Samuel Okonta

• It was a rude shock, says brother • Killers will not go unpunished, vows FG • NYSC may review MoU with INEC

Adebiyi Adedapo in Abuja
Details emerged on Tuesday on how a member of the National Youth Service Corps, Mr. Samuel Dumebi Okonta, a graduate of Political Science from Ambrose Ali University, Ekpoma, Edo State, was murdered in cold blood on Saturday night.

Okonta, who hailed from Illah community in Idemili North Local Government Area, Anambra State, served as the Assistant Presiding Officer (APO II) for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)at Ukpeliede Town Hall, Ward 6, Unit 5 in Ahoada West Local Government during the last Saturday’s rerun elections in Rivers State.

THISDAY learnt that the deceased was trailed and killed after he had submitted the election results to the local government office of INEC in Ahoada West.

Okonta’s colleague, Anana Aniekan Udoetor, who narrated what transpired after votes were cast, said he was in the company of the late Okonta departing INEC’s office when his killers tracked them and shot sporadically at them.

Udoetor, who spoke to THISDAY on the phone, explained that they had concluded their duty and were on their way back to Ukpeliede, when the unfortunate incident occurred.
“I was the APO I, while Okonta was the APO II at the Ukpeliede town hall, Ward 6, Unit 5, we had conducted the elections peacefully without even the presence of security agents.

“We proceeded to the INEC collation centre to submit our results, on reaching there, the environment was tense and supporters of both APC and PDP were charged. We managed to submit our results, but while we were submitting them, there was an alarm of skirmishes, forcing the collation officers to hide under the table,” he disclosed.

Anana said the situation at the INEC local government secretariat seemed unsafe, which prompted him and his late friend to take the risk of travelling back to Ukpeliede.

“We felt that the INEC office was no longer safe, so we then made our way to Ndiama junction and took a taxi to Okode junction. We were supposed to board a (commercial) motorcycle, but we couldn’t get one, so we decided to trek down to Ukpeliede.

“Shortly after, we saw a vehicle coming and we noticed that the head lamps of the vehicle was not on and someone in the vehicle was pointing a torchlight at us.

“We suddenly realised that the vehicle was coming directly towards us and before we knew what was happening, we started hearing gunshots. I ran inside the bush but they kept on shooting. Okonta was killed in the process.
“I stayed in the bush for some minutes and later ran into an uncompleted building which is used as a church,” he said.

When contacted, Samuel’s elder brother, Azuka, could not speak on the death of his sibling, stating that he was on his way to Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, to see his late brother’s corpse.

However, his younger brother, Uche, who works as a software engineer in Lagos, said he was still in shock following the news of his brother’s death.
Uche, who is the only younger brother of the deceased, said the late Samuel was an easy-going God-fearing young man, who was often referred to by his friends as a pastor.

“We are nine in number from the same parents, our father died in 1993 and our mother in 2012. I am the last child, while Samuel was my immediate elder brother, he was very calm and easy-going.

“He attended Ugbede Memorial Primary school, Illah; then proceeded to Illah Grammar School and later Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma. People usually referred to him as a pastor because of his calm disposition and neat dressing. But he was just an usher in the church,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Minister of Youth and Sports Solomon Dalung and Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission, Prof. Mahmud Yakubu yesterday paid a condolence visit to the NYSC headquarters in Abuja following the death of the youth corps member.

In his remarks during the visit, Dalung appealed to politicians to guard against any act that will lead to the death of Nigerians because, according to him: “If everyone dies, who will be alive to cast the votes.”

He added that: “In this our game of politics, we must understand that match officials, and spectators are not the opponents. We must not direct our anger towards the wrong people.”
The minister who said that there was an insurance policy covering NYSC members on election duty under the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the INEC and the NYSC, promised that government would ensure that perpetrators of the dastardly act would not go unpunished.

“I’m sure there is an insurance policy covering corps members, but this government will not condone impunity, government will go against the killers and ensure that they are brought to book,” he stated.

Yakubu, while condoling with the NYSC, said there was no elective position that was worth the blood of anybody.

Yakubu said the partnership of the two agencies was important as the use of corps members during the conduct of elections in the country has led to their success and smooth process.
He also said that the commission would grant automatic employment to ex-corps members, Abiagbe Daniel who lost his sight in an accident while carrying out election duties in Yobe State.

“We are here to commiserate with the NYSC family, and we pray that the soul of the late Okonta Samuel rests in peace. At the same time, we are glad to note that the other corps member, Anana Aniekan Udoetor, who could not be accounted for has been found alive but is understandably traumatised.

“I wish to state that we share in your grief; it pains INEC profoundly when life is lost in the cause of conducting ordinary elections. No matter the grievances of those involved in a political contest, nothing justifies the cold blooded murder of an innocent official conducting an official national assignment,” he said.

Yakubu also described youth corps members involved in election processes as the most patriotic and neutral electoral staff.

“The NYSC and INEC have been in this mutually rewarding partnership, which has helped in the conduct of our elections. I can’t imagine the successful conduct of elections in Nigeria without the partnership of the NYSC.

“The young men and women in the NYSC are among the most educated, most committed, most reliable, most neutral and most patriotic election duty staff available to INEC. Their loss is certainly of monumental national proportion, I want to assure you that INEC will fully participate in honoring the sacrifices of Mr. Okonta Samuel, and other members of the NYSC who may suffer injury or worse during election duty,” he said.

Responding, the Director General of NYSC, Brigadier General Olawunmi Johnson said his organisation would review its security arrangements for corps members, especially those involved in election duty.

Olawumi also announced that a committee would investigate the unfortunate incident, noting that the outcome of the investigation would determine whether or not the NYSC would review its memorandum of understanding with the INEC.

“I have set up a committee to fully investigate the issue, the report of that committee would determine if we have to review our MoU with INEC. But it is a shame on the Rivers State Government and community leaders where this happened. We are going to get to the root of the matter,” he said.