By Deborah Peter
No fewer than four police personnel on elections duty have drowned in a river in Bayelsa State on their way to Southern Ijaw Local Government Area of the state.
It was learnt that the incident, which cause has yet to be established, occurred during the by-elections holding across the two senatorial districts in the state.
It was further learnt that the deceased policemen were reportedly on their way to the place of assignment when the boat capsized.
Spokesman for the Bayelsa State Police Command, SP Asinim Butswat, confirmed the incident.
He said the boat capsized on their way to Oporoma, headquarters of Southern Ijaw Local Government Area of the state.
He also said the police authorities were yet to ascertain number and details of the police officers involved in the boat mishap.
Butswat said: “The command is monitoring the incident. From the information we gathered, there was a boat mishap and some of our policemen are declared missing and some have been rescued.
“But let me say that it was not an attack. It was a boat mishap. We cannot say that someone is dead because it will be too hasty to say so. Some may have swum to safety. It is when it is confirmed by medical personnel that we can say they are dead. For now, they are missing.”
It was also learnt that there were heavy shootings in Ekeremor, Southern Ijaw, Sagbama and Yenagoa.
It has yet to be established if people died during the shootings but the electoral umpire confirmed the shootings and alleged snatching of ballot boxes in some places.
The Bayelsa State Resident Electoral Commissioner Cyril Omoregbe confirmed the shootings and alleged snatching of some electoral materials from INEC officials.
He, however, said all the pockets of incidents were few compared to over 1,000 voting points in the state, noting that they were not enough to discredit the outcome of the by-elections.
He said: “We are not looking for 100 per cent perfect in the election. Once we are able to get up to 85 per cent, we are satisfied.
“Despite our earlier warnings, most electorate did not comply with the COVID-19 directives. Our concern really is for free, fair and credible election, not on the enforcement of COVID-19 directives. Our earlier directive that without facemasks, not vote were not complied with.”
Also, the National Commissioner in charge of the by-elections in Bayelsa, May Agbamuche-Mbu, confessed that election materials arrived late in some of the polling units due to lack of security personnel at RACs.
She said materials left RAC centres late because they were waiting for police escort to provide cover for INEC officials meant to distribute them at different units.
She said on the part of INEC personnel, they complied strictly with the COVID-19 protocols.
The Bayelsa State Government says it respects the right of its people to elect candidates of their choice in any poll and will continue to cooperate with all stakeholders to create an environment that endorses peaceful coexistence.
Governor Douye, who voted in Sampou, Kolokuma/Opokuma Local Government Area early on Saturday, offered his heartfelt condolences to the Inspector General of Police and the entire force on the unfortunate death of some officers on elections duty to Oporoma, in the Southern Ijaw LGA for the Bayelsa Central senatorial bye-election.
Furthermore, he urged INEC to ensure that the people would be allowed to vote, that their votes would be counted and most importantly, that their votes would count.
He stated: “It is my further hope that unauthorised persons, including members of the security forces, party agents or observers will not interfere in the process of polling or the expression of the people’s right to elect candidates of their choice.
“It is of critical interest to our democratic journey that we continue to grow voter confidence, giving assurances that the outcome of our electoral contests are not perceived as products of violence, brigandage, intimidation or inhibition of the people from casting their votes according to their individual will.
“I wish to thank the good people of Bayelsa State for their maturity, support and being law-abiding in the course of my administration with regard to what has been a difficult season.
“We are monitoring events from the various polling units and wards and will make appropriate statements as events unfold. We look forward to to a new era of elections in Bayelsa State, devoid of violence and bloodletting, where the manifest choices of the people will be reflected in the final results.
“In the meantime, we encourage all citizens of Bayelsa to please feel able to continue to go about your legitimate business without fear, let or hindrance”