The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) yesterday suspended all electoral processes in the governorship and House of Assembly elections in Rivers until further notice.
The electoral body made the suspension public in a statement in Abuja by its National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education, Mr. Festus Okoye.
According to Okoye, the action was due to widespread violence and disruptions that characterised the Saturday’s elections in the state.
He said that based on reports from INEC officials on the field, the commission had determined that there had been widespread disruption of the elections.
“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 unauthorised 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 on Sunday, March 10, the commission 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,’’ Okoye said.
According to a News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) report, the commission appealed to the people of Rivers, particularly voters, for their understanding as it looks into the circumstances of the disruptions and what further action needed to be taken.
Rivers with 23 local government areas has 4,442 polling units and 3,215,273 registered voters out of who 2,833,101 persons collected their Permanent Voter’s Cards (PVC).
In a reaction, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) condemned what it described as the “confiscation’’ of the Rivers governorship election results and demanded the immediate release of the outcome to avert serious crisis.
The PDP National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, in a statement issued yesterday in Abuja said that the party completely condemned the subversive action by soldiers, who were alleged to have seized and diverted the results to army barracks in Port Harcourt.
He called on all lovers of democracy to unite against the “brazen attack” on Nigeria’s democracy, saying such “barefaced assault is only akin to a coup d’état and should not be allowed to stand.”
He said that Nigerians watched in bewilderment as soldiers, in the company of alleged All Progressives Congress (APC) thugs, invaded polling units in Rivers, unleashed violence on voters, disrupted polling processes and hauled away electoral materials.
This, according to Ologbondiyan, is just because the APC is not on the ballot following its self-inflicted exclusion from the election.
He said that the alleged use of soldiers to ambush the electoral process and confiscate results was an extreme scheme by the APC to enmesh the Rivers governorship election in controversy, seeing that there was no way they could take away victory from the PDP.
“We want Nigerians to note that the APC is frustrated that it is not on the ballot in the Rivers State election 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.’’
Ologbondiyan said that the PDP already had valid documents of all the results as delivered from all the polling units where elections held across the state and that the figures were with all the stakeholders.
“Therefore, deploying soldiers to confiscate the results will not change the victory already recorded by our party in Rivers State,” he said.
Also, the British High Commission in Nigeria expressed concern over the level of military interference in the Rivers State elections. The commission said INEC officials must be allowed to do their job in safety, without intimidation.
In its twitter handle, @UKinnigeria, the commission wrote: “Extremely concerned by reports, including from @UKinnigeria observers, of military interference in the election process in Rivers State. Monitoring the situation closely. @inecng staff must be allowed to do their job in safety, without intimidation.”
Besides, a pro-democracy group, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), yesterday called on the university authorities to withdrawal the professorial title of the Chairman of INEC, Prof. Yakubu Mahmood, following alleged violence unleashed on voters by armed security forces in parts of the country, especially in Rivers State.
The group alleged that collation centres were invaded by suspected armed thugs and guarded by armed security forces to destroy or cart away election results.
HURIWA, in a statement in Abuja by the National Coordinator, Emmanuel Onwubiko, also urged the outgoing National Assembly to investigate the electoral body to uncover why the management staff conducted allegedly fraudulent elections in which the armed security services were allowed to deliberately attack leaders of the leading opposition PDP in parts of Nigeria including the outright refusal of the armed forces to allow accredited agents of the PDP into collation centres in Rivers State.
“The very universities should revoke these titles of professorships on the INEC chairman and most of those returning officers who supervised the travesty of justice committed by INEC during the two sets of elections that have just happened following the absolute manipulation of the polls.
“The ethical challenges trailing the actions of these academic professors show that they are not deserving of these high honour since, by their actions, they have demonstrated the total lack of honour that ought to be associated with holders of the prestigious academic title of professor,” HURIWA said.
An election observation group, the Centre for Transparency Advocacy (CTA) also yesterday declared that police and military personnel were involved in the disruption of the voting process, harassment of INEC officials and election observers in the Saturday’s polls.
The Acting Executive Director of CTA, Faith Nwadishi, who presented the group’s interim report on the election said although the security agents appeared to have conducted themselves well in many voting units across the country, the organisation’ observers reported unprofessional behaviour by some of them.
The group recalled an incident where INEC officials and observers were allegedly held hostage and their personal effects, including phones, seized at Ward 7, Unit 14, in Oruk Anam in Akwa Ibom State.
“Our observers also reported that security agents raided a nearby polling unit. A CTA observer narrowly escaped being held by the marauding security agents.
“Our observers reported that there was adequate deployment of security agents, though in many of the units, they acted more like onlookers than law enforcement agents. They failed to act even when electoral crimes were committed in their presence.
“There was a marked improvement in the welfare of the security personnel in terms of their transportation and early payment of their allowances.
”On a general assessment, the CTA noted that the election was marked by low voter turnout, violence, intervention of the military in some places and killing of citizens who had come out to exercise their franchise.
Meanwhile, from the results declared so far, the governorship candidate of All Progressives Congress (APC) in Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, has emerged winner.
The State Collation Officer, Prof. Eyitope Ogunbodede, who is also the Vice Chancellor of Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), announced that Sanwo-Olu polled 739,445 votes to beat his major rival, Jimi Agabje of the PDP, who polled 206,141.
Abia State governorship election Returning Officer and Vice Chancellor of University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Prof. Benjamin Ozumba, declared Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu of the PDP as winner, having scored 261,127 votes to beat his APC opponent, Dr. Uche Ogah who scored 99,574 and All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) rival, Dr. Alex Otti who got 64,366 votes.
The PDP governorship candidate in Ebonyi State, David Umahi, was declared winner, polling 392,291 votes to defeat his APC rival, Senator Sunday Ogbuoji, who garnered 81,234 votes.The incumbent governor of Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Udom Emmanuel won the election.
In Enugu State, Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi was reelected. The Returning Officer and Vice Chancellor of the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Prof Joseph Ahanaeku, said Ugwuanyi of the PDP polled 449, 935 votes to beat his closet APC rival who scored 10, 423 votes.
The APC candidate in Gombe State was declared winner after scoring 364,179 votes to beat the PDP candidate who polled 222, 868 votes.
Also, in Kwara State, the APC candidate, Abdulrahaman Abdulrazaq, won the governorship election, having scored 331,546 as the highest number of votes.
The Kebbi State Governor Abubakar Atiku Bagudu of APC was reelected. He got 673,717 votes to defeat his PDP rival, Senator Issa Galadu, who scored 106,633 votes. Dapo Abiodun of APC won in Ogun, while Seyi Makinde of PDP won in Oyo.