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BAYELSA/KOGI POLLS: Seven killed as violence, ballot snatching mar elections



Wi d e s p read violence and arson marred the governorship elections held yesterday in Kogi and Bayelsa states, as no fewer than seven persons were allegedly killed and more than 20 seriously injured in separate attacks. In Kogi State, the violence was so rampant that at Lokongoma community in Lokoja Local Government Area, a helicopter allegedly aided ballot box snatching. Officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) were also attacked by some hoodlums in military uniform, who carted away electoral materials even as some ballot boxes were smashed.

Former President Goodluck Jonathan who arrived at his polling station at about 8:19am expressed his disappointment with the process, stating: “I got here around 8:19 am and there was nobody here; the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) ad hoc staff were not here, voters were not here… I am a bit disappointed with what I see here,” Jonathan said.

Sunday Telegraph gathered that six people were killed and many injured at polling units by gunmen and hoodlums, who stormed voting centres, disrupting the process and carted away ballot boxes. A building belonging to an All Progressives Congress (APC) chieftain was also set ablaze in Lokoja, the state capital during the election, just as the polling unit where Senator Dino Melaye voted was attacked and one of the boxes destroyed. Some of the deceased whose names were given by the natives as Umoru Shuaib and Faruk Suleiman, died during gun battle between supporters of the ruling APC and main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Witnesses said the incident happened while voting was underway at Barrack Polling Unit 001 in Dekina council.

The assailants from all indications came for Umoru Shaibu, one of the victims in the attack. “They came in a bus while voting was taking place. They wore police uniform, so we didn’t suspect anything. Umoru had voted and was chatting with Faruk close to the poling unit, when the bus drove by.

None of the occupants who were in police uniform alighted from the vehicle. “We just heard gunshots and shouts from the victims as well as onlookers. The attackers drove off,” a resident in the community who identified himself as Michael said. The major street in the ancient town was deserted when our correspondent visited the area. Stones and sticks littered the road, while tyres earlier burnt by youths protesting the attack were still billowing. Three people were also killed in Adankolo in Lokoja, the state capital.

They were killed in different polling units by hoodlums who shut sporadically with the intent to cart away ballot boxes they were prevented by some electorate and residents in the community. A voter was also killed in Ayetoro-Gbede in Ijumu Local Government Area and two other people shot at by hoodlums who disrupted the voting process at Ayetoro Town Hall in Ward 03 of the local government. The hoodlums also snatched ballot boxes at Ayetoro Town Hall and Oke Ibukun in Ijumu Local Government Area. But the ballot boxes were later recovered.

Sunday Telegraph gathered that when the hoodlums stormed the polling unit in Ayetoro Town Hall, which was in front of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) office, the Civil Defence sought for safety as some of them hid their guns and identify cards. Five of them were later arrested by the security agencies including a fake police officer at the government official’s residence. There was also a report of the arrest of some suspects with thumb printed ballot papers and Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs).

They were alleged to be working for the sole administrator of one of the local government areas. Speaking on the disruption of the election process and snatching of ballot boxes in his local government, Ijumu and other parts of the state the PDP senatorial candidate in Kogi West, Senator Dino Melaye, said INEC, in accordance with their promise should not accept votes from polling units where ballot boxes were snatched by hoodlums and gunmen.

His words: “The hoodlums arrested in my local government made confessional statement that they were recruited by APC and a staff in the office of the deputy governor and that they came from his house. A policeman on illegal duties was also arrested and in custody of the police. “A group of thugs carrying bunch of PVCs was arrested, they confessed that …the Sole Administrator of Local Government Area gave them the PVCs and thumb printed papers.

“We already said that APC is not prepared for the election. But we are ready to prove that the ballot is stronger. The state government has terrorised the whole place and there are reports that they have taken over Lokoja and they have been collecting ballot boxes from polling units in Lokoja metropolis and their intension is to come back with already stuffed ballot boxes with written results that they will try to enter into the collation centre. But we don’t see how that is going to happen. We will fight with the last drop of our blood. “I am calling on security agencies and INEC to respect their promise that wherever ballot boxes are being taken away, it cannot be recorded and voting in that particular unit should be cancelled.

So, for all those areas they have taken ballot boxes away, should not be entertained at all at the collation centre, so that only where we had valid votes should be counted because once a ballot box or paper has been taken away, the integrity of the votes in it is completely questionable. I think INEC should respect their promise for election riggers not to have their ways.”

Our correspondents reports that there were also sporadic gunshots in some communities in Kogi East Senatorial District shortly after the commencement of voting. The gunshots were heard in Emewe Okapda, part of Ajiyolo communities in Dekina Local Government Area of the state. In Aikpele-Ajaka Polling Unit 002, Igalamela-Odolu Local Government, armed men wearing mask reportedly shot sporadically into the air, disrupting the exercise as voters and INEC officials took to their heals in all direction. Natives said the assailants snatched ballot boxes and drove away.

Similarly, at Opolo Ward 1, in Bayelsa State, armed thugs disrupted voting by shooting indiscriminately and succeeded in destroying some electoral materials, before the arrival of more than 50 police officers from F-SARS and IGP Monitoring Unit at the scene.

Also voting materials for Angiama Community were hijacked at Sagbama Local Government Area of the state but an ad-hoc staff, corps members who were conveying the materials were rescued by policemen.

In his reaction, Bayelsa State Governor, the Honourable Henry Seriake Dickson, accused the General Officer Commanding the 6th Division of the Nigerian Army, Jamir Sarham, of compromising security in favour of the All Progressives Congress (APC) against the PDP. Dickson said that even though Gen. Jamir Sarham has been transferred to the Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna, he refused to move and waited behind to supervise the use of the Army to perpetrate heinous electoral crimes and irregularity in the Bayelsa gubernatorial poll.

The governor said that the GOC and the Brigade Commander of the Artillery Brigade, attached soldiers to all APC leaders in all the wards who they use to terrorise people from one polling unit to another. The governor said that the GOC moved to Yenagoa to personally supervise the undemocratic and illegal activities of the Army in the Bayelsa polls using the Brigade Commander of the Artillery Brigade as the commander of his soldiers in the orgy of violence on Bayelsans.

In a statement issued yesterday, Dickson said although, Major General Sarham was supposed to hand over to his successor, Maj. Gen Felix Aguguo, on November 5 he suddenly aborted the handover process till after the Bayelsa governorship poll. He recalled that the Stare Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party had alerted the nation of a plot by the APC to use the GOC and the Nigerian Army to undermine security during governorship poll in Bayelsa.

He said: “I am accusing the GOC of the 6th Brigade, Major Gen Sharham Jamil of delaying his handing over process after his transfer to the Nigeria Defence Academy, Kaduna, to perfect this illegal mission of rigging election in Bayelsa.

“He and the Brigade Commander of Artillery Brigade, Elele, Lt Col Wase, are the ones attaching soldiers to all APC chieftains in every ward to rig the election in all the polling units. General Sarham has defied his transfer posting and has stayed back to complete his mission to rig Bayelsa for APC,” he said.

Dickson called on President Buhari to address the issues and stop the killing and terrorising of the people. “The President has to wake up and do something. This is not a democracy; what is going on in Bayelsa in the name of an election is not a democracy.

The observers are everywhere and everyone knows what is going on. “I do not want to be pushed to the level of calling them to defend and protect themselves, I would not want to do that but please, there’s so much a people can take in the hands of their brothers and sisters in the name of an election,” he said.

Four INEC officials were said to have been abducted in Bumodi-Bgbene community in Eketiama clan, Yenagoa Local Government in the state, while a policeman on security escort was allegedly pushed into the creek but the corps member on duty managed to escape as the youths hijacked election materials. Meanwhile, INEC has described as unfortunate, the reported cases of thuggery and violence in yesterday’s governorship elections in Kogi and Bayelsa states despite promises by the political parties to promote peaceful elections.

INEC in a statement by National Commissioner in charge of Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, said the commission unequivocally condemned the incident, observing that the parties signed peace accords before the elections. “We are still receiving, collating and evaluating these reports as we move into the critical phase of result collation,” Okoye said