It was another sad tale of massive vote buying, voter apathy, disenfranchisement and outright rigging yesterday, as the electorate in Bayelsa, Imo and Kogi states filed out to elect their next governors.
The development attracted condemnations from election monitoring groups, some of which called for the cancellation or extension of the polls in the affected areas.
Meanwhile, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), yesterday, disclosed that its operatives arrested 14 suspected vote buyers in Bayelsa and Imo states.
EFCC spokesperson, Dele Oyewale, who disclosed this in Abuja, said the suspects were arrested following intelligence-driven operations that commenced several days before the elections.
According to Oyewale, a total sum of N11,040, 000 comprising N9,310,000 intercepted from suspected vote buyers and sellers in Bayelsa and N1,730, 000 intercepted from electoral fraud suspects across Imo State, were also recovered from them.
“Also, two vehicles were intercepted from the suspects. They will be charged to court as soon as investigations are concluded,” he added.
In Imo State, although there was heavy presence of security officials, which comprised deployments from the Army, Police, DSS, Civil Defence, among others, many eligible voters deserted the polling units, thereby creating room for politicians and their supporters to thumb print multiple ballot papers in favour of their preferred candidates.
This was the situation in Ikeduru, Orlu, Okigwe and Oguta areas of the state. At Ikeduru council area, ballot papers meant for the election ended up in the residence of a serving lawmaker.
Journalists who learnt of the development and attempted to venture into the compound to ascertain the true state of affairs were refused entry by stern looking security officials who threatened to “shoot anybody that dares to near the gate.”
Most places also witnessed snatching of ballot boxes by officials of one of the political parties. The Guardian observed that the All Progressives Congress (APC), Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Labour Party (LP) were all involved in vote buying.
At many polling units visited in Owerri, the party agents were competing with one another on who pays more and buys more votes. The amount paid ranged from N3, 000 to N10, 000 depending on the interest and financial capacity of the agents at each polling unit.
At the All Anglican Cathedral Church premises in Egbu, Owerri North Council, hoodlums operating as gunmen attacked the area and snatched money being shared to voters.
The gunmen, numbering over 10, snatched over N1.5 million at the four polling units within the Cathedral premises. The gunmen, who invaded the units about 2.20pm, had shot consistently before swooping on the three men sharing the money.
While the shooting was ongoing, some policemen attached to the place took to their heels, while INEC officials at the scene, lay down as they suspected that ballot snatchers were on spree.
Voters, party agents and observers, including journalists also fled the voting centres. Some residents had stayed away from the election apparently in response to the uncertainty created by the threats from factions of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
The Simeon Ekpa-led group had asked residents to shun the election and threatened to deal with those that might want to engage in the exercise, declaring that there would be no election in Imo State.
But the Nnamdi Kanu-led faction had insisted on the exercise, urging residents to ignore the threats from the Ekpa group. As a result, there was high deployment of security to the state, especially in the state capital Owerri, where well armed soldiers mounted strategic places and road blocks as early as 6.00am to ensure that only those that had something to do with the election were given access.
Police choppers and a war jet belonging to the Nigeria Air Force hovered round the state throughout the election. Candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) in the election, Tony Ejiogu, had alleged high level of vote buying by the agents of the All Progressive Congress, (APC) during the election.
Ejiogu alleged shortly after casting his vote at booth 006, Emekuku Ward 1, Owerri, Ejiogu that the APC was manipulating the election process across the state.
“The election has so far been peaceful in my area, but from the information I have, there is serious low turnout of voters for this election due to the fact that the electorate have lost confidence in the process coupled with the issue of insecurity.
“Also, I gathered that the APC is seriously in the business of votes buying in this election. This is because the ruling government has impoverished the people, making some people to patronise them with their votes and selling their conscience,” he said.
In the same vein, chairman of Labour Party in the state, Calistus Ihejiagwa, accused APC members in the state of hijacking the electoral materials meant for four Wards in the Ideato North Local Council of the state.
The LP chairman, in a statement, he issued yesterday afternoon, said the security agents were aiding the APC members to compromise the process.
He said: “Rigging is ongoing now by APC at Akokwa in Ideato North Local Council at the house of an indigene of the area.
“They highjacked all the voting materials from the four Wards in Arondizuogu clan and are voting with it there.”But Governor Hope Uzodimma, who voted in his Ekwenja Okwu-Ozu Polling Unit, in Omuma, Oru East Local Council around 11.40am, gave thumbs up for the conduct of the election.
He stated that the deployment of security was equal to none, adding that the environment defied permutations by naysayers that Imo was not capable of hosting a peaceful process.
Reacting to the alleged vote buying by members of his party, he said: “I have not heard. But I can tell you that some of us in politics to serve the people, stay with the people and discuss with the people. But some of us who are out to confuse the public go to social media to fabricate stories.”
In Bayelsa State, the election was relatively peaceful in most areas, with the major roads deserted in compliance with the restriction of movement.
But there were skirmishes here and there, especially in Okutuku area of the state capital, where some thugs snatched some ballot boxes at Ward 5, Unit 9. The boxes were, however, recovered by security agents, especially the Police, and voting continued.
Governor Douye Diri condemned the action of some individuals in Bassambiri community in Nembe Local Council, where Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) members and supporters were allegedly prevented from entering the community to vote.
Diri, who stated this while addressing journalists shortly after casting his vote at 8.40am alongside his wife, Gloria, at his Kalaowei Owei polling Unit 4 in Ward 6 of Sampou community in Kolokuma/Opokuma Local Council, said the party had written to the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to take action.
The governor also expressed concern over the hijack of sensitive election materials at Ward 6 in Sagbama Local Council and commended INEC for taking prompt action.
Diri expressed satisfaction with the smooth process of accreditation and voting, especially the effectiveness of the BIVAS, adding that if the same situation was applicable in other polling units, INEC has improved over past elections.
He reiterated his call for a free, fair and violence-free process, especially in Nembe area, “where only BIVAS will be used for accreditation and voting.”
He added: “Special attention has to be given to Nembe-Bassambiri, because everything points to the fact that PDP members were chased out of the community. You know that we have been raising the issue of the violent character of the APC candidate, Timipre Sylva. Over the years, every election he is involved in experienced violence.
“In Bassambiri, the name and character behind the crisis in the community is Sylva. I do not want to have an overview of the APC. So, we have to reduce it to the character of the person. Sylva has been a violent person in every election.”
Meanwhile, the APC governorship candidate, Chief Timipre Sylva, was upbeat about victory, saying: “I am very confident that things are going to go well for the APC in Bayelsa State. But we have problems in Units, 3, 5 and 9, where the registers were not uploaded.
“We escalated it and INEC has admitted it was a mistake and the problem was being rectified and promised to extend voting in those areas so that a lot of people are not disenfranchised.
“So far, in out units, a lot of things are going well and across the state, we are monitoring the situation.” He said a lot of things were happening in Yenagoa, accusing the PDP of colluding with security to intimidate his supporters.
“In short, my people believe we are running the election not just against the PDP, but against the security. But I am sure that at the end of the day, we would come out victorious. We have been told that there was violence in Yenagoa this morning and one of my supporters was shot.
Labour Party’s (LP) candidate, Udengs Eradiri, alleged high voters inducement by the major parties, saying the exercise had been compromised.
Eradiri, speaking shortly after casting his vote, alongside his wife, at his polling unit in Agudama-Ekpetiama Ward 10, Unit 5 in Yenagoa Local Council, accused PDP of using state resources to buy votes.
“The optics shows that the process is going on smoothly aside from those things that are happening behind the scene, where money is been exchanged for votes and people are writing down names to be collecting N12,000 and so on, and it is happening everywhere, and you know some of us have decided that we will not expressed ourselves violently.
“So far, so good; we have done the voting, but beyond the scene, the state resources is being used to buy votes. As I said, a lot of compromise is going on in this election everywhere.
“There is always peace in my community during elections, because of our peaceful disposition, and that disposition is what I have displayed today. But the only thing I will not do is to buy votes.”
In Kogi State, violence was reported in some areas with one Umoru Iduh who was allegedly an APC thug, reportedly shot dead at the Agala-Ogane Polling Unit in Anyigba metropolis in Dekina Local Council of the state. The incident occurred around 10am yesterday morning.
According to an eye witness, the deceased approached the polling unit and forcefully took BVAS and smashed it on the ground in his bid to destroy them and stop voting at the polling unit.
“Umoru emerged suddenly at the polling unit in the morning, took the BVAS and smashed it on the ground. Not satisfied, he stood on it and started jumping on it frequently, for it to scatter to pieces. A person, suspected to be a vigilante rushed in from the crowd and fired at him, killing him instantly,” said Abdullahi Danjuma, who claimed to be in the Polling Unit to vote at the time of the incident.
It was also alleged that alleged that some pre-filled results sheet were discovered in Polling units 004, Eni Ward of Ogori/magongo in Kogi State before commencement of voting, which INEC said it would investigate.
Meanwhile, Governor Yahaya Bello, who arrived Polling Unit 11 Agassa/Ahache ward at 9.30am with his three wives, Hajia Amina Bello, Rashida Bello and Hafiza Bello, who all voted within 20 minutes, expressed optimism that his party would win the election. He urged the electorate to be peaceful and law abiding as they discharge their civic rights.
Candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the election, Senator Dino Melaye, also was also confident of victory at the polls, dispelling rumours that he had withdrawn from the race.
A statement by his campaign council signed by Omoyemi Gold Olumudi urged “Kogi State electorate to stay vigilant and resist any form of intimidation and electoral heist by the failed APC.”