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Politics of violence, surprise outcomes in a chequered electoral showdown

By Gregory Austin Nwakunor, Kelvin Ebiri, Seye Olumide and Osiberoha Osibe
26 February 2019   |   4:16 am
Many times, the allusion to aircraft in the air has been made regarding Nigeria’s elections and electoral system. One speaker, a high-ranking official...

INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu

Many times, the allusion to aircraft in the air has been made regarding Nigeria’s elections and electoral system. One speaker, a high-ranking official of the electoral umpire had stated that it was better to land an aircraft in turbulence than to crash land. Another, a political jobber and former governor opined that at times of turbulence, the prayer of passengers in an aircraft is that it should land safely.

Nigerians have looked forward to the 2019 general election with the benefit of hindsight, particularly what transpired in 2015 when political power at the highest echelon changed hand without much fuss.

But within the past four days, the much expected election has in the words of the late Afro musician, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, brought sorrow, tears and blood. The violence and intimidation that have played out since last Saturday February 23, when polls opened across the country, seem to dwarf the beauty and allure of democracy. But there are some good sides to the bitter-sweet experience.

For many Anambrarians, it was as if “February can’t come fast enough.” And indeed, it has come almost leaving in its wake, political carcasses. A sentiment, which many members and supporters of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) will probably not agree with.
Fillip for PDP

Even if some PDP members stumbled on Saturday, however, the party as a whole – including more traditional “establishment” candidates – continues to move toward widespread support.

Saturday’s balloting also ensured that record is what matters, not party. In fact, like 2015, of three senators, two are going to be women. A remarkable figure for Women Affirmation.

A progressive stumble?
The state’s APGA had symbolic primaries, hoping that it would be railroaded into the peoples’ consciousness. They were wrong.

While all the results aren’t in, two  incumbents senators are pulling less than 50 per cent of the vote, including Senator Andy Uba, who, in 2015, rollercoasted in PDP seat, but suddenly turned his back on the party.

Back in the APGA wave year of 2017, Anambra was ground zero for the decimation of the PDP, with the party losing – among others – two of its sitting senators. One via the court.

This election could help spell APGA doom, as the state assembly elections are less than two weeks.

Critics have, however, cautioned not to read too much into the results,  theorising that Governor Willie Obiano’s across-the-board progressive agenda, which has played well since his emergence in 2013 would fly in the state assembly elections.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had said it was ready for the elections.

This assurance came as the commission showed commitment to complete the distribution of sensitive and non-sensitive materials from the headquarters of the 21 council areas of the commission to the RACTECH  centres at the ward levels from where the Supervising Presiding Officers (SPOs) would collect the materials to the 4608  polling units and 1112 polling points for the elections.

The Guardian gathered from the state Resident Electoral Commissioner, Nkwachukwu Orji, that distribution of materials was still ongoing as at press time ahead of the polls.

Orji said: “On Wednesday, the commission commenced and completed the distribution of the sensitive and non-sensitive electoral materials from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) from where the materials were dispatched to the headquarters of the 21 INEC local government areas.

“On Thursday, the commission monitored the delivery of the electoral materials from the INEC headquarters to the SPOs who keep custody of them at the RAC centres and ensure they are moved to the polling booths for voting exercise on Saturday.

“By 5 a.m., of Saturday, the electoral materials will leave the RAC centres to the polling units to enable them open polling booths by 7am for the voting to commence as slated by the Electoral law.”

The electoral material/ s distributed were Ballot Papers, Ballot Paper Account Forms, Result sheets, Form EC8A, Form EC 8B, Form EC 8C and Form EC 8E.  The Guardian checks showed that the distribution exercises involved INEC officials from the State headquarters led by the Resident Electoral Commissioner, Nkwachukwu Orji, Logistics Support officials, Electoral Officers of each of   local government area, party monitor and agents, the police, officials of the Federal Road Safety Commission, officials of CBN and support staff of INEC as well as transporters and casual workers.   The FRSC took charge of delivery of the Smart Card Readers with its vehicles, unlike other materials which were delivered with commercial vehicles.               When contacted to find out if the electoral body had replaced the 4695 burnt Smart Card Readers, the REC told newsmen that the commission is ready for Saturday’s Presidential and National Assembly elections.

One resident, Adaku Umerah, said it took her nearly three hours to vote after arriving around 7 a.m., when the polls opened.

In Community Primary School, Fair Agulu 3 unit, about six units were merged.

In Amakolo Square 1, the ballot papers for Senatorial District were not complete. The shortage of material led to a delayed voting. Out of 253 registered voters, only 200 was provided. There was also ink pad without ink, which made the process easily prone to manipulation.

A lot of people whose names appeared as polling officers were turned down in the last minute, which resulted in protest at INEC office in Awka South, Amawbia.

The electoral officer at the office said these protesters had been told what to do.

One of the protesters said they had been used and abandoned by INEC. “We slept on bare floor all because we wanted to do this work for our nation now they have dropped us.”

A corps member said, “the manner at which they were dropped in the infinite w a not encouraging.”

But the electoral officer said: “Because of the shortage of card readers some units were collapsed to give way for more card readers to be distributed.”

He added, “instead of election not going on, we collapsed the units.”

According to the former Secretary to the State Government, Osi Victor Ezenwa, “it’s been very smooth all day long,” adding: “We’re getting the normal questions of people calling asking where they go to vote, are they registered.  Nothing unusual at all.”

He continued, “People are taking things easy. They just queue on the line and we voted clockwise,” adding, “it is very strange to hear that one of the polling booths had problem. I’m so sure it would be resolved before a long time.”

The former SSG said it was good to get it behind us. Last week postponement by the INEC chairman was an advantage. He executed great courage to take the decision that has finally paid off.”

It was very impressive. A ninety year old woman, Madam Maria Nwachukwu Odili, the mother of Chief of Staff to governor Obiano who was accredited at 9.30am and voted 9.36 a.m. assisted by her relations said she felt relieved with the opportunity to vote after last week’s postponement.

The octogenarian lamented the postponement of last week’s polls few hours to voting, which according to her is unprecented.

Speaking to newsmen shortly after he had cast his vote, the governor said he voted in exercise of his franchise and lauded the orderlines in which the electoral commission organized the event.

Obiano said the poor turnout was not an indication of voter apathy, but due to the fact that most of the registered voters live around and would still come out before 2pm deadline, which many did in the ward.

The Guardian gathered that the seeming voter apathy was on account of alleged instruction by Governor Obiano that the people should vote for the All Progressives Congress (APC), a development that apparently discouraged some of the voters from coming out to vote en-masse as they did in the November 17, 2017.

It was gathered that prior to the arrival of governor Obiano, a towncrier was engaged to go round the wards and inform voters to troop out before the 2p.m. deadline for accreditation to qualify to vote.

From Umudiamakasi, country home of PDP Vice Presidential candidate, Peter Obi came report of intimidation and harassment of stalwarts of the PDP by security agents believed to be working for the ruling party.

Obi, in an interview with newsmen, alleged that security operatives singled him out alongside PDP chieftains for humiliation while expressing dissatisfaction with the voting pattern.

At Obi’s Amatutu Ward, it was gathered about 2.30pm, INEC officials could not proceed with the elections as they complained of not having been served lunch.

At Nwagu in Agulu town, Anaocha Local Government Area of the state,  it was also gathered that some journalists, Nwanosike  Onu of The Nation, Tony Okafor of The Punch, Vin Ujumadu of Vanguard and David Elekwah of Thisday were dispossessed of their valuables and their vehicles grounded by Squadron Squad based on alleged instruction from above.

The journalists, who had earlier visited Obi’s ward to appraise of situation, were later released after they had made contact.

But that luck was not extended to some election observers, including a clergy and election monitor, Joseph Uchendu, whose car keys were taken away from him off the Customary Court approaching the Golden Tulip Agulu.

But, Mrs. Rose Oranye, editor of National Light, told The Guardian, has reservations about people’s impression of security officials’ role during election. “They must be commended. Since 1999, this is first time I didn’t see security men disturb or prevent journalists from performing their duty. They were very courteous. I’m beginning to imagine that they were given special orientation on being nice.”

Reverberations in Rivers
Sheer brigandage, thuggery, kidnapping and wanton violence characterised last Saturday’s election in some Local Government Areas of Rivers State.
In some areas, political thugs under the cover of security personnel brazenly snatched ballot boxes from polling units and disappeared.

In Abonnema , headquarters of Akuku-Toru LGA, over twenty five persons are feared to have lost their lives and several others sustained bullet injures in the violence that ensued Saturday morning.

As early as 7:00am party agents, observers and INEC ad hoc staff had gathered at the Registration Area Centre, located at Girls Secondary School, awaiting the distribution when abruptly, scores of alleged APC youths armed with lethal weapon and accompanied by security operatives stormed the venue with the motive intention to snatch all the election materials. Apparently sensing there will be resistance to their nefarious motive, the political hireling decided to unleash machete cuts on the people to scare everyone away.

Resistance to thwart the snatching of the electoral materials led to the killing of an alleged PDP agent. From the RAC centre, sporadic and intense gunshots began to echo around Abonnema.

Piqued by the killing of one of their own, the PDP members who also armed in retaliation opened fire leading to open confrontation with the military men on the scene.  An Army lieutenant was shoot dead and others injured. The ensuing violence lead to the deployment of a reinforcement team. were

As result of this, prospective voters and residents of the community were forced indoors and voting could not take place. The community had been under siege since Saturday.
Similarly, political thugs aided by men in Army uniform snatched all the electoral materials meant for Ward 1, 7,8,9 and 10 in Buguma, Asari- Toru Local Government Area.

In Ubima in Ikwerre LGA, over 20 gunmen stormed unit 2, 4  and 9 of ward 8 and started shooting and as everyone scampered for safety, they carted away the ballot boxes. Four members of the NYSC working as INEC ad hoc were injured and later hospitalised.

Soldiers have raided the residence of an APC chieftain in Okrika in search of missing  electoral materials meant for  Ward 6, 7, 8 and 9. It was gathered that election materials arrived the RAC in Okrika Local Government Area Secretariat about 3am Saturday but the ones for the aforementioned four wards were diverted on the way.

A senior police officer who pleaded anonymity told The Guardian that it was some party agents that raise alarm over the missing election materials.

Following this development, soldiers deployed to the area accompanied by some locals went and raided the resident of a top APC leader in the community.  In course of searching for the missing materials, the ceiling of the building was destroyed.

Irked by the development, the Okrika Local Government chairman, Philemon Kingolu, has asked INEC to cancel election in the affected wards. Due to this incident, election materials did not leave the council Secretariat till about 10 am to the other wards.
Similarly, political thugs also snatched election materials in Ward 18 of Khana Local Government Area of Rivers State.

It was further gathered that two corps members posted in Bonny Local Government Area of the State were also hospitalized as a result of fracas that broke out following arguments from party agents.

In Gokana LGA, the election officer, Mrs Dorothy Igbinosa, revealed that armed thugs carted away election materials in Ward 3, 2, 15, 16.  According to her voting was on going in some units in these wards when the hoodlum at about noon invaded the polling units and carted away results sheets, card reader and other election materials. The NYSC ad hoc had to run  into the  bush to safeguard themselves.
Specifically in Ward 2 of Gokana, NYSC members were abducted and dragged to hotel where they were compelled to doctor the result. Soliders later went there and rescued them.

In Obio-Akpor LGA, political thugs stormed the collation centre and attempted to snatch the result sheet for the presidential election. They hoodlum mutilated result sheets of two wards. Fortunately, the area commander of the police and the military were able to rescue the collation  officer and the election officer and prevented the results being snatched away.

Rivers state governor, Nyesom Wike said thugs snatched election materials in parts of Ahoada West, Asari Toru, Emouha Degema, and Opo/Nkoro Local Government Areas of the State.

“ Again, in the ensuring confusion and anarchy the army shot and killed a youth corper as well as an INEC’s ad hoc staff in Emouha and Degema Local Government Areas respectively”, he said.

The Senator representing Rivers South-East Senatorial District in the National Assembly, Magnus Abe has mourned the death of the former Chairman of Andoni Local Government Area, Mowan Etete and others who lost their lives in the orgy of violence in the State.
Meanwhile, senator Magnus Abe has warned against playing politics of bitterness and spilling of blood in Rivers State.
“I had warned repeatedly that we should not stoke the drums of war and Rivers people should no longer forgive any politician no matter how highly placed that is culpable in the orgy of violence that has characterized our recent past.
“Our politics must begin to move beyond the primitive stage. No politician should continue to claim the power to deliver any unit not to talk of a ward, a local government or a state.

“We must imbibe the true spirit of democracy which means that the vote of the Governor, the vote of the Minister, the vote of the Senator and the vote of the Commissioner and that of the Chairman will have the same value as that of the Bricklayer, the Driver, the Nurse, and the Unemployed Youth. No one should have the power to promise or guarantee the vote of one Nigerian to a third party” he said.

Attack on voters
Standard bearer of Lagos State Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the governorship lection, Mr. Jimi Agbaje   has condemned the harassment and prevention of the party’s supporters from voting in their strongholds during the presidential and National Assembly elections on Saturday.

Agbaje also condemned the destruction of ballot papers and boxes by thugs allegedly under the pay and direction of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).

While addressing the media in Lagos yesterday, the PDP governorship candidate commiserated with people injured, harassed, molested and deprived of their votes in many areas of Lagos State by APC hoodlums.

According to him, “I condemn in the strongest possible terms the brazen destruction, disruption and havoc wreaked on the well-meaning and patriotic Lagosians trying to exercise their right to vote. There is no justifiable reason for this aggressive action by the thugs of APC, who eventually failed to discourage and frighten the electorate from the polls.”
Demanding security agents to subsequently protect voters and votes, he called on the police and other security forces to adhere to the Constitution while appealing to the good people of the state to remain calm but vigilant.

Agbaje who expressed his concern even ahead of the coming governorship and State House of Assembly elections said with what happened on Saturday, “All APC foot-soldiers who were found wanting in the shenanigans that characterised Saturday’s poll must be immediately brought to book, and specifically called for the arrest of the likes of “Demola and his team, known APC strongmen, caught on camera leading packs of thugs to harass voters and make bonfires of ballot papers and boxes.”

Demola narrowly escaped death when citizens fought back against his gang who assaulted voters in the Okota area of Oshodi-Isolo Local Government during Saturday’s presidential and National Assembly elections.

“APC is marshalling thugs to try and prevent the inevitable,” Agbaje said. “But Lagosians are determined to vote out of power Pharaoh and his army of corruption and impunity.”

Reports reaching the Jimi Agbaje Campaign Organisation (JACO) captured political thugs, armed with various assault weapons like guns, machetes, daggers, clubs, bottles, itching powder, charms and amulets, disrupting voting in Oshodi-Isolo, Ojo, Surulere, Amuwo Odofin, Ikeja, Ibeju-Lekki and Eti-Osa.

Agbaje urged police and security agencies not to treat the APC hoodlums as sacred cows, demanding that those already identified and those in police net must be brought before the law courts to pay for their crime.

The Electoral Act forbids disruption of voting, stipulating a two-year prison sentence for convicted offenders.

“Now more than ever, FREEDOM, through our collective votes, will give us liberty from 20 years of tyranny under a Pharaoh who has kept himself in power by force and through strong-arm tactics.” Agbaje said. “Why should we, as a state with 20 million people, be intimidated by some thugs and miscreants?”

Meanwhile, former President of Aka Ikenga and a lawyer, Chief Goddy Uwazurike, said the relative peace enjoyed by the residents of Lagos and Rivers states was shattered by the agents of the devil on Saturday as they threatened mayhem on the hapless residents of the two states.

He said the grievances of the men of evil are that the residents were exercising their fundamental right to vote for the candidates of their choice. Of course, the thugs also known as the hatchet men were mere puppets in the hands of the puppet masters.

He raised the alarm that the new threat is in the amorphous plan to attack the markets and other places of business, saying, “The President, the governors and indeed, the security network must rise to the occasion to protect us. Failure to defend the citizenry is nothing but an invitation to anarchy.”