APC feels the heat as Rivers post-poll violence continues


APC-Logo1The 2023 general elections may have come and gone, but the fallout and leftovers arising from the activities of the two main political parties, the All Progressives Congress and the Peoples Democratic Party in Rivers State, have continued to unsettle the political space and keep residents and people in the state in anxious suspense.

Backlashes and reactions continue to greet the conduct of the political parties and their members, as well as the electoral body, the Independent National Electoral Commission on the February 25 presidential and National Assembly polls and the March 18 governorship and state House of Assembly polls.

Needless to say, it all began on March 31, 2023, when the APC governorship candidate, Tonye Cole, his deputy, Dr Innocent Barikor; the party chairman, Chief Emeka Beke, and a couple of other party leaders stormed the headquarters of the INEC office to protest the commission’s refusal to provide them with the certified true copies of election documents, such as result sheets, to enable them to file petitions at the Election Petition Tribunal.

Somewhere in the mix, during the protest, Cole himself decried the attitude of the INEC officials towards him and his party. He said, however, after speaking with the Resident Electoral Commissioner, Dr Johnson Sinikiem, probably on the telephone, he assured him that something positive would happen the following Monday.

Visibly distraught, Cole, who spoke to newsmen at the INEC office, said, “Give us what we need so that we can go to court. Let us go to the tribunal and present a case. But if you release documents to us a day before the tribunal, what do we do?

“I have spoken with the REC; he has promised that by Monday something will happen. So we will be back on Monday.”

Also, three lawyers preparing petitions for the APC to challenge the governorship results were arrested by police early Saturday morning at a hotel in Port Harcourt, along with five of their support staff.

The lawyers attached to Tuduru Ede’s chambers, including a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, were released a day later on self-recognition, while their support staff were granted bail.

Cole, while reacting to the arrest, described it as a “rude awakening,” saying, “More worrisome is that all our evidence was taken away. Now, can we trust that evidence when we get it back?”

The spokesperson for the state’s Police Command, Grace Iringe-Koko, explained in a statement after the release of the lawyers that they were arrested after it duly obtained a search warrant from the court, with which operatives stormed the hotel following a tip-off that some lodgers were printing ‘what seems like INEC documents, (including results).

She said, “Eight persons were arrested, and several documents, laptops, and printers were recovered,” she stated, adding that the suspects and the exhibits found on them were taken to the Police Surveillance Centre in the metropolis and later transferred to the State Criminal and Investigation Department.

Iringe-Koko, however, said it was during profiling that the police learnt that three lawyers were among the “suspects,” as the police image maker stated, including the details of how they were later released.

Cole, while condemning the arrest, said no amount of intimidation would deter him from reclaiming his “stolen mandate” insisting that he won the March 18 governorship poll, a process he posited was “hijacked and results changed.”

He also vowed to recover the documents seized from his lawyers by the police, a feat he eventually achieved.

In keeping with his promise to return to the INEC office on Monday, coupled with the assurances he got from the REC that something would happen, Cole, in company with a few of his lieutenants, neither bargained for what he saw nor what happened to him.

As early as 8 am, on Monday, April 4, 2023, over 1,000 people, comprising PDP members and their supporters, occupied the entire stretch of the Aba Road leading to the INEC office in Port Harcourt from the Waterlines junction to the GRA junction in a rage of protest.

Led by the Deputy Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly, Edison Ehie, and the Chairman of Ikwerre Local Government Area, Dr Samuel Nwanosike, the placard-carrying protesting PDP supporters blocked the entrance of the INEC office, insisting that the electoral umpire must allow for a joint inspection of CTC documents and results sheets used for the election.

Addressing newsmen at the protest venue, Ehie said, “What we want is a joint inspection. We have won the election, and we will not allow a situation where only one party will be allowed to do an inspection. INEC must do the right thing.”

Some two hours later, Cole, Barikor, Emeka Beke, and four others arrived at the GRA axis of Aba Road and attempted to move towards the INEC office but were stopped by the angry protesters.

Already heavily armed policemen and operatives of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps had barricaded the two junctions leading to the INEC office due to the protest with patrol vans and Armoured Personnel Carriers mounted in front of the commission’s office to prevent any damage to the property.

On hearing that Cole had arrived, the protesters, probably with infiltrators, allegedly raced in his direction and started pelting sachet water and stones at him.

The APC henchman was physically assaulted and almost brutalised, but for his details from the Department of State Services, who shielded him from a near mob attack and warned the protesting youths against coming any closer.

Within minutes, ear-splitting gunshots rent the air, with many of the protesters dispersing while more sporadic gunshots were fired into the air with the arrival of soldiers at the scene to ward off further threats and breaches.

Following the onslaught, a team of security operatives who mounted in front of the INEC office chased protesters who were near the building and thereafter joined their colleagues at the GRA end, which was the centre of the battle.

As expected, motorists and commuters ran for cover, while businesses, including banks nearby, temporarily shut their doors to customers to avoid being hit by a stray bullet.

At this time, Cole had been whisked away, as his entourage beat a retreat to prevent the violence from escalating, but two cars in his convoy were smashed and he reportedly sustained a back injury.

In the melee, One of the protesters who had been hit by a bullet, with his left leg dangling and bleeding profusely. He was immediately pulled from the floor and rushed to the hospital.

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