Romanus Ugwu, Ndubuisi Orji, Aidoghie Paulinus, Abuja, Tony John, Port Harcourt
There is palpable tension in Rivers State, as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) ordered immediate suspension of all electoral processes of the yet to be concluded governorship and House of Assembly election, citing widespread disruption of electoral activities as reason.
National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education, Festus Okoye, said in a statement that initial reports available to the commission suggested that violence occurred in substantial number of polling units and collation centres, adding that staff have been taken hostage and materials including result sheets either seized or destroyed by unauthorized persons.
While quoting Section 26 of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) and Clause 47(e) of the Regulations and Guidelines of the Commission which empowered the commission to suspend election, INEC revealed that it has set up a fact-finding committee to appraise the situation and report back to the leadership of the commission within 48 hours.
According to the statement: “Based on reports from our officials in the field, INEC has determined that there has been widespread disruption of elections conducted on the March 9, 2019 in Rivers State.
“These initial reports suggest that violence occurred in a substantial number of polling units and collation centres, staff have been taken hostage and materials including result sheets have either been seized or destroyed by unauthorized persons. In addition, safety of our staff appears to be in jeopardy all over the state and the Commission is concerned about the credibility of the process.
“Consequently, at a meeting held March 10, 2019, the Commission has decided to suspend all electoral processes in the state until further notice. This is in line with Section 26 of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) and Clause 47(e) of the Regulations and Guidelines of the Commission.
“The Commission has also established a fact-finding Committee to assess the situation and report back within 48 hours. We appeal to the people of Rivers State, particularly the voters, for their understanding as we look into the circumstances of these disruptions and what further action needs to be taken,” the statement from the commission read.
Following the suspension, security has been beefed up around the INEC office with heavy deployment of Nigerian Army and operatives of the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (FSARS), who condoned off the entire Waterline and GRA junctions along Aba Road, in the state capital.
Over 15 patrol vans and two Armoured Personnel Carriers (APC) were used to block the GRA junction, a situation which caused gridlock and panic in Port Harcourt and its environs.
Journalists were also barred from crossing the barricaded areas, except a few media houses, who the military claimed were accredited to have access to INEC office.
Earlier, there was a reported case of clash between Army and Police personnel at INEC office, apparently over who should be in control of the commission.
Following the tension, personnel of the commission fled their offices.
An anonymous source in INEC premises alleged that election returning officers from two local government areas sighted at the commission, were accosted by military men and taken away.
According to the source, no agent of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) or any of the other political parties, was at INEC office, except agents of the newly adopted African Action Congress (AAC).
Daily Sun gathered that the stern-looking armed soldiers at the GRA junction, Port Harcourt, ordered operators of a popular eatery to sell only take-away to customers for security reasons. Meanwhile, security operatives tear-gassed a group, the “Port Harcourt Significant Girls” who were on a peaceful protest, to persuade Army to leave INEC to perform its function.
Meanwhile, PDP has condemned the alleged confiscation of the Rivers State governorship election results by soldiers.
The PDP in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, yesterday, demanded immediate release of the governorship results to avert crisis in the state.
The party stated that the alleged action by the soldiers was an assault on democracy, which is akin to a coup d’état and should not be allowed to stand.
The opposition party charged all lovers of democracy in the country to unite against the “brazen attack” on democracy.
“Nigerians watched in bewilderment as soldiers, in the company of APC thugs invaded polling units in Rivers State, unleashed violence on voters, disrupted polling processes and hauled away electoral materials, just because the APC is not in the ballot, following its self-inflicted exclusion from the election.
“The use of soldiers to ambush the electoral process and confiscate results is an extreme scheme by the APC and the Buhari Presidency to enmesh the Rivers State governorship election in controversy, seeing that there is no way they can take away victory from the PDP.
“We want Nigerians to note that the APC is frustrated that it is not on the ballot, and for that, it has resorted to violence, killings and heavy militarisation of the area, in the attempt to disrupt the electoral process, seeing that the PDP had already won.”