Violence, ballot box snatching, vote buying hallmark guber polls in Kogi, Bayelsa
• There Was Widespread Violence, Voter Intimidation — CDD
• YIAGA Africa Calls For Cancellation In Areas Of Violence
• APC Conducted Guber Poll In Kogi Central On Friday Night — SDP
• Army Aided APC To Rig Poll — Dickson
• I’m Disappointed With Poor Organisation Of Nigeria’s Elections — Jonathan
Bookmakers were, yesterday, proven right, when shootings, widespread violence and electoral malpractice took centre stage as Bayelsa and Kogi states went to the polls to elect new governors, and a senator.
In the build up to the exercise, the actions and inaction of some interested parties, forced many, including observer groups to express fears that bedlam may reign. It did, as reflected in at least two deaths, maiming, kidnapping, several cases of ballot box snatching, intimidation of voters, massive rigging and sundry electoral malpractice, which were recorded in both states.
The nadir of the violence in Kogi State, was the killing of two persons, Umoru Shuaib and Faruk Suleiman, at Barracks Polling Unit in Abocho Community, in Dekina Local Council.
Three persons, who were shot in Bayelsa State, have their stars to thank for still being alive, while another youth identified as Prince Odede, allegedly had his hand chopped off by political thugs at Ward 5, Opolo, Yenagoa, Bayelsa State.
In Kogi, which lived up to its reputation as a hotbed of political violence, an unidentified Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) official was allegedly kidnapped at the SUBEB Polling Unit in Lokoja.
The abduction allegedly occurred after gunmen shot sporadically into the air while voting was going on. As voters scampered for safety, the gunmen went away with the official. This happened not long after some suspected thugs reportedly attacked the polling unit where Senator Dino Melaye voted. The hoodlums reportedly broke one of the ballot boxes, carted away the other, and shot severally into the air as they departed in a black Hilux van.
Senator Melaye, who confirmed the development via his official Twitter handle, said that the incident did not happen while he was at the polling unit.
The gunmen, who killed the duo in Abocho, while they were about casting their votes, an eyewitness claimed, apparently came for Shuaib.
“They came in a bus while voting was taking place and were in police uniform. So, we didn’t suspect anything. Shuaib had voted and was chatting with Suleiman close to the poling unit, when the bus drove by. None of the occupants alighted from the vehicle, but all we just heard were gunshots and shouts from the victims, as well as onlookers. And in the ensuing pandemonium, the attackers drove off.
At the scene, The Guardian observed that stones and sticks littered the road, while tyres burnt by youths protesting the attack were still emitting smoke.
Other than the killings, there were also sporadic gunshots in Emewe Okapda, part of Ajiyolo Community in Dekina Local Council, and in some other parts of Kogi East after voting commenced.
In Aikpele-Ajaka Polling Unit 002, Igalamela-Odolu Local Council, armed men wearing mask reportedly shot sporadically into the air, disrupting the exercise as voters and INEC officials scampered in different directions.
Ballot boxes were also snatched away by political thugs at polling units at Crowther College, Lokoja, and Muslim Community College, Lokoja
The Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), one of the domestic groups observing the Kogi poll, decried the spate of violence and ballot box snatching across the state and called for urgent security intervention
The Chairman of CDD Election Analysis Centre in Lokoja, Prof. Adele Jinadu, while addressing a world press conference, said reports from CDD observers indicate widespread violence, intimidation of voters, vote buying, abductions, gunshots and massive rigging that may undermine the integrity of the governorship election in the state.
The group said the conduct of the election falls short of public expectations, in spite of public outcry against electoral violence in the state.
Similarly, the Executive Director, Search for Common Ground, Gift Omoniwa, escaped death by the whiskers at Ganaja Polling Unit, when hoodlums held her hostage and attacked her vehicle, as she was on election observation.
It took the intervention of good Samaritans and security agencies to rescue her from her attackers.
According to an eyewitness account, Omoniwa her attackers objected to her presence at the unit, where she was said to be insisting that due process must be followed.
Governor Yahaya Bello, who voted at exactly 9: 11am, commended INEC for adequate preparation, claiming that there was a lot of improvement over previous exercises, particularly the smartcard reader, which he said worked perfectly, as against the last election, where he had challenges with his accreditation.
The deputy governorship candidate of the All Peoples Congress (APC), Edward Onoja, who also voted in Ogugu, commended the electorate for their orderly conduct.
While Governor Bello was busy commending security agencies for a job well done, some suspected thugs were storming Obeiba Ward 1, Obeiba Ihima, the hometown of the governorship candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Natasha Akpoti, where she cast her vote, in Okehi Local Council at exactly 11am.
The armed thugs in their numbers, disrupted the voting process before men of the Police Force intervened and restored calm before the voting process restarted.
There was also tension in Anyigba, in Dekina Local Council as a crack team of heavily armed Special Anti robbery Squad (SARS) arrested four persons in fake police uniforms.
An unmarked Toyota Hiace bus conveying the suspected fake policemen in uniform was intercepted as it negotiated the Unity Roundabout heading towards Anyigba Town.
A vehicle conveying some journalists on election duty, however, ran into the crossfire between SARS and the fake policemen. In the process the windscreen of the vehicles carrying the reporters was shattered.
Occupants of the vehicle, including an editor with the state-owned Kogi Radio, Sunday B Omachi, and the state correspondent of Leadership Newspaper, Mr. Sam Egwu, however, escaped without injuries.
Omachi later told The Guardian that they were saved by the timely intervention of security personnel drafted to maintain peace in the area.
Meanwhile, the SDP National Chairman, Alhaji Mouktar Atimah, yesterday, maintained that election in Kogi Central Senatorial District, the stronghold of Governor Bello was conducted overnight.
At a press briefing, he said that the governorship election was rigged the previous night, which was why APC agents were not present at most of the polling units, yesterday.
The SDP chairman said: “The absence of APC agents at the polling units has affirmed the information we got that the APC conducted the election of Kogi Central in the night.
“They are the most desperate party in this election. The absence of their agents in most of the polling units is not by accident. Since they’ve already rigged the election, they consider it a waste of time to be here with other party agents.”
Peeved at the level of thuggery and brigandage that occasioned the poll in some parts of Bayelsa State, including the maiming at Ward 5, Opolo, Yenagoa, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governorship candidate, Douye Diri, yesterday, alleged that security personnel were aiding the APC by preventing his party members from voting in some parts of the state.
This was as four INEC officials, who were earlier abducted in Bumodi-Gbene in Yenagoa, and Ologi in Ogbia Local Council regained their freedom.
Sporadic gunshots erupted at Opolo, Ward 5 in the early hours of yesterday, as voters began to gather for accreditation. The booming gunshots forced people to immediately retreat to their homes.
Thereafter, some youths, who were alleged to be members of one of the major political parties went into homes of their perceived opponents and attacked them.
The Guardian gathered from the sister of one Prince Odede, that the gunmen invaded their home, shot at the prince before using a machete to chop off his hand, after which he was left for dead, in the pool of his blood. He was later rushed to the Federal Medical Centre, Yenagoa.
The thugs also shot at one Preye and stabbed an elderly man.
Amid the gunshot, scores of policemen were deployed to restore order. But despite the presence of security personnel, several voters stayed away from polling units in the entire Ward 5 for fear of resurgence of violence.
Later on, scores of women took to the streets, protesting that they were denied the opportunity to cast their votes.
Similarly, policemen’s swift intervention prevented a youth from being lynched at Ward 4 Unit Agudama, near Yenagoa.
Election was peaceful in Tombia, Amassoma, Sampou and Opokuma and some other places, but it was a different kettle of fish at Angiama community of Southern Ijaw, where all election materials were hijacked by suspected thugs.
Several thugs stormed the RAC Centre at Koluoama, the hometown of the PDP state chairman Moses Cleopas, and destroyed all voting materials there.
However, the APC’s gubernatorial candidate, David Lyon, who voted early at Olugbobiri Community in Southern Ijaw Local Council, described the poll in his area as peacefully.
He commended INEC for a peaceful voting process, saying with what he experienced in his community, “INEC has conducted a peaceful process so far… Today, the process has been very peaceful. I have seen what INEC has been doing all this while. It is going very peacefully and that’s why we are advising everyone to go peacefully and vote.”
He expressed optimism that the APC would win the governorship election.
But, state APC chairman, Amos Jotham, described the violence recorded in some parts of the state as unfortunate, particularly in Ward 2, Onopa Community, and Opolo, Sagbama Ward 6, 7, 11 and 14.
PDP’s Diri shortly after casting his vote at Kalaowe Owei Unit 4, Ward 6, Sampou, said he had received reports of electoral fraud committed by the opposition that stormed various polling units in Bassambiri, Nembe, Enewari, Opolo and other parts of the state.
“We are calling on the umpire, INEC to be alive to its duties because we have received reports from several other local councils, and where it needs to evoke its powers, it should do so, and never accept cooked up results, where materials have been hijacked.”
Bayelsa State Governor, Seriake Dickson, who was in sync with Diri, called on INEC to cancel the election in some parts of the state, where the exercise was characterised by brigandage, hijacking of electoral materials, and where military personnel aided in election rigging.
Governor Dickson made the call while speaking with newsmen shortly after casting his vote at Oruerewari, Polling Unit 005, Toru Orua, in Sagbama Local Council, particularly called for outright cancellation of elections in Nembe Local Council, where over 10 people reportedly lost their lives in a violent clash during an aborted campaign rally of the PDP.
“I call on the Chairman of INEC to issue an order canceling 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.”
According to the governor, rogue elements in the Nigeria Army connived with APC thugs to perpetrate electoral fraud and insecurity some parts of Southern Ijaw, Ekeremor, Ogbia and even the state capital, Yenagoa.
“The President has to wake up and do something. What is going on in Bayelsa in the name of election is not democracy. I call on the President to call on the security agents, particularly the Nigeria Army to stop desecrating democratic governance, and subjecting the image of the country to ridicule,” Dickson said.
A PDP chieftain, Timi Alaibe, blamed voter apathy in Opokuma in Kolokuma-Opokuma Local Council on the flood that displaced many.
Commenting on the election, he said: “I think there is a level of voter apathy, especially from this side and I am still trying to know why. But some of the physical reasons are clear- the flood has affected a lot more families, and communities and we sympathise with them.
“Some of the polling centres have been moved to other places, where people can vote. Nobody will be happy to be casting his or her vote in a situation where you don’t even have a place to lay your head.
“So these are the environmental challenges that we suffer here in the Niger Delta, especially in Bayelsa State that is carrying the whole body of water to the ocean,” said Alaibe.
In Ekeremor, The Guardian gathered that thugs invaded the RAC there and carted away electoral materials. Some of the materials were said to be meant for Koluama 1 and Koluama 2 communities.
Former President Goodluck Jonathan, also expressed disappointment at the handling of the voting process in his ward, particularly the late arrival of voting materials at the polling unit.
Jonathan spoke to journalists after he and his wife, Patience, voted at Unit 39, Ward 13, Otazi Playground, Otuoke, in Ogbia Local Council Government Area of Bayelsa State.
The former President, who voted at 11.30 a.m., and his wife at 11.35 a.m., said: “We must conduct ourselves if we want to bring real people to rule us, either as presidents or governors. Nigerians are always blaming people in authority and the leaders; so, here, they must blame themselves.
“Look at even this voting. I was around earlier, but the materials had yet to arrive in the polling unit. I have led election monitoring teams to other African countries, we used to go 30 minutes before the time and in our reports, we indicated the exact time that voting started.
“So, for election to start after that time, it is an indictment on the electoral body that manages election. There is no reason why election should not start by 8:00 a.m. The youth should also stop blaming old people, but blame themselves and do things properly. I am really disappointed with what I have observed here today, compared to other African countries where I have monitored elections.’’
The CDD Election Analysis Centre (EAC) in Bayelsa, in its preliminary findings on the conduct and key processes of the governorship election, equally decried what it described as “coordinated disruption” of the exercise.
Speaking at its release, CDD Director, Idayat Hassan flayed the coordinated disruption and the subsequent destruction of electoral materials by armed thugs, noting that given the widespread scale of these systematic attacks of the electoral space, the credibility of the outcome had been called to question.
She said: “The very daring way and the manner in which the political thugs disrupted the voting and destroyed materials in such a planned and coordinated sequence, takes everything away from the credibility of the process and its outcomes. In large numbers of polling units, the voting environment was so hostile and unsafe, thereby scaring away eligible voters, who would only come out to vote at the risk of losing their lives.”
The CDD helmswoman said the number of critical situations recorded in the election makes it impossible for it to pass the minimum test for credible elections.
She said the widespread electoral malpractices such as the theft of ballot boxes, the abduction of INEC ad hoc staff and subsequent hijack of election materials as recorded in several parts of the state, calls to question, the integrity of the electoral process.
“Similar incidents were recorded in Otuan Ward 5 Southern Ijaw LGA, where the election was materials hijacked by unknown thugs. Voting was also disrupted after ballot boxes were hijacked in Yenizue Gene II, Polling Unit II in Yenagoa LGA. CDD EAC observers further reported incidents of sporadic gunfire in Opolo area of Yenagoa Local Government, just one person reported injured, while two persons were feared to have died after being shot.”