POLICEMEN and operatives of the Department of State Services manning the gates of the headquarters of the Independent National Electoral Commission on Wednesday assaulted the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress in Rivers State, Dr. Dakuku Peterside, and other candidates of the party in the last general elections.
The security agents fired tear-gas canisters at Peterside and 47 other APC candidates in the state elections, who had gone to the head office of INEC to protest an alleged refusal of the Resident Electoral Commissioner in Rivers State, Mrs. Gesila Khan, to release electoral materials for inspection by the APC, in accordance with the ruling of the Rivers State Election Petitions Tribunal.
A security operative also threatened to shoot a television reporter, who was recording the protest.
The APC candidate is contesting before the tribunal the victory of Governor Nyesom Wike of the Peoples Democratic Party in the April 11 election in Rivers.
The tribunal had ordered that the petitioners be allowed access to the election materials to enable them to show proof that the polls in the state were rigged.
The candidates, who arrived at the INEC HQ at about 11:15am, lamented that they had individually submitted petitions against Khan’s refusal to make the needed documents available.
Peterside, who led the other candidates during the peaceful protest, wondered why the REC had refused to comply with the order of the tribunal, complaining that the REC had claimed that she was working under instruction from the INEC headquarters.
A petition by the candidates, which was eventually submitted at INEC, read, “It is highly worrisome that the Independent National Electoral Commission, which ought to assume the position of an unbiased umpire, has now thrown caution to the wind and is now hobnobbing with the other respondents in the aforementioned petitions to frustrate the speedy and efficient determination of the petitions.
“The foregoing collaboration and partnership between the commission and other respondents to the petition is confirmed by the commission’s refusal to allow our expert inspect electoral materials, refusal to produce properly Certified True Copies and the series of objections filed by counsel for the commission, challenging the tribunal’s order for inspection of electoral materials.”
Rivers APC candidates who participated in the protest at the INEC headquarters included Senator Magnus Abe, Andrew Uchendu, Otelemaba Amachree, Chidi Lloyd and Victor Amadi, among others.
Rivers APC Chairman, Denis Ikanya, also accompanied the protesters to the commission’s headquarters.
Trouble had started at the INEC office when the security operatives refused to allow all the protesting candidates to personally present their grievances to the acting Chairman of INEC, Mrs. Amina Zakari.
Zakari was said to have instructed that she would only see three of the protesters.
The candidates, on arrival at the INEC headquarters, had been accosted by the security operatives at a checkpoint near the commission’s main entrance.
According to information learnt that Zakari and Khan were inside the INEC premises during the time of the protest.
The Deputy Director of INEC in charge of security, Mr. Victor Egbun, who had been delegated to meet with the protesting candidates at the outer checkpoint, had told them to nominate three persons to represent them at the meeting with the INEC chairperson.
Egbun told the protesters that it was the standard procedure at the commission.
“I plead with you to cooperate with us. Select three people to follow us to our office,” he had said.
But the candidates refused, arguing that they had different cases and complaints to make.
Abe warned that the candidates were running out of time at the tribunal, adding that “this chairman should not be shy to see visitors. We are not up to 50 candidates here; she can see us.”
The candidates were further miffed when the deputy director told them that his boss was with the Rivers State REC and could not see them.
Sensing that they could be denied audience, the protesting candidates, at 11:45, walked towards the commission’s main gate but they were accosted by security operatives, who asked the protesters to turn back.
However, the protesters refused to heed the security order and started chanting, “Shoot us!” “President Buhari must hear this.” “We will refuse to leave.”
By 11:49am, however, the security operatives started firing tear-gas canisters even as the protesting candidates, journalists and other visitors scampered away to safety.
The Director of Security at INEC, Shettima Ngiladi, who had rushed out to see what was happening at the gate, was speaking with the APC state chairman and some candidates when the incident occurred.