*APC in early lead in Imo, Kogi, PDP leads in Bayelsa
*INEC adjourns results collation in Bayelsa, suspends polls in nine Kogi wards
*Diri, Sylva trade accusations, Melaye seeks poll cancellation in five LGAs
*Stop off-season elections, Jonathan tells National Assembly
*Clark urges INEC to investigate alleged irregularities
*EFCC arrests suspected vote buyers in Bayelsa, Imo, Kogi
The governorship elections held in Bayelsa, Imo, and Kogi states yesterday were characterised by violence, voter apathy, and buying of votes.
This is coming as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has adjourned the collation of results for the Bayelsa State governorship election.
INEC also suspended elections in nine wards of Ogori/Magongo Local Government Area (LGA) of Kogi State, just as the governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state, Senator Dino Melaye, has called for the cancellation of the polls in five LGAs in the state.
Despite the violence, the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Imo State, Governor Hope Uzodimma and the Bayelsa State Governor and the candidate of the PDP, Senator Duoye Diri were leading, according to the results of the few polling units collated as at last night.
APC’s Usman Ododo was also leading from the results collated from few polling units in Kogi State.
In Bayelsa State, Senator Duoye Diri, has accused the candidate of the APC, Mr. Timipre Sylva, of being behind electoral violence recorded in the Nembe-Bassambiri area of the state, the APC candidate accused the PDP and security agents of harassing his supporters.
Elder statesman, Chief Edwin Clark has urged INEC to investigate reported cases of irregularities in the three states.
Former President Goodluck Jonathan, however, asked the National Assembly to work towards stopping off-season elections in the country.
Apart from violence, the governorship polls held across the three states were also characterised by logistics challenges.
Speaking to journalists yesterday in Abuja, the Chairman of the Centre for Democracy and Development Election Analysis Centre (CDD-EAC), Prof. Adele Jinadu, said the CDD deployed over 150 fact-checkers and observers in all three states, as well as a team of data clerks, reviewers, and analysts in its Situation Room in Abuja.
According to him, the observers reported that voting in 65 per cent of polling units observed in Bayelsa State and 80 per cent of polling units observed in Imo State started late, after the 8 am commencement time.
He said in the case of Kogi State, voting in 40 per cent of the polling units commenced late.
In many polling units in Imo State, the few voters, who were present confirmed that many eligible voters were scared of coming out to vote, due to fear of violence.
Several observers in Bayelsa State also reported the late arrival of INEC staff and security personnel.
In Yenagoa LGA, observers reported that one person was shot in the Famgbe community while voting ended abruptly in PU 24 Ward when thugs destroyed election materials.
The Labour Party (LP) governorship candidate in the state, Mr. Udengs Eradiri, alleged that the election was marred by massive vote-buying.
“The level of vote-buying is overwhelming,” Eradiri said while commenting on the general conduct of the election.
Eradiri, who spoke at Agudama-Ekpetiama, Yenagoa LGA, said he was particularly disappointed about the open cases of vote-buying because his campaign was partly devoted to educating the people not to sell their votes.
“My greatest disappointment was with a woman from this community whom I offered a scholarship to her son, but today sold her vote for N14,000,” he added.
According to him, votes were freely traded for between N12,000 and N40,000 per person.
In Nembe LGA of Bayelsa State, election materials were allegedly secretly hijacked to a different location where agents were reportedly thumb-printing for one of the major political politics.
Before the governorship election, an INEC official was abducted on Friday while waiting to board a boat at the Amassoma Jetty, and later released. A boat also capsized on the eve of the exercise with electoral materials lost, according to INEC.
In Sagbama, Yenegoa, and Southern Ijaw LGAs, there were reports that votes were sold for between N5,000 and N22,000.
Reacting to the poll, Bayelsa State Governor, Senator Diri, accused the candidate of the APC, Sylva of being behind the electoral violence recorded in the Nembe-Bassambiri area of the state.
Diri, who spoke after he cast his vote in the poll, alleged that “Timipre Sylva has been violent in every election”.
“We have been raising the issue of the violent character and person of Timipre Sylva. Over the years, in every election he is involved in, you experience violence, you experience lawlessness, and even in Nembe-Bassambiri, the name and the character behind what is happening in Nembe-Bassambiri is Timipre Sylva,” Diri said.
Diri, however, commended the INEC for a “seamless” and “very fast” election, saying “This is an improvement on all the other elections.”
The PDP candidate, however, expressed concerns over the situation in Nembe-Bassambiri where he said some of his party members were disenfranchised.
Diri called for “a free, fair process where the BVAS should be used just as I have done here today. Let the accreditation be by the BVAS in Nembe-Bassambiri.
“Special attention has to be taken in Nembe-Bassambiri because everything points to the fact that in Nembe PDP members are chased out of their community.”
On his part, Sylva accused the PDP and security agents of harassing his supporters.
Sylva spoke after he cast his vote at Ward 4, Unit 4 in the Brass LGA of the state.
The APC candidate fingered security agents “especially the Army”, alleging that they are “playing on the side of the PDP”.
He said violence was recorded in Yenagoa, the state capital, alleging that an APC member was shot.
Meanwhile, INEC has adjourned the collation of results for the Bayelsa State governorship election.
The Returning Officer for the election, Mr. Faruk Adamu Kuta, who announced this last night at the INEC Collation Centre in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, said the collation would now take place by 10:00 am today.
Briefing journalists in Abuja, the Convener, Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, Yunusa Ya’u, said reports indicate that the BVAS functioned optimally in Bayelsa and Kogi states, with a low performance in Imo.
“The Bimodal Voters Accreditation System (BVAS) functioned optimally in most polling units across the three states. However, there were reports of malfunctioning of the machines,” he said.
Violence, Vote-buying, Apathy Mar Imo Election
Tension was high yesterday in Imo State as violence and vote-buying allegations nearly marred the governorship election in the state with some of the voters selling their votes for as low as N2,000.
Reacting to the election, the governorship candidate of the Labour Party (LP) in Imo State, Athan Achonu, asked the INEC to cancel the votes in polling units marred by violence.
Achonu made the call after casting his vote in Umunumo hamlet in the Ehime Mbano Local Government Area of Imo State.
He alleged that some thugs beat up some agents of his party.
Describing the situation as crazy, he said the violence was contrary to democratic norms.
“They beat up so many of our agents. We are sad, we are going to upload some of their pictures. This is crazy, this is what our democracy has come to.”
Election observers also reported that INEC officials arrived late at many polling units in the state.
In his reaction, the governorship candidate of the PDP in the state, Senator Samuel Anyanwu, also raised the alarm over electoral malpractices in yesterday’s poll.
Speaking on the reports from the party agents in the field, Anyanwu alleged incidents of vote-buying, ballot box snatching, and other irregularities in some polling units.
He spoke in an interview with journalists in his Amaimo residence in Ikeduru LGA.
The PDP candidate accused party agents of the ruling APC of “coercing voters to vote for the party”.
He further alleged that some PDP agents were shot by political thugs.
According to him, one of the PDP vehicles was burnt at Inyishi Community in the LGA, while the agents were trying to resist the thugs.
He, therefore, called for the cancellation of the results of the poll in the areas allegedly rocked by thuggery and violence.
He also urged INEC “to beam its searchlight on Ikeduru LGA”.
He said: “I have evidence that one of the thugs is a member of the House of Assembly.
“In the process of snatching the ballot boxes, the lawmaker’s Identity Card fell off and I have it here with me.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reported that there were cases of vote buying and coercion of voters in Owerri North LGA.
It was also learnt that some thugs invaded the Umuokoro Village Hall, Iho, also in the LGA, where they allegedly snatched and destroyed ballot boxes and ballot papers.
INEC Suspends Election in Nine Kogi Wards as Melaye SeeKs Cancellation of Poll in Five LGAs
Meanwhile, the Kogi State PDP governorship candidate, Senator Dino Melaye, yesterday called for the cancellation of the election in five LGAs of the state.
The LGAs, according to Melaye, are Okene, Okehi, Ajaokuta, Adavi, and Ogori/Mangogo.
He alleged that the election in the five LGAs “is a scam coordinated from the highest level of INEC.”
Melaye did not show up at his polling unit situated at Iluafon quarters, Aiyetoro 1, Ijumu LGA of the state.
INEC has, however, suspended elections in nine wards of Ogori/Magongo LGA of Kogi State.
The Head of Department, Voter Education and Publicity, INEC, Kogi, Muhammad Kudu Haruna, made this known in a statement.
The statement said the commission had received reports on incidences of electoral malpractices, particularly the incident of result sheets completed before voting.
“Reports indicate that the incidents occurred in Adavi, Ajaokuta, Ogori/Magongo, Okehi, and Okene Local Government Areas. The most serious incidents occurred in Ogori/Magongo, affecting nine of 10 Registration Areas. This is entirely unacceptable. Any result not emanating from the Commission’s process in the Polling Units will not be accepted.
“The commission is determined not to reward bad behaviour. Consequently, the election in the nine Wards in Ogori/Magongo LGA (Eni, Okibo, Okesi, Ileteju, Aiyeromi, Ugugu, Obinoyin, Obatgben and Oturu) is at this moment suspended. The incidences in the other local government areas are being thoroughly investigated, and the outcome, including the way forward, will be announced in the next 24 hours,” the statement added.
There were reports of vote-buying in the state.
Of particular concern were the reports of irregularities in Ogori/Magongo LGA where there were pre-filled election result sheets in areas where voting had not even commenced.
There were also reports of the Igalamela LGA chairman being caught by security personnel with bullets and wads of naira notes.
Electoral violence was reported in Dekini LGA, specifically in Anyigba town, where a thug was reportedly shot and killed by soldiers while fleeing in an attempt to snatch a ballot box. There was a similar attempt in Ajaokuta LGA where an LGA chairman was apprehended by voters.
Clark Urges INEC to Investigate Alleged Irregularities
Following the violence that marred the polls, elder statesman, Chief Clark, has urged INEC to investigate reported cases of irregularities in the Bayelsa, Imo, and Kogi governorship elections.
Clark made the call when a group, South-south Diamond Ladies paid him a courtesy visit in Abuja.
He said the discovery of completed result sheets with names of voters even before the first vote was cast was very unfortunate.
Clark, who is also the Leader of the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) said for INEC to redeem its image from the fallout of the 2023 general election, the commission must investigate alleged irregularities reported in the three states.
He said: “This is an election to allow the INEC to redeem itself. Discovering completed result sheets with names of voters and so on is very unfortunate.
“INEC should investigate and make a public statement on this issue otherwise, they will be condemned as we did in the last general election. I still believe the election will be free and fair to a greater extent.
“The elections in Bayelsa, Imo and Kogi. I think INEC should redeem its image.
“What happened in the last election was very disappointing because if you say that you are going to use technology, you must use it because you provide it in your guidelines and the electoral law.
“INEC should redeem its image because, without an effective, honest INEC, we are in trouble because democracy will not work in this country.”
Stop Off-season Elections, Jonathan Tells National Assembly
In another development, former President Goodluck Jonathan has asked the National Assembly to work towards stopping off-season elections.
Jonathan said this yesterday after casting his ballot at Polling Unit 39, Ward 13, Otuoke, Ogbia LGA of Bayelsa State.
Jonathan said off-cycle polls should be struck out and harmonised with the general election.
According to him, with the way things are going in Nigeria, the presidential election may become off-season.
He said an off-season presidential poll “almost happened in 2007 when I contested as a running mate with President Umaru Musa Yar’adua” but it was prevented.
“I get worried about the issue of off-season election and I will use this as a unique opportunity to plead with the National Assembly that we need to block this off-season election; it is very odd, it’s not a global best practice.”
“A country can elect their people at different times like America, they may not elect at the same time, but every time they go on to do elections, they elect everybody that is meant to be elected. If we continue with this trend of off-season elections based on the interpretation of our laws, it will come to a time that the presidential election will be off-season; probably that’s the time that a lot of you – media people should be worried.
“Look at the American system everybody knows when the American elections will be conducted, that’s the standard practice of other countries.”
EFCC Arrests Suspected Vote Buyers, Recovers N11m
Also, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) said yesterday that its operatives arrested 14 suspected vote buyers in Otueke, Adawari playgrounds in Bayelsa State, and at various polling units in Imo and Kogi states.
A statement by the commission last night said the suspects were arrested on November 11, 2023, during intelligence-driven operations that commenced several days before the ongoing governorship elections in the three states.
It said a total sum of N11,040,000 was recovered, including N9,310,000 intercepted by operatives and recovered from suspected vote buyers and sellers in Bayelsa, while N1,730,000 was recovered from electoral fraud suspects in Imo State.
The statement signed by the Spokesman of the EFCC Dele Oyewale, said two vehicles were intercepted by the operatives of the commission.