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Anxiety as Nigerians await INEC’s verdict

…vote buying, ballot snatching, shooting mar process

 

There were indications yesterday that Governor Godwin Obaseki of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), was ahead of his All Progressives Congress (APC) counterpart, Pastor Osagie Ize- Iyamu in the Edo State governorship election, which recorded one death and pockets of shootings.

 

Early results uploaded on inecelectionresults,com showed the candidate of the PDP was on early lead amid apprehension in the state regarding where the pendulum would swing.

 

Despite the deployment of 31,000 to the state, and an average of three policemen to a polling unit, at least a party agent died in Ovia South Local Government Area and a few others injured as election was disrupted by shootings in some parts of the state.

 

This came just as former National Chairman of the APC, Comrade Adam Oshiomhole expressed disappointment with the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC) over poor functioning of the card reader in his unit, which he described as attempt to disenfranchise his people.

 

Besides card reader hitches, there were also reports of compromise of INEC officials and security operatives in some wards where the agents reportedly turned blind eyes to flagrant votebuying.

 

The unidentified INEC official, a member of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), who was the presiding officer at Ward IV, Unit VII in Eguare Primary School, Edo, was said to have handed over multiple ballot papers to a voter to stuff into the vote boxes.

 

The said voter confirmed the receipt of the papers. Agents of some political parties reportedly paid as much as N5, 000 in the full glare of security agencies to the electorate upon sighting of photograph of the ballot paper and confirmation that they voted their candidate. Face mask sellers were also in brisk business at the polling units. Governor Obaseki, shortly after casting his vote at Ward 4, Unit 19, Emokpae Model Primary School, Oredo Local Government by 11:48 a.m, decried the delay in the conduct of the elections by INEC and cases of vote-buying in the poll.

 

“Given the fact that this is a sole day election, I expected a bit more planning and preparation and resources should have been put into this election. During the last presidential election in my polling unit, there were two polling units which eased the burden on voters. You all are witnesses of how long this has taken. “The card reader is working very slowly, and this is the situation in all the major voting centers in Oredo Local Government Area of the state as I speak.

 

In Garrick Memorial Secondary School, I understand that over 500 voters are already stranded because they can’t vote because of the slow processing of the card readers. “One would have expected that INEC will have deployed more card readers and more voting points in highly numbered polling centers,” he said, adding that the security agencies were not doing what they assured Edo people and Nigerians of, before the election about readiness to prevent vote buying at polling units.

 

“The security agencies assured us that they won’t allow anybody who did not have business of voting in a particular place to be there, but they are working on the contrary to what they promised us. “You can see cars parked with a lot of cash being disbursed to people and it seems to be normal practice, but we are not perturbed. People know what to do; cash can’t buy their future,” he added. Pastor Osagie Ize- Iyamu cast his vote at Ugboko Ward 4, Unit 26, Orhionmwon Local Government Council of the state at about 9: 25 am, and commended INEC for a peaceful conduct of the electoral process and for adhering to the COVID -19 protocols.

 

“The process is good and it is going on smoothly; there is no thuggery and violence, the place is peaceful and calm. I am happy that INEC has a thermometer to check temperature and they also give out face masks to our people,” he said. He expressed optimism that he would emerge victorious in the election saying “I am confident of victory across the 18 local governments of the state”.

 

Oshiomhole, who voted at Ward 10, Unit 01, in Uzairue, Etsako Local Government area lamented that INEC’s failure to test the card readers before deployment was responsible for the hitches in the area. “The INEC officials have reported but they have not brought a new machine. This exercise is supposed to have a closing time. If they are doing this in my ward, it means that somebody wants to remove the number of voters here. But I have told them (voters) to stay here; they have a right to vote.

 

“Nobody should come here and be unable to vote because of INEC’s failure. I cannot believe that this is an ordinary error because before bringing the machine here, you should have tested it. I pray that INEC should be able to regularise them (the machines).”

 

Most of the areas monitored in Edo South witnessed massive turnout of voters who turned out early in the day to cast their votes amid tight security. Speaking at the Oredo Ward 1 (Garrick Memorial College, Benin), Major General Charles Airhiavbere (rtd), a former governorship spirant of the APC said that the poll was conducted under a peaceful atmosphere. Meanwhile, there were sporadic gunshots at Uneme-Nekhua, Ward1, Unit 9 in Akoko-Edo Local Government Area of Edo State, where the Deputy Majority Leader, House of Representatives, representing the constituency, Hon. Peter Akpatason, voted.

 

The visibly angry Hon. Akpatason, who briefed newsmen, blamed the ugly situation on the security personnel for not showing up on time when they were needed most. He said that the delay by security agents almost led them to resorting to selfhelp but he was able to calm his people down. While initial reports showed that Obaseki, Ize-Iyamu and Oshiomhole won by landslides in their respective units, there were indications that the governor was in early lead yesterday, scoring heavily in the seven areas in Edo South, Central and North.

 

The Police Service Commission (PSC) lamented insecurity and vote buying despite posting of average of three unarmed policemen in several polling units while in many of the units in Edo North, an average of seven to 10.

 

“They were, however, in some places, overwhelmed by voters who turned out in large numbers. Most of the complaints received from callers were mainly on cases of vote buying, snatching of ballot boxes in the face of the inability of the Police to offer any resistance and skeletal shooting incidences.

 

“The Commission covered the three Senatorial Zones and visited 132 polling units in nine local government Areas, received 53 calls and 32 text messages to its three dedicated telephone numbers for the election”, the statement said. The Commission commended DIG Olayele Oyabede, two AIGs, Hosea Karma, and Shola Davis, Edo State Command CP, Johnson Kokumo with other visiting CPs who coordinated the security architecture of the election. Meanwhile, National Chairman of the PDP Campaign Council and Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, Governor of Delta State, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa and Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State, have called on the various stakeholders in the election to ensure the collation centres are secured.

 

The governors, who spoke to journalists in Benin City, commended INEC and the various  security agencies for conducting what they called a peaceful election in the state, noting that the work is not over until the results of the election are released.

 

“The Edo election has been quite peaceful and I want to commend everybody for the peace we have enjoyed. Like I have always said, problems do not arise at election but during collation. So we call on INEC to fulfill the promise it made to Nigerians that it will release the Edo election results at real time.

 

“We are very happy with the election so far. But you cannot find security presence at the ward collation centres. After results have been announced at polling units, we expect that police presence will be more at the ward collation centres. That is where we feel concerned now. We appeal to the federal government to mobilise security personnel to the various ward collation centres and the local government collation centres, so that the people’s mandate can be protected.

 

“I urge the people, the media, civil society organisations and voters to be vigilant at this time and watch over developments at the collation centres.” Governors Okowa and Makinde also stressed the need to ensure that the success recorded in the voting process should be extended to collation of results so that the PDP and Nigerians will commend INEC, for a job well done. “The people of Edo State have indeed spoken very loud and clear. We want the will of the people to remain sacrosanct and must not be subverted under any guise,” Makinde said.

 

Meanwhile, the PDP caucus in the House of Representatives has condemned the clampdown on its governors by security officers in Benin City, Edo State capital on the instructions of the Inspector General of Police. The leader of the caucus, Rep. Kingsley Chinda (PDP, Rivers) in a press statement described as unacceptable activities of security agencies whose duty is to ensure the safety of lives and property rather than cause chaos in the state.

 

Chinda said “the caucus finds the current siege on governors by men of the Nigeria Police Force and other security officials as disturbing and unacceptable ahead of the election.”

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