EMEKA NZE (Abuja), BASHIR MOHAMMED and CHUKS NWEZE (Enugu) writes on some of the incidents that characterised the 2023 general elections
The February 25, presidential polls was characterised by acrimony, alleged results alteration, violence criticisms and lambasting of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) due to failure of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System to upload results from the polling units to the INEC Results viewing Portal (IREV).
At the International Conference National Collation Centre venue, some agents of the political parties stormed out in protest after observations by Senator Dino Melaiye of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was not persuasive enough for the chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, to put collation of results on hold.
Senator Melaiye had doubted the credibility of the Ekiti state presidential polls results figure and wanted its veracity verified before announcement. Since the INEC chairman insisted on continuing with the process and eventually announced the results, the former lawmaker smelt foul play and insinuated compromise on the part of the electoral umpire.
The events of the presidential elections have now become subjects of litigation at the Election Petition Tribunal where lies the jurisdiction to determine whether or not the results declared by INEC will stand.
Governorship/State Assembly elections
The governorship and state assembly elections earlier scheduled for Saturday March 11, 2023 was shifted to March 18, 2023 owing to the court directive which permitted INEC to reconfigure the BVAS.
The news reconfiguration had generated another bout of controversy with some opposition parties kicking against it. Their argument was that it would wipe out data it had generated during the presidential polls.
From the time the commission obtained the order to reconfigure the BVAS, it was too close to continue with the governorship and State Assembly elections on March 11, hence the shift by one week.
Claims of violence, delays, vote buying, apathy, suppression, trail governorship, state assembly polls
From Enugu state, there were reports that prior to the March 18 polls, with a view to swaying some voters for the governorship election, Governor Ifeanyi paid the retired secondary school teachers two months arrears of their pensions.
One of the pensioners who spoke to our Correspondent on the development said “if that was meant to motivate them to vote for PDP candidates, they have failed.
“They were owing us arrears of pension but decided to pay us two months out of the three months. Maybe they want us to be happy and vote for PDP candidates. If that is their intention, then they have failed. We know who to vote,” she said.
Saturday March 18 polls
Also the governorship and House of Assembly elections began very late in most polling stations.
Most polling units visited on Saturday morning in Enugu metropolis, by 8.10 am, only very few voters and party agents were present while INEC officials and materials were nowhere to be found.
At the Practising Primary School, Emene, Enugu East local government, Ward 7, by 8.48, the story was the same.
A member of a civil society organisation who monitored the election but would not want his name in print lamented the late arrival of officials and materials.
He also spoke about lack of enthusiasm on the part of voters saying that during the presidential and National Assembly election, voters turned out en masse as early as 7am.
“During the last election, by now the whole place was filled with eager voters but you can see that up till now, only very few voters are around while no INEC official has been sighted. Even security men are not here, he laments.
In Kano state, the worrisome issue was that last Saturday’s governorship election, appeared to be widely greeted by apathy from tens of thousands of voters who kept away from various polling units against the backdrop of the expectation that there would be unprecedented turn out if voters.
Even though voting started as early as 8am with election materials readily made available, in some polling units, disruption of voting in some Local Government Areas was recorded in spite of heavy security presence with ballot box snatching discovered as reported.
Improved BVAS performance
It was observed that while BVAS seemed to improve, compared to the February 25 elections, a number of polling units experienced disruptions and delays.
What several voters saw as an opportunity to exercise their franchise turned sour as violent attacks, ballot box snatching, delays which tainted more the governorship and state assembly elections across the country on Saturday.
However, in some part of Lagos state, specifically, the affluent Victoria Garden City (VGC) in the Ajah area of Eti-Osa Local Government Area (LGA), the polls failed to be conducted.
After the situation gained attention online, the INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), Segun Agbaje, appeared in person at the polling location to address the situation.
“We have eight polling units here with 6,024 registered voters and out of which 5,624 people have their PVCs,” he told journalists at VGC, adding that two other polling units at the estate’s main gate were also affected.
“Eight here (in the estate) and two outside. After due consultation and further directive from the national headquarters that we should remobilise here tomorrow (Sunday) morning by 08:30 am to conduct the elections.”
INEC postponed Saturday’s governorship and state assembly elections in 10 polling units in the Victoria Garden City (VGC) around the Lekki area of the state.
Similarly, elections did not hold in Asari-Toru LGA of Rivers state, following the insistence of voters to sight electoral officers and collation officers.
It was gathered that a heated disagreement broke out at the Registration Area Centre (RAC) in Buguma over the absence of INEC electoral officers and result sheets, which required the intervention of security agents to bring under control.
Numerous other voters in Lagos reported instances of thugs threatening voters with assault – even death – if they did not cast their ballots for the ruling party. Multiple cases of property damage were also recorded.
“We came to cast our votes as good citizens,” one female voter told Channels Television at a polling unit with 150-200 other eligible voters in Ago Palace Way, Lagos.
“But then, we had thugs come in here with bottles, canes; they were chasing people away. They kept on saying things like, ‘If you’re not voting APC, get out of here. We’re going to kill you. We’re going to beat you.’ They started scattering everything. They were threatening people.
“They were breaking glasses, throwing stones, causing a mess. People started running from place to place because they were scared for their lives.”
In Oredo Local Government, Edo state, the BVAS could not work at unit 8 located at the Asoro Primary School. The 944 voters who made up the unit shouted of foul play and suspected that they were about to be disenfranchised.
However, the INEC officials were later contacted they appealed for calm until a new BVAS was introduced and voting commenced.
Abduction, extrajudicial killing
Officials of INEC also shared in the horror resulting from security breaches around the country.
The electoral officer for Isu LGA of Imo state, Mrs Achibie Ogbonne, was reportedly abducted by gunmen, along with the returning officer and some collation officers for the state assembly election in the area.
The INEC spokesperson in Imo state, Chinenye Chijioke-Osuji
who confirmed the report said, the election went smoothly and peacefully until the time for collation when unscrupulous elements invaded the LGA office under the pretence of being staff members, driving everyone away with tear gas and guns.
Later in the day, the Commissioner of Police, Mohammed Barde, confirmed that Ogbonne and her team were now “with the police”.
Barde, however, did not give further information on their health status, the number of abductees in police custody, or how they escaped. But he promised to give an update on the matter at a later time.
In another disturbing incident, a bandit was set ablaze and died after an alleged foiled attempt to disrupt the exercise at a polling centre along the General Hospital Road in Batsari LGA, Katsina state.
Eyewitnesses reported that the deceased and another suspected bandit had been intercepted by a team of security forces. However, the criminal suspects were believed to have shown up with the intent to cause confusion.
INEC under heavy criticism
INEC came under severe criticism by a number of dissatisfied individuals and groups, one of whom was the former Minister of Transportation Rotimi Amaechi.
Amaechi, who is a prominent member of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), described the exercise in the Ikwerre LGA of Rivers state where he voted as a “complete failure of governance”.
Speaking to journalists after he cast his votes, the former Rivers governor accused detractors of being behind electoral violence in the state, saying the situation led to voter apathy in the state as most people failed to show up for the polls for fear of being beaten.
“There is a total failure of governance in the country, complete failure,” he fumed. “People are being arrested and nobody has spoken. The Inspector General of Police is doing nothing, nobody is doing anything.
“Now, there is voter apathy. I don’t know if it cuts across the country but there is complete voter apathy in Rivers State.”
In a similar vein, the National Chairman of the Labour Party, Julius Abure condemned the conduct of the elections across the country, describing the exercise as “a complete sham.”
He decried that “serious” thuggery, violence and suppression of voters prevailed unchecked as people were prevented from going to vote for candidates of their choice, “especially when they perceived you are supporting the opposition party”.
Enforcing Law and Order
The widespread apprehension that typically accompanies general elections in Nigeria kept the various conscripted law enforcement agencies busy.
Confirming reports of electoral violence in an interview with Channels Television, Lagos State Commissioner of Police Idowu Owohunwa said some of the cases were anticipated.
“It is true that we’ve recorded instances of violence in some areas within the state,” he said.
He, however, added that the incidents were “not as widespread as to affect the general dynamics of the process”. According to him, most of the instances were “properly responded to by the police”.
Lagos Police Commissioner Idowu Owohunwa says police officers responded adequately to breaches reported in parts of the state.
The command in Bayelsa state also arrested a suspected polling thug in connection with the seizure and destruction of some voting materials in some wards in the Ogbia LGA.
The state Commissioner of Police, Mohammed Dankwara, told Channels Television that efforts were ongoing to apprehend other suspects linked to the incident.
Likewise, the Nigeria Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) said four party agents were intercepted in Ogun in possession of multiple credit cards with the intent to buy votes.
In a tweet on Saturday, the agency said its Chairman, Brigadier-General Buba Marwa (rtd.), had ordered that the suspects be handed over to the police.
EFCC arrests 65
Operatives of the anti-graft agency carrying out their election-monitoring duty reportedly came under attack at School Road, Unguwan Rimi in Kaduna state, while attempting to arrest a suspected vote-buyer.
At the point of apprehension, the suspect was said to have become unruly and attracted the attention of members of his syndicate, who “descended on the operatives, using all manner of weapons that left some of them injured”.
Last Saturday, the EFCC said it made over 65 arrests in cases of voter inducement. The anti-graft agency stated that the arrests were made across the 28 states where governorship elections were held.
In a statement, the EFCC spokesman, Wilson Uwujaren, noted that 20 of the suspects were arrested by its operatives from the Ilorin Zonal Command, while 13 were nabbed at the Kaduna Zonal Command.
Its sister agency, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), also stated that it arrested four suspected vote-buyers in Sokoto and Katsina states.
Soldiers arrest 140 political thugs in Enugu
Also soldiers providing security in Enugu for the governorship and House of Assembly elections arrested 140 thugs allegedly deployed for Saturday’s election.
A source disclosed that the hoodlums were picked up at the popular Carollina Hotel, Nsukka.
Also, another three hoodlums were arrested at INEC office Nsukka.
The source disclosed that the hoodlums were all armed with weapons including AK47 rifles and they confessed that they allegedly by deployed by the Chairman of the local government, Hon. Walter Ozioko.
When contacted for comment over the arrests, Police Public Relations Office, DSP Daniel Ndukwe said he was not yet aware of the incident and promised to comment later.
Buhari praises naira scarcity
In the meantime, he President Muhammadu Buhari has attributed
reduced the incidence of vote-buying to naira scarcity caused by his naira redesign policy.
The naira scarcity had led to crisis nationwide, in which case many Nigerians lamented their inability to buy necessities or move around. The Central Bank of Nigeria had come under heavy criticism for the policy, which many described as ill-timed and poorly implemented.
Buhari told journalists after voting at Ward A, Sarkin Yara Polling Unit, 003, in Katsina, “I am aware that the money is not there like before for people to sway voters, like they used to do. And if they bring out money, the people should pocket it and still vote their conscience.”