*Imo robbers snatch money for vote-buying
*Uzodinma in early lead
*Calls for cancellation rent the air
BY ORIAKU IJELE & HARUNA SALAMI
The off-season elections in Imo, Bayelsa and Kogi have held but with the characteristic bouts of irregularities associated with Nigerian elections in the past.
Across the states, reports of electoral violations were rampant with recorded incidents of violence, ballot-snatching, abduction of INEC officials, stings with fake security agents, voter suppression and in some dire circumstances, killings.
As usual, those on the losing camps have called in loud voices for the elections to be promptly cancelled.
In Imo where the candidate of the APC, incumbent Governor Hope Uzodinma is leading and poised to be announced the winner, the candidate of the Labour Party (LP), Sen. Athan Achonu, has called for a cancellation of results from some polling units over alleged irregularities.
Achonu made the call while speaking with newsmen in his hometown, Umulumo, in Ehime Mbano council area of Imo, on Saturday.
He said that agents of his party returned with disturbing reports of hijacking of ballot boxes and other electoral materials as well as vote buying.
He added that the LP had officially written to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for requisite action and called for the cancellation of results emanating from the affected locations.
He alleged “In parts of Ideato, the process was characterized by ballot box snatching and all manners of irregularities, including intimidation of voters.
“This is unacceptable. We have already written to INEC to take appropriate steps to ensure that fake results are not uploaded,“ he said.
He, however, decried the “absence of security personnel in certain places around Orlu and Orsu”, while commending the military for turning up to save the situation in some other areas.
INEC’s Head of Voter Education, Mrs. Emmanuella Opara, however said that the Commission was yet to receive an official report on the alleged irregularities.
In a similar vein, he Governorship Candidate of PDP in Imo, Sen. Samuel Anyanwu, has cried foul over some alleged electoral malpractices in Saturday’s poll.
Speaking on the reports from the party agents in the field, Anyanwu alleged incidents of vote buying, ballot box snatching and other irregularities in some polling units.
He spoke in an interviiew with newsmen in his Amaimo residence in Ikeduru Local Government Area (LGA).
He accused party agents of the ruling-APC of “coercing voters to vote for the party”.
He further alleged that some PDP agents were shot by political thugs.
According to him, one of the PDP vehicles was burnt at Inyishi Community in the LGA, while the agents were trying to resist the thugs.
He, therefore, called for the cancellation of the results of the poll in the areas allegedly rocked by thuggery and violence.
He also urged INEC “to beam its searchlight on Ikeduru LGA”.
He said: “I have an evidence that one of the thugs is a member of the House of Assembly.
“In the process of snatching the ballot boxes, the lawmaker’s Identity Card fell off and I have it here with me.
“I call on INEC to consider the available evidence and cancel results of elections in the affected areas.“
There were cases of vote buying and coercion of voters in Polling Units 003 and 004 located at Chief Obi Primary School, Emekuku in Owerri North LGA.
It was also learnt that some thugs invaded the Umuokoro Village
Hall, Iho, also in the LGA, where they allegedly snatched and destroyed ballot boxes and ballot papers.
An eyewitness account said that the reinforcement of security personnel in the area helped to restore normalcy in the area.
However, INEC’s Head of Voter Education, Mrs Emmanuella Opara, said the commission had yet to receive any official reports of vote buying, ballot box snatching or other irregularities as alleged.
“People go on social media to say anything but we need documented evidences or reports.
“We have not got any of these reports,” Opara said.
She further said that the commission deployed EFCC personnel to arrest any person caught indulging in vote buying
Similar reports also came from Kogi state. The gubernatorial candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) reportedly boycotted the exercise over alleged pre-filled result sheets in some polling units.
However, as the elections kicked off in the confluence state, allegation of pre-filled result sheets hit the air, trending in the social and online media.
Senator Dino Melaye, the PDP candidate who hails from Ayetero Gbede in Ijumu Local Government Area boycotted the exercise on the strength of the allegation and called on his supporters to protest.
In a swift reaction, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) cancelled election in 67 polling units in Ogori Mangogo Local Government Area where the illegality took place.
Yiaga Africa drew INEC’s attention to the anomaly, which prompted the electoral umpire to direct its senior officials deployed to Kogi to investigate the matter.
According to the report, the result sheets were filled before the commencement of voting on Saturday, which Yiaga Africa said must be probed to safeguard the “integrity” of the election.
Meanwhile, the election went on smoothly in other parts of the state unlike what obtained in 2019 polls when the outgoing Governor Yahaya Bello was running for a second term.
These marked irregularities are making some stakeholders to be rooting for abolition of off season elections.
Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), said vote buying and electoral violence remained the sore points in the Bayelsa, Imo and Kogi governorship elections.
Dr Jack Johnson, Member of the CDD Election Analysis Centre (CDD-EAC) made this known in Abuja at a news conference on the off-cycle elections.
Jackson said that the CDD-EAC, had been observing the off-cycle elections in Bayelsa, Imo and Kogi with a deployment of over 150 fact-checkers and observers in all three states, as well as a team of data clerks, reviewers and analysts in its situation room in Abuja.
He said that overall there was early commencement of polls as well as the usage of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS), however, there were several reports about voter inducement across all three states.
” Observers reported incidents in PU 1, Ward 8 and PU 11, Ward 1 in Sagbama LGA in Bayelsa West.
“In Bayelsa Central, vote trading was reported in PU 16, Ward 6 in Yenegoa LGA, PU 22, Ward 13 in Southern Ijaw LGA with reports of voter inducements ranging from N5,000 – N22,000, including other items such as wrappers.
“In PU 30 and 31, Ward 13, along with money, rice was also shared to buy votes.
” we are concerned that there were allusions that it might be linked to the delayed flood and subsidy palliatives that state governments only started distributing two days ago.”
Jackson said that CDD observed that in Kogi, there were reports of vote buying in PUs 004, 038 and 039 in Ward A of Lokoja LGA, where party agents were allegedly sharing out money to voters upon confirmation that they voted for their party candidates.
He further said that the two major parties’ agents were reported to have engaged in vote buying, with N2000 to N3000 shared and same at PU3 Mbutu Ward, Aboh Mbaise LGA as well as PU11, Civic Centre Ward, Mbaitoli LGA.
He added that in PU 7, Central School UmuNakanu Ehime LGA, in Imo, there were reports that INEC ad hoc staff were given monetary inducements by party officials.
He said that incidents of vote buying were concentrated in Mbaitoli-Ezinihitte, Owerri West and Njaba LGAs with the highest number of collected PVCs amongst the LGAs in the state with 150,012 and 134,192 cards.”
Jackson said that regrettably, electoral violence remained a sore point in this election.
He added that electoral violence was reported in Dekini LGA, specifically in Agala Ogane PU, Anyigba town, a thug was reportedly shot and killed by military officials while fleeing in an attempt to snatch a ballot box.
“There was a similar attempt in Ganaja PU, Ajaokuta LGA where the LGA chair was apprehended by voters.
“In Yenagoa LGA, observers reported that one person was shot at Famgbe community and, in PU 24 Ward, voting ended abruptly when thugs destroyed election materials at about 11:45 a.m.
“We note that in these area polling units, there was little or no presence of security officials.
“Similar instances were reported in Brass PU 7 Ward 7, observers reported that there were no security agents as late as 10:19 a.m. in spite of voting having started.”
Jackson said CDD also noted some election irregularities as well as fake news.
He said that days to the election, it was consistently claimed that the SDP candidate in Kogi, Murtala Ajaka, stepped down from the race and on the morning of the election, a false message was circulated that Ajaka was disqualified because of his running mate’s certificate controversy.
He added that there was a similar situation in Imo, where a video was circulated that purportedly showed the PDP’s candidate, Sam Anyanwu, had stepped down and endorsed the incumbent governor of the APC. He, however, said that the video was similarly debunked but not before it had been widely reported on social media and on news platforms.
On a bright note however, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Bayelsa says its Supervisory Presiding Officer (SPO), abducted on Friday, has regained his freedom.
The SPO was abducted by gunmen on his way to the Registration Area Centre – 06 (Ossioma) in Sagbama Local Government Area.
The Head of Voter Education and Publicity of the state INEC in Yenagoa, Mr Wilfred Ifogah, confirmed the cheering news in a statement made available to newsmen on Saturday.
According to Ifogah, the officer is hale and hearty.
The officer, whose name was not disclosed, was abducted while waiting at Amassoma Jetty to board a boat to his place of deployment.