By Kingsley Omonobi, Chris Ochayi, Luka Binniyat & Mayen Etim
ABUJA — All land and sea borders were closed last night while international flights to and from Nigeria will be suspended by midnight today as Nigerians go to the polls on Saturday to elect the President and members of the National Assembly.
With just 48 hours to the election, residents besieged the markets to buy foodstuff with prices of food items sky-rocketing, even as the Department of State Services has urged voters to be vigilant in crowded environments.
The United Nations on its part appealed to Nigerians to disappoint all the prophets of doom by conducting a peaceful election just as the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, the Police and the Army have expressed their preparedness for the polls.
Announcing the closure of borders yesterday in a statement by the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Interior, Abubakar Magaji, the Federal Government said: “All borders will effectively be closed from midnight March 25, to midnight Saturday, March 28 to allow for the peaceful conduct of the forthcoming national elections.”
The statement added that the Nigeria Immigration Service had been directed to ensure that non-Nigerians do not participate in any part of the election process.
COAS warns politicians
Meanwhile, the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General KTJ Minimah has declared that any politician or group of politicians who instigate or provoke violence during the elections with a view to making the country insecure, should be ready to face organized violence in return.
He said that all security agencies, including the Police and the military were committed to ensuring that the elections were violence-free and that lives and property of Nigerians were not threatened.
His words: “Regarding the question of security before, during and post elections, I want to say the Armed Forces, the Police and other security organisations have made adequate arrangements for security during the general and local elections in a few days and a few weeks coming.
“I do not envisage any issues because this is just an election and it will come and go; though we know there are also elements within the political class that will not want a normal election process to come and be put behind us.
“I will appeal to politicians and their followers and supporters to keep the peace; maintain the peace and ensure a violence-free election. I will appeal to law-abiding Nigerians to come out en-masse, vote for candidates of their choice without fear of intimidation, without fear for their safety. It is their right to vote.
“And whoever wants to invoke or provoke violence would meet organised violence waiting for him. Whoever threatens violence will meet violence.”
Asked how he can reconcile presence of soldiers on the streets and court order barring them from elections, Minimah said: “I can interpret it this way. This is not our first elections in this country. You have seen several elections in Nigeria and you have seen soldiers providing security for the elections. Have you at any time seen soldiers at polling booths? Have you seen soldiers counting ballots or carrying ballot materials, ballot papers, ballot boxes or whatever?”
DSS urges vigilance in crowded environments
The Department of State Services, DSS, on its part has urged eligible voters to be vigilant in crowded environments before, during and after the conduct of Saturday’s elections.
The DSS in a statement signed by its spokesperson, Marilyn Ogar, also called on the electorate to abide by all stipulated guidelines emplaced to ensure peaceful conduct.
Promising to provide adequate security for voters, the DSS charged that all forms of trading should be discouraged at the scene of voting.
The statement said: “The general elections are scheduled to commence on March 28, 2015. Accordingly, we wish to advise all registered voters to go out and exercise their civic responsibility as security is guaranteed. It is imperative to remind all eligible voters to be law-abiding and security conscious while exercising their franchise.
“Equally, they should remain vigilant in crowded environments before, during and after the elections and abide by all stipulated guidelines emplaced to ensure peaceful conduct.
“Voters are advised to be wary of persons in loose or bulky midriff clothings, which are inappropriate for the weather, look out for unattended bags, luggage, dustbins, strange containers and other suspicious items. Similarly, all vehicles, motorcycles, tricycles and bicycles must be parked far away from the polling stations.
“All forms of trading should be discouraged, suspicious persons, activities and movements should be promptly reported to security agents. The task of nation-building is our collective responsibility. Therefore, let us all play our parts and shun violence. Once again, we restate our commitment to ensuring a peaceful atmosphere for all Nigerians to contribute towards strengthening our democracy.”
UN Special Envoy calls on Nigeria to disappoint prophets of doom
Meanwhile, the Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Office for West Africa, UNOWA, Mohammed Ibn Chambas, has called on all political stakeholders in Nigeria to disappoint prophets of doom by ensuring peaceful, credible, free and fair general elections in Nigeria.
Chambas, who spoke when he led a delegation of United Nations and ECOWAS diplomats to a meeting with the Rivers State PDP governorship candidate, Mr Nyesom Wike and other top PDP chieftains in Port Harcourt, yesterday, said if Nigeria concludes the elections peacefully and in a credible manner, it will be a source of pride to all black people and Africans.
He said: “I would like Nigerians to disappoint those who expect violence during the elections. Though there was resistance about the earlier postponement of the elections, it has been admitted that the postponement is relevant.”
The UN Special Envoy noted that the international community is interested in the forthcoming general elections because of the position that Nigeria occupies in the region and the need for the country to peacefully conclude the elections so that it can further decimate the deadly Boko Haram that has committed series of crimes against humanity.
He charged the electoral umpire, the security agencies, political leaders and the voting public to remain committed to the peaceful and transparent conduct of the elections.
Responding, Wike assured the international community that the PDP in Rivers State remains committed to peaceful and transparent polls, which will see President Jonathan re-elected and the PDP back to the Rivers State Government House.
Residents stockpile food ahead of Saturday polls
In a related development, amidst fear of violence and possible imposition of curfew, residents of Kaduna metropolis have been stock-piling food at home, and frantically withdrawing cash from banks ahead of Saturday’s elections.
Mallam Aminu Danmanir, Chairman, Meat Sellers Association, at the Kaduna central market, in an interview said his members had noticed a huge increase in sales over the past few days.
Said Danmanir: “It came to us as a surprise when people started coming and buying meat in large quantities. It was later that we knew it was not because of the forthcoming Easter celebration because even Muslims were buying. It was because of the election. In a day before now, I sell about 60kg of meat. But in the past four days, I have been selling between 90 and 110kg. We have not raised the price of meat. A kilogramme of solid beef is still N900. But, if we keep getting this pressure, the price may go up before elections.”
At Sabo main market, Mrs Agnes Sati, told our reporters that she had noticed an increase in her sales of grains.
Said Sati: “There was a day I sold three bags of rice, a bag of beans and almost three bags of Ijebu gari. It is the same for palm oil and vegetable oil. People are afraid of tomorrow.”
A visit to the United Bank of Africa, UBA, Yakubu Gowon Road; FirstBank and Skye Bank all on Yakubu Gowon Way in Kaduna, revealed many people on queue waiting to withdraw money. One of the customers told our reporter at the UBA that he was removing all his money from the bank because he may need the money should there be any problem.