- Concludes delivery of electoral materials
- INEC: We are ready for the polls
- Situation Room calls for non-interference by security agencies
- Anxiety mounts in South-south over troops deployment as soldiers raid Ateke Tom’s home, hotel
- One feared killed, many arrested
- Abdulsalami, Kukah, Achebe call for peace
Kingsley Nwezeh, Onyebuchi Ezigbo, Adedayo Akinwale in Abuja, Ernest Chinwo in Port Harcourt and David-Chyddy Eleke in Awka
Ahead of Saturday’s governorship and state Houses of Assembly elections, the Nigerian Air Force has deployed fighter planes and attack helicopters in some potential flashpoints across the country.
The air wing of the Nigerian military also said it has concluded airlifting of electoral materials to 31 locations in the country for onward distribution to Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) locations and polling stations.
In a chat with THISDAY in Abuja, NAF spokesman, Air Commodore Ibikunle Daramola, said attack helicopters, fighter planes and intelligence gathering platforms have been put on standby for potentially violence-prone areas.
He said: “We have other aircraft, the ISR platforms, attack platforms, and helicopters; they have been deployed in different locations across the country.
“Depending on where they are, they provide surveillance, reconnaissance in a show of force. They give feedback to operations or situation room.”
On the airlifting of election materials, he said NAF had concluded delivery and was looking forward to a successful election.
According to him, “In terms of delivery of electoral materials to all the 31 locations that has been done because that is where they have airfields and we used the transport aircraft.
“From those locations, the materials are moved to the various CBN locations and local government areas that cover INEC logistics responsibilities. We are good to go.”
The Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, had at a meeting with Air Force commanders, said contingency plans were put in place in case of any breakdown of law and order.
He said NAF hospitals and medical centres were put on the alert to assist in attending to any medical emergencies.
On election materials, Abubakar said eight aircraft were deployed in the airlift operations flying a total of about 340 hours in 257 sorties with about 120 crew members comprising pilots, technicians and other specialists operating on a round-the-clock basis.
INEC Declares Readiness for Elections
Also briefing on the elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared its readiness, adding that all materials for the elections have been delivered to all states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
There would be governorship elections in 29 states and assembly polls in 36 states, with FCT holding its area councils contests.
The commission also warned that it would not tolerate the act of holding its officials hostage and forcing them to declare winners under duress, saying that if such occurs, it would not issue Certificates of Return to any culpable politician.
The Chairman of the commission, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, disclosed this Thursday during the Inter-agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES) meeting held at INEC Headquarters, Abuja, where he equally decried loss of its electoral materials to hooliganism and violence.
He added that all materials and relevant personnel would arrive at the Registration Area Centres (RACs) today, noting that with this arrangement the commission is confident that all polling units will open at 8a.m. nationwide.
Yakubu stated: “On Saturday, 9th March, 2019, Nigerians are once again going to the polls to elect governors in 29 States, 991 members of Houses of Assembly in all the states of the federation, 6 chairmen as well as 62 councilors for the Area Councils in the FCT.
“A total of 1,082 candidates will be elected by citizens across the country. Learning from the experience of the presidential and National Assembly elections held two weeks ago, the commission has effectively tackled the challenge of logistics. Materials for the election have been delivered to all states and the FCT. Movement to the Local Government Areas will be completed Thursday .
“In addition to elections into 1,082 constituencies nationwide, the commission will conduct supplementary elections in 14 states of the federation covering seven senatorial districts and 24 federal constituencies.”
The chairman said that elections in the affected areas were disrupted mainly by acts of violence involving ballot box snatching, abduction of INEC officials, over voting and the failure to adhere to regulations and guidelines.
Yakubu said the number of registered voters in the polling units involved in each constituency was more than the votes received by the candidate with the highest number of votes.
According to him, “Supplementary elections must, therefore, be conducted to determine the winners. Consequently, the commission decided to conduct the supplementary National Assembly polls on Saturday alongside the governorship and state assemblies’ elections. Full details of the constituencies involved have been communicated to stakeholders in the affected states and will also be available on our website for public information later Thursday .”
The INEC boss stressed that the list of candidates that emerged winners in the senatorial and House of Representatives’ elections held on Saturday 23rd February, 2019 would be available on its website later Thursday.
He noted: “For senatorial districts and federal constituencies in which winners have already emerged, the commission will issue their certificates of return next week. Preparations for the elections holding this weekend into 1,082 constituencies require the full attention of the entire commission.
“We reckoned that the elected candidates are also busy campaigning in their constituencies for the remaining elections. The certificates of return shall be presented at the International Conference Centre, Abuja.”
Yakubu said that on Thursday, March 14, 2019, senators-elect would receive their certificates of return at 10a.m., while members of the House of Representatives-elect would receive theirs by 2p.m. the same day.
He revealed that certificates of return for governors and deputy-governors-elect, members of state Houses of Assembly-elect and Chairmen and Councilors for the FCT shall be presented in each state of the federation by the Supervising National Commissioners and the Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) on a date to be announced next week.
Yakubu stressed that in the course of securing the elections, security agencies, electoral officials and innocent Nigerians have suffered needless attacks resulting in casualties, including deaths and the loss of personal and official properties.
He said the commission was glad that the Police have made several arrests and investigation is ongoing, while also assuring Nigerians that the commission would work closely with the Police to ensure diligent prosecution of all violators of the electoral law.
The chairman stated that citizens are asking for effective but non-intrusive protection before, during and immediately after the elections in which their rights are respected and their choices safeguarded.
Yakubu added: “While we look forward to the same cooperation with the security agencies, I am confident that lessons learnt from the presidential and National Assembly elections will help us to more effectively secure the environment for the elections this weekend.
“The commission is concerned that many of our materials, including ballot boxes, voting cubicles, voters’ registers and Smart Card Readers were lost to acts of hooliganism and thuggery in the elections held two weeks ago. Most worrisome is the attack on electoral officials.
“Some of our staff were abducted and taken hostage in an attempt to disrupt elections or influence the outcome. In fact, some of the supplementary elections I referred to earlier were caused by such acts of thuggery.
“I am confident that working together with the security agencies, we will consolidate on the largely peaceful conduct of the presidential and National Assembly elections while also taking decisive steps to deal with the minority of violators intent on disrupting the conduct of peaceful elections.
“However, the Commission will not tolerate the act of holding our officials hostage and forcing them to declare winners under duress. Where such occurs, the commission will not reward bad behaviour by issuing them certificates of return.”
“We have once again reconfigured the Smart Card Readers for the elections on Saturday. The use of the card readers is mandatory and there will be no exemption to their deployment for accreditation of voters.
“Under our Regulations and Guidelines, there are clear penalties for the deliberate failure to deploy them on the part of our staff. Where such happens with the connivance of communities, the result of election in the polling unit(s) will be cancelled and zero vote recorded.”
The chairman noted that while the commission would still maintain its Situation Room at the International Conference Centre (ICC) to monitor the elections nationwide and respond to issues that may arise, no election results would be collated and no declaration of winners would be done at the ICC.
He said that all collation and declaration of results would be done at the various constituency and state declaration centres.
Situation Room Calls for Non-interference by Security Agencies
Meanwhile, the Nigeria civil society group, the Situation Room, has asked INEC to ensure that the interference of security agents in the electoral process does not occur again during the elections on Saturday.
As a result of complaints and grievances trailing the presidential and National Assembly elections, the observer group said that INEC has a duty to immediately publish the election results on its website.
The Executive Director, Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre and Convener, Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, Mr. Clement Nwankwo, who read out the group’s statement to journalists at a press conference in Abuja yesterday, said there is a worrying trend of increased and excessive involvement of the military and security officials in elections in Nigeria.
He said the concerns were raised following the incidents that occurred during the presidential and National Assembly election where security agents were alleged to have overstepped their bounds.
The Situation Room urged the electoral body not to allow security agents to become active participants in the voting and collation of results process tomorrow.
“Situation Room will like to restate the provisions of section 29 (3) of Electoral Act, which states that the deployment of Nigeria Armed Forces for elections shall be at the request of INEC and only for the purpose of distribution and delivery of election materials and protection of election officials,” it said.
Situation Room urged the military to restrict themselves to those responsibilities as defined by INEC and the electoral law.
It said the security agencies should ensure that they provide adequate security for the elections and in a manner that does not allow or encourage violence to be used as a tool for vote suppression.
It further urged political parties to avoid perpetrating violence and vote buying or other electoral malpractices.
In view of complaints and mixed reactions that followed the presidential and National Assembly elections, the Situation Room asked INEC to release publicly the data captured by the card readers to ensure utmost transparency in the election.
It said the data should be the number of partial and full accreditation across the 36 states, including the Federal Capital Territory, (FCT).
The group added that the electoral umpire should keep to its promise of publishing the statistics, on the state by state basis, number of voters and polling units.
Anxiety Mounts in South-south Over Troops Deployment as Army Raid Ateke Tom’s Home, Hotel
In the meantime there is palpable anxiety in the South-south over deployment of troops to keep watch over tomorrow’s elections in the region, with leaders of the opposition parties, fearing that the soldiers might have been sent in to suppress their supporters.
Also claiming that bands of thugs had been deployed in the region to cause mayhem while the police and the army would look the other way, the leaders were anxious that the elections might be marred by state induced violence.
Their fears became real Thursday when in Rivers State, soldiers from 6 Division of the Nigerian Army reportedly raided an estate belonging to former agitator and Amanyanabo of Okochiri Kingdom in Okrika Local Government Area of Rivers State, King Ateke Tom.
THISDAY gathered that the soldiers stormed the estate at Okochiri Community in Okrika where Ateke houses his guests at about 4pm, shooting sporadically and searching the rooms in the estate.
At the end of the search, unconfirmed reports said one person was killed, while scores of people were arrested and taken away by the soldiers. One dog was also said to have been shot dead by the soldiers.
Ateke is believed to be a strong supporter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state since the days of former President Goodluck Jonathan.
The army also reportedly stormed a popular hotel, Bougainvillea Hotels in GRA II, Port Harcourt at about 4pm yesterday where some chieftains of the PDP were having a meeting.
The soldiers were said to have invaded the hotel in a commando style; scattering everything in sight, breaking doors and seized the phones of people, ostensibly to stop people from recording the scene.
A source said the soldiers were looking for chieftains of the PDP from the Rivers West Senatorial District, who were having a strategy meeting in preparation for tomorrow’s governorship and state assembly elections.
One of the trapped chieftains was said to have sent an SOS to Rivers State Governor, Mr. Nyesom Wike, who quickly went to the scene.
However, before the governor got to the scene about 5pm, the soldiers had left the hotel but were still in the vicinity.
When contacted for his reaction, state Commissioner for Information and Communications, Mr. Emma Okah, said he heard about the invasion of Ateke’s residence but that he was yet to have details.
Special Assistant to the Governor on Electronic Media, Mr. Simeon Nwakaudu, confirmed the incident at Bougainvillea Hotels.
He, however, said it was not clear if the soldiers went away with any of the PDP stalwarts.
The state government had earlier raised the alarm that the Minister of Transportation, Mr. Chibuike Amaechi; and the GOC 6 Division, Nigerian Army, Major Gen. Jamil Sharhem, had planned mass arrest of innocent Nigerians and prominent PDP members in the state ahead of the elections.
A statement issued by Okah, said: “The essence of the arrests is to precipitate crisis and cause the INEC to postpone the elections in Rivers State. Failing this, the minister will use the vacuum created by the absence of arrested leaders and rig the governorship election and force a candidate of his choice against the will of the people.”
He said the arrest of the state Commissioner for Education, Dr. Tamunosisi Gogo-Jaja, and his family by soldiers yesterday evening in Port Harcourt confirmed the fears.
Abdulsalami, Kukah, Achebe Call for Peace
Sensing possible violence, former Head of State, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar (rtd); the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Bishop Matthew Kukah; and the Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Nnaemeka Achebe, have called for peace as Nigerians prepare to elect state governors and state Houses of Assembly members tomorrow.
The trio spoke Thursday in Awka, the Anambra State capital, during a stakeholders’ meeting organised by National Peace Committee entitled: ‘High-Level Dialogue on Peaceful Gubernatorial and House of Assembly Elections.’
Deputy Director, Administration of The Kukah Centre, Mr. Duke Anoemuah, read the joint address of Kukah and Abdulsalami during the meeting, while that of Igwe Achebe was read by Chief Okey Ononye, who represented him at the function.
They asked politicians, monarchs, security services, civil society organisations, the media and government to be committed to the peaceful conduct of the elections.
Part of their address read: “We are here in Anambra State to extend to the good people of the state an appeal made by the NPC for a peaceful conduct of election into the state House of Assembly scheduled for next Saturday
“Our distinguished candidates contesting elections into the state House of Assembly are urged to eschew violence and hate speeches and strive to adhere to the peace accord which leaders of the various political parties willingly assented to in Abuja in December 2018 and February 2019 before the presidential and National Assembly elections.
“The goal of this forum is to sensitise and mobilise stakeholders towards peaceful elections. It is expected to build initiatives, and take measures to strengthen mutual confidence among stakeholders and political actors as well as to encourage peaceful resolution of any election-related disputes with utmost regard to the rule of law and due process.
“The chairman (Abdulsalami) also asked me to convey his appreciation to the leadership of all political parties in Anambra State, especially candidates contesting for the legislative positions who have so far demonstrated their commitment to peaceful elections in the state.”
They reminded the contestants in the election to educate their followers/supporters to conduct themselves peacefully during the exercise, stressing that it is only in a peaceful environment that elections could hold.