By YUSUF MOHAMMED
Lagos, known as “the centre of excellence” almost became a centre of hostility due to voter suppression and intimidation in the February 23 presidential and national assembly elections.
According to reports, the targets were mainly areas dominated by supporters of the main opposition party in the state.
As a result, voters were not as enthusiastic as they were two weeks ago for the governorship election which took place on Saturday. The mood around Lagos ahead of the governorship and state house of assembly elections was pall, especially in the camp of the governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Jimi Agbaje.
However, his main challenger, Babajide Sanwo-Olu of the All Progressives Congress, APC seemed to be in a more comfortable position.
The general election two weeks ago is one that many residents of Lagos won’t forget in a hurry as thugs were deployed to snatch ballot boxes from polling units. This was done under the watchful eyes of security agents. There is a video online of hoodlums chasing away voters from a polling unit in Okota, Lagos. When they succeeded in chasing away the voters, they destroyed the voting materials.
There was also an ugly incident at Alaba International Market in Lagos. Voters were being harassed for refusing to vote for a candidate of one of the main political parties.
Business Hallmark gathered from a reliable source that the election was characterized by violence in areas mostly populated with supporters believed to be of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Lagos which is a cosmopolitan city with Nigerians from diverse ethnic backgrounds was like a war-zone two weeks ago and many residents are worried.
Speaking with this newspaper, Caroline Onu an agent of the PDP in the just concluded presidential and national assembly elections urged fellow Igbos in Lagos not to come out and vote during the governorship polls. According to her, Igbos are the targets of violence and intimidation. She said, “There is no need to vote in the governorship election. They say Lagos belongs to them and they don’t want us vote. What can we do? I advice my Igbo brothers and sisters to stay at home. Life is more important.”
Contrary to Caroline’s view, Shola Adeniyi who is an agent of the APC denied that there was voter intimidation in Lagos. Speaking to this newspaper he said, “It is normal for there to be crises were two or more people are gathered. It had nothing to do with disenfranchising the Igbos as it is being speculated. I think some mischief makers are only trying to heat up the polity for reasons best known to them.
“I repeat, no ethnic group is being targeted deliberately in Lagos.”
The Vice-Presidential candidate of the PDP in the February 23 poll, Mr. Peter Obi, is also worried about the ugly trend. He has warned those trying to intimidate voters in some parts of the country to stop.
He expressed worry over alleged threat by some people in Lagos State that voters would be dealt with should they vote for a certain political party.
Obi, who spoke with reporters in Onitsha on Thursday, said such people were staring what they could not finish, stressing that the constitution guaranteed every Nigerian the right to vote for candidates of their choice.
He said, “Every Nigerian is free to vote where he resides without molestation and those who are trying to force people to vote a particular political party are starting what they cannot control.
“Our people are law-abiding and they have contributed immensely to developing the places where they live. Therefore, they have the right to help in determining who governs them.”
On the Election Day, it was clear that most residents of the state were not interested as most polling units were scanty. In the end, the APC candidate, Sanwo-Olu won all local governments in the state finishing with a total of 739,445 votes. He defeated his closest opponent, Jimi Agbaje of the PDP who had a total of 206,141 votes. That is a margin of 533,304.
In Rivers State violence did not allow for a smooth process. Ballot boxes were snatched with the help of security agents.
A policeman and three others were killed by suspected gunmen while a chieftain of the PDP, Mrs. Emilia Nte, was kidnapped in Rivers State.
The policeman was said to have tried to protect Nte from being kidnapped when the gunmen shot him. The incident happened on Friday evening at Nyeada, Andoni Local Government Area of the state.
In other parts of the state the exercise was characterized by ballot box snatching and voter intimidation.
As a result of the commotion in the state, the Independent National Electoral Commission has suspended the governorship and House of Assembly elections till further notice.
The commission premised its action on some factors, including the widespread disruption of elections and violence in Polling Units and Collation Centres.
INEC has therefore set up a fact-finding committee to assess the situation and report back within 48 hours.
A Statement issued on Sunday by INEC National Commissioner and chairman of its information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye said while the Commission’s staff have been take hostage, materials including result sheets have either been seized or destroyed by unauthrorised persons.
The statement reads: “Based on reports from our officials in the field, the Independent National Electoral Commission has determined that there has been widespread disruption of elections conducted on March 9 2019 in Rivers State.
“These initial reports suggest that violence occurred in a substantial number of polling units and collation centres, staff have been taken hostage and materials including result sheets have either been seized or destroyed by unauthorized persons.
“In addition, safety of our staff appears to be in jeopardy all over the state and the commission is concerned about the credibility of the election.
“Consequently, at a meeting held today (Sunday) March 10, 2019, the commission has decided to suspend all electoral processes in the state until further notice.”
The United Kingdom, UK, Sunday also expressed concern over reports of military interference in the governorship and assembly elections in Rivers state held on Saturday.
British Prime Minister Theresa May The UK High Commission in a tweet on her verified twitter handle, @UKinNigeria, noted that reports by its independent observers collaborated media reports of military interference in the electoral exercise.
The High Commission while noting that it was monitoring the situation very closely, called on relevant stakeholders to allow staff of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, do their job without harassment. “We are extremely concerned by reports, including from @UKinnigeria observers, of military interference in the election process in Rivers State. Monitoring the situation closely. @inecng staff must be allowed to do their job in safety, without intimidation,” the UK High Commission wrote. Reports of result confiscation are rife with the ruling party in the state, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, accusing military personnel of doing the bidding of the All Progressives Congress, APC, to subvert the will of the people.
In Kogi State, it was the same scenario in some areas. As a result, a former governor Capt. Idris Wada has called on INEC to cancel the Saturday State Assembly and Dekina/Bassa Federal Constituency Supplementary elections in Dekina Local Government.
Wada who made the call in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) at Odu-Ogboyaga, Dekina Local Council on Saturday said the call was based on the malpractice and violence that marred the election.
The former governor alleged that gun-wielding hoodlums in police uniform stole ballot boxes in most wards and units in Dekina.
“In Odu Ward 1, Unit 001, where I voted, votes for other parties than APC were removed from the boxes and torn as soon as a voter voted and left the vicinity of the unit.
“When they heard that I was coming, they stopped and everything was calm but as soon as I voted and left, they resumed. I complained to the Electoral Officer and of course, he denied it.
The former governor claimed that in many places in Odu ward, hoodlums invaded polling units, sometimes with police escort, carried the ballot boxes and papers and disappeared.
He said the turnout of voters was abysmally low because of gun shots throughout the night and in the morning.
“In Odu-Okpakili-Ate, there was no election. Materials were brought and just as they were getting ready, one APC agent said unless everybody voted APC there would be no election and at the end, there was no election.
“I am calling on INEC to cancel the election and ensure that there is proper and adequate security in the future if they are going to repeat it and the security needs to be professional. They must not be biased.
“These are tenured elections, tenured positions. So, let the best man win, there is no need for bias. We cannot make progress democratically if we continue like this. This is the worst election I have seen in my lifetime. I am very sad, very sad.
“We came all the way from Abuja to come home to vote. You know it’s supposed to be a joyful event. An opportunity to express who you want to lead you and it has turned into a very sad and disgraceful endeavour, I am very sad.
“What is happening in Igala land is painful and disheartening because we are products of this land. We had a future because there was justice and fairness. I came home with joy in my heart thinking that we are building a future but what I have seen now is very demoralising”, he said.
Meanwhile, at the time of filing this report, not all results had been announced by INEC. In Abia State Okezie Ikpeazu the incumbent governor of Abia State has been re-elected. He polled 261,127 votes to defeat Uche Ogah of the APC who scored 99, 574 and Alex Otti of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA who scored 64,366.
In Gombe State, the PDP have lost Gombe State to the APC. The candidate of the APC, Inuwa Yahaya had 364,179 to defeat PDP’s Bayero Nafada who had 222,868 votes.
In Akwa Ibom State, as at the time of filing this report, with 30 local governments announced the incumbent governor, Udom Emanuel is far ahead of his main rival Nsima Ekere of the APC. Udom has scored 508,003 so far while Ekere has polled 166,225 so far.
Similarly, in Sokoto State, Governor Aminu Tambuwal of the PDP, is ahead his closest rival, Ahmed Aliyu of the APC.