Romanus Ugwu, Kogi
The 2019 Kogi state governorship election was characterised by heavy gun shooting, ballot box snatching, open vote buying, massive thumb printing of ballot papers and other electoral irregularities in almost all the polling units across the state.
Sunday Sun can reports that apart from thunderous gunshots at places like Lokoja, Okehi among others, intimidation of the electorates, compromising attitude of the ad-hoc staff of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), insufficient deployment of security agents, use of fake electoral materials and heavy voter inducements were brazenly deployed by the political parties.
Although shootings and intimidation of the electorate, election observers were not limited to any part of the state, it was however more pronounced in Lokoja the state capital. The use of election observers, and ad-hoc staff like corps members to thumb print ballot papers were more pronounced across the polling units in Okene.
In Lokoja, Okene, Okehi Local Government Areas and other several polling units across the state, different political parties openly compete favourably to outdo each other in the inducement of the electorates and deployment of rigging machinery.
While there was obvious voter apathy in some areas, voting was however marred by free for all fight at other areas as thugs made futile efforts to outsmart each other by snatching the ballot boxes while security agents watched helplessly.
For example, at both Kabawa and Ngwa Kwura and many other polling areas around Lokoja, it was free for all fight especially at PDP strongholds as the electorate battled effortlessly to stop persons suspected to working for the APC from seizing election materials.
Lamenting while speaking to Sunday Sun at Ngwa Kwura, a community leader, Bashir Nura, claimed that the community had to take the hard option of fighting with APC thugs to check them from destroying the electoral materials, just as a corps member disclosed that she had to abandon the polling to change her uniform, decrying the destruction of the already sorted and counter ballot papers.
According to Bashir; “I have to blame the incidence on the insufficient deployment of police and other security agents. And even those deployed seem to be working for the APC. The noise of gunshots at most polling units in Lokoja was scarring. Trouble had started when we detected unstamped ballot papers and insisted that that they must be counted, but the APC people insisted that we must move everything to the INEC office. Our attempt to stop them resulted in the fight and destruction of ballot papers. What we noticed across Lokoja is that the APC deployed thugs to destroy ballot materials in all the PDP strongholds,” he claimed.
Interestingly, political parties like the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP) were all deeply involved in the brazen inducement of the electorate with amounts ranging from N1500, N2000 to N3000 to vote for them.
Curiously as it may sound; the reality is that most of the voter inducements were done in the full glare of the security agents, involving police and Para military agencies without any conscious effort to curtail it or arrests the perpetrators.
At most polling units, it was a case of vote, display your ballot papers to the agents and canvassers, then collect your money. The positioning of the polling units, at resident houses seems to have adequately aided the massive vote buying as they were done either inside the rooms or at the back of the houses.
In fact, it was also obvious that voting was compromised as political parties deployed canvassers, lobbyists and other agents strategically near the polling units to monitor votes cast in their favour to promptly do the needful.
Speaking to Sunday Sun at Okehi LGA, the home of the SDP candidate, a middle aged man, who identified himself as SDP vote canvasser, claimed that APC thugs descended on him and collected over N280,000 in his custody.
“The APC thugs, numbering over 10, had come to the ward where I was canvassing vote for the SDP, walked directly to me and told me to hand over the whole money with me. When the police standing there could not help me, I had no other option than to release the money, which is over N280,000, to them. They did not only collect the money but also chased me into the bush,” he lamented.
Speaking further, he said: “Before attacking me, they had earlier descended on my brother and three others with guns, knives and other dangerous weapons earlier in the morning. Those attacked are still in the hospital struggling to survive. It is surprising that we have security agencies everywhere yet they cannot confront the APC thugs operating freely,” he lamented.
Another indigene of Okehi LGA, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Sunday Sun that the APC in its desperate revolve to clinically and violently rig the election, had armed voters with cloned voters cards to vote for it, chiding the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for allowing such.
“At Central School, Code 01, 02, 03 to 07, fake voters cards were freely used in the presence of the police and INEC staff without anybody questioning such. I can’t even understand why INEC could allow such to happen. I can confidently tell you that thugs have been strategically located to snatch the ballot boxes. We have resigned to fate,” he lamented.
The voting locality of the SDP candidate in Okehi seems to be the theatre of war, as thugs believed to be deployed by the APC molested perceived Natasha loyalists.
Speaking to newsmen after voting around 11.30am, the SDP candidate, expressed concern over the election, arguing that security report at his disposal confirmed that the APC has connived with INEC to storm collation centres with two different result sheets.