…As journalists escape lynching in Godoji ward
■ Residents blame low turnout on poor economy, hardship
From Taiwo Amodu, Romanus Ugwu, Fred Itua, Abuja
VOTER apathy, failure of the card readers as well as use of Incident Forms were some of the irregularities that characterized yesterday’s area council elections in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
An Assistant Presiding Officer, Olumolade who spoke to Sunday Sun at Chibir Ward 002, Kuje, linked the failure of the card readers to the occupation of the electorate, who are predominantly farmers with thick thumbs which made it difficult for the machine to verify their fingerprints, hence the need to use Incident Forms. According to him, verification commenced by 8.00 am and voters were orderly.
But for the quick intervention of spirited village leaders, four journalists on election duty at Godoji, Ward 007, Godoji Primary School in Kuje Area Council of the FCT, would have been lynched by angry youths suspected to be political thugs.
The journalists from The Sun, FRCN, and Core television who visited the rowdy polling centre to monitor the election, incurred the wrath of the hostile youths seeking to know what caused the disorderliness. It took the timely intervention of the village leaders to douse the tension.
A corps member, who had earlier spoken to the newsmen, said crisis ensued when the party agent of one of the parties attempted to educate an old woman on how to cast her vote. The gesture, he explained, did not go down well with certain persons and consequently resulted in a protest.
It was further learnt that the area had always been a flashpoint during elections because of its notoriety for malpractices raging from underage voting to ballot box snatching and other electoral offences.
When the incident was reported to the Kuje Police Station, a patrol van was immediately dispatched to the polling unit to secure the lives of the corps members who were on national assignment.
In some of the places visited, the polling units were virtually empty. Apart from INEC officials and a handful of security agents, no voters were seen in or around some of the polling units.
In many instances, INEC officials and security agents were more in number than the voters. Some residents who spoke with newsmen said they boycotted the election because they were yet to feel the impact of the present government.
Others explained that they were not familiar with the names of candidates of the various political parties for the elections. They blamed the development on poor awareness campaign and lack of seriousness on the part of candidates, who they said, deliberately refused to communicate adequately with the voting public.
However, the situation in Kubwa, Dutse Alhaji and other nearby towns was slightly different, as the exercise went peacefully with little or no presence of armed security agencies.
There are six area councils in the FCT and elections are held every three years to elect new chairmen and councillors. This year’s election ought to have been conducted on March 19, 2016, but was shifted by three weeks in order to enable the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to adequately prepare. Commercial activities were grounded in the FCT throughout the duration of the exercise due to restriction of vehicular movement between 7:00 am and 4:00 pm. At a polling unit located at Area 8, only 30 people showed up to exercise their franchise as at 12 noon. The presiding officer at the polling unit, Chioma Umeh attributed the poor turn out to the fuel scarcity in the country.
The election was conducted in Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC), Bwari, Gwagwalada, Kuje, Kwali and Abaji. Accreditation and voting commenced simultaneously as early as 8 am in the polling units.
The exercise was, however, marred by faulty card readers, which failed to recognize the thumb prints of registered voters and in some cases rejected the Permanent Voters Card (PVC) of eligible voters.
In polling units 008 and 006 of Area 2 of the Abuja Municipal Area Council, Card Reader failed to authenticate the thumbprints of some voters, who were later given Incident Forms by the presiding officers.
Ilo Victor and Ijemina Abdulahi who presided over polling units 008 and 006 at Area 2 confirmed the development in separate interviews with Sunday Sun.
Victor said: “The card reader verified thumb prints of some voters, while it could not recognise others. What we did was to give them Incident Forms to enable them to vote once they verified their names on the register.”
Also speaking on his experience, Abdulahi, who manned polling unit 15, Jabi/Maje area of the Abuja Municipal Area Council disclosed that the card readers could not verify more than 40 eligible voters.
The presiding officer at the polling unit, Jeremiah Oboigbe confirmed the development and explained that it took intervention of combined forces of policemen and men of the Nigerian Civil Defence Corps to pacify the aggrieved individuals who were technically disqualified by the card reader to leave the polling booth.