Barely one month to the forthcoming off-season governorship election in Bayelsa State, OSA OKHOMINA writes on the alarming use of hate speeches, propaganda and name-calling by party leaders and their hired hands in the state.
The struggle for power has no doubt commenced in earnest in Bayelsa State ahead of the Governorship election holding there on 16th November, this year.
All the political parties in the race are bracing up for the contest, especially the ruling the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its major opposition All Progressives Congress (APC).
It has been observed that both the APC and PDP have kick-started the game with the hiring of social media influencers and aides with the marching order to make or re-post perceived derogatory comments about their opponents.
It is made easier by increasing numbers of Bayelsa indigenes and youths glued to their mobile phones daily monitoring deceptions, lies, propaganda and near truth posted by the agents of both parties.
The same pattern of hate speeches, name calling and blackmails have started in earnest with the state governor, Hon. Seriake Dickson and the ruling PDP identified as the main aggressor with his derogatory comments on the alleged poor processes that led to the emergence of the flag bearer of the APC, Chief David Lyon.
Dickson, in his attack, mocked the opposition party in the state, over the emergence of the flag bearer, Chief Lyon, predicting that the November 16 election is between an experienced candidate of the PDP and a “rookie” flag bearer of the opposition party.
Dickson said the opposition party in the state is not prepared for the November 16 governorship election and does not have what it takes to win any election under a peaceful and democratic atmosphere in the state.
The governor, who made this known during his monthly media chat at the Government House, claimed that due to ongoing litigation against the emergence of Lyon as flag bearer of the APC, the party does not have a validly elected flag bearer for the election.
While mocking the APC, the governor said though the validity of the APC flag is still being contested, he is a rookie and a stooge to some persons who will rule Bayelsa through the back door.
‘This election would be between an experienced PDP candidate and a rookie that was reluctant to run but they forces him. The primaries they did in Bayelsa was a charade. It was a desecration of rule and regulation of the APC,’ he said.
He said though his comments about the APC primaries may be misconstrued to mean interference; ‘I’m an interested bystander. PDP primaries threw up a genuine candidate but the APC denied the members of their party opportunity to vote. They simply cook up figures.’
‘As it stands today, APC does not have a validly elected flag bearer. I want everyone in the state to know that. The electoral act and the APC constitution is clear on that. You don’t become a candidate by being allocated figures in a hotel.’
On the preparations of the parties for the election, Dickson said: “This election is a very important election where you will either vote for stability or instability, security or insecurity, development or retrogression. But knowing the kind of people you are, I know the party you will cast your votes for.
“The candidates are all there. As a party, we are preparing to kick-start our campaigns. I know the other side (the APC) is not prepared for election. They are preparing to kill and maim. They are preparing for a fight and intimidation of our people.
“As usual, they are also preparing to write and announce fake results. But my party will be going out to all the nooks and crannies to talk to you the people. I urge you all to shun violence. Say no to those young men who are carrying arms and driving their fellow brothers and sisters from their communities because of partisan differences.
“Let me use this opportunity to again call on security agencies to be alive to their responsibilities. I also call on the leaders of these communities to rise to the occasion because communities are bigger than political parties.”
LEADERSHIP gathered that the PDP has, in the last few days, increased the numbers of Facebook aides and media spokespersons.
The barrage of attacks on the person of Lyon has however attracted the attention of the party’s National Chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, who described as ‘gutter language’ the manner Dickson was quoted to have spoken of the APC governorship candidate, taunting that his imminent defeat has beclouded his sense of judgement.
He, however, appealed to the aspirants that participated or could not participate at the primary election to see reasons to embrace peace ahead of the governorship election. While lamenting that APC has been in opposition for a long time and PDP has dominated Bayelsa politics since 1999, Oshiomhole said the people of the state now desire a change.
Reacting to Dickson’s comments on the APC candidate, Oshiomhole said: “Let me use this opportunity to reply directly to my friend, Governor Dickson of Bayelsa. I think he has allowed his fears, lack of self-confidence, his imminent defeat that await him and his party to over cloud his judgment as to resorting in the use of inelegant language and uncouth statement to describe one of his own and a fellow citizen of Bayelsa.”
“When a governor describes one of his own purely on the account of his political differences, using name of terrorists and such things like that, then he has missed it already. I can understand his fears, if people who go to borrow labels and assume that they are the leaders of the Ijaws and that they are the lions, when they see the real and authentic lion, they are sure to be afraid. So APC rejects and condemn in strong term the raw language unbecoming of a governor, a man I otherwise admired the way he has describe our candidate.”
“We will not come to his own level. On this occasion, we will invoke a popular statement made by Michelle Obama at the peak of the last presidential election in US when she said ‘when they go low, we fly high’. So, when Dickson goes low, we will fly high.”
Unfazed by the reaction of the APC’s National Chairman, Dickson hit back at the saying that the APC would defeat Dickson’s PDP in next month’s governorship election in the state.
The governor claimed that Oshiomhole did not know the APC governorship candidate, Lyon, well enough before describing him as the man to beat in the election.
Speaking to reporters in Lagos after attending 3rd annual conference of the Guild of Corporate Online Publishers (GOCOP), Dickson said: “My good friend Oshiomhole knows that the APC cannot win Bayelsa in a free and fair election.
“They can’t win any ward in Bayelsa. None. They have never won any election except by intimidating people, manipulating electoral body. He knows that. He is my good friend. I disagree with his views. I believe he doesn’t know his candidate enough. But in the coming days and weeks, I believe he will get to know the person he has allowed to be the flag bearer.”
“Since 2015, we have been dealing with extreme violence and abuse of power by the leadership of the party that has the centre. We expect that the elections would not be as violent as the previous ones. The people of Bayelsa can be trusted to vote for a candidate they believe has the experience, a candidate that they believe understands the issues, a candidate that will continue with the massive development that has come to stay in Bayelsa.”
In a related development, some concerned indigenes of Epie\Atisa kingdom of Yenagoa Local Government area of Bayelsa State under the aegis of the Epie\Atissa Voice in their position on the ongoing murky exchange of hateful banters issued a red card to the ruling PDP to vacate the government house come November 16 Governorship election over alleged under performance and neglect of development in the state capital.
According to the group, though the issuance of a red card was adopted in view of the development needs of the Epie/Atissa people, noted that no tangible development or political benefits, the concerned indigenes adopted the APC flag bearer, Lyon for governor.
The state coordinator of the Epie\Atissa Voice, Comrade Kalizibe Joseph, said: ‘We want peace in the state and we all know that when a footballer has not done so well, it is left for the referee to issue a yellow card as well as a red card. So, our case is likened to that of a football game’.
“It’s on this note that the Epie/Atissa people have decided and unanimously reject PDP and want to take over government through the ballots. We are backing the All progressive Congress (APC) candidate, Chief David Lyon, whom we believe has come to our rescue. We are using this medium to say that in as much as the restoration government and the PDP are deriving joy in under-developing our people. We have also resolved that come February 14 2020, they have to quit because they don’t have any other option than to live our residents”.
Also speaking, the director-general, David Lyon Youth Vanguard, Comrade, Moso Duenize, said the journey to take over their destiny has just begun, adding that the PDP has done nothing but to underdeveloped the capital city where we are from and the state in general.
He also emphasized that it is so pathetic that Yenagoa is described as the darkness capital in the country despite the huge federal allocation received monthly by the state government. “When there’s rain the whole state is always flooded, for about eight year the government is not even looking towards that direction. It’s so pathetic that Yenagoa is described as the darkness capital in the country. The level of crime experienced currently has never been as terrible in the history of the state”.
“We can’t sleep with comfort because of the government’s failure to curb criminality in the state. We can no longer as a people continue in this direction, even as we play host to the capital city but we are relegated to the background”.
Also speaking, a chieftain of APC, Chief Preye Agama, who moved the motion for the issuance of a red card to the PDP, said the decision was adopted by the over thirty communities of Epie\Atissa origin was massively supported.
“we have tested the PDP for 8, years and nothing came out of it rather we have suffered exclusion, total darkness, flooding due to bad drainage and insecurity. Yenagoa has become the darkest state capital in the country. We are the landlord and we have sacked the PDP to pack out and the APC should come in with Chief David Lyon come November 16,” he said.
Already, the rising exchange of hate comments, which has heated up the Bayelsa polity ahead of political campaigns, is attracting the attention of Civil Society groups, within and outside the state.
A non-governmental organisation known as the Search for Common Ground, gathered media practitioners in Yenagoa last week and announced that percentage of hate messages and post among stakeholders in the state polity has risen to 38.9 per cent. A figure, which the Media and Outreach Coordinator, Miss Joy Baiye, described as worrisome.
Media and communication manager, Mr. Temisan Etiesola said the essence of the training was to remind journalists of their roles as agenda setters in conflicts/violence prevention and sensitization of the public towards a peaceful election.
Mr. Etiesola who stressed that journalists should carry out their responsibilities with a ‘Do No Harm Approach’ said they should be mindful of the choice of words in telling their stories considering the consequences it would have on the audience.
Similarly, media and outreach coordinator, Miss Joy Baiye explained that the workshop was to promote peaceful resolution of conflicts, educate journalists on how to address hate speech, manage rumors and report facts.
Responding, one of the participants, Mr. Victor Binawari said the training further enhanced his knowledge on how to balance and ensure his reports are not based on rumor or hate speech that could lead to conflicts/violence.
The two days training had the objective of mainstreaming conflict sensitivity in media reportage, support journalists to constructively report on the elections without contributing to the drivers of electoral violence and agreed on modalities for commemorating the State Media peace day ahead of the elections in Bayelsa State.
Highlights of the training are presentations and brainstorming sessions on media in conflict reporting, mainstream media, social media, giving voice to marginalized groups and responsible media coverage of elections.
Other sessions of the training featured hate speech trends, development of peace messages, early warning towards preventing electoral violence and building media synergies. The common ground Journalism training was facilitated by Temisan Etietsola, Search’s Media Manager, Joy Baiye, Media and Outreach Coordinator, Philip Kalio, Early Warning Coordinator and Taritein Boco , State Project Coordinator.
The Electoral Empowerment of Civil Society Project (EECSP) Consortium is implementing a five-year initiative to improve impartial observation, accurate reporting on, and recording of election vote totals by domestic electoral observers during and after the 2015 election cycle, improve management within Nigerian partner CSOs and increase participation by marginalized groups in Nigerian political processes.
The Consortium includes the National Democratic Institute (NDI) as the lead partner, World Learning (WL), Search for Common Ground (SFCG), and the Center for Democratic Development – Ghana (CDD-Ghana). Search’s intervention in Kogi State is contributing to Increased Participation by Marginalized Groups in Nigerian Political Processes and special focus on Violence Mitigation for the 2019 Off- Cycle Governorship Polls in the Kogi and Bayelsa State in November 2019.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had expressed concern over the listed actions and utterances of political actors in the State likely to militate against a peaceful conduct of the governorship election scheduled to hold in Bayelsa on November 16 as part of its challenges.
Even the national chairman of INEC, Prof. Yakubu Mahmood, expressed concern over the rising use of rhetorics and name calling by the political actors in the state. He told the Bayelsa State Traditional Rulers Council in Yenagoa that the unguarded actions and utterances of politicians could lead to the breach of peace during electioneering, voting and collation of results.
Mahmood, who was accompanied by senior officials of the commission and security agencies led by the Zone 5 Assistant Inspector-General of Police, Dibal Yakadi, also complained about the use of armed thugs to disrupt the voting and the collation processes.
Describing Bayelsa and Kogi as the most difficult states to conduct major elections, Mahmood further said the commission was further bothered about the ugly trend of voting buying insisting that democracy should not be on sale in the open market.
He said the commission was deploying 10,000 ad-hoc employees in different parts of Bayelsa to conduct the election adding that INEC would not allow anybody to attack them.
Addressing the council led by the Amayanabo of Twon Brass, King Alfred Diette-Spiff, the INEC boss said: “We have a few areas of concern. The first one is action and utterances likely to lead to the breach of the peace during electioneering campaign, during voting on the Election Day and during the collation of results.
“The commission working with the security agencies will not accept attack on people we engage as ad-hoc staff. We are going to engage over 10,000 Nigerians to deliver this election in Bayelsa. Many of them are in the NYSC service, others are not. We are concerned about mobilisation of armed persons to disrupt the voting processes and collation of results as we experience in previous elections.
“In 2015, up to the eight local government areas in Bayelsa State, we conducted elections conclusively and made declaration of results only in one local government area, Kolokuma-Opokuma. I have been asking all my friends in Bayelsa what makes Kolokuma-Opokuma thick? Today, I have the opportunity finally to actually visit Kolokuma-Opokuma and I was in Kaiama and the staff assured us that just as it happened in 2015, it will happen again.
“But with your assistance, we know that the entire state will become another Kolokua-Opokuma and election will be done conclusively on first ballot. Next is the recurrent problems where some unscrupulous actors follow voters to polling units with money on Election Day to induce them. It is called vote buying.
“Our democracy cannot be on sale in the open market. The citizens should be allowed to vote for whoever they choose in the Election Day. We appeal to you to continue to speak to politicians and their supporters on peaceful conduct during the campaign process and beyond”.
On why all eyes would be on Bayelsa and Kogi, Mahmood said: “First, this will be the first major election since the 2019 general elections in Nigeria. What lessons have we learnt since the conduct of the general election that will help us to improve on the forthcoming governorship election?
“Secondly, Bayelsa and Kogi are not easy state’s when it comes to conducting major elections particularly governorship election. The challenge is particularly in terms of the terrain and therefore it has an impact on electoral logistics. But another great challenge is the attitude of the political class which has become a source of concern to the commission”.