Unknown to most Nigerians, what they read in the newspapers, watched on screen concerning the violence that trailed last Saturday’s Governorship and House of Assembly elections in the South-South was a child’s play compared to what really transpired on ground.
Clearly, the leading challenge was armed uniformed men, not only harassing and intimidating them, but also snatching ballot boxes and assisting politicians to disrupt and rig elections. The bullying was so much that in some places, voters simply decided to stay off the polling units. They remained in their homes rather than go out and be killed, shot or injured by armed men, as was the case with some persons.
Many swore that the uniformed men they saw were men of the Nigerian Army and Nigerian Police Force, but the Army authorities had come out forcefully to deny that its men were responsible. It said the armed men on rampage during the elections were not genuine soldiers.
The brave women of Rivers
However, the women of Okirika in Okrika local government area and Ogu in Ogu/Bolo local government area, both in Rivers state, unarguably the heroines of March 9 polls in the geo-political zone, in the early hours of last Saturday, resisted the armed soldiers that visited their communities to snatch ballot materials.
This was barely two days after the invasion of the palace of the Amanayabo of Okochiri Kingdom, HM King Ateke Tom.
Armed personnel obviously at the behest of politicians stormed the communities to hijack electoral materials before and after voting, but they stripped half-naked and formed a human shield to thwart attempts by members of the armed forces to cart away the materials. They could not shoot the women and had to retreat, following their strong resistance.
The courageous Okrika women not only shielded electoral materials at INEC office in the community, they also provided security for the Commission’s ad-hoc staff in the voting centers. What propelled the women was their discovery that the invasion of the Amanayabo palace last Thursday by soldiers was chiefly to intimidate him and prepare grounds for the rigging of March 9 elections in the area.
HM Ateke Tom was not in the palace when the armed personnel struck, but when leaders of the community got information that politicians, who sponsored the raid on their king’s palace, had also concluded arrangement to send soldiers and thugs to cart away election materials from the INEC office in the local government, mothers and daughters mobilized to mount surveillance .
Some political strategists said the monarch, a former leader of the Niger Delta struggle, is one of the influential vote influencers for Governor Nyesom Wike. An informed source hinted, “The killings by soldiers at Abonnema during the Presidential and National Assembly elections at the instigation of a particular political party is still very fresh in the minds of the people, so to save their children and husbands despite political divide, they decided to take urgent steps to protect the materials before distribution.”
“That is the reason they mobilized to the place and behold at about 3.00 am, March 9, the Army came and the women, who lay on the ground in their numbers, barricaded the entrance, preventing the Hilux carrying the soldiers from gaining access to the INEC office.
The source told Saturday Vanguard, “Some of them actually undressed half- naked and lay on the ground when they saw soldiers coming; they also intensified their freedom songs and dancing, which perturbed the soldiers.
“The women also protected INEC ad-hoc staff by taking them to alternative routes without going through the main road where soldiers mounted siege. Okirika women also stationed themselves in each of the wards to safeguard the electoral materials.
“Due to what happened last Thursday when armed military men ransacked Ateke Tom’s residence, the chiefs came up with the idea of falling back to women. Both elderly and young women came together to protect electoral materials.
“Early this morning (last Saturday morning), at about 3.00 am, four vans of armed soldiers wanted to have access to the local government area when the women saw them, they lay on the floor half naked chanting. The soldiers had no choice than to leave,” our informant asserted.
Confrontation between Ogu women and armed personnel
In addition, Ogu women in Ogu local government, who saw the effectiveness of “women power” in Okrika on Saturday night, stayed back after voting at the collation centre and resisted soldiers, who later came to cart away ballot papers. An observer familiar with the Ogu episode, disclosed,
“On the February 23 presidential election, the military, police and APC stalwarts allegedly hijacked electoral materials of Ward 6, 7, 8 and 9, disenfranchising the electorate in the affected areas though the election was cancelled.
•Excerpted from a Vanguard report