Violence, ballot box snatching, massive rigging mar Kogi, Bayelsa Guber Polls

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Bookmakers were, yesterday, proven right, when shootings, widespread violence and electoral malpractices took center stage as Bayelsa and Kogi states went to the polls to elect new governors, and a senator. At least three deaths as well as maiming, kidnapping; several cases of ballot box snatching, intimidation of voters, vote-buying, massive rigging and sundry electoral malpractice, were recorded in both states. Predictably, the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has rejected the results and will be heading to the election tribunal to appeal, what unarguably were the worst elections ever conducted under a civilian dispensation in Nigeria.

 

The PDP governorship candidate in Kogi State Musa Wada rejected the election results being announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), saying the announced results were fabricated. Wada denied reports that he had conceded defeat to the APC and its candidate Yahaya Bello; tweeting that he would go to the tribunal to reclaim his stolen victory.

 

Likewise, the PDP candidate in the Kogi West Senatorial District rerun election, Dino Melaye also rejected the results from what he described as an “Helicopter election” alleging that helicopters hovered around polling units in Lokoja area of Kogi State dropping bullets on innocent, harmless citizens to scare them from voting. Melaye posited that it will be logical for the collation of results be stopped since the missing ballot boxes are yet to be recovered.

 

In the build up to the exercise, the actions and inaction of some stakeholders, forced many, including observer groups to express fears that bedlam may reign. It did, as reflected in the nadir of the violence in Kogi State, where Umoru Shuaib and Faruk Suleiman were killed, at Barracks Polling Unit in Abocho Community, in Dekina Local Council. Three persons, who were shot in Bayelsa State, have their stars to thank for still being alive, while another youth identified as Prince Odede, allegedly had his hand chopped off by political thugs at Ward 5, Opolo, Yenagoa, Bayelsa State.

 

In Kogi, which lived up to its reputation as a hotbed of political violence, an unidentified INEC official was kidnapped at the SUBEB Polling Unit in Lokoja. The abduction allegedly occurred after gunmen shot sporadically into the air while voting was going on. As voters scampered for safety, the gunmen went away with the official. This happened not long after some suspected thugs reportedly attacked the polling unit where Senator Dino Melaye voted. The hoodlums reportedly broke one of the ballot boxes, carted away the other, and shot severally into the air as they departed in a black Hilux van. The gunmen, who killed the duo in Abocho, while they were about casting their votes, an eyewitness claimed, apparently came for Shuaib.

 

At the scene, could be observed stones and sticks that littered the road, while tyres burnt by youths protesting the attack were still emitting smoke. Other than the killings, there were also sporadic gunshots in Emewe Okapda, part of Ajiyolo Community in Dekina Local Council, and in some other parts of Kogi East after voting commenced.

 

In Aikpele-Ajaka Polling Unit 002, Igalamela-Odolu Local Council, armed men wearing mask reportedly shot sporadically into the air, disrupting the exercise as voters and INEC officials scampered in different directions. Ballot boxes were also snatched by political thugs at polling units at Crowther College, Lokoja, and Muslim Community College, Lokoja

 

The Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), one of the domestic groups observing the Kogi poll, decried the spate of violence and ballot box snatching across the state and called for urgent security intervention. The Chairman of CDD Election Analysis Centre in Lokoja, Prof. Adele Jinadu, while addressing a world press conference, said reports from CDD observers indicate widespread violence, intimidation of voters, vote buying, abductions, gunshots and massive rigging that may undermine the integrity of the governorship election in the state. The group said the conduct of the election falls short of public expectations, in spite of public outcry against electoral violence in the state.

 

Similarly, the Executive Director, Search for Common Ground, Gift Omoniwa, escaped death by the whiskers at Ganaja Polling Unit, when hoodlums held her hostage and attacked her vehicle, as she was on election observation. It took the intervention of good Samaritans and security agencies to rescue her from her attackers.

 

Governor Yahaya Bello, who voted at exactly 9: 11am, commended INEC for adequate preparation, claiming that there was a lot of improvement over previous exercises, particularly the smartcard reader, which he said worked perfectly, as against the last election, where he had challenges with his accreditation. The deputy governorship candidate of the All Peoples Congress (APC), Edward Onoja, who also voted in Ogugu, commended the electorate for their orderly conduct.

 

While Governor Bello was busy commending security agencies for a job well done, some suspected thugs were storming Obeiba Ward 1, Obeiba Ihima, the hometown of the governorship candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Natasha Akpoti, where she cast her vote, in Okehi Local Council. The armed thugs in their numbers; disrupted the voting process before men of the Police Force intervened and restored calm before the voting process restarted.

 

There was also tension in Anyigba, in Dekina Local Council as a crack team of heavily armed Special Anti robbery Squad (SARS) arrested four persons in fake police uniforms. An unmarked Toyota Hiace bus conveying the suspected fake policemen in uniform was intercepted as it negotiated the Unity Roundabout heading towards Anyigba Town.

 

A vehicle conveying some journalists on election duty, however, ran into the crossfire between SARS and the fake policemen. In the process the windscreen of the vehicles carrying the reporters was shattered.

Occupants of the vehicle, including an editor with the state-owned Kogi Radio, Sunday Omachi however, escaped without injuries.

 

Meanwhile, the SDP National Chairman, Alhaji Mouktar Atimah, maintained that election in Kogi Central Senatorial District, the stronghold of Governor Bello was conducted overnight. At a press briefing, he said that the governorship election was rigged the previous night, which was why APC agents were not present at most of the polling units on Election Day proper. The SDP chairman said: “The absence of APC agents at the polling units has affirmed the information we got that the APC conducted the election of Kogi Central in the night.”

 

Peeved at the level of thuggery and brigandage that occasioned the poll in some parts of Bayelsa State, including the maiming at Ward 5, Opolo, Yenagoa, the PDP governorship candidate, Douye Diri, alleged that security personnel aided rigging by the APC by preventing PDP members from voting in some parts of the state. This was as four INEC officials, who were earlier abducted in Bumodi-Gbene in Yenagoa, and Ologi in Ogbia Local Council regained their freedom.

 

Sporadic gunshots erupted at Opolo, Ward 5, as voters began to gather for accreditation. The booming gunshots forced people to immediately retreat to their homes.

 

Thereafter, some youths, who were alleged to be members of one of the major political parties went into homes of their perceived opponents and attacked them. The thugs also shot at one Preye and stabbed an elderly man. Amid the gunshot, scores of policemen were deployed to restore order. But despite the presence of security personnel, several voters stayed away from polling units in the entire Ward 5 for fear of the violence. Later on, scores of women took to the streets, protesting that they were denied the opportunity to cast their votes.

 

Election was peaceful in Tombia, Amassoma, Sampou and Opokuma and some other places, but it was a different kettle of fish at Angiama community of Southern Ijaw, where all election materials were hijacked by armed thugs; who later stormed the RAC Centre at Koluoama, hometown of the PDP state chairman Moses Cleopas, and destroyed all voting materials there.

 

However, the APC’s gubernatorial candidate, David Lyon, who voted early at Olugbobiri Community in Southern Ijaw Local Council, described the poll in his area as peaceful and commending INEC for a job well done. But the state APC chairman, Amos Jotham, described the violence recorded in some parts of the state as unfortunate. 

 

PDP’s Diri shortly after casting his vote at Kalaowe Owei Unit 4, Ward 6, Sampou, said he had received reports of electoral fraud committed by the opposition that stormed various polling units in Bassambiri, Nembe, Enewari, Opolo and other parts of the state. Bayelsa State Governor, Seriake Dickson, who was in sync with Diri, called on INEC to cancel the election in some parts of the state, where the exercise was characterised by brigandage, hijacking of electoral materials, and where military personnel aided in election rigging.

 

According to the governor, rogue elements in the Nigeria Army connived with APC thugs to perpetrate electoral fraud and insecurity in some parts of Southern Ijaw, Ekeremor, Ogbia and even the state capital, Yenagoa.

 

“The President has to wake up and do something. What is going on in Bayelsa in the name of election is not democracy. I call on the President to call on the security agents, particularly the Nigeria Army to stop desecrating democratic governance, and subjecting the image of the country to ridicule,” Dickson said.

 

Former President Goodluck Jonathan also expressed disappointment at the handling of the voting process in his ward, particularly the late arrival of voting materials at the polling unit. Jonathan spoke to journalists after he and his wife, Patience, voted, said: “We must conduct ourselves if we want to bring real people to rule us, either as presidents or governors. Nigerians are always blaming people in authority and the leaders; so, here, they must blame themselves.

 

The CDD Election Analysis Centre (EAC) in Bayelsa, in its preliminary findings on the conduct and key processes of the governorship election, equally decried what it described as “coordinated disruption” of the exercise. CDD Director, Mrs. Idayat Hassan flayed the coordinated disruption and the subsequent destruction of electoral materials by armed thugs, noting that given the widespread scale of these systematic attacks of the electoral space, the credibility of the outcome had been called to question. The CDD helmswoman said the number of critical situations recorded in the election makes it impossible for it to pass the minimum test for credible elections.