Nigerians watch in disbelief as thugs supervise guber, HoA poll

...INEC, security agencies look away ...Low voter turnout hallmark exercise ...Electoral umpire's credibility nosedive deeper ...CDD deplores exercise

Still smarting from the shock of what some citizens described as brazen robbery that defined the February 25 Presidential Election, Nigerians woke up yesterday, March 18, to witness an elevated farce called gubernatorial election that was largely marred by violence, voter intimidation, suppression, and apathy.

Yesterday’s election defied all democratic norms and principles as cases abound where voters that were ready and willing to cast their votes for their candidates were told point black to go in there and vote for a particular candidate of a particular party or stay away.

The election was a charade where hoodlums, starry-eyed thugs and street urchins were deployed to carry out what has come to pass as ethnic cleansing and hatred, all happening in the full glare of security officers who pretended to be more helpless than the traumatised ‘bloody’ civilians.

It is mind-boggling that virtually all relevant institutions in the country are either failing or have failed the people, especially the poor masses. The political elite have so corrupted these institutions that they seem to have forgotten the rules of their engagement. In the circumstance, the police, the electoral umpire and the judiciary have become turncoats that have helped to destroy democratic ethos.

That explains why, yesterday in Lagos, the most cosmopolitan city, generally referred to as the ethnic melting pot in Nigeria, violence, orchestrated by the thugs and street urchins also called ‘agbero’, reigned supreme with attacks on voters and journalists and nobody was arrested. The violence, which happened in many parts of the state took place in the presence of police and other security officers who watched helplessly as voters who came to exercise their franchise were wounded and brutalised as recorded at Polling Unit 018 at Jakande Estate in Isolo area of the state.

In Olodi Apapa, Ajeromi Ifelodun local government area of the state, Ugwu Stella, a resident of the area, told our reporter on phone that as early as 9am, thugs and area boys had taken over most streets, warning residents not to come out to vote unless they were coming to vote for the All Progressives Congress (APC) and its candidates.

“These people who are armed with various lethal weapons are not only intimidating us, but also suppressing our voice to express our choice of leaders through the ballot box which is the hallmark of democracy anywhere in the world,” Ugwu said, adding, “we are indoors now watching them from the safety of our rooms.”

At Polling Unit 10 by Oja, Second Gate of Jakande Gate, Isolo, a fight broke out when a faceless group insisted that Igbo people and those loyal to the Labour Party (LP) would not vote at that polling unit.

This scenario was all over the state where Igbo people were singled out for both suppression and disenfranchisement. It was such that even some Yorubas who had the misfortune of looking like Igbo people were forced to stay away. This was the fate of Folashade Soremi, a resident of Teju Estate in Ijanikin, Ojo local government area of the state. She however, voted after much introduction.

Another woman tweeted how she and her husband were not allowed to vote in Ajah area of the state simply because they looked like Igbo people. The lady, @Sisi_yemmie, whose polling unit was at Roman Catholic Church, Awoyaya, tweeted: “My husband and I were not allowed to vote. They said we look like Igbo people. I can’t believe this.”

Also, on his Twitter handle, Olawale Ogunlana, lamented what he called ‘harassment’ when he was told at his polling unit that he looked like an Igbo person and therefore would not be allowed to vote.

“It is obvious that the ruling party plans to use intimidation, tactical disenfranchisement, violence thuggery and tribal bigotry to hold on to power. This is not an election. This is a crime watch,” Ogunlana wrote, adding, “it is easier for Nigerians to participate in electoral process in the US and UK than in their home country, Nigeria. If you don’t see this as a problem, then you need help.”

It was a lamentation for a young lady in a viral video who wondered aloud why INEC decided to relocate all the polling units in their Victoria Garden City (VGC) residence which they used for the Presidential election to the Lagos-Epe Expressway. No reasons were given for the decision to move them.

The same scenario played out at Abraham Jakande Estate Ajah where a young man also lamented that INEC, whose officials did not arrive the area until past 10am, decided to relocate their polling units to the expressway. According to the young, who also complained in a viral video, one of the INEC officials told them that they were acting on instruction. If there was voter-apathy which, of course, was widespread, it was because the rape on people’s choice and mandate which happened on February 25 is still fresh in voters’ minds coupled with the deafening sound of war sent across the state a non-state actor unchallenged by Baba Alkali and his men.

In most of the places visited by our reporters, voters also stayed away in order not to put themselves on harm’s way, especially as they were warned to do so by people who have all the powers even to kill and the law of the law will never go after them.

Reports by other observers showed that the same level of violence and electoral fraud in some other states across the country.

Bemoaning increased incidents of vote buying, voter suppression in the gubernatorial election, a pro-democracy think thank, Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) described what transpired across the country as an increase in incidents of vote buying and voter suppression in the governorship and state House of Assembly elections compared to the Presidential polls.

The think tank, which deployed 1500 observers, also decried violence and intimidation during the polls in states including Kano, Jigawa, Lagos, Enugu, Bayelsa, Rivers and Yobe. This was contained in its preliminary findings on the conduct of the elections signed by chair of the CDD Election Analysis Centre (EAC) Adele Jinadu and Director, Idayat Hassan on Saturday. “There has been an increase in vote buying incidents compared to the February presidential elections. This cuts across political parties, not just traditional parties,” Hassan said.

“In places like Ekiti, we saw the Social Democratic Party(SDP) asking people to write their names to be paid later. In Oyo and Ogun, it was the traditional All Progressives Congress (APC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP),” it said.

The preliminary statement similarly revealed that in the northwest, observers in all seven states reported increased reports of vote trading, primarily by political party agents. It said money was used alongside other materials such as food items, wrappers and a ‘credit voucher’ to buy votes and those items were to be redeemed after the results. Similarly, in the northeast, “political party agents in Taraba infiltrated the queue, pretended to be voters and used the chance to offer cash for votes.”

“In the South East, there were reports of APGA and Labour Party (LP) agents using materials, phones and other souvenirs to entice voters in Anambra State. In the south-south, multiple states reported a desire for voters to show proof of their vote before being paid, with party agents reportedly compiling a list of their voters in Esan Central LGA, Edo State.”

On how widespread vote buying was in the polls, CDD said its data showed that there were more instances during the governorship election compared to the presidential poll of February 25, with this reality reflected across all six geopolitical zones.

Read also: 2023 elections: 109 persons killed in political violence – CDD

“This might be a reflection of the heightened political environment around governorship polls, the importance of local personalities in state-level politics, and the shortages of fuel and naira”, the statement read.

On voter suppression, “We had more incidences of voter suppression. There were reports in Akwa-ibom where thugs attacked a polling unit just to scare away voters. In Bayelsa, they went to a polling unit, carted away with BVAS machines and the election materials. So it varies and it is appearing in different formats than the traditional formats. In Lagos, non- APC voters were being flogged and chased away,” Idayat said.

Consequently, CDD identified voter suppression as a major factor shaping the conduct of elections. Furthermore, CDD said thuggery was used to disrupt the process. “There were reports in Ukanafun LGA, Akwa Ibom, where thugs attacked a polling unit and scared away voters. Election materials were also hijacked at gunpoint in Emelia LGA and thugs also disrupted the process in Obio/Akpor LGA, both in Rivers State,” CDD stated.

Furthermore the Think-tank said it documented incidents of violence, which it noted reinforces the heightened political environment that the polls have been conducted in. These incidents, the CDD noted, have often involved party agents and politically sponsored thugs.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was noted to have, so far, fared better in the area of logistics deployment leading to prompter arrival of poll officials for the commencement of the elections. CDD observer data showed that across the southwest zone INEC officials arrived on time and promptly commenced the process in over 80% of observed polling units.

“In a polling unit in Ekeremor LGA in Bayelsa State, the total number of registered voters was reportedly more than the number of ballot papers provided. Whilst in Yobe state, observers in Fika LGA reported that only 3 of the 10 polling units had results sheets. In Gwandu LGA of Kebbi state voters had yet to start casting their vote at 1000 because INEC officials did not have the ballot papers allocated for the polling unit,” it stated.
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