- INEC condemns violence, thuggery in ‘several places’
- Dickson wants Southern Ijaw, Nembe votes cancelled
- Election monitors decry huge security deployment
- PDP, APC candidates disagree over poll’s credibility in Bayelsa
Nseobong Okon-Ekong, Stanley Nkwazema, Emmanuel Addeh in Yenegoa, Chuks Okocha and Ibrahim Oyewale in Lokoja
Living true to their dreaded reputations, saturday’s Bayelsa and Kogi States governorship elections were largely marred by violence characterised by ballot snatching, vote buying, intimidation and assaults on journalists, despite the heavy security deployment in the two states.
Surprisingly, the leadership of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), however, confirmed the development, saying there were violence and thuggery in several places according to reports it had received. The electoral body condemned the resort to violence and thuggery by partisan interest to influence the outcome of the elections.
This, perhaps, explained why the outgoing Bayelsa State Governor, Seriake Dickson, called for the cancellation of votes in Southern Ijaw and Nembe, even as election monitoring groups decried the heavy security presence in the two states.
Also, in Bayelsa, governorship candidates of both the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC), Douye Diri and David Lyon disagreed over the credibility of the election.
While Diri accused the APC of colluding with security agents to undermine the process, Lyon on his part, commended the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for a peaceful process.
However, in a statement late Saturday night and signed by the National Commissioner in charge of Voter Education and Information, Festus Okoye, INEC was disappointed at the level of violence that attended the elections in the two states.
“Unfortunately, however, despite all the efforts of the Commission and the promises of the political parties to promotes peaceful elections, including several engagements with stakeholders and signing of Peace Accords, there are reports indicating that the process was in several places affected by thuggery and violence, which the commission unequivocally condemns.
“We are still receiving, collating and evaluating these reports as we move into the critical phase of result collation. Results will be collated at Registration Areas, Local Government Areas and State levels of the Commission are ready to receive these results and stakeholders are advised to keep to their commitments to ensure peaceful conduct,” the statement stated.
INEC explained that it was carefully monitoring the process, explaining that reports from accredited observers and INEC officials in the field indicated that most voters, who were willing to vote had the opportunity to do so.
The statement noted that the Commission delivered materials to its two state offices in good time and made adequate preparations for the movement of staff and materials to the various voting locations.
“The security agencies have been supportive so far, in the face of many challenges. The Commission calls on them to be even more vigilant at this critical juncture of result collation.
“Finally, the commission calls on the general public to remain calm, while assuring voters in the two states of the resolve of the commission to ensure that the elections are concluded fairly and credibly.”
But in Bayelsa, violence, intimidation, allegations of ballot snatching and open vote buying marked the governorship election in the state, which was a straight contest between PDP’s Diri and APC’s Lyon.
The election was also characterised by the abduction and release of four officials of INEC in Bumodi-Gbene, Ekpetiama, Yenagoa and Ologi in Ogbia Local Government Council of the state.
Also recorded in some local government councils were alleged hijack of ballot papers, violence, sporadic shooting, vote buying and late arrival of election materials.
The affected officials were waylaid by some thugs and held against their will, while in Angiama, Southern Ijaw. A boat carrying INEC materials was hijacked while a policewoman on escort duty, who was pushed into the river managed to escape alive.
In Ogbia Ward 03, an INEC official, Ukuachukwu Orji, a supervisory resident for the area, cancelled the votes cast, stressing that some persons from Ologi community forcibly prevented election in the riverine area.
He said: “As our people were coming into the community after crossing the river, they seized them and the materials and burnt all the materials. They chased our people away and seized some, but the military rescued them.”
Orji, a Resident Electoral Officer, who was redeployed for the purpose of the election from Anambra, said election in the community was cancelled as a result of the incident.
He expressed satisfaction that election has been smooth in other communities that form the LGA, except in Ologi. The governorship election in Bayelsa State is being held in all the eight local government areas of the state.
The case was not markedly different in Ekeremor, where there were reports of hijacking of electoral materials by thugs, who invaded the centre in the main town.
At Koluama 1&2 communities in constituency 4, Southern Ijaw, electoral materials meant for voters were destroyed after a heated argument broke out in the area, where the state Chairman of the PDP, Moses Cleopas and the Director General of the PDP campaign, Nimibofa Ayawei hail from and is seen as a strong PDP base.
Election materials were also allegedly hijacked in Sagbama Ward 6, 7, 11 and 14. In ward 11, unit one, against the INEC’s directive that the military should not be directly involved or be seen in the polling booths, a number of soldiers were deployed in the unit in what some voters described as sheer intimidation.
In Nembe, where several persons, including a police officer, were killed during a PDP rally during the week, there were noticeable irregularities as members of the party were not allowed into the polling booths to vote.
Meanwhile, Governor Dickson, who called on INEC to cancel the election in some parts of the state, made the call while speaking with newsmen shortly after voting at Oruerewari, Polling Unit 005, Toru Orua in Sagbama local government area.
He called for outright cancellation of the elections in Nembe local government area, where he said over 20 PDP faithful were massacred by armed APC militia during an aborted campaign rally of the PDP.
“I call on the Chairman of INEC to issue an order cancelling the process in all the wards, in all the local government areas affected, in all the wards and units, where materials have been stolen or hijacked, where officials have been kidnapped and held hostage to enable the APC cook up non existing figures.”
In solidarity with Dickson, the Bayelsa State House of Assembly had called on the governor to declare a curfew in Nembe.
The lawmakers condemned the alleged attacks and killings in Nembe, especially in Bassambiri area of the state during a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) rally in the area.
Speaker of the assembly, Monday Obolo, said no political ambition could justify the killing and maiming of any person, adding that if voters were killed, there would be no one to govern.
The assembly also called on INEC to cancel the election in Nembe.
Interestingly, the disagreement between Diri and Lyon over the credibility of the poll in some parts of the state also directly pointed to some of the anomalies that characterised the election.
Diri, while speaking after voting at his polling unit, ward six, unit four in Sampou community, Kolokuma/Opokuma Local Government alleged that the APC was colluding with the security agents to manipulate the election.
“It is going on peacefully in my unit and voting is orderly here. It’s going on well here. However, I have reports of pockets of electoral fraud committed by APC, coming in with thugs to hijack materials, denying PDP members from voting.
“I raised the red flag about Nembe Bassambiri. What I have is that no PDP agent is allowed to go into Nembe Bassambiri. At Eniwari in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area, the report I have is that the APC thugs went there, the same with Opolo, and other places. But we are monitoring the process”, Diri stated.
But Lyon, on his part, lauded INEC for a peaceful election process in state, saying with what he had seen in his community, the commission had conducted a credible poll so far.
The APC candidate, who voted at his Olugbobiri Ward 4, Unit 1, in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area, Lyon said ”Today’s process is very peaceful. I have seen what INEC has been doing all the while. It is going very peacefully and that’s why we are advising everyone to go peacefully and vote
“Go with your card to your units, vote and leave the place. Don’t come and create problems, but guard your vote. That’s what we are telling everybody.”
In the same breath, Nestor Binabo, a former acting governor of Bayelsa, said the ballots in his ward were forcibly taken away thereby disenfranchising many people.
“I didn’t vote. The reason is that the materials meant for the elections for my ward, Agoro Sagbama, were hijacked, and carried away by PDP thugs. Until now, nobody has voted in ward 11 in Sagbama local government.
“We have protested. We have put in protest letters and we are asking to either go back or cancel whatever results that any person summits. As far as I am concerned, I am blaming the military, because the materials were moved from Sagbama, to a place called Bolu-orua and they were loaded into the Naval gun boats.”
Also, in an interview, Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Mr. Daniel Iworiso-Markson, bemoaned the presence of soldiers in some polling booths in Ogbia and decried the violence in some parts of the state.
“A number of people expressed apprehension with the number of soldiers, who came into this community. Opume is not a flashpoint. Over the years, Opume has been a very peaceful community.
“We have not experienced any form of violence, therefore, we are surprised by the large number of military men, who came here whether they came for election duties. It’s hard to tell.”
But Jothan Amos, Chairman of the APC in Bayelsa, lamented that there was high level of electoral misconduct in Sagbama, where the incumbent governor hails from.
He called on all security agencies to take note of the situation and called on all APC supporters to maintain peaceful conduct throughout the process.
Meanwhile, former President, Goodluck Jonathan, who voted in Otuoke, expressed disappointment over the late arrival of election materials to his polling unit, 39, in Otuoke under ward 13 of Ogbia Local Government. He left the polling booth and later emerged with his wife, Patience to cast their votes.
“My wife and I were able to cast our votes today as soon as the polling booth at Unit 39 Ward 13 in Otuoke opened just before noon. I urge Bayelsans and voters in Kogi State to go about performing this important civic responsibility in a peaceful manner,” he said.
Generally, in Yenegoa, the capital city of Bayelsa, major roads witnessed heavy presence of security personnel, who had blocked strategic locations around the town.
The security agents were noticed around Julius Berger Junction, hich spots the only Flyover Bridge in Bayelsa, Tombia Roundabout and Mbiama Junction, the mouth of the road into Yenogoa, from the East-West Road.
They stopped vehicles and politely demanded to know their destination. One of the distinct features in yesterday’s security arrangement is that each agency – the army, police and FRSC – maintained separate spots without any form of interaction.
The Nigerian Army personnel, who were mainly stationed on the major roads, had a good number of female soldiers. They were all armed.
This notwithstanding, reports of violence in Ekeremor, Opolo, Ogbia and several other areas of the state, where thugs reportedly disrupted the governorship election process, started filing in.
The situation in Kogi was not significantly different from Bayelsa’s.
After the initial calm, violence soon took over many of the centres and marred the electoral process as political thugs unleashed terror on voters and security agents, shooting sporadically into the air.
This happened barely four hours after the commencement of the gubernatorial and Kogi West Senatorial rerun elections, when unknown gunmen invaded some polling units in Lokoja and snatched ballot boxes.
Thugs had invaded the Muslim Community Secondary School polling unit at Lokogoma and shot into air, forcing voters to run for safety, while the thugs had a field day.
At Adankolo new layout, vote buying and selling characterised the exercise and later gunshots followed and voters scampered to safety.
Also at Crowther Memorial College, thugs chased out voters and security personnel to take over the centre and carted away the sensitive electoral materials.
In Kogi East Senatorial district, snatching of election material was the order of the day from inception. In Dekina local government, at least, two persons were confirmed dead as result of violence.
Some political thugs also attacked the polling unit, where Senator Dino Melaye voted earlier in the day and carted away the ballot boxes.
Suspected thugs had stormed the polling unit in Ayetoro Gbede, destroyed the ballot box meant for the Senatorial election and went away with the ballot box for the governorship election.
However, in what was assumed to be retaliation, thugs suspected to be loyal to Melaye smashed the windscreen of the car conveying journalists, who came to cover election in Ijumu Local government area of the State.
Some armed men, who operated in police uniforms, also attacked Ukwo Okoriko Polling Unit (former SSG’s House at Koton-Karfi) and took over the centre after shooting to scare away voters.
Curiously, this happened at about the time Police Helicopter was seen hovering around Lokoja to curtail possible breakdown of law and order.
But the election was generally peaceful in Kogi Central Senatorial district as at the time of filing this report, as there was no case of violence recorded in Okene.
Worried by widespread of violence, the Centre for Democracy and Development and Yiaga Africa condemned the development despite early warning signs, which security could have used to nib it.
The Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) one of the domestic observer groups in the state for the election, decried the spate of violence and ballot snatching across the state.
Professor Adele Jinaidu, CDD chairman addressed a news Conference, where he claimed reports from CDD observers indicated widespread violence, Intimidation of voters, vote buying, abductions, gunshots and massive rigging that could undermine the integrity of the election.
CDD described the conduct of the election as falling short of expectations in spite of public outcry against electoral violence in the state.
In the same vein, Yiaga Africa called on INEC to cancel voting in polling units with cases of ballot snatching and violence.
The group also condemned brazen vote buying observed within the proximity of polling units.
Meanwhile, the PDP had alerted INEC that agents of Governor Bello and the APC had threatened as well as forced presiding officers of the commission, including NYSC members to endorse prefilled results sheets in some local government areas, ahead of the poll.
The party in a statement by the National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan said this happened in Okene and Okehi Local Government Areas in Kogi Central Senatorial zone, where the governor and the APC were desperate to allocate fictitious votes and fabricate results in their favour.
“Given the magnitude of the manipulation, the PDP urges INEC not to accept any results coming from the Okene and Okehi local government areas as they have already been compromised. Moreover, the PDP and other stakeholders in this election will never accept manipulated results coming from the two local government areas.
“The party also calls on security agencies to immediately detail a reinforced team to Okene and Okehi to save the lives of the presiding officers and the NYSC members from the APC and agents of Yahaya Bello.”
Earlier, the PDP had called on its members to defend their votes at the collation centres.
In a two paragraph statement by Ologbondiyan, PDP said, “I urge everyone to please stay and defend their votes, as you all know that protecting your vote is paramount.
“And also, all Security Agencies should please stay off the collation centres and not disrupt any activities happening around the collation centres.”
In like manner, Bello cautioned his supporters and other electorate against violence.
Governor Yahaya Bello had sued for peace after voting at his Okene Residence, Agassa/Abache polling units 01 in Okene Local government area of the State, saying security operatives would deal with anyone causing violence.
Voters had started filing out to their various polling units as early 6.45am awaiting patiently the arrival of electoral officers.
The governor lauded INEC, saying the commission was better organised than the previous elections in the state, adding that he was sure of victory.
Consequently, there have been mixed reactions from different election monitoring groups that observed Saturday’s governorship contest in Bayelsa State, with many of them condemning the heavy presence of security agents, because it was a pointer to the fact that Nigeria’s democracy was still not civil.
Executive Director, Sustainable Initiative for Nurturing Growth (SING), Mr. Idris Usman, said his organisation’s engagement with Bayelsa dated back to 2015, when it researched and documented a first-of-its-kind report on violence attending elections in Bayelsa.
“Our report traced the victims, identified the perpetrators, sponsors and communities, where these violence were recorded with a view to encourage prosecution so that it will serve as a deterrence. We also engaged in a pre-election enlightenment campaign tagged, ‘Vote A Must’.
Assessing the 2019 governorship contest in Bayelsa, Usman said, “the heavy presence of security indicates that our democracy is still not civil. It is as if we are at war, as opposed to people freely making a choice of their leaders under a peaceful atmosphere. “
His position was collaborated by Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin, President of Women Arise, who said she could not sleep with her eyes open if she was not physically present in either Bayelsa or Kogi state.
“My interaction with security has shown that many of them are willing to be educated and are actually humble about the way they conduct themselves in civil society. Our participation has helped to deepen our democratic culture.
“We are not there yet, but there is hope that things will get better. This is our country and we should continue to insist on what we want. What we do for ourselves will be forgotten, but what we do for the world will remain.”
Bukola Idowu, Executive Director, Kimpact Development Initiative, said there was late commencement of the election.
“This was common to all the places I went to. There are reported pockets of violence in some areas. We have been doing this since the 2019 general election. We are working on the Nigerian Election Violence Report (NEVR).
“We share our report with the security agencies so that they can mitigate and deploy appropriate responses. I think they acted on our reported. With the report we have so far, there is no reduction in the incidents of violence from what happened in the general election.”
President of Rev. John Pofi Foundation, working in collaboration with the United States Nigerian Law Group had called for the withdrawal of military men to forestall what happened in Buguma Rivers State in the last general election.
In a statement jointly issued by Dr. Aisha Abdullahi, Ezenwa Nwagwu and Cynthia Mbamalu for YIAGA Africa Watching the Vote, Bayelsa Observation Mission, the group deployed “Parallel Vote Tabulation (PVT), which is an advanced and proven methodology that employs well established statistical principles and utilizes sophisticated information technologies for election observation.
“Using this methodology, YIAGA AFRICA can independently determine if the official result announced reflects the votes cast.”
The Watching The Vote observation highlighted findings that enable a systematic assessment of seven process-related issues, which include the: opening of polling units and presence of polling officials and election materials;
“Presence of security personnel, commencement of accreditation and voting; deployment of the smart card readers; and presence of party agents. It also highlighted critical incidents observed that may threaten the credibility of the election.”