Security operatives yesterday tear-gassed Rivers State governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the April 11 election, Dakuku Peterside, and Senator Magnus Abe at the headquarters of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Abuja.
Peterside and Abe led a team of 48 candidates who contested in various elections in the state and reporters to submit a protest letter to INEC’s Acting Chairman, Hajia Amina Zakari, against the state Resident Electoral Commission (REC) for allegedly refusing to give them certified true copies (CTC) of the materials used in the elections.
The APC candidates, who arrived at the INEC headquarters at 11:15am, were prevented from getting close to the gate by a combined team of mobile police and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC).
The security agencies insisted that the team would not be allowed to go beyond the barricaded areas since it had no prior information of the visit.
INEC’s Deputy Director in charge of security, Victor Egbun, told the party stalwarts that they could only send a representative to meet the commission’s acting chairman and submit their protest letter to her.
The team comprised former House of Representatives members, like Andrew Uchendu, Otelemaba Amachree, Dawari George, Igochukwu Aguma, former members of the Rivers State House of Assembly and Rivers State APC Chairman Denis Ebiamo Ikanya.
The security officials threatened to shoot the party chieftains, if they crossed the barricaded areas.
This forced them to raise their voices and move towards the INEC gate, which the security operatives had locked.
As the APC chieftains approached the gate, chanting solidarity songs, the security officials released some canisters of tear gas in front of them and reporters to disperse the crowd.
Peterside said: “We are candidates of the APC at various categories in the last elections. We are here to register our protest to INEC.
“Immediately after the elections, in accordance with the law, we applied for the certified true copies of documents used in the conduct of the elections.
“It is unfortunate that till date, we have not got the certified copies of the election materials, even when it is clear in the law that it must be released within seven days of receiving the application. As if that was not enough, we have approached various tribunals, which have also ordered the release of the materials. But unfortunately, those orders have not been complied with till date.
“We do not have the documents to prosecute our cases. INEC in Rivers State has done everything humanly possible to frustrate our cases at the various tribunals. Dame Ghesilla Khan, who is Rivers State REC, has insisted that she was under instruction from the national office not to release the documents to us. That is why we are here to deliver our protest to INEC’s Acting Chairman.
“We have written between 26 and 27 petitions on this issue and we have not got any serious response. We are aware that the acting chairman has made several memos to the Rivers REC, asking her to comply with the law by releasing the required materials. But she has wilfully refused to comply with the law by releasing and properly certifying those documents for us to use to prosecute our cases at the various tribunals.
“All we need is for INEC to abide by the law, by releasing to us all the certified materials we have requested for. We are not asking anybody to do us any order favour. The Electoral Act is very clear: if you apply within a period of seven days, those documents must be released to you.
“I am shocked that our peaceful request and visit today was greeted with canisters of tear gas which INEC officials have ordered their security operatives to suffocate us with.”
Senator Abe expressed surprise at the way security officials treated the APC team.
The lawmaker urged the government to investigate the incident.
He noted that INEC security officials violated the delegates’ human rights by using tear gas, since they were peaceful.
Abe said: “This singular act of the Rivers REC, if not checked, could lead to a breach of the peace in the state. Our simple request is now being frustrated by the same INEC that caused the crisis in the state. The only way to ensure peace in Rivers State is to ensure that INEC obeys the law and releases those documents to allow our cases to be determined by law. We, as law-abiding citizens, will obey the outcome of our cases at the various tribunals.
“But a situation where the same person, who created this same situation, is allowed to frustrate the case, I do not know how our people would take that. Nigerians need to be aware that Rivers State is still a flashpoint, if these issues are not dealt with expeditiously…”
INEC’s Director of Security, Shettima Ngilade, after two hours, urged the APC team to obey the directives of INEC Acting Chairman and send only their representatives.
He said: “…This is a public place. We cannot refuse you entry into the premises; we have procedures of doing things.
“With the way you arrived, we had every reason to fear because even the Rivers State Electoral Commissioner is inside, meeting with the Acting Chairman. There was no prior information about your coming to the commission for us to arrange so that you can see the Acting Chairman.
“What we can only do here is to allow a few of your representatives to go inside and meet with the ACTING Chairman or you hand over your protest letter to us to give her. We cannot allow you to move in this your numbers.”