortly after casting his vote at about 8:50am in the Ubrogbo polling Unit Six of Sagbama Ward 4 in his hometown of Ofoni.
He noted that INEC’s Innovativeness in terms of easing the voting process and management of the result sheets would not only promote transparency but also restore the people’s confidence in the electoral body.
Ewhrudjakpo, who described the voting process in his community as smooth and peaceful, maintained that INEC’s achievements in Edo and Ondo states as well as the success of Saturday’s bye-elections across the country would improve its current rating.
He, however, condemned the skirmishes that took place in some parts of Sagbama LGA, particularly in Agbere and Agoro communities where electoral materials were allegedly burnt.
The deputy governor who accused the opposition of masterminding the unfortunate incident, called on the Bayelsa political class to play politics with decency and integrity.
He said: “The opposition knows full well that the PDP will win the two senatorial bye-elections in Bayelsa fair and square, that is why they are resorting to violence and other undemocratic measures to mar the process.”
“As usual, I want to thank INEC for the process, which as you can see is going on smoothly and peacefully in Ofoni here. Let me thank them especially for the innovativeness INEC has brought to bear on the process in terms of its result sheets.
“It is a major step to prevent people from hijacking genuine results or bringing in fake results. We are sure that with what INEC has done in Edo and Ondo States, we and every right thinking Nigerian will appreciate, if they also get today’s bye-elections right.
“But let me use this opportunity to condemn the level of skirmishes in some parts of Sagbama LGA, which we believe are orchestrated by the opposition because they don’t even have a candidate.
“The report I have is that the materials for Ward One in Agbere and Ward 11 in Agoro were burnt down. That is not democracy. Politicians should do away with such negative electoral practices.
“INEC and the security agencies should rise up to the occasion so that the electorate out there can exercise their franchise so that we don’t have any unnecessary run-off because that is what some people are planning.
“But I’m very sure that we are going to win convincingly because Bayelsa West is PDP. Bayelsans should remain calm because what the opposition is doing is like a man who does not have anything in a boat trying to cause a wave to capsise the boat.”
In an interview, the INEC’s Presiding Officer, Miss Adebayo Ifeoluwa, and domestic observer under the auspices of Mission for Education, Social and Health, Archbishop Alex Eseimokumoh, also attested to the peacefulness of the election in Ofoni community.
The All Progressives Congress candidate in Bayelsa Central, Mr Abel Ebifemowei, alias Osuwo 1, said he was confident of victory in the poll.
Ebifemowei, who voted in his polling unit in Amassomma, Southern Ijaw, said though Amasomma had produced a governor before, it had yet to produce a senator, stressing that believed that by the grace of God, he would emerge victorious.
He urged the electorate to be peaceful and exercise their franchise, saying that the community was in a great and esctactic mood, waiting for the announcement of the result which he believed the APC would emerge victorious.