Tony John, Port Harcourt
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has said its decision in the suspension of Saturday’s Port Harcourt City Constituency 3 bye-election in Rivers State, followed the massive violence that characterised the poll.
Briefing journalists, on Sunday, in Port Harcourt, on the development, the three Resident Electoral Commissioners, Obo Effanga (Rivers), Mike Igini (Akwa Ibom) and Cyril Omoregbe (Bayelsa), said the commission tried to meet the highest standard in conducting election.
They noted that the exercise was thwarted by the actions of some political class in the state who openly stormed the polling units with thugs and fully armed security personnel, thereby disrupting the well arranged and peaceful process.
The RECs declared that the election was marred by violence, destruction of electoral materials, attack on electoral officers on duty and carting away of ballot boxes from some units of the polling centres by hoodlums.
The RECs also described the bye-election held to fill vacant seat of Port Harcourt Constituency 3 for the state House of Assembly as ‘shameful’ to the state.
Speaking, Rivers REC, Effanga, who led other RECs, said “The Commission in full readiness for the said election, deployed personnel and materials to the 142 polling units involved.
“The election commenced peacefully in all the units with all the INEC personnel (ad-hoc and permanent) with all their materials reporting to their duty posts well ahead of time.
“However, midway into the elections, miscreant and hoodlums accompanied by heavily armed security personnel in uniform stormed the various polling units and registration areas disrupting voting activities, destroying and carting away election materials including smart card readers and ballot boxes. In addition, many electoral officials were manhandled, injured and held hostage.
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“As a result of this widespread and wanton disruption of the electoral process as reported from the field by the Supervisory Presiding Officers and Supervisors from the Commission and also, having reviewed the situation, the Commission in accordance with the provisions of Section 26 of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) has decided to suspend the elections forthwith”.
On his part, the Akwa Ibom REC, Igini, who represented the National Commissioner, South-South, Barr. May Agbamuche-Mbu, disclosed that a staff of the commission was stabbed, others beaten up and held hostage, corps member’s leg broken, journalists also attacked and voters badly injured by thugs in some units of the election.
Igini, who described the incidents as a tragedy and shameful, noted that the future of Rivers lies in the hands of political elite in the state.
He commended the State Commissioner of Police, Zaki Ahmed, for providing experienced personnel for the exercise, but wondered where the heavily armed personnel were brought from by their sponsors.
Igini said, “What happened yesterday (Saturday) was a tragedy. It was shameful. It represents a higher level of electoral discredit and falls below the minimum expected standards.
“Election must be conducted in a peaceful atmosphere which will allow voters to vote and leave the centre without grumbling.
“While election was going on, there were violence in significant areas of the polling centres. Some journalists, INEC staff, including NYSC members, were attacked and held hostage during the election.
“A staff of the Commission was stabbed, others beaten up. Also, a corps member’s leg was broken, individuals beaten and injured.
“Thanks to the security personnel who worked with us, they were not part of those who disrupted the election, as they were not armed according to the law.
“At ward 10, unit 8, the ballot box was stolen and emptied on recovery. Individuals and elites were going around with platinum of security personnel from polling centre to polling centre.
He added, “The future of Rivers State is in the hands of the elites of this state. The elites of this state will determine what kind of progress they want for the state”.