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Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Lagos and Solomon Elusoji in Abuja
A serving National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) member, who was part of the electoral team for the Katsina bye-elections held last Saturday, has alleged that she and members of her team were pressured into releasing ballot papers to unknown men armed to the teeth, after they threatened to do things â€œmore worse than rapeâ€ to her.
On Sunday, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had declared the election, which was held in Mashi/Dutsi federal constituency a success, and announced Mansur Ali of the All Progressives Congress (APC) as the winner, with 27,968 votes.
But the corps memberâ€™s account of what happened at Mashi Local Government Area where she was posted, has cast serious doubts on the credibility of the election.
The lady, who did not want her name and photograph published due to fear for her life, informed THISDAY that after arriving her polling unit at 7.10 a.m. on the fateful day, the team started the accreditation and voting process by 8 a.m. and everything was going smoothly until 9.50 a.m. when some people came, armed with knives, daggers and cutlasses, demanding for the ballot papers.
â€œAt first I refused,â€ she told THISDAY. â€œBut one of them pulled me aside and told me they would not just rape me, but do things worse than rape. â€˜You see as you come complete, se you no wan go complete?â€™ the man asked. I was terrified.â€
According to her, the soldiers and security officials who were supposed to be guiding the polling unit were nowhere to be seen as the men carted away the ballot papers. After about an hour, the ballot papers were returned to the unit, all â€œappropriatelyâ€ thumb-printed.
By 2 p.m., voting was over and the team went ahead to collate the â€œfakeâ€ results, she said. An hour later, they proceeded to the registration area, which was situated in a seemingly abandoned primary school. Here, they met other corps members from different polling units in Mashi and their stories were all similar.
â€œApparently, they (assailants) didnâ€™t just come to our unit, but to all the other polling units because my colleagues had similar experiences to mine,â€ the corps member told THISDAY. â€œSome even said they tampered with their card readers.â€
Meanwhile, at the registration area, some residents had already gathered in front of the primary school, shouting angry expletives in Hausa. Just as the team was about to deliver its report to INEC officials, mayhem broke out, when some men scaled the fence and broke into the classroom where the INEC reporting was being carried out.
â€œIt was a mad experience,â€ the corps member said. â€œWe had to run. Even the security officials that were supposed to take care of us left their vans. It was just God. I will never involve myself in any electoral process again.â€
When contacted, the INEC Administrative Secretary in Katsina State, Mr. Yunusa Kura, admitted that there were at least 13 incidents of malpractices, including ballot paper snatching and overstuffing of ballot boxes.
â€œI have reports from youth corps members over attempts to snatch ballot papers which made them lose some of their belongings,â€ he said. â€œI have discussed with them and I am even the one that took them to the LGAâ€™s INEC office. We are making efforts to find out what they really lost and to pay them compensation.â€
However, he added that all the results from areas where malpractices were recorded were cancelled. â€œSix of them were to do with ballot paper snatching, while seven other places had to do with over-stuffing of ballot papers,â€ he said.
He also informed THISDAY that one of the corps members was involved in an accident and was admitted at the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital in Kano.
According to Kura, the corps member was returning to the collation centre after the election when the vehicle conveying them had an accident and she fell.
â€œThey had finished the election and were moving to the collation centre when the vehicle conveying them somersaulted and she fell down. All the corps members that had incidents, I personally visited them and had interviews with them,â€ he said.