Pro-democracy and leading Civil Rights Advocacy Group- HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) has condemned the sporadic violence, armed political thuggery, and electoral heists that characterized the recently held off-circle elections in Imo, Bayelsa, and Kogi States.
HURIWA which regretted that despite all the assurances by the service chiefs including the National Security Adviser Malam Nuhu Ribadu that there would be peaceful and law-based polls in those three states, the Rights group stated that the opposites were the cases in Imo, Kogi, and Bayelsa just as ballots boxes were viciously snatched and in Imo State, even armed police operatives were participants in the violent snatching of ballots boxes just as the Rights group cited the example of the citizen’s arrest of a uniformed senior police officer in Ikeduru Imo State who was caught by the youths of the community carting ballots boxes away and handed over to the police.
HURIWA condemned the security forces in Imo State who supervised the violence unleashed on the Labour Party (LP) agent in Imo State, Calistus Ihejiagwa, who was in the early hours of today November 12, beaten and bundled out of the Imo State Collation Centre in Owerri, the state capital.
HURIWA stated that it was criminal that the security agencies whose operatives were on the ground at the collation center permitted the dehumanization of the Labour Party’s Mr.Ihejiagwa who was protesting the results being presented at the collation center even as he argued that the results collated from the local government areas that were being presented did not tally with the ones on the Result Viewing Portal (IREV).
HURIWA stated that it is only in a state’s permitted terror-prone environment whereby state apparatuses are converted to attackers of political opposition as is the case in Imo State so much so that the Labour Party’s agent Mr. Ihejiagwa repeatedly said he had a petition to submit before the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) but he was shut down by the Returning Officer for the election, Prof Abayomi Fashina, who said it was not in his purview to receive petitions. Ihejiagwa was viewed as an interruption by his colleagues who subsequently bundled him out of the collation centre at 5 am while collation continued.
HURIWA also condemned the reported widespread manipulations of the electoral processes in Imo, Bayelsa, and Kogi States just as the Rights group wondered why the influence of cash-for-votes is still in practice during elections so much so that operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) successfully arrested 14 suspected vote buyers and confiscated millions of naira from the suspects in Otueke, Adawari playgrounds in Bayelsa and at various polling units in Imo and Kogi.
EFCC Spokesperson Dele Oyewale said this in a statement at the weekend in Abuja. According to him, the suspects were arrested on Saturday in intelligence-driven operations that commenced several days before the ongoing governorship elections in the three states. “Also, a total sum of N11,040,000, comprising N9,310,00 intercepted from suspected vote buyers and sellers in Bayelsa, and N1,730,000 intercepted from electoral fraud suspects across Imo State, were recovered from them.
HURIWA recalled too that, two vehicles were intercepted from the suspects by the EFCC, as announced by its spokesman who informed Nigerians that the suspects will be charged in court as soon as investigations are concluded.
HURIWA applauded the EFCC for the deployment of its personnel to monitor Saturday’s governorship elections in the three to prevent politicians and their agents from engaging in vote buying during the elections. The EFCC explained that the exercise against the vote buyers was part of the EFCC’s drive to checkmate electoral fraud and associated financial crimes. HURIWA has once more called on Nigerians to respect themselves, uphold their human dignity, and reject the temptations to sell their votes to politicians during elections as were the cases in Imo, Bayelsa, and Kogi during the recently ended off-circle elections. “Any potential voter who sells his/her vote is simply a person who has willingly sold himself/herself into political servitude because the governor who goes into office that he bribed his way to attain, will focus exclusively on how he can recoup his massive cash investment during his campaign and election. On no account should a citizen negotiate or accept cash for votes. This is a very dangerous social evil that must be stamped out by every means available to law enforcement agencies. We, therefore encourage the EFCC and ICPC to upgrade their operations during polls to stamp out the evil of cash for votes in Nigeria.”
HURIWA in a media statement by the National Coordinator Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko condemned the inability of the security agencies, especially the police and the military to proactively minimize the incidents of violence that characterized the elections in Imo, Bayelsa, and Kogi States just as the Rights group cited the kidnapping of election officials from INEC in Bayelsa as one aspect to show that there were security failures witnessed during the exercise on Saturday. “So why did the service chiefs inundate Nigerians with promises that the off-circle gubernatorial polls will be peaceful? Did these service chiefs deliberately feed Nigerians with falsehoods and lies? So what happened? How come that even in Imo State, the police operatives and bureau were deployed by the incumbent administration to manipulate the election in many local government areas of the state?”
HURIWA recalled that the Independent National Electoral Commission on Saturday announced that one of its Supervisory Presiding Officers, who was abducted at the Amassoma jetty in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area of Bayelsa State, on the eve of the governorship election, has been released.
A statement signed by the Head of Department, Voter Education and Publicity, INEC office, Bayelsa State, Wilfred Ifogah, said the freed victim was doing fine.
Ifogah said, “The Independent National Electoral Commission, Bayelsa State Office, is pleased to inform stakeholders and concerned citizens in Nigeria that the INEC SPO earlier abducted on the eve of the election has been freed and is doing fine.
“The Commission wishes to thank all those who acted and showed concern in ensuring the safe release and the return of the officer.” Earlier, INEC had reported the abduction of one of its SPOs in Bayelsa State on Friday. “INEC also reports that its SPO assigned to Registration Area – 06 (Ossiama) in Sagbama LGA was abducted while waiting to board a boat at Amassoma jetty. “The security agencies have been notified,” the commission said.
HURIWA has also cited the example of instances of snatching of ballot boxes and diversion of election materials in many wards in Okigwe, Ideato North, and Orlu senatorial zone to demonstrate that the poll in Imo State was systematically manipulated by the Independent National Electoral Commission whose resident electoral commissioner in Imo State is the biological sister of the National deputy chairman of the All Progressive Congress which is the party of the incumbent governor who sought re-election.
HURIWA recalls that it got reports of the widespread rigging of the governorship poll in Imo state from election observers on the ground long before the candidate of the Labour Party (LP) in Saturday’s Imo governorship election, Sen. Athan Achonu, called for a cancellation of results from some polling units over alleged irregularities.
HURIWA recalled that Senator Achonu made the call while speaking with newsmen in his hometown, Umulumo, in the Ehime Mbano council area of Imo, on Saturday. He said that agents of his party returned with disturbing reports of hijacking of ballot boxes and other electoral materials as well as vote buying.
He, Senator Athan Achonu added that the LP had officially written to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for requisite action and called for the cancellation of results emanating from the affected locations.
As recalled by HURIWA, Senator Achonu alleged thus: “In parts of Ideato, the process was characterized by ballot box snatching and all manners of irregularities, including intimidation of voters. This is unacceptable. We have already written to INEC to take appropriate steps to ensure that fake results are not uploaded. The “absence of security personnel in certain places around Orlu and Orsu”, is unfortunate while commending the military for turning up to save the situation in some other areas.”
HURIWA however, thinks that it will amount to time-wasting and a colossal misuse of resources for politicians who are unable to influence the outcome of the serially rigged and manipulated off-circle elections, to file cases before the election petitions Tribunal because, in the opinion of the Rights group, the judiciary is a captive of cash and carry judgments which work to deny Nigerians of transparent and fair electoral processes through subterfuge.