11 feared dead in bloody polls

Trained staff of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) are blocked from work as their names are missing in the list at a Regional Area Centre less than three hours before scheduled opening voting time for the presidential and parliamentary elections in Port Harcourt, southern Nigeria, on February 23, 2019. Nigerians began voting for a new president on February 23, after a week-long delay that has raised political tempers, sparked conspiracy claims and stoked fears of violence. Some 120,000 polling stations began opening from 0700 GMT, although there were indications of a delay in the delivery of some materials and deployment of staff, AFP reporters said. Yasuyoshi CHIBA / AFP

• Rivers, Kogi, Oyo, Bayelsa make casualty list
• I’m confident of winning – Buhari 
• I hope for s Successful transition – Atiku
• Card reader failure, irregularities, violence mar polls

CONTRARY to hitch-free polls promised the nation by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), yesterday’s elections were hallmarked by violence, failure of smartcard readers and late arrival of materials at many polling units across the country.

Late commencement of accreditation/voting, inadequate materials in some areas, as well as deserting of polling booths by ad hoc staff also added to the organisational blunders recorded by the commission.

The low turnout of voters at some polling units and snatching of ballot boxes by uniformed men, the destruction of ballots already cast, by hoodlums in opponents’ strongholds in Lagos, as well as general brigandage completed the picture of bedlam.

RIVERS State, which was adjudged by bookmakers one of the flash points lived up to expectation as at least eight persons, including a soldier were feared killed in the violence that engulfed parts of the state during the presidential and National Assembly (NASS) elections.

In various parts of the state, there were reported incidents of sporadic gunshots, snatching of election materials and general voter apathy. 

Before voting commenced, unknown gunmen invaded the residence of an All Progressives Congress (APC) chieftain, Mowan Etete, in Asarama, Andoni Council Area of Rivers State, killing him and his cousin.

Etete a former Andoni Local Council chairman was appointed special adviser to the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike in 2017, but he defected to the APC last year. Another ex-official of the State Executive Committee of the APC, identified as Ignatius, was also shot death in Ajakaja, Andoni.

The balance of the fatalities, including a soldier were recorded in Abonnema, the Headquarters of Akuku-Toru Local Council. As early as 7am, scores of political thugs, armed with lethal weapons, including guns and machetes reportedly stormed a Registration Area Centre (RAC) located in Abonnema Girls Secondary School, Abonnema, where INEC ad hoc staff, party agents and observers were waiting for the commencement of distribution of election materials. 

An eyewitness said that the hoodlums macheted members of an opposition political party and shot one person dead. As news of the incident filtered into the community, members of the PDP were quickly mobilised for a possible reprisal attack, but before they arrived the scene, some military men deployed to Abonnema had moved into the area and started shooting sporadically.

The intense shooting forced people to scamper for their safety and made it impossible for distribution of election materials and for voting to take place. Similarly, in Bonny, sporadic gunshots rented the air for hours, making it impossible for election materials to be distributed till about 2pm.

INEC’s Deputy Director of Voter Education, Edwin Enabor said elections could not take place in Bonny because of the disturbance there. In Buguma, Asari- Toru Local Council, election had started peacefully when suddenly thugs stormed the community, carting away election materials for Ward 1, 7, 8, 9 and 10.

At least four National Youth Service Corps members were hospitalised after gunmen invaded units 2, 4 and 9 of ward 8 in Ubima, in Ikwere Local Council (home town of the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi), where they were posted as ad-hoc staff. Over 20 gunmen, who were armed with other dangerous weapons, an eyewitness said, invaded the units shooting sporadically and carted away ballot boxes, looted and robbed INEC officers and voters.

An NYSC member, Betty Anthony Charles said: “We were attending to people at Unit 2, Ward 8, when suddenly we heard gunshots. As we looked up, we saw heavily armed men running towards our unit shooting sporadically into the air.

“Out of fear, I threw away the card reader, removed my NYSC uniform and was left with my inner wear. As I tried to run away, I fell down and one of the armed men caught me, searched my bag, and collected my money and mobile phones. Other Corps members were also affected, and this ugly situation forced people to scamper for safety hence no election took place in the units, as well as the whole area.”

Two corps members posted to Bonny Local Council were also hospitalised as a result of fracas that broke out following arguments between party agents. Soldiers also raided the home of an All Progressives Congress (APC) chieftain in Okrika in search of missing electoral materials meant for four major wards.

It was gathered that all election materials for Ward 6, 7, 8 and 9 were diverted before the materials got to the Okrika Local Council Secretariat about 3am Saturday. A voter, who identified himself as Mr. Rufus Tekena said the major reason the materials were diverted was because the ward has the highest number of registered voters.

Similarly, political thugs snatched election materials in Ward 18 of Khana Local Council. But in Gokana Local Council, materials arrived several wards before 8am and in most cases, accreditation and voting started peacefully before 9am.

ELECTIONS in Port Harcourt and Obio Akpor local councils were relatively peaceful. The Police Public Relations Officer, Nnamdi Omoni confirmed the security issues in some local councils, especially in Andoni where Mowan Etete and his relative were murdered by gunmen. 

“We had issues in some local councils like in Boni, Akuku-Toru, Okrika and Andoni. In Andoni, we lost two people; the former LGA chairman Mowan Etete and his brother were shot dead. In other places, we had pockets of crises, but our men on ground were able to restore normalcy in those areas and people went about casting their votes peacefully.”

Omoni informed that the state Commissioner of Police has already ordered an investigation into these matters, while some arrests have been made even as he denied knowledge of the death of a soldier, alongside five civilians in Abonema.

On allegation that uniformed men were involved in hijacking voting materials in the state, he said: “No matter what happened, I stand to debunk that rumour because, we deployed three personnel per polling unit. Therefore, I don’t see how they can hijack the entire process. It’s not possible. Our duty is to protect voters and INEC properties; we are not conducting the election, we are only there to provide security.”

Meanwhile, Governor Nyesom Wike pointedly accused the military of meddling in elections in the state, even as he commended INEC for its performance. The Governor, who arrived with his wife at about 11.45am and voted at his PU 007, ward 09, Abio/Akpor LGA, said, “It’s unfortunate that the military has been reduced to this. We were complaining about the police but now it’s the military.”
BAYELSA State, which is next door to Rivers State was not insulated from the violence and malfunctioning of card readers that characterised the presidential and NASS polls. The state Governor, Henry Seriake Dickson, who spoke after casting his vote said at least one person was confirmed dead during the exercise.

Dickson who voted alongside his wife at the Ererewari Polling Unit 5, at Toru Orua in Sagbama Local Council, accused security agencies of colluding with APC chieftains and thugs to unleash mayhem on members of the PDP. In Yenagoa, the state capital there was heavy military presence as checkpoints were mounted by stern-looking soldiers deployed to ensure easy and uninterrupted movement of election materials.

The armed security men also took control of the security of major roads in the state, but they did not go near the polling units. Only men of the Nigeria Police and their colleagues from the Nigeria Civil Defence Corps were seen at polling units. There was calm in most polling booths visited, but the failure of the smartcard readers, late arrival of voting materials, and skirmishes were recorded in some parts the state.

Suspected political thugs in an attempt to make away with sensitive materials, including ballot boxes, shot sporadically into the air to scare away voters.In Nembe, scores of voters, mostly women besieged the INEC office to protest the hijack of materials meant for Opu Nembe and Oluasiri of Nembe Local Council.

The protesting women and voters insisted that the electoral materials for Nembe Constituency 2 and 3 comprising Opunembe and Oluasiri were hijacked and taken to a hotel in Bassambiri to perpetrate electoral fraud.Suspected political thugs in the early hours of yesterday unleashed a reign of terror on the people of Nembe Bassambiri, leaving five people seriously injured while two of the victims were admitted at the Federal Medical Centre, Yenagoa. The suspected thugs successfully carted away voting materials for wards 2 and 3 and abducted the presiding officers and APO 1 for the area.

Former President Goodluck Jonathan and his wife, Dame Patience, both voted at about 9am in their polling unit at Otuoke, Ogbia Local Council. Jonathan, thereafter, expressed satisfaction with the exercise and call on all candidates to accept the outcome of the poll and congratulate winners.

KOGI State was not left out of the violent spots as two persons were feared dead at Ajetachi Polling Unit, opposite OLS Anyigba. The killings took place after some political thugs invaded the unit and shot sporadically before killing the two men, while a woman on queue was seriously injured.

At Agbeji, thugs invaded two polling units and tried to force the presiding officers to sign a completed result sheets, which they refused and ran for their lives, thereby disrupting the process.Kogi East, especially Dekina Local Council has been notorious for post and pre-election violence where elections are hardly held peacefully.

At Anyigba, also in Dekina Local Council, accreditation and voting commenced early and went on smoothly with impressive turnout until hoodlums struck in the Ajetachi area and this led to pandemonium.

AGAIN, Lagos failed to live up to its cosmopolitan ambience as the “Centre of Excellence,” as alleged APC thugs brazenly razed and destroyed ballot papers in a number of opposition strongholds, even though no loss of life was recorded.

In fact, despite Buhari’s order to security agencies to bring down ballot box snatchers, the trade boomed in the state without as much as a whimper. In Mafoluku, Oshodi, hoodlums alleged to be loyal APC stormed some polling units and made away with the ballot boxes. The hoodlums, who were masked, invaded the polling booths at Eyinogun, Agboola, Ayodele and Abolaji streets respectively, where they shot indiscriminately into the air before carting away the ballot boxes.

A voter in one of the affected booths, who pleaded anonymity, said the development brought the voting process to an abrupt end, as distraught voters scampered for safety.

“While the votes were being sorted, some APC thugs came with guns and shot into air before they took away the ballot boxes. They were masked, so we could not see their faces. Even the policemen attached to the polling booth where I voted had to run for their lives,” he said.

A similar incident occurred at Ajao Estate, Isolo, where a voter, who simply identified himself as Chukwudi Otigba reported that thugs invaded his polling unit, shooting sporadically, scattering everything.

He said, “All our votes may not count, they have messed up everything. The Police is here and the thugs are known faces.”

Corroborating Otigba, another voter in Ejigbo, Kingsley Chukwudi said the same happened at his Ailegun Polling Unit O42.

“Thugs arrived in a convoy of about eight motorcycles and scattered everything. A lot of voters and INEC officials were injured and voting was suspended at about 2pm,” he said.

The widespread violence in Lagos was also experienced in the Aguda area of Surulere, where political thugs chased voters and disrupted the exercise. A witness said: “An INEC official ran into my compound after the thugs attacked her.  She said the hoodlums did not let her do her job and was really, really scared.”

The heavy presence of police and military presence notwithstanding, a group of thugs also invaded parts of Ejigbo and its environs, disrupting proceedings and forcing voters and INEC officials to scamper for their lives.At Polling booth 042, Ronik Centre, Ejigbo, where one of such disruptions occurred at about 2.30pm, a four-man gang invaded the polling centre and upturned the table and voting materials. A voter, who simply gave his name as Darlington described the act as barbaric and unexpected, going by the assurances from security operatives.
He said the invasion led to pandemonium, as voters who had been waiting patiently to cast their votes following the late arrival of officials and materials were forced to leave without exercising their franchise. Ifelodun Local Council also had a taste of the hell as armed hoodlums stormed several polling units in Ward J, destroyed materials and chased away INEC officials.

Meanwhile, about 20 people were arrested by soldiers on the LASU-Iyana Iba road for wandering. They were accused of wandering from one place to another without their Permanent Voter Cards (PVC).  

SUSPECTED political thugs allegedly shot dead a 25-year-old man identified as Monsuru, in Kudeti area of Ibadan, the Oyo State capital. The ugly incident happened while the former deputy governor of the state, Ambassador Taofeek Arapaja was in the vicinity. An eyewitness said, “Monsuru, who just finished his secondary education at St Luke’s College in Molete, Ibadan, was killed by one of the thugs.

Many residents believe the thugs belong to a group called “One Million Boys.”

“Votes were being collated when the assailants came into Lako Compound, Kudeti, the same ward where Ambassador Arapaja voted and they started shooting sporadically killing Monsuru in the process.”

It was gathered that trouble started when loyalists of one of the top five political parties in the state started removing the banners and posters of other parties in the vicinity and replacing them with those of their candidates. It was learnt that Arapaja who is a chieftain of African Democratic Congress (ADC) had earlier complained that security was not adequate in the area.

The state’s Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Gbenga Fadeyi who confirmed the incident, said the killing was a mistake, describing it as an “accidental discharge.”

However, despite the one week postponement of elections, there were delays and late arrival of materials and ad-hoc staff in some of the polling units across the state.

In Saki, Ibarapa, Ogbomoso, Oyo and Oke Goin areas of the state, the election was peaceful and voting went on smoothly as voters cast their votes without intimidation and harassment. In Ajibode area of Ibadan voters waited in vain to cast their votes, as the ad hoc staff, mostly corps members failed to show up.

INEC had to replace them outright in order for voting to begin when it became clear that they had absconded. Reacting, INEC spokesman in the state, Mr. Ayodele Folami, expressed surprise at the disappearance of the corps members, saying that they were paid on Friday to motivate them.

In Sabo area of Ibadan, it was gathered 500 ballot papers were stolen and the development disrupted the voting exercise.

DESPITE repeated assurances by INEC about the performance of the smartcard readers, the electronic device rejected millions of voters across the country. Some of those affected were former President Olusegun Obasanjo, and former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole.

The malfunctioning card reader rejected Obasanjo’s fingerprint seven times, before the problem was eventually resolved, thereby allowing him to vote at about 11.15 a.m, at Ward 11, Polling Unit 22 in Olusomi Compound, Totoro Community in Abeokuta North Local Council.

“I went through the process, they put my PVC in the card reader then they had a bit of problems sorting my thumbprint and then when they were able to sort it out, they made me to go through the process of voting. They gave me the ballot papers for the Presidential, Senate and the House of Representatives and it was very orderly,” he told journalists afterwards.

Bankole, was also a victim of the card reader as the machine rejected his fingerprint and he had to manually cast his vote at Ward 10, Unit 6, Egunjo compound, Iporo- Sodeke, Abeokuta South Local Council of Ogun State. Bankole expressed satisfaction with the exercise.

KOGI State Governor, Yahaya Bello, expressed dissatisfaction with INEC over the malfunctioning of the card reader at Agasa Polling Unit 11, where he and his wife were registered to vote.

ALSO, the presidential candidate of the Young Peoples Party (YPP), Kingsley Moghalu, decried the non-performance of card readers in his ward at Nnewi North Ward 2 in Anambra State, saying the faulty devices delayed the exercise. “I came out by 8 a.m. to vote but the card readers were not functioning. So, I went back to my house and came out by almost noon to vote.”

PRESIDENT Buhari after casting his vote in his Daura hometown, Katsina State expressed confidence that he would be returned to office. He commended INEC for its efforts and called on Nigerians to cooperate with the commission for a hitch-free exercise. He was accompanied by his wife, Aisha, and they arrived at the Sarkin Yara Ward A003 Polling Unit in a black jeep at 8am.

Both of them then proceeded to cast their votes, with the president jokingly whispering to his wife to cast her vote for him and his party saying, “You are from Adamawa, I hope you are voting for me.” When asked if he was hopeful of winning the election, he replied in the affirmative: “Very hopeful indeed. You should not even assume that I will lose in this election.”

His main challenger and the Presidential candidate of the PDP, Atiku Abubakar expressed hope that the elections would be successful. He equally said he would remain a democrat no matter the outcome of the elections.

Atiku who cast his vote along with his wife, Titi in the Ajia 0012 Polling Unit of Jimeta, near Yola, in Adamawa State at exactly 10.05, also urged Nigerians to do so peacefully.

The Guardian

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