May 25, 2020 will go down as a day to forever remember for Florence Gold George. It was a day she could not hold back her tears yet again. As the tears rolled down her cheeks, she fought for composure but her strength failed her. After a while, she mustered courage and muttered some words that reopened her wound.
George was among the victims of the bloodshed that characterised the 2019 presidential election in Abonema, Akuku-Toru Local Government Area of Rivers State and she was, on this day, at the Abonema Multipurpose Hall to meet with the governor of the state, Nyesom Wike. It was a brief event.
The governor, who was represented by the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Dr. Tammy Dagogo, had arranged the occasion to redeem a promise he made in 2019; shortly after the bloody presidential election in the area which left various categories of casualties in its trail.
The hall could not accommodate all the victims – no thanks to the COVID-19 sitting protocol of social distancing. George was among those who attended the event with mixed feelings. She was among those whose family members paid the supreme price during the poll.
People who survived gunshots or whose properties were destroyed during the incident were also there. In fact, anyone who incurred any loss from the violent poll, including mobile phones, was accommodated in the governor’s compensation list.
The attendees all had one thing in common: they bore the scars of a poll that metamorphosed into war in the Ijaw community. Their countenances, though veiled with face masks, bore sorry tales of the tragedy that befell the community. But George’s grief appeared louder despite a higher compensatory gift of N9 million the governor doled out to her family.
Her 23-year-old son, Samuel Sise Horsefall, was among the 37 persons killed at Abonema during the poll. Samuel, a twin, reportedly died of gunshot at the polling unit where he was said to have gone to cast his votes.
Endlessly wiping her tears, George recalled how she got the report of her son’s tragic death.
“I was in the house on the 23rd of February last year. It was Election Day. My son and I arrived from Port Harcourt the previous night.
“He went to his polling unit to vote while I stayed in the house. I called his phone and told him that food was ready and he said he was coming to eat. After 30 minutes, I called his number again, it rang but there was no response. I became worried.
“A few minutes later, a boy ran into my compound, calling my father. My father was not around. I was the only one in the house. I came out and asked what the matter was and he said my son had been shot dead.
“I ran to the place and saw my son in a pool of his blood. Some people helped to drag him to a place, where we could cover him. It was raining and his body was soaked. My relations came and we went to deposit his remains in the mortuary.
“We buried him after the election. They said he was shot but nobody has told me who shot him. When I went there, I saw blood coming out from his mouth, nose and all the openings in his body. I saw that bullets had pierced through his body. I also saw a bullet on the ground.”
She said those who pulled the trigger that took the life of her son also buried his dreams. He dreamt of becoming a medical doctor and was already studying medicine when the tragic incident occurred. “He is one of the twins and the only children I have. With his death, I now have only one son, his twin brother.”
Several other people told stories of how they survived gunshots and how their properties were destroyed during the poll. All the stakeholders in the community were represented. They were all familiar with the story, especially the local government chairman of Akuku-Toru, Rowland Sekibo.
Sekibo called for a minute silence for those who lost their lives. He said: “Today brings a mixed feeling to me. It has made me to remember what actually happened during the 2019 elections, especially for those that paid the supreme price for democracy to thrive.
But Dagogo stated the reason for the gathering. He described the violence that marred the election as untold and unprecedented.
He said: “The people of the LGA suffered untold and unprecedented atrocities during the presidential election in 2019. Everybody who is part of Abonema saw what they went through.
“In the words of His Majesty (the Amayanabo of Abonema, King Disreal Bobmanuel), the only thing that came close to what happened in the community in his life was the Nigerian civil war. He said nothing like that had happened in the annals of the history of the ancient kingdom.”
He recalled that after the election, His Majesty, organised a church programme to mourn the dead. He said Governor Nyesom Wike personally attended the event.
According to him, the governor said although he lacked the power as a human being to bring back the dead, he would do everything possible to identify with all those who suffered the atrocities.
Asked how the amount and the beneficiaries were arrived at, Dagogo said when the governor
made the promise on that day in the church, most people probably dismissed it as a normal political promise. He said the victims identified were those killed during the event, the wounded, those who were incarcerat
ed unlawfully and those whose properties were damaged.
He said: “The committee visited and had a very robust engagement with the people of Abonema and Akuku-Toru Local Government Area and they submitted their report to the governor. Upon receiving that report, the governor immediately approved a package to compensate and support the victims.
“I am here to tell you that the governor has released N450 million for the victims. The names of the beneficiaries and the amount due to them are here with us. The money is to be paid into the accounts of the respective victims.”
Dagogo said the governor remained responsive to the demands of the people of the community. He said a major project, the Abonema Ring Road Phase Two, being undertaken by the governor would soon be inaugurated.
In his remarks, the Amayanabo of Abonema, His Royal Majesty, King Disreal Bobmanuel, commended Governor Wike for identifying with the people of the area. Describing the governor as a dependable governor, the traditional ruler recalled how Wike fulfilled various requests presented to him by the community since he came into office.
He said when the community cried to the governor over the destruction and killings that occurred in the community during the election, Wike wasted no time in setting up a committee that worked out the compensations.
He said: “The compensation is quite generous. I want to thank Wike for being a friend to the people of Akuku-Toru. I thank him for showing concerns and helping us each time we go to him.”
The monarch advised the beneficiaries to think of how to properly utilise the money and to avoid engaging in frivolities and costly enjoyment.
Earlier, the Chairman of Akuku-Toru Local Government Area, Rowland Sekibo, had thanked the governor for what he described as “a show of love.”