The undersigned organizations of the Ijaw People (Ijaw Elders Forum, Ijaw Professionals Association, Ijaw Nation Forum, Ijaw Women Connect, and Embasara Foundation) view with serious concern the numerous disturbing signals arising in relation to the forthcoming local government elections in Bayelsa State earlier scheduled for July 2019 but now slated for 10th August 2019. Bearing in mind the importance of a virile local government system, the emphatic enshrinement of a democratic electoral process by the 1999 Constitution for local governments, and the imminence of governorship elections in the state later in the year, we find it urgent to call on all relevant government authorities, especially the Bayelsa State Independent Electoral Commission (BSIEC) and the Bayelsa State Government, to take every step and precaution necessary for the conduct of rancour-free LG elections that will earn the trust of the electorate, avoid bloodletting and genuinely bring government close to the people.
This serves to also remind all political parties, civil society platforms and the general Bayelsa populace to be vigilant against any attempt to deny the people the benefit of the plain constitutional guarantee of a democratically elected local government system. Every lawful step must be pursued to enforce our collective vigilance in these local elections and the gubernatorial elections following afterwards in the year. The collective resolve to reject imposition, violence and electoral manipulation, both at the internal party level and on election days, was loudly sounded by the cross section of Ijaw political and civil society at the summit on credible and peaceful elections jointly convened by our organizations in Yenagoa on 22nd May 2019, with former President Goodkuck Jonathan (GCFR) attending in person as Special Guest.
The sudden resignation of the Chairman of the Bayelsa State Independent Electoral Commission, Dr Perekeme Bertola, on grounds of alleged threat to his life just a few weeks before the conduct of the elections warrants a full investigation followed promptly by prosecution of identified culprits, if any. We demand nothing less from the state government.
It is unfortunate that since April 2016 local government administration in the state has been vested in the hands of appointed caretaker committees. This is unconstitutional and has been declared so by the courts. Caretaker committees are an aberration to democracy and a mockery of the third tier of government. The coming elections should be managed in a manner that will not bring in another set of caretaker committees in disguise. In this regard, while we acknowledge government’s effort in starting the process for the conduct of the elections after the long limbo, we urge the Bayelsa State Government to address the misgivings expressed against the appointment of Mr Ball Oyarede as the new Chairman of BSIEC based on allegations that he is a member of the ruling party in the state, the Peoples Democratic Party. This will help in avoiding a credibility trap for the elections, more so as thirty-two (32) political parties have reportedly threatened to boycott the polls if his appointment is not reversed and a clearly neutral person is not appointed.
It is further worrisome to hear complaints that some of the major parties in the state are bent on imposing candidates for the local polls through all manner of devices, including issuing of nomination forms to loyalists handpicked as sole aspirants in some cases, thereby excluding all other aspirants from participating in the party primaries. We side with the people of Bayelsa State to insist that all parties must observe internal democracy and transparency in the process of nominating candidates.
BSIEC on its part has a constitutional duty to properly monitor party primaries and avert any imposition of candidates, vote buying and other forms of electoral fraud that characterized the recent Presidential and National Assembly elections in the state and marred the credibility of their outcomes.
ALL ACTORS IN THE APPROACHING LOCAL GOVERNMENT ELECTIONS, INCLUDING PARTICIPATING POLITICAL PARTIES AND GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS AND ELECTION MANAGEMENT AUTHORITIES ARE PUT ON NOTICE that their actions in ensuring that rules are followed are being monitored to measure their commitment to uphold the will of Ijaw Nation for credible elections to hold. We would also appreciate that all such actors work together to ensure that there is no violence or destruction of lives or property, a goal which we pledge to cooperate with them to achieve.
Our undersigned organizations and likeminded stakeholders across Bayelsa State and Ijawland shall be unwilling to cooperate with any local or state government administration that emerges from a flawed process where violence, intimidation, imposition of candidates or vote buying is identified.
It is time for Bayelsa State and the wider Ijaw Nation to depart from the culture of electoral charade and violence that have marked Nigeria’s journey since 1999 and particularly stagnated or assailed democratic evolution, sustainable development and social harmony in Ijaw land and the Niger Delta region in general. This is our chance to show that we can get it right. We must not miss it.
Signed this 7th day of June 2019
FOR: IJAW ELDERS FORUM, IJAW PROFESSIONALS ASSOCIATION, IJAW NATION FORUM, IJAW WOMEN CONNECT, AND EMBASARA FOUNDATION
Gen. Paul Alaowei Toun (rtd) Pastor Efiye Bribena Iniruo Wills
Elaye Otrofanowei Ben Okoro Denzil Amagbe Kentebe
Rosemary Graham-Naingba Geoffrey Kwale Ibiba Don-Pedro