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Electoral violations, violence remain INEC’s key challenges ahead of polls

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As the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) readies its systems and personnel for the rescheduled general elections, there are still tell-tale signs that violation of rules and election-related violence could mar the crucial polls.

Apprehensions over the 2019 general elections remain high, particularly following the level of killings and brigandage that heralded the botched presidential and National Assembly elections on Saturday.For instance, in the Southeast zone, ansinvestigation shows that there was stuffing of ballot boxes with thumb-printed voting materials in Oji River, Enugu State. Just as in Abia State, which involved adhoc staff of INEC among other compromises that ordinarily should have affected the exercise had it held.

Also in Ebonyi State, two persons were confirmed dead and many others sustained various degrees of injuries following election-related violence that erupted in some parts of the state. It was learnt that the two persons were killed in Ngbo Agbaja ward, Izzi Local Government of the state by suspected political thugs, while six others who sustained bullet wounds are now receiving treatment at the Federal Teaching Hospital, Abakaliki 1 and 2.

This is aside from the report that went out a few days to the botched election about some planted Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) on Ugwuogo Idembia Bridge in Ezza South Local Government Area of the state.The state governor, David Umahi, had confirmed at the weekend that two persons had been arrested over the bomb story, adding that their arrest followed intelligence reports made available to security agencies in the state.

Umahi said that a National Assembly candidate of a political party had also gone to a quarry site in the state to purchase explosives, but was turned down by the operators who reported the incident, even as another Federal House of Representative candidate was arrested in Ezza North LGA for allegedly shooting sporadically in his village.

On the day of the aborted poll proper, the APC senatorial candidate for Ebonyi South constituency, Onu Prince Nwaeze, allegedly escaped assassination attempt when some thugs suspected to be working for the state government invaded his country home at Uburu, Ohaozara council.
Onu, who has raised the alarm over threats to his life and family, has appealed to the Inspector General of Police and the military high command to wade into the matter and save his life.

Although the state government through the Chief Press Secretary to the governor, Emma Uzor, denied the attack and described the senatorial candidate as an “attention seeker”, Onu alleged that he was thoroughly beaten and arrested alongside his aides at his residence and taken to the police station at Uburu on the instructions of the governor.He said: “I was in my house in Obiozara, in Ohaozara, when suddenly I saw a truck-load of military personnel that parked near my house. I had to call on military authority, Lieutenant Agor Funsho, who is the Commander attached to the botched election on Saturday to inquire whether he was aware of his men being in my house. Hardly had I finished the call when the same military officers entered my compound.

“When I looked up to the gate, I saw the entourage of the governor. I saw Silas Onu, Nwanne Onu, Maxwell Umahi, Onu Nwoye who followed the military inside my compound and an ADC to the governor and Austin Umahi, the Southeast Vice Chairman of the PDP. They were all inside my compound. It was this that made me suspect that it was not a friendly visit. So I told the leader of the team that all the people in plain clothes should leave my compound. So he ordered them to pull back and they obliged. And I now asked him who really sent them and demanded whether their Unit Commander was aware they were in my house.

“On mentioning their Commander, they tried to retreat towards the gate and I followed them. It was then I saw a white vehicle at my gate where the governor, Dave Umahi sat; he was sitting in front. I demanded to know from his ADC what their mission was but he rebuffed me and started interrogating my security men. So I stood by the gate. I never knew that they were waiting for their thugs who drove in a few minutes later. It was at that point the governor asked his ADC to deal with me and that nothing would happen. So they pounced on me and started beating me in front of my gate.

“The moment I received a deep cut on my face, the DPO from Uburu Police Station rushed and handcuffed me. He bundled me into their car and took me to their station. I was there until the Commissioner of Police drove from Abakaliki to my place and ordered that I be treated while he assigned an officer, who obtained my statement in writing.”

However, the governor’s press secretary told The Guardian: “He is seeking cheap popularity. How can he say that the governor led thugs to attack him? The governor cannot descend to that level. Who is he in the first place? The governor is not a candidate in the senatorial election and has neither problem with him nor any other person.”

Uzor said the governor was on routine inspection on that day when suddenly a gunshot was heard around the area, adding that the governor was with the DPO of Uburu, his security details and some soldiers and they decided to investigate what was happening.“On getting there”, Uzor stated, “they discovered that he (Onu) was held hostage by some thugs who apparently wanted money from him over the failed election. So they decided to rescue him and took him to the police station. It has nothing to do with the governor. It is unfortunate that he is now claiming he was attacked by the same people who rescued him.”

On the spate of violence trailing the election and how to avert such, a security consultant, Ikechukwu Mba, declared: “If politicians can play by the rules guiding elections, we will not have incidents of electoral violence. If INEC could stick to its guidelines and not show itself to pander towards any interest, we will have achieved a milestone that could save a whole lot. Likewise, if security agencies could stick to their rules of engagement and see themselves as professionals, who have come to serve the masses, we will reduce electoral violence. So any how you look at it, it is something that involves every stakeholder if we must get it right in terms of security.”

But a legal practitioner, Chief Goddy Uwazurike, noted that the way it is, it would be difficult for anybody to think that violence in the coming elections could be averted following what he described as “desperation on the part of the political parties”.

Uwazurike added that there was increased tension in the country at the moment because the political parties, especially All Progressives Congress (APC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are eager to win the elections among other reasons.He said: “Take the South-South and Southeast for instance, APC has become so desperate because it is interested in making inroads in these zones. They are not bothered about the implication of certain actions and statements. Therefore, tension is brewing. Most of the politicians in these two zones feel that the only way to retain their relevance anywhere they are is to win election for their party in their ward. That is a dangerous thing because, whether you are popular or not, they want to ensure victory.

“Again the electoral umpire has not shown signs that it is impartial. There are allegations here and there that the body is working for the interest of a particular party and with that, there is increased anger on the side of the other parties and their candidates and they want to make things difficult for them.”

Uwazuruike said that brigandage and violence could be averted when the youths are meaningfully engaged, stressing that, “they easily yield their services in the elections because they don’t have an alternative.”He remarked that based on the ugly developments noticed in the botched elections, there was the need for security agencies and stakeholders to move in with the aim of providing measures that could prevent reoccurrences, adding however that “the way it is, it does not appear that anybody is taking notice that lives have been lost and property destroyed even when we have not taken off.”

Also a security expert, Mr. Benji Oha, said the Federal Government was in the best position to contain possible electoral violence in the coming polls, since according to him, “it should see the security agencies as serving the interests of the masses and not a particular party or candidate.”

Rivers
PERHAPS because the history of elections in Rivers State in the recent past has been characterized by political tensions and violence, the police had planned the deployment of 15,544 to secure over 4, 442 of its personnel at polling units in the state last Saturday.

Despite the abrupt postponement of the general election, there were reported cases of security breach in some parts of Rivers State. In the early hours of Saturday, yet-to-be identified gunmen invaded a Registration Area Centre at Orogbum Primary School in Port Harcourt and dispossessed some members of the National Youths Service Corps (NYSC) who had been recruited as INEC ad hoc staff of their belongings.

The hoodlums succeeded in invading the school premises because police and security personnel who were supposed to guard the school premises did not report for duty after they were told at the Central Bank in Port Harcourt that election had been postponed.However, a security expert, Cyril Babafemi, told The Guardian that INEC and security agencies erred by not notifying the Corps members, who usually gather at RAC centre on the eve of elections to enable them to access their polling units with ease, that election had been shifted.

“The Diobu and D-Line axis of Port Harcourt are not usually safe places to be at night,” he said. “I think INEC should have asked the police command or even the military to provide security for corps members who had left their homes to stay at the RAC centres close to their polling units. We thank God that no life was lost. I strongly recommend that INEC and security agencies in the state should be more proactive to avoid a repetition of this unfortunate incident.”

Even at that, an APC chieftain, Tonye Cole, said but for the postponement of the elections, over 2000 political thugs armed with lethal weapons, who were deployed to Abonnema, Rivers State, to disrupt the election would have unleashed unfathomable mayhem on the community.
Cole argued that the cancellation averted the loss of life and property in Abonnema headquarters of Akuku-Toru Local Government Area of the state. While explaining that Abonnema and other neighbouring communities were under siege, Cole said he was shocked by the flagrant disregard shown for the Peace Accord signed barely a week ago by all political parties.

He therefore urged security operatives to take steps to protect lives and property, because gangsterism and thuggery should not be allowed to ruin Nigeria’s democracy.More than 50 suspected political thugs from Delta, Edo, and Abia States were arrested on the eve of the election by the Ogba/Egbema/ Ndoni Local Government Area Security Peace and Advisory Council (OSPAC) on their way to Ndoni.

The leader of the team, who claimed that his father is from Lebanon, while his mother is Delta State, admitted that they were contracted by a man identified as Badon to go to Ndoni to cast their vote.The suspects, who have been handed over to the State Police Command were intercepted in four 18-seater Hiace bus at Ogbogu community with over 1,000 Permanent Voters Cards, (PVCs). But some of the names given by the suspects were different from the names on the PVCs.

In her contributions, a non-violence advocate, Sarah Atuzi, suggested that security agencies, which should have been acquainted with the violent rhetoric, and body language of some of the key political actors that overheated the political space in the state, ought to have known better to keep a tab on every known political thug.

Atuzi added: “I think the security agencies, particularly the police and DSS should profile all the bad boys in the state with a view to monitoring their movement in and out of the residences of key political players in the state throughout this week. They need to monitor the movements of a group of boys in and out of major flashpoints in the state. Asari Toru, Etche, Ikwerre, Obio-Akpor, Emohua, Abua, Ahoada West to name a few places, are areas security agents must monitor closely ahead of this week’s elections.”

Southwest
THE buildup to the 2019 general election, which was suspended midway, was relatively peaceful across the six states of the Southwest geopolitical zone, except in Ondo and Ogun States, where minor hitches were recorded.For instance, in Ondo, the bickering between the ruling APC and Action Alliance (AA) continued to generate some heat, while in Ogun State the division in APC, which led to the incumbent governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, supporting a rival candidate of Allied Peoples Movement (APM), Adekunle Akinlade, drew much tension in the state.

However, the intriguing aspect of the situation in the zone is that all the warring APC factions continue to mouth their support for President Buhari’s reelection, such that the crises failed to attain similar momentum as obtains in some South/South and Southeast States.

In Lagos State, what could have possibly created tension ahead of the election was the denial of the incumbent governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, second term ticket in the governorship primary held in October last year. Rather than support the governor for a second term, the national leader of the party, Bola Tinubu, preferred one of his associates and political sons, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who is currently APC standard-bearer for the 2019 gubernatorial poll.

What could have created another tension in Lagos but was immediately addressed was the fracas that broke out during Sanwo-Olu’s mega rally at the Police College Ikeja, where two people were killed and several injured, including two journalists.The leadership of Lagos APC had quickly intervened with additional inputs from the presidency. An initial attempt to replace the erstwhile Commissioner of Police, Edgar Imohinmi with CP Kayode Egbetokun failed when Governor Ambode allegedly complained bitterly against the posting of Egbetokun on the grounds that he (Egbetokun) was a one-time Chief Security Officer (CSO) to Tinubu.

Recall that the face-off between the governor and the State House of Assembly over the impeachment attempt embarked upon by the latter over the 2019 budget for the state and other sundry issues and allegations of anti-party activities nearly set the state ablaze before Saturday.
The situation was also calmed by the quick intervention of the Governor’s Advisory Council (GAC) led by Tinubu, which directed the legislators to drop the impeachment move, while the governor was also ordered to present the budget.

Akwa Ibom, Cross River
In Akwa Ibom and Cross River States, violent incidents were recorded and people died in last weekend’s failed election. For instance, in Akwa Ibom State fake policemen in five pickup vans were said to have been noticed at Okon and Odoroikot in Essien Udim Local Government Area.

Reliable sources in Okon said the dubious officers mounted illegal roadblocks and claimed they were acting on the instruction of some APC big men in the local government. They were, however, repelled by the youths who mobilized heavily, even as some persons were feared dead in the ensuring crisis. Essien Udim is Senator Godswill Akpabio’s local government.

Reacting to the situation in Obot-Akara, which was also violent, the state Police Public Relations Officer, Odiko Macdon, said: “I am not aware of any fake policemen in Essien Udim and I don’t have that record at my disposal. But I am aware of the burning of seven vehicles, three motorcycles and vandalism of two buses. Ten suspects were arrested and two locally made pistols, Indian hemp, machetes and others were recovered as exhibits. An investigation is still ongoing. One person was macheted.”

Macdon disclosed that the police have beefed up security at INEC facilities and other important places to check reoccurrence, adding: “Because we beefed up security in Eastern Obolo when they set the place ablaze, we were able to chase the hoodlums away and put off the fire.“INEC materials are intact and there is general deployment of additional policemen all around, intensification of patrol and intelligence gathering are ongoing to put hoodlums at bay. We have deployed over 8,000 policemen and other security agencies.”

Also, in Bendeghe Ekiem, Etung Local Government Area of Cross River State PDP chairman and three others were said to have been killed. The state PPRO, Irene Ugbo said, it was two rival cult groups, Vikings and Klans that clashed in Etung. According to her, “I think they are PDP and APC supporters and three persons died. The place has been condoned off and policemen deployed. For now the place is calm. We also arrested some people that did that havoc and they are in our custody. Investigation is on and by the grace of God they will be charged to court. I think we have five persons in our custody and they would be charged to court.” Regarding next Saturday’s election, Ugho said the IGP has given directives that all men should be on ground, stressing that the Commissioner of Police has added more men, especially in the metropolis.

Averting violence
Meanwhile, as the rescheduled elections hold on Saturday, a security scholar at the University of Ibadan, Prof. Olawale Albert, has urged security agents to be responsible, just as he charged citizens to be law-abiding.Albert, who spoke to The Guardian in Ibadan, said there are many variables to be considered for the election to be peaceful. The immediate past Director, Institute of Peace and Strategic Studies, University of Ibadan, maintained that the efficiency of the security and the readiness of the police to constructively engage the situation and the citizens to be law-abiding would determine the success of the polls.

But with the way of things are, he said there was nothing to cheer about, saying he is not sure if there would not be thugs on election day. The don added that the electorate should be committed to a violence-free election.However, the Oyo State Commandant of Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), John Adewoye, said the command is fully prepared, saying the postponement had given the agency and others time to fully make additional preparations for the poll.

Adewoye stated that immediately the election was postponed all security agencies in the state met, and assured voters of adequate security, even as he disclosed that 3,460 officers already deployed would be retained, noting: “We are fully prepared. The postponement has given us more opportunity to fully prepare. It is the part of the process. We will recalculate the cost and go ahead. It is a task that must be done.”An election observer, Mr. Gboyega Tokunbo, said judging by the situation on ground and the arrangement made so far, elections would be peaceful, noting that the ballot papers are secure and the poll will be violence-free, especially in Oyo State.


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