Yenagoa – Barely five days to the commencement of the 2019 general elections, the displaced people of Peremabiri community in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area of Bayelsa State, on Monday, staged a protest in Yenagoa, calling on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to create voting centres in the state capital to enable them participate in the elections.
The placard-carrying protesters, who were armed with a petition, marched to the office of the INEC in Yenagoa, lamenting that Peremabiri was not safe for them to exercise their franchise in the February 16 and March 2 polls.
Some of the placards carried inscriptions such as, “We Are Homeless. We Want To Participate In Voting”, “We Are IDPs From Peremabiri In Yenagoa. We Want To Vote In Yenagoa”, “Save Our Souls From Ex-Militants’ Killer-Squad”, We Need Peace In Peremabiri”, Create Voting Centres For Us In Yenagoa”, “We Don’t Want To Be Disenfranchised”, among others.
At the INEC office, Nduh Lebari, the administrative secretary, led other officials of the commission to receive the Peremabiri protesters.
In the petition dated February 9, 2019, and addressed to the state Resident Electoral Commissioner, the people of Peremabiri accused an ex-militant leader, Eris Paul, also known as ‘General Ogunboss’, of unleashing violence on the community.
The petition, which was signed by over 20 concerned members of the community, including the paramount ruler, Progress Neverdie, said no fewer than 3,000 had fled Peremabiri in fear.
“Our community has for some time now been troubled by the criminal activities of some persons under the leadership of one Paul Eris, aka General Ogunboss.
“In the run-up to the 2019 general elections, the said Paul Eris had terrorized our community and made it practically uninhabitable. Together with his illegal army of armed thugs, he had ensured that persons who are not of his political persuasion are not allowed any freedom to indulge in any political activity in the community.
“In fact, he seized a large batch of Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) from INEC officials who were sent to distribute the said PVCs to members of our community”, the petition read in part.
The petition, which was officially presented to the INEC administrative secretary by Polomi Wonaemi, Vice Chairman, Southern Ijaw LGA, said that insecurity heightened in the area on February 9 “when Ogunboss and his boys overran Peremabiri community”.
It stated that the incident happened after a detachment of soldiers attached to the Joint Task Force, on patrol, intercepted some armed members of Ogunboss’ gang.
It added: “Upon sighting the well-armed officers of the JTF, the said militants escaped into the bush with their arms. However, after the JTF had retreated back to their sub-base a little distance from Peremabiri, the said militants came out of the bush shooting and maiming everybody in sight.
“All inhabitants of the community escaped into the bush for dear lives. The paramount ruler also had to escape from the community. The said General Ogunboss and his boys have now occupied the community, which is now a no-go area for the inhabitants.
“As it is, there is no way that the community will be safe enough for us to partake in the forthcoming general elections slated for February 16, 2019, and March 2, 2019.
“Consequently, we passionately demand that INEC, as a matter of urgency, make all necessary arrangements in accordance with the laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, to enable all registered voters exercise their franchise during the said elections”.
The paramount ruler of Peremabiri community, Progress Neverdie, said his “community has been taken hostage”, stressing that the protest was aimed at asking INEC to ensure the people were not denied participation in the elections as it was their right to vote candidates of their choice.
Responding, Nduh Lebari, INEC’s administrative secretary, commended the people of Peremabiri for conducting themselves in a peaceful manner, promising that the commission’s office in Yenagoa would convey their plight to its headquarters in Abuja for necessary action.
He also encouraged them to report the issues of insecurity around the community to security agencies, stressing that INEC remained a non-partisan agency in the conduct of elections.