The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) yesterday described the violent disruption of weekend’s Rivers State House of Assembly by-election as “shameful”.
The vote into the vacant state legislative seat for Port Harcourt Constituency 3, with only 142 polling units, was marred by violence; destruction of electoral materials, attack on electoral officers and carting away of ballot boxes from some polling units by hoodlums. Following these, the election was cancelled.
The position became vacant following the victory and subsequent swearing in of its former occupant Victor Ihunwo as the executive chairman of the Port Harcoirt Local Government Area in June.
INEC chiefs praised the police for preventing a slip into chaos, but Governor Nyesom Wike blamed it all on the police which he accused of “declaring war on Rivers State.” But he hailed INEC for its good organisation.
Three INEC Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) – Obo Effanga (Rivers), Mike Igini (Akwa Ibom) and Cyril Omoregbe (Bayelsa) – who conducted the election, gave the account of what transpired at a news conference in Port Harcourt yesterday.
They expressed “gross” disappointment at the display of shamelessness by politicians and their supporters.
Effanga accused political heavyweights of openly storming polling units with thugs and armed security personnel to disrupt the well-arranged and peaceful process.
She said: “The Commission in full readiness for the said election deployed personnel and materials to the 142 polling units involved. However, midway, miscreants and hoodlums accompanied by heavily armed security personnel in uniform stormed the various polling units and registration areas, disrupting voting activities, destroying and carting away election materials, including smart card readers and ballot boxes. In addition, many electoral officials were manhandled, injured and held hostage.
Igini, who represented the National Commissioner (South-South), said an official of the Commission was stabbed, others beaten up and held hostage, while a National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) member’s leg was broken.
Igini said reporters were attacked and voters injured by thugs in some of the units.
He praised Commissioner of Police Zaki Ahmed for providing experienced personnel for the exercise, but wondered where the heavily armed personnel were brought from by their sponsors.
Igini said: “What happened yesterday (Saturday) was a tragedy. It was shameful. It represents a higher level of electoral discredit and falls below the minimum expected standards. Election must be conducted in a peaceful atmosphere which will allow voters to vote and leave the centre without grumbling.
“While election was going on, there was violence in significant areas of the polling centres. Some journalists, INEC staff, including NYSC members were attacked and held hostage during the election. An official of the the Commission was stabbed, others beaten up. Also, a Cops member’s leg was broken, individuals beaten and injured.
“Thanks to the security personnel who worked with us, they were not part of those who disrupted the election as they were not armed according to the law.”
In a broadcast to the people yesterday, Wike said:
“The consistent sabotage of the electoral process by the Police amounts to a declaration of war against the people of Rivers State and their solemn rights to freely and fairly choose their leaders and representatives.
“Clearly there are dangerous times ahead but we must not give in to intimidation lest we lose our liberties and become slaves in our own land.
“As we had feared, the Police failed us completely once again and negated all that they promised. Instead of providing security for voters and INEC officials, the Police brazenly colluded with political thugs of the All Progressives Congress (APC) to subvert the democratic process and deny the people of Port Harcourt Constituency III their rights to free, fair and credible elections.
“Confirmed reports from the field indicated that INEC promptly and rightly distributed elections materials to all the polling units within a record time.
“However, while voting was underway, armed thugs from the APC moved freely from one polling unit to the other, violently assaulted voters and INEC officials and carted away election materials, including smart card readers and ballot boxes.”
The governor added that the police aided and shielded the leader of the thugs from arrest and prosecution.
The APC commended Rivers people for standing up and defending their votes.
Acting National Publicity Secretary Yekini Nabena said “the All Progressives Congress (APC) hails the Rivers State electorate for bravely defending their votes despite the violence and snatching of electoral materials perpetrated by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
“Nigerians will recall how the PDP speaking through its National Spokesman, Kola Ologbondiyan last Tuesday vowed to deploy all ‘means, schemes, shenanigans in all ramification and magnitude’ to rig all coming elections.
“While we condemn the PDP-sponsored violence and failed attempt to rig the by-election, the APC calls on the Rivers State electorate and indeed all Nigerians to continue to stand their ground and resist any attempt to rig elections. Votes must count; the people’s will must prevail in all elections.
“We reiterate that the PDP’s now public rigging plans is a red flag that requires urgent attention by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and relevant security agencies.”