An interim report by Independent Election Monitoring Group has taken a swipe at the conduct of the governorship/assembly polls in Rivers state saying it rubbishes whatever progress Nigeria has made in its democratic process.
A reports signed by Esther Achor said the election was a charade in which hoodlums, thugs, security agents connived to unleashed terror on voters.
The full interim reports reads:
INDEPENDENT ELECTION MONITORING GROUP (IEMG)
PORT HARCOURT – April 12, 2015
INTERIM REPORT ON OBSERVATION OF THE GOVERNORSHIP AND STATE ASSEMBLY ELECTIONS THAT HELD ON SATURDAY 11 APRIL 2015 by Esther Achor (esq)
The Independent Election Monitoring Group (IEMG) observed the 2015 Gubernatorial and State Assembly elections scheduled for Saturday 11 April 2015.
IEMG deployed INEC accredited observers across the local government areas of Rivers state to observe the elections and also tracked the conduct of security agencies deployed to manage the electoral environment during the process. IEMG also monitored trends on social media. IEMG shared its on the spot field observations with such networks as the Nigeria Civil Society Election Situation Room, Reclaiming etc. Observers sent in real time field reports using a specific checklist for tracking compliance with electoral guidelines, and impunity. This preliminary report presents the findings with regards to the accreditation exercise, election security and the use of Card Readers.
From the reports received thus far from our field observers, we present the following interim report.
1. Arrival of INEC staff
Across the state, INEC officials were reported to have arrived late in most of the polling units across the local governments of the state. Our observation and tracking show that none of the INEC staff arrived before 9am while most arrived between 10 and 1pm. This also include INEC materials. There were incidents of very late or non-arrival of INEC staff and materials in some polling units. For instance, by 12 noon INEC materials and adhoc staff had not left its RAC at the Primary School 1, Eneka covering Eneka/Rukpokwu Ward 14 in Obio/Akpor Local Government Area of the state.
2. Commencement of Accreditation
Our observers and information from social media tracking indicate that accreditation did not commence on time where it actually happened. In most places it did not happen as materials never arrived, or when they arrived, were carted away to unknown destinations by unknown gun carrying thugs, often times in company of uniformed security personnel.
3. Security presence
Security was a very serious concern throughout the process in Rivers state. Although generally most polling stations reportedly had security presence, there are reports that security was either absent or insufficient in a number of places. There are documented reports of killings across the state. Violence, intimidation, harassment of voters/observers and disruption and carting away of voting materials were rife across the state. As a direct result, actual voting never took place in most units and wards and local governments in the state. The following examples are very instructive:
Shooting reigned in Ikuru Town in Andoni Local government area unmolested, home place of the Deputy governor of Rivers state, who recently defected back to the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP). Voters as a direct result were scared of turning up and that enabled the shooters to have a field day with INEC materials without any let or hindrance.
5 men in fake military uniform were arrested while they took charge in the handling of INEC material and handed over to the Kpor Police in Gokhana LGA.
Police personnel shot dead in the Rex Lawson Area of Borokiri in the Port Harcourt Township, Port Harcourt local government area.
3 persons were killed in Omagwa and several others sustained serious injuries. Omagwa is in Ikwerre Local government Area.
Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Local government area witnessed violence and killings.
Fatal stabbing was recorded at Ward 15, Unit 10 of Khana Local Government Area. One Gbogbo Eric.
Assistant Inspector General of Police was forced out of the state following orders from the Presidency, because he disciplined a police divisional officer who allegedly procured INEC election result sheets for illicit distribution. The junior police officer was restored to his post at Buguma, while the AIG deployed to Rivers state to take charge of security for the elections was forced back to Calabar on the morning of the election. This no doubt facilitated the degeneration of insecurity throughout the state.
Citizens were killed and beheaded, houses burnt and properties destroyed. Mrs Joeba West, a Commissioner in the state suffered this fate.
INEC material meant for Abonnema Local Government Area was hijacked and made away with by political thugs.
Disruption of accreditation
Generally the accreditation process did not go on smoothly in majority of the units observed, while in some places it went on smoothly. Political thugs were responsible for the major disruptions witnessed. And most of these took place in the presence of security personnel, who looked either helpless or uninterested. Incomplete materials were also cause for concern and created tension that aided disruption, violence and killings. These cases were not insolated.
INEC material was hijacked in Buguma, the Asari Toru Local government area. In same place, the INEC building was torched, material burnt, including vehicles. Accreditation did not happen because the material were not available. No election happened either, but violence made the round and deaths recorded.
In Okirika, material was hijacked and privatized by militiamen. They determined who voted under the nose of security personnel. They decided to abandon the card reader for manual accreditation contrary to INEC regulation/instruction/guideline for the election. The INEC adhoc staff neither had voice nor power, therefore, followed contrary orders.
APC party agents in all 5 polling units in Kalio-Ama (Ward 9), Okrika were abducted from their units by unknown gun men, while policemen on duty watched helplessly. Spirited efforts were made by other APC persons to trace, locate and release them from where they were being held. It was alleged that their captors were PDP militants. By the time they were restored to their duty posts, electoral materials had been hijacked and taken away by political thugs.
There was no security presence in Ward 7, Okrika, yet some politicians in the area were patrolling openly and with police escort.
The Divisional Police Officer (DPO), Rumuepirikom Police Station, in Obio/Akpor LGA of Rivers State early aided the movement of INEC election materials at the RAC covering Wards 12 and 13 in Obio/Akpor LGA, situated at Ola-Nu-da Model Primary School, opposite the Rivers State College of Arts and Science, Port Harcourt. She (DPO) escorted a Passat wagon car into the RAC and carted away the original materials, shooting and chasing away APC agents. This experience was witnessed in a number of places including Ward 14, Rukpokwu/Eneka, in Obio/Akpor LGA.
Contrary to the guideline by the Inspector General of Police that police officials should stay away from their political masters during the election, Dr. Tamuno Danagogo, Minister of Sports was seen in his Abonnema, Akuku Toru local Government area, in company with security agents, as he moved around the town.
INEC electoral materials in Akuku Toru Wards 15, 16 and 17 were hijacked at gun point. The attackers were led by two notorious cultists who were identified as Hope Dan Opusungi and Kenneth Dan Opusungi. Having seized the materials, the armed men barred polling agents of other political parties from escorting the materials to the distribution centre. The two Opusungis’, were alleged to be card-carrying members of the PDP.
In Obio/Akpor LGA, Ward 14, it was a PDP crested bus that took the INEC material from its Eneka Primary School 1 RAC. The police had to shoot in the air and threw teargas to disperse other party agents before leaving the RAC in company of PDP personnel.
Shocking cases of cold blooded killings and beheading , obstruction of votes , arson , voters intimidation , ballot snatching , missing result sheet , presenting of fake ballot papers , multiple thumb printing , campaigning’s at polling unit , compromise of ad-hoc staffs, absence of level playing environment ,violence against media personnel and impunity were witnessed in different magnitude across the length and breath of the state. These acts were brazen.
Card Reader related issues
In a number of places the card reader was used and it functioned well. In others it was abandoned for manual accreditation, contrary to the rule of INEC and this facilitated irregular thumb-printing/massive rigging. In majority of places where election did not hold by reason of violence, the Cared Reader was not tested, or out rightly gutted by the inferno that ensued in such places as Buguma etal. It is noteworthy, going into the elections, INEC restated that Card Readers will be used and where there were problems, voting will be done the following day.
1. INEC should examine thoroughly the role of its Electoral Officers and adhoc staff to determine whether some of their behaviours were deliberate or informed by the unimaginable level of intimidation, violence and criminality that ensued. This is absolutely necessary because it was observed that in most instances politicians and security officials controlled events at polling units, whereas INEC trained personnel remained subservient, sometimes scared.
2. Security agencies failed to effectively protect voters and the votes, making it absolutely difficult for votes to count in most units in the state. Security should have been boosted following the experiences encountered during the Presidential and National Assembly elections. The motive behind the redeployment of the AIG Zone 6 should be thoroughly examined and check its consequences in view of degeneration of insecurity throughout the state.
3. INEC should ensure adequate preparations are made for ballots to casted in secret, the manner of counting of ballots and collation of results should be improved. Observers noted that the cubicles were not present, therefore votes were casted openly and dangerously. Political interference in voting were also noticed by reason of the openness. They should also reach out to political parties to educate them further, that it is the rule of law rather than the rule of the thumb that determines electoral outcome, if only to stem the climate of intimidation and human slaughter.
The mini war situation in Rivers state in the name of electoral process is most troubling and must not be allowed to continue. This denied voters the expression of their will. What was observed in the state cannot be said in any reasonable manner to be a near triumph to democracy, or an improvement on what this INEC has set out to do with the electoral process in Nigeria. It is rather a coup d’etat against the will of the voting public in the state.
What shows quite clearly in the Rivers state event, rather than a process, is that enemies of democracy continue to discover a whole armory of technology that enables them to retain power despite the huge investment, human energy and voter’s efforts put in place to hold elections aimed at making the votes to count. The name of that technology in this particular situation is impunity.
An election as set out by this INEC should confer legitimacy upon the victor, and the need to secure votes should ensure that the victor reached out to be inclusive. To accept this charade in the name of free, fair and credible election by whatever standard would amount to the denial of an increasingly evident reality.
The governorship and house of assembly’s elections in Rivers state reminds that war has not yet passed into history. Observers witnessed battle related deaths, maiming for politicians to achieve their goal of attaining power. Those whose constitutional responsibility it is to defend citizens from organized violence were the ones perpetrating it against the citizens. This election showed quite clearly that extreme violence in the case of Rivers state is the preferred route to political power.
It is important therefore, not to reward extreme violence as clearly and evidentially represented in the case of Rivers state. Cancelling and specially rescheduling the Rivers state election is the panacea for the present and recurring habit of killing, breaking of fundamental rules for power, is recommended. Democracy and its deepening will be better for it. Based on observers’ field reports, there is no way the likely usual allocation of non-existent figures that will definitely surface in the name of winning and losing the election in the state, represent the will of the voters of the state. We strongly urge INEC not to deny the reality in Rivers state regarding this particular elections, and protect the future of democracy and livelihood of citizens in an accountable manner.