By Jimitota Onoyume and Davies Iheamnachor
Wild scale irregularities marked yesterday’s federal and state legislative houses rerun elections in Rivers State, leaving in its trail mutual allegations of rigging by the two major parties involved in the exercise. At least three persons were feared dead as at press time yesterday.
The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC was compelled to announce the cancellation of the election in some voting units in an exercise that was marked by the late arrival of voting materials and in some cases, the total absence of the materials largely on account of the hijacking of same by thugs.
The irregularities were despite the heavy cordon of security men around the state for the elections that had repeatedly been postponed on account of fears of violence.
The unidentified man shot dead was reportedly felled under yet unknown circumstances in Bori, headquarters of Khana local government area. While in Akuku-Toru local government area dynamites were freely detonated for several hours perhaps to scare away voters.
Two people were earlier reported killed in Tai and in Gokana Local Government Areas, but later a youth believed to be a member of the All Progressives Congress, APC, was allegedly killed at ward 3, Mgbuitanwo community in Emohua LGA, the home of Andrew Uchendu, the APC candidate for the Rivers East Senatorial district.
Supporters of the PDP and the APC in Unit 8, Ward 8, in Ikwerre clashed leading to the maiming of one of the voters, Mr. Abiola Ohele who was last night receiving treatment at a health facility in the area.
The younger brother to the victim, Mr. Samuel Ohale told Sunday Vanguard at the hospital: “We were just waiting at our polling unit, unit 8, the material had not arrived when some boys came even in the presence of police men.
“The boys are from here but they are not registered at this pulling unit. When they came they started making problem. They used stick and hit my brother’s head. “
In Oyigbo, Tai, Gokhana and Ogubolo local government areas voting materials arrived in several units late and there were cases of snatching of sensitive electoral materials in some units in the local government areas.
A candidate of one of the political parties allegedly stormed Ward 8, Unit 2 in Tai local government area with heavily armed men to snatch the election materials. The candidate gunning for the House of Representative seat in the area had allegedly shot earlier in the local government to scare electorates.
In Ubima, home town of two former governors of the state, Chibuike Amaechi who is now Minister of Transportation and Sir Celestine Omehia there was no security presence in some of the wards. A statement issued by his media office on the development read in part:
“Presiding office (PO) in the Minister, Rotimi Amaechi’s unit, Ward 8, Unit 14 in Ikwerre LGA has been detained by security agents following the disappearance of the the result sheet for the unit. The SPO confirmed that the result sheet was given to the PO. As a result, voting has not commenced in the Minister’s unit. The same story was playing out in several other units in Ikwerre LGA.”
As at 5.00 p.m. the Electoral officers preparing their return forms for collation of results at the Rivers Legislative Rerun Electionult sheets were yet to arrive and just as in 2015, Amaechi again could not vote.
Meanwhile, in Bonny, there was delayed voting in Amatu Polo, Ward one, Unit four. It was a similar problem in Unit 4, Ward 10 Emohua local government area. As at 11 am nothing had started in the ward. There were also reports that one person was shot dead in the local government but this could not be confirmed by the Police as at press time.
Voting materials were also reportedly snatched at Unit 10, Ward 3 of Oyigbo local government area.
The intrigues led to a face-off between a female journalist, Precious Ahiakwo and security men in Omoku, headquarters of Ogba Egbema Ndoni local government area as she was harassed by the Police who briefly stopped her from making her reports until some officers of the state Police Command intervened.
In one of the wards in Gokhana local government areas, materials were allegedly snatched by suspected political thugs. A similar thing happened at Ward 8, Unit 16, Ubima in Ikwerre local government area.
In Bodo, Gokhana local government area, security operatives allegedly shot severally, thus causing panic and tension in the area.
In Ogubolo local government area, Ward 9, Unit 3 the election materials were allegedly snatched by suspected political thugs early in the day.
In Eleme local government area, voting materials left the RAC between 10.30 a.m. and 11.00 a.m. to the various voting centres leading to late arrival and voting in the local government area.
The PDP candidate for the Rivers South East Senatorial district, Senator Olaka Nwogu told newsmen that those who came to snatch the materials were in military uniform, an act he condemned. It could not be confirmed if they were official security men or men in fake military uniform.
His APC rival, Senator Magnus Abe, however, expressed satisfaction with the exercise, acknowledging that there were some pockets of irregularities in some units but that the exercise was peaceful.
Abe who spoke through his media aide, Mr. Parry Benson lauded security operatives for their reported professional conduct during the elections.
Governor Nyesom Wike accused the Police and other security agencies of allegedly working to deliver victory to the APC irrespective of the desire of voters.
The governor said soldiers were seen allegedly hijacking voting materials in several polling units.
The governor’s assertions were immediately rebuffed by the immediate past governorship candidate of the APC, Dr. Dakuku Peterside who lashed at the governor for allegedly raising unfounded allegations as he noted that the elections were free and fair in his Opobo-Nkoro Federal Constituency.
Voters were, however, generally disdainful of the effect of the heavy deployment of security men which they said made little significance to the guarantee of a free and fair poll.