February 24, 2016

Imo North Senate Contest: Another derailment

Imo North Senate Contest: Another derailment

INEC boss, Mahmood Yakubu

The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, shocked Imo people last Friday, when it literally succumbed to pressure mounted by a political party in the state to call off the planned rerun election for the Imo North Senatorial District.

By Chidi Nkwopara

The hands of the Imo State government were not just seen in the government officials that literally barricaded the INEC office, but in the use of a government owned gravel carrying tipper to fence off the headquarters of INEC in Owerri on the eve of the election.

INEC was on the verge of distributing the election materials when scores of All Progressives Congress, APC youths, spearheaded by many government appointees, stormed the INEC office with placards. The demonstrators sang derogatory songs against INEC management.

While this was going on, a government registered tipper lorry, fully laden with gravel, meandered it’s way to the INEC gate, to the applause of the protesters and in the full glare of all the security personnel posted to the place. The vehicle driver was on the verge of off-loading its content when the government functionaries came to the rescue of INEC. The driver simply alighted from the vehicle and disappeared from the scene.

Prior to this bizarre development, soldiers drafted to the INEC office had earlier barricaded and diverted all vehicles plying the ever busy Owerri-Port Harcourt federal highway, where INEC is located, at two strategic points; the House of Assembly Junction and Specialist Hospital Junction.

INEC calls off election

Following the confusion created by the protesters, INEC suspended the by by-elections. The position of INEC, which came as a shock to most Imolites, was made public through a press statement issued by the INEC Administrative Secretary, Mr. Chinedu Evurulobi.

According to Evurulobi, the Commission had assembled men and materials from the various states of the federation and the Headquarters, Abuja and ready to deploy them to the field, adding that “unfortunately at about 2pm on February 17, 2016, some youths who claimed to have come from Okigwe zone, gathered and barricaded the gate of the Imo State’s Commission’s Headquarters, Owerri”.

Continuing, the Administrative Secretary recalled that a greater number of protesters gathered and blocked the office gate with a big truck on February 19, 2016, thereby preventing the movement of men and materials in and out of the Commission.

“In view of the foregoing, the members of the inter-agency consultative committee on election security, were invited. After due assessment of the security situation on ground, they advised that the safety of men and materials cannot be guaranteed without casualties”, Evurulobi said.

Subsequently, the Commission’s Headquarters, Abuja, was contacted and a decision was taken to reschedule the election till further notice, citing breach of peace as provided by Section 26(1) of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) as reason.

IMSG reacts

Governor Rochas Okorocha responding through his Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Sam Onwuemeodo said that INEC should have listened at first to the protesting APC youths.

“The government appeals to INEC to look at the issues raised by the APC youths and address them so that we can begin to respect the rights of the people to vote in an election and their votes counted for the winner to emerge.

“It is also the feeling of the state government that rigging in an election should be the practice of the past and anyone caught doing that should be made to suffer for it squarely.

Imo State Government equally made six demands on INEC including the removal of one Mr. Bello, an indigene of the state who had lately been brought in as the Head of Operations in INEC Office, Owerri to supposedly influence the election.

Angry reactions

Not unexpectedly, angry reactions trailed the sudden rescheduling of the re-run elections for Okigwe senatorial seat and some state constituency seats in Imo State.

Addressing a news conference in Owerri, the leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Imo State, accused the state government, INEC and security agencies in the state of complicity in the aborted re-run election earlier scheduled to hold last Saturday..

“The postponement of the scheduled polls was the handiwork of the state government, whose top officials recruited miscreants and street urchins and stormed INEC premises midday with dangerous weapons and blocked the entrance gate with a heavy duty truck”, the State PDP Chairman, Chief Nnamdi Anyaehie, fumed.

Continuing, Anyaehie said: “It beats our imagination and the minds of all right thinking individuals, how such an ugly incident could successively be accomplished in the presence of fully armed security personnel, including soldiers, and yet nobody was arrested”.

The Imo PDP boss, who also took exception to Governor Rochas Okorocha’s broadcast a day to the aborted re-run election, during which    he urged the electorate to vote for APC, candidates, dismissed this as a brazen abuse of office.

Speaking also, the PDP candidate for Okigwe senatorial seat, Chief Athan Nneji Achonu dismissed the indefinite postponement    of the re-run election as laughable. He blamed the APC controlled government in the state for the shocking action taken by the INEC, insisting that Okigwe zone had traditionally enjoined peace, unity and tranquility.