By Emma Amaize, South-South Editor, Jimitota Onoyume, Asst News Editor, Festus Ahon, Egufe Yafugborhi, Emma Unah, Ike Uchechukwu, Harris-Okon Emmanuel, Chioma Onuegbu, Davies Iheamnachor, Emem Idio and Perez Brisibe
Following the warning by President Muhammadu Buhari that ballot box snatchers would be shot-on-sight by security forces, many had thought that, for the first time in the country’s elections, there will be no ballot box snatching or the occurrence will be negligible in the February 23 presidential and federal parliamentary polls.
However, in the South-South, not only did ballot thieves operate, some security agents were believed to have aided and abetted the act and other forms of electoral violations at the polls.
Some Electoral Officers, EOs, in Rivers State, stunningly revealed that men in uniform, especially soldiers, and thugs spearheaded the disruption of the polls and constituted a threat to lives.
In Okrika, the EO, Leo Okon, said, “Some men in uniform attacked us and took all electoral materials away. They pointed gun at us and threatened to kill us”.
In Ahoada West, Mrs. Emotimi Cloepart, another EO, said, “There was shooting all over the place. I was asked to go and explain to the parties and the thugs that were there. When I got there, they were demanding for the originals of election documents.
“After that, the thugs took me outside and destroyed all the election materials. We all ran for our dear lives”.
The irregularities led to the cancellation of the exercise in six local government areas of the state, including Bonny, Akuku Toru and Emohua.
Emavwoyan Efeturi, EO for Ikwerre local government area, where Transportation Minister, Mr Rotimi Amaechi, hails from, said, “There was no collation, no results. At the point of collation at the INEC LGA office, the military invaded and chased all electoral officials out.
“All items and materials scattered. They (soldiers) were asking for my collation officers but l blocked them from the collation officers and told them to run.”
But the Army, through the spokesman for the 6 Division, Port Harcourt, Col Aminu Ilyasu, repeatedly denied soldiers’ involvement in electoral offenses during the exercise.
“That people were in uniform does not mean they were soldiers. Recall we did pre-empt that some persons were trying to impersonate our men. We are still investigating and we will get to the root of the matter,” he said.
In the election violence, the Army lost an officer in Abonema.
Iliyasu indeed confirmed that soldiers, allegedly under gunmen attack, gunned down six villagers, but community sources claimed the Army killed far more persons in reprisal.
Going into the governorship and House of Assembly elections after the harvest of destruction and deaths in the presidential and National Assembly polls, fear is rife that the violence ahead could be worse, even when APC, the ruling party at the federal level, is not on the ballot in the Saturday’s elections in the state.
Asked whether APC would stay aloof or support another party’s candidate on election day, the governorship flag bearer of the party in the state sacked on the order of the courts, Tonye Cole, said, “You do not expect me to answer that question at this point. We hope to be on the ballot on the strength of the pending case. We will cross the bridge when we get there.”
Bayelsa: Violent contest
In Bayelsa, instead of putting the endemic problem to rest, the presidential warning against ballot box snatching exacerbated the menace during the presidential and National Assembly elections in the predominantly riverine state, where elections have always been a violent contest, ostensibly due to far-flung nature and inaccessibility of some of its communities.
It was surprising that in spite of the large deployment of military personnel and obvious lock down of Yenagoa, the state capital, and other parts of the state, political thugs were on the rampage, leaving in their trails destruction, pains and loss of lives.
As if there was collusion with security operatives, none of the ballot boxes snatchers was shot or arrested. The snatching of ballots featured prominently in Southern Ijaw, Nembe, Brass, Ekeremor and some parts of Sagbama local council areas.
Political thugs hijacked and diverted electoral materials with impunity.
To PDP members, the uniformed men came to do the bidding of the opposition APC, but to the latter, the presence of the military was to instil sanity and ensure a level-playing field.
On the eve of the elections, Nembe Bassambiri in Bayelsa East reportedly turned into a shooting field. Heavy sounds of gunshots rent the air all through the night into the morning of the exercise proper. Gun wielding thugs allegedly hijacked election materials
A life was reportedly lost during the orgy of violence that rocked the oil rich enclave.
Protesting the outcome of the polls in the area, PDP and 30 other political parties, under the aegis of Coalition of United Political Parties, CUPP, called for the cancellation of the exercise
They claimed that elections did not hold in the area due to the hijack of materials and abduction of INEC officials by purported APC thugs.
Thugs also snatched ballot boxes in Agbere and Odoni axis of Sagbama local government area.
The situation was not different in Southern Ijaw council area where gunmen shot dead a PDP chieftain, Taribi Seidougha, while alleged uniformed men shot a Bayelsa Government House photographer, Reginald Dei.
Good Samaritans rushed the photographer to a hospital in Yenagoa, where he is currently battling for his life. Sources told our correspondents that the shooting that occurred at Oweikorogha community took place after voting and voters awaiting collation of results.
However, reports said that the two dominant parties, APC and PDP, indulged in ballot box snatching. APC maintained that the exercise was peaceful in the contentious Nembe Bassambiri and Southern Ijaw areas, accusing PDP of crying wolf because they were roundly defeated.
The PDP is infuriated that the military were aiding and abetting APC to perpetuate electoral violence.
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Cover for ballot thieves in Delta
Soldiers were everywhere on February 23 in Delta State but that did not stop ballot thieves from operating. Between 8.00 am and 9.00 am, political thugs invaded a polling unit at Ute-Ogbeje community in Delta North and made away with a ballot box, apparently to stuff it with thumb printed ballots from their sponsors.
Sources disclosed that soldiers trooped to the area, harassing the electorate after supporters of a top government official who carried out the act had disappeared.
At Sapele in Sapele local government area of the state, ballot box snatchers killed two persons in their desperation to steal election materials. While the PDP accused the APC of sending the ballot box thieves, APC pointed fingers at the PDP.
Security agents did not apprehend the ballot box thieves who made their way into the polling units in commando style in their presence, fuelling the suspicion that they had the protection of the opposition.
Former Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan of the APC, who contested against Senator James Manager for the Delta South senatorial slot, alleged massive rigging in some of the units and wards in the district.
The candidate of the PDP for Delta Central senatorial seat, Hon Evelyn Oboro, also picked holes in the election, alleging that her mandate was stolen. APC candidate for Warri federal constituency, Mr Alex Eyengho, alleged that there were cases of ballot snatching in Ogidigben and some wards in the three Warri local government areas of the constituency.
Some polling units in Ughelli South and Udu local government areas recorded pockets of violence, particularly ballot box snatching. Hoodlums invaded some polling units in Ughelli South and Udu council areas, carting away ballot boxes.
At Ovwian in Udu local government area, an angry mob killed a PDP member after he allegedly stabbed a member of the APC during a confrontation while the counting of results was ongoing. In addition, youths from the community were able to retrieve a ballot box after some thugs snatched it from a polling unit.
Speaking on the incident, Vice Chairman of Udu local government council, Mr. Justice Iyasere, said: “We recorded just one incident of ballot box snatching at Ovwian, but the box was retrieved by youths of the community and brought back to the town hall which was the venue for the election.
“What led to the death was as result of an argument between supporters of the APC and the PDP over voided ballot papers during the counting of results. A PDP person stabbed an APC person. The PDP guy was mobbed even though the APC guy did not die.”
At Okpavwere-Olomu in Ughelli South, some youths disrupted voting in protest of the “incomplete” number of ballot papers for the exercise.
Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) officials, particularly National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) members, narrowly escaped death as the protesters turned their anger on them, accusing them of conniving with a political party in the area to rig the elections.
Thugs receive help in Akwa Ibom
Despite the seeming peaceful conduct of the presidential and National Assembly polls in Akwa Ibom State, there were pockets of violence in some units at Itu, Essien Udim, Uyo, Udung Uko, Uruan, Oruk Anam, Ibiono Ibom, Esit Eket, Ikono and Mkpat Enin local government areas.
The electoral violence and malpractices witnessed in these areas ranged from snatching of ballot boxes to intimidation of voters in some polling units by thugs assisted by security personnel.
Political thugs intimidated INEC ad-hoc staff and NYSC members in a desperate bid to make away with election materials.
EOs from the affected areas corroborated the tensed situation in their operation areas, while presenting their presidential reports at the INEC state collation centre, Uyo.
For instance, an EO for Udung Uko, Emeka Adizua, lamented that some chieftains of a particular party mobilized thugs to snatch ballot boxes, card readers and other materials from him to thumb print, but said the police in Oron came to his rescue.
This ugly development propelled the electoral umpire to cancel the elections in the entire local government area, thus making the election for the Oron federal constituency to be inconclusive.
Also in Uruan local government, the EO reported that thugs manhandled the ad-hoc staff in some units and election materials carted away.
However, voters’ apathy reportedly marred the outcome of the polls as many voters stayed away, especially from areas apparently known as vote’ baskets over the fear of the unknown.
As early as 7.00am, some politicians had come out with truckloads of armed security men at some of the polling units, a development which sent fear down the spines of voters, thus forcing them to stay away from the exercise.
There was a drama at Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District, where Senator Godswill Akpabio allegedly insisted that INEC announce a particular result. This stoked tension in the area until INEC announced the certified result on Tuesday evening, three days after the polls, amid watertight security as suspected thugs prowled the vicinity.
The outcome of the polls, which saw the PDP sweeping all the seats, is seen as a prelude to what is likely to happen in the governorship and House of Assembly polls.
Die-hard ballot box snatchers in C’River
Die-hard election riggers snatched ballot boxes in some places in Cross River State.
There were reports of ballot box snatching in Adadama, Abi and Boki local government areas of Cross River Central. Thugs hijacked election materials in one of the wards in Boki in a supremacy battle between APC and PDP forces.
At Obanlikwu in the northern part of the state, hoodlums hijacked election materials while the collation officer in Yala local government area, Professor John Undie of University of Calabar, confirmed the snatching of Ward 4 materials. .
There was crisis at Etung where card readers were reportedly not functional and elections conducted without the card readers. At the end of the collation, the number of votes was more than the number of registered voters, so Dr. Frankland Briyai, the state Resident Electoral Commissioner, instructed the collation officer to cancel the entire result.
When voters heard that the result was invalid, they went after the electoral officials who ran for their dear lives.