Anxiety Grips Nation Ahead Saturday’s Polls
• We Are ‘Very Ready’ Says INEC
• Rivers State Turns Killing Field
• Army In Show Of Strength
COME Saturday, barring any happenstance, Nigeria will hold its most keenly contested election. The umpire saddled with ensuring its smooth conduct says all is well. The organs of government charged with securing it say it will be peaceful. But disturbing realities on ground indicate the road ahead might be very challenging.
“There is no way that you can avoid violence, as soon as the results are declared,” said Mr. Uche Ogbonnaya.
The Guardian met Ogbonnaya at Bauchi Road Motor Park in Jos, Plateau State, as he travelled to the East with his family.
He said: “When you take the deadly utterances of people, like Dokubo Asari of the Niger Delta and that of youths in the North who are supporters of Buhari, you will realise that whichever side wins, there will still be problems. I believe that the best way to avoid this imminent violence is to steer clear of the theatre of war. That is why I want to travel home with my family.”
An artisan, Mallam Mohammed Bello, also at the Park, said fear of the election could not be dismissed. “If you don’t fear the anxiety and violence that may likely visit the presidential elections, then you don’t value your life,” he said.
In Rivers State, the prevailing climate of insecurity and uncertainty occasioned by growing political tension between the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) might dampen the enthusiasm of the state’s voters towards participation in the elections.
The recent spate of politically motivated attacks on members of the two main political parties in the state, and the seeming inability of security agents to checkmate and apprehend the perpetrators, has fuelled concerns that the elections would not be devoid of violence.
Some residents who spoke to The Guardian said they have concluded plans to move members of their families to their villages out of fear that the elections could turn violent.
At least, eight persons were killed, while many more sustained injuries Friday night, at different locations in Port Harcourt, following attacks by unknown gunmen.
Five persons were shot dead and many others wounded, when armed men stormed a popular bar before Amadi-Ama roundabout.
The incident occurred at about 11:30 pm. Among those killed was a lady and a military personnel.
Earlier that night, three persons were also killed and another seriously wounded when two armed men staged an attack at the Okrika Waterfront area of the city.
Before the polls’ postponement, there had been hues and cries over the poor distribution of Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs). Also, advocates of election shift had cited the prevailing insecurity in the North East states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe and succeeded in putting pressure on the electoral umpire to fix a new date.
Consequently, the Presidential and National Assembly elections, earlier slated for Saturday, February 14, were postponed to March 28, 2015. Governorship and state legislative elections will hold on April 11, 2015.
Interestingly, the Chairman of the Commission, Prof. Attahiru Jega, had admitted that with the new dates, INEC stands a better chance of fine-tuning some of its processes.
So, with D-Day staring Nigerians squarely in the face, just how ready is the commission?
Chief Press Secretary to the INEC Chairman, Kayode Idowu, in a telephone chat, yesterday, told The Guardian in Abuja that the electoral body is “very ready” to go ahead with the polls, next Saturday, excepting unanticipated developments.
He said: “We are set to go, and everything is in place for the conduct of the elections, both in terms of men and materials. Electoral materials have been deployed, and all the non-sensitive materials are on location, as we speak. This means that they are at the point where they could be deployed to the polling units on election day.
“Of course, you know that our sensitive materials are warehoused in the Central Bank of Nigeria. By next Wednesday, the Commission, political party agents and observers will be there to take them out to the various vaults of the Central Bank and begin their deployment from there.”
Last Thursday, INEC had addressed concerns about whether the elections would hold or not by confirming that there are no indications from any quarters on any wish to further postpone the polls beyond the March 28 and April 11 dates.
Prof. Attahiru Jega disclosed this to local and international observers at a briefing of accredited observers for the elections. Jega said: “I am aware that there are still lingering concerns on whether the elections would hold or not. Let me say that I do not see any indication from any quarters of any wish to further postpone the elections.”
Earlier, at an interactive session with the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room – a coalition of over 60 civil society organisations, in Abuja, last Wednesday – Jega again gave assurance of the commission’s preparedness.
He said: “We are now adequately prepared for the elections which have been rescheduled to March 28 and April 11. And I want to say that I’ve not seen any indication from anywhere that there is a desire for another postponement of the election. So, we are all focused on March 28 and April 11.”
But there are still unresolved issues with Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs). Kogi State government, for instance, has appealed to an alarming number of eligible voters in the state to come forward and pick up their cards.
Over 360,000 PVCs remain in INEC’s custody across the 21 Local Government Areas.
The state’s Commissioner for Information, Hajiya Zainab Suleiman Okino, said this when she visited the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) in the state, Mr. Hussaini Halilu Pai.
Hajia Zainab said the summary of PVC distribution in the state as released by INEC in Lokoja on Monday, shows that 362,385 PVCs are yet to be collected by eligible voters in the state.
According to her, 1,317,672 PVCs were received by INEC for distribution to registered voters in the state. “Of this number, 955, 287 PVCs, representing 72.5 per cent have been collected by voters,” she said.
She noted that the 362, 385 PVCs awaiting collection represents 27.5 per cent of the PVCs received for distribution to eligible voters in Kogi State.
In Edo State, the REC, Mike Igini, said INEC, as at Wednesday, had distributed a total of 1, 226, 247 PVCs in the state, even as he reiterated the Commission’s readiness to conduct a free, fair and credible election.
He noted that people who were yet to receive their PVCs in Ovia South-West, Owan South, Owan West and Uhunmwode Local Government Areas would receive them today (Sunday).
Addressing a press conference, yesterday, in Jos, the Youth Wing of the Christian Association of Nigeria (YOWICAN) said: “Many Christians within Bauchi metropolis and environs are still in the dark, as they have not been issued PVCs.”
Bauchi Council, coordinator, Mr. Mako Gwamis, said: “These are subtle, systematic and deliberate steps to disenfranchise Christians in Bauchi Local Government of Bauchi State. We had about 10,000 people who took their time to stand under the sun and registered for the coming polls, but only 2,000 of them have had their PVCs due to INEC’s deliberate attempt to make PVCs unavailable.”
With the political history of the state in hindsight, residents of Ibadan, the Oyo state capital, are living in palpable fear over fears of post-electoral violence.
Last week, the state’s Commissioner of Police, Mohammed Katsina, held a meeting with stakeholders where he warned politicians against acts of violence.
Katsina’s charge came on the heels of the murder of two members of Accord Party in the Odinjo area of the city during a rally.
Amid protest by the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Kaduna State on use of the military during the election, armed soldiers, yesterday, embarked on a show of strength, rolling out tanks and trailer loads of combatants.
Blaring sirens, and causing severe gridlock, the long convoy meandered through several parts of the city including Kachia road, Junction road, Ahmadu Bello way, Namadi Azikiwe road, Constitution road and Katsina road.
Alleging that government was planning to use the soldiers to intimidate voters in the state, the Director General of the El-Rufai Campaign Organisation, Mr. Ben Kure, condemned the move. He noted that the APC views it as “patently illegal”, adding, “It aims to transform soldiers from disciplined professionals into mere thugs for the PDP.”
Sadly, the Nigeria Police Force, burdened with the constitutional mandate of providing security, appears to be struggling to buckle its belt.
At the last meeting “to perfect strategies, to ensure peaceful conduct of the polls”, Abba hinted at the inadequacy of logistics available to the police.
A source within the Force said although the fact that “2564 vehicles were approved for the police to enhance their operations during the period, the Vice President commissioned only 263 out of that number. A few have been added, but we have received less than 500 of these vehicles. They are certainly not enough.”
At the said meeting, Abba identified transportation and communications as two key components in policing. But with the vehicles coming in trickles, he noted: “You can hardly get all you want; it’s part of human nature. But we will continue to ask for more. We would use the logistics available but most importantly is the judicious use of what we have.”
Asked for details on financial resources to upset other transportation requirements, the IGP said: “I will be able to send enough lubricants and fuel for those vehicles.”
Although funds needed to man the elections had not been released to the Force, as at Friday, expectation was that it would still be made available before votes are cast.
Coupled with this is threat by some middle cadre officers to embark on a strike before the election to protest unpaid arrears.
Reacting, however, the Force Public Relations Officer (FPRO), Emmanuel Ojukwu, said the threat “is the handiwork of detractors outside the force who are bent on truncating the electoral process. They did not threaten any strike and would not go on strike, because anyone that does so would face the full wrath of the law”.
But Abba told journalists that the officers should have commended him for lobbying for them to get their harmonized salaries, instead of grumbling about arrears, which would be paid anyway.
“Arrears will be paid, but if you have been patient for almost three years, you should be at least happy. Anybody saying anything is just trying to incite. The officers are happy that they have started drawing benefits from their new ranks,” he said.
Although the Ekiti state command had earlier distanced officers of the command from the planned action, one of the affected officers said: “This is the opportunity for us to get our arrears. They started giving us the salary because elections are at the corner and they anticipated our actions. So we were paid our harmonized salaries, without the arrears.
“If we don’t get this arrears now, we would never get it. The only assurance that we would be paid is for the government to start paying us part of the arrears as the elections approach. If not, the guarantee that we will give our best during the election, even if we are forced to participate, is not there.”
The Niger State police command, meanwhile, has declared its readiness to provide adequate security for the election, saying it has groomed “specially trained” officers for the exercise.
Speaking in Minna, yesterday, at the passing out ceremony of the 184 officers and men, the commissioner of police, Olusola Amore, warned “miscreants, political warlords and thugs who think they can disrupt the elections” that the force is ready to take them on because it has a “special brand of police” on ground.