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Rivers of blood: Diary of a 2015 election reporter

Rivers of blood: Diary of a 2015 election reporter
April 17
11:10 2015
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Sunny offered us seats and assured us that all our belongings would be returned. He explained that some thugs working for the PDP diverted some of the electoral materials meant for the ward and took away six of the 10 result sheets and that the furious youths who were in search of the missing items transferred their aggression to us.

But Sunny seemed to be more interested in delivering his ward than attending to journalists who ended up victims of being at the right place at the wrong time. So he kept moving from one place to the other and we were again chased out of the shelter he provided for us.

‘CORPERS’ HELD HOSTAGE

A young man walked up to us and advised us to remove our jackets to avoid being targeted again. Shortly after, we ushered into a room where we found some corp members (two female and one male).

I later found out that the corp members were among the INEC ad hoc officials conveying the materials to the ward before they were attacked by alleged PDP thugs and that they were held in Omuanwa over the suspicion that they were working for the PDP.

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Is Rivers at war?

A lady, who had the figure of man walked into the room, pointed at them, “Where una keep result sheets?” And one after the other, they tried effortlessly to convince her of their innocence but that apparently amounted to nothing. The corps members heaved a sigh of relief when we came in, but it only lasted a while. A car was brought into the compound and with worries written all over their faces, they were conveyed to God-knows-where.

The trauma alone would make the victims develop cold feet. Some of the thugs sat on the bonnet of the car, some on the booth and others ran along with it. Wait! Stop! Move! They wanted to do all these at once. After about five minutes of indecision, the vehicle sped off, leaving behind trails of dust on a sunny afternoon. A villager who spoke in confidence revealed that the corp members were taken into the forest to thumb-print ballot papers.

I FINALLY MADE IT TO UBIMA

After waiting for hours, I proceeded to Ubima. Luckily, Donald Amadi, an indigene of Omuanwa, decided to join us. On our way, we saw a vandalised bus, broken bottles on streets and aggressive youths lining on both sides of the road.

We got to Ubima just as the governor was about to vote. Immediately I sighted David Iyiofor, the chief press secretary to the governor, I cornered him to explain the fate that had befallen Iseh and me. In fairness to him, he did his best to alert security agents to assist us. The governor even made reference to our case when he addressed the media after casting his vote at Ward 8, unit 14 in Ikwerre.

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Amaechi and wife at their polling unit

Iseh also called Chris Finebone, the publicity secretary of APC in the state, and we were a bit relieved that our valuables would be recovered, so we went about our duties, but this time around treading with caution.

Voters

The exercise going on smoothly at a polling unit in Rumueme

At a polling unit in Ozuaha, another community in Ikwerre, I asked a ‘corper’ who was the presiding officer, how the exercise was coming on, and she said it was going smoothly. That moment, my mind raced to her abducted colleagues in the forest. Different strokes for different for different folks.

AMAECHI LEADS THE BATTLE

Amaechi drives

Amaechi in action

As I was about leaving Ozuaha, Amadi told the driver to slow down in front of a sawmill. He pointed to the spot where the victim of the presidential election was hacked.

I had not recovered from the imagination of having blood spilled on that spot a fortnight ago, when I heard blaring siren. As I turned to my right, I sighted the governor’s convoy. I decided to move closer. Surprisingly, when the tinted glass of the first car wound down, I saw the governor behind the wheel. He spoke to a party member in the community in his native dialect for a few minutes before departing for other polling units.

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After about six minutes, he left for other areas.

THE SEARCH CONTINUES

Amadi led us round to look for Bestman. Someone hinted him that the man who was supposed to order his thugs to release our belongings was seen at the residence of Chief Chidi Wisioka, a prominent party member in Elele town, still in Ikwerre. So we rushed there immediately.

Unfortunately, he had left the house, and we kept moving from one place to the other, looking for him. At a point, we ran into another set of thugs. Rather than attack us, they wanted to use our vehicle to convey electoral materials that they had hijacked. We would never concede to such but how to explain to them remained the challenge. Subsequently, the driver devised a means. His vehicle developed an intended fault and the guys who were in a hurry opted for bikes. In broad day light, they carried about five sacks of hijacked ballot boxes on three different bikes.

Again, we started hearing gunshots from different angles and managed to escape to Omuanwa. Luckily, we found Sunny and he reassured us of recovering our things. He told us how he managed to escape death and narrated how a man was shot around the area we were robbed.

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The man shot at Omuanwa

Soon, PDP supporters started jubilating that they had won and the momentum in regaining our belongings began to peter out. I never knew that PDP was that popular in that community. A group comprising women danced; some children occupied an empty truck, waving flags of the party; and some youths rode carelessly on bikes, chanting “PDP! Power! PDP! Power” to the consternation of the APC folks, who gazed in utter disbelief.

GUNMEN BRANDISHING THEIR WEAPONS

A boy in his late 20s brought out a double-barrel gun and started firing in the air and people, including elderly ones, hailed him. At some point, he dashed towards the direction of a group assembled under a mango tree, pointed the gun at them and they all scuttled to safety.

He kept firing into the air like a hunter honouring a late colleague.

Another man dressed in a denim jean and T shirt walked up to Sunny and exchanged pleasantries. He brandished a silver pistol. Obviously mocking him (they spoke in their dialect).

In a jiffy, the guy with double-barrel came to us, and identified Sunny. With his hands raised in the air, he said: “Senior man, I tell una to empower me but una dey beat me. I fight for una, una abandon me. God dey. Na Wike go do am.

He released more shots and left.

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The vehicle that conveyed the electoral materials allegedly diverted by the PDP thugs. The APC hoodlums reportedly vandalised it in annoyance.

Sunny’s worries increased at this stage. He didn’t know whether to believe them or not. I kept pestering him for our things and he continued fiddling with his phone. He said he had run out of credit and Iseh offered him his phone to make calls. He dialed a number and immediately the conversation ended, he deleted the number. There and then, I gave up the hope of recovering any of my belongings, but with dusk approaching, I was afraid of the journey back to the hotel.

What if we were caught in one of the many crossfires? What if we were waylaid? So many thoughts ran through my mind. We set out eventually and when we got to a checkpoint and narrated our experience to the amiable officers there, they told us their own tales of owe: how they lost three officers, how a  corps member was killed when an INEC office in a community was set ablaze, and other disturbing occurrences.

ATTACK ON OTHER JOURNALISTS

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I later heard on radio that a correspondent of Channels Television was severely beaten and that some STV journalists sustained machete injuries. I read in Punch that four journalists (Ernest Chinwo of ThisDay, Dapo Falade of Nigerian Tribune, Bunmi Durojaiye of City People and Chukwudi Akasike of Punch) were trapped for about one-and-a -half hours, only escaping death by the whiskers at the Saint Michael’s Quasi Parish in B-Dere community in Gokana local government area, when unknown gunmen forced their way into a church premises in an attempt to snatch the five ballot boxes available at the polling units.

Different horrible reports! But in all, I have come to conclude that these politicians are more or less the same, and the one who outwits the other ends up carrying the day.

HAUNTING MEMORIES

Less than 24 hours after the election, some observers adjudged it as one of the freest in the history of our nation, but tell that to 22-year-old Joy Donatus, who not only turned into a widow in her prime but now has five children to cater to after losing her husband to electoral violence, and she would have none of it.

Some families across the nation have been giving ashes for ashes as they bid their fallen loved ones goodbye – your free and fair elections took them.

Yes, the elections were better, but they are far from what we deserve as a nation. The tears in the eyes of family members of those wiped away in minutes, orphaned by violence and left in excruciating agony of losing loved ones sing to our consciousness as a nation that we still have a long way to go.

For Nigeria, this Rivers (state) of blood must be transformed to a fountain of peace.

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