Widespread violence characterised yesterday’s council poll in Delta State, but Ughelli North, Ughelli South and Aniocha North local councils were the main theatres of war.
While the Delta State Independent Electoral Commission (DSIEC) office in Ughelli North Local Council was razed down by armed gunmen, who also shot at several persons, Aniocha North Local Council, hometown of the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, witnessed a bloody conflict, which led to the death of an ad hoc official of DSIEC.
The mob, mostly members of the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC), allegedly torched the DSIEC office after the electoral officer posted to the area disclosed that he forgot the results sheets in Asaba, the state capital, promising that he would explore ways of making it available before the exercise was concluded.
The mob was peeved that result sheets did not come with the other electoral materials, saying it was a ploy to rig the election in the council.
Around 8:47 a.m., and in the presence of security agents, the mob shot sporadically before setting the DSIEC office on fire, while also alleging that 90 per cent of the returning officers in the exercise were card-carrying members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
They equally descended on the electoral officers and thereafter destroyed ballot boxes and papers. Consequently, no election was held in Ughelli North.
According to a member of the civil society groups that monitored the election, Mr. Franklin Oseya, “As the convener of Action 2019, I was on ground at Ughelli where the DSIEC office opposite the police station was razed down by youths suspected to be APC loyalists. Their grouse was that DSIEC has colluded with some interests to rig the election in favour of the PDP.
“By 12:10 p. m. there were no election materials nor result sheets. There was also general voters’ apathy as most of the polling boots visited were virtually empty save for a few party faithful and youths. Reports reaching us from our agents at Uvie and Okpe local councils also confirm the voters’ apathy,” Oseya said.
At Ughelli South Local Council, it was also a bloody affair, as three APC supporters were allegedly shot at Otu-jeremi allegedly by PDP supporters. The development caused serious tension at the council secretariat, prompting heavy security buildup in the area, as the APC supporters insisted that result sheets must be distributed alongside other materials.
Election was suspended in Ethiope East Local Council, a stronghold of APC chieftain, Chief Great Ogboru, because of alleged rowdiness of supporters and all electoral materials moved back to Asaba.
There were reports of skirmishes at Oporoza Ward Two, Warri South West Local Council, which is the hometown of ex-militant leader, Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo. Voting was halted here after APC and PDP supporters clashed.
At Ogwashi-Uku, there was breakdown of order at the DSIEC office as the returning officer for Aniocha South Ward 9, Mr. Emmanuel Agofure allegedly disappeared when the APC agents insisted that he should provide the result sheets.
In Udu Local Council, the Otor-Udu office of DSIEC was literally taken over by soldiers and heavily armed vigilance members, who cordoned off the area for electoral materials to be taken away. The atmosphere was tense with supporters of both PDP and APC milling around the secretariat where the materials were kept.
In about 13 of the 25 councils of the state, election took place peacefully, and Governor Ifeanyi Okowa cast his vote at Ward III Unit 003, Owa-Alero in Ika North Local Council, and immediately left in a convoy of vehicles. Voting in Ika North though adjudged peaceful, was allegedly marred by irregularities, as there were reports of multiple thumb-printing there, and in Ika South Local Council.
The DSIEC ad hoc official in Onicha Ugbo, who was said to be in his 30s, died during voting even as there were insinuations that he was killed by thugs, who accused him of being in league with one of the political parties.
Notwithstanding the killing, Governor Okowa expressed satisfaction with the conduct of the election saying, “It is unfortunate that some persons were not ready for the elections and they resorted to violence. I personally led the PDP campaign round the 25 local government areas of the state, even to areas I did not visit when I was campaigning for the governorship election. After that, the campaign moved from ward to ward, house to house, and continued while the other political parties were not involved in any campaign. I can assure you that generally, from information available to me, the state is calm and voting is in progress.”
Details of the death were still sketchy as at the time of filing this report, but the Delta State police spokesman, Mr. Andrew Aniamaka, confirmed the death, but insisted that he died of natural causes.
Aniamaka, an Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) said the unidentified man was not shot dead, but died suddenly.
The police image-maker remarked that an autopsy would be carried out to determine the actual cause of his death, as “he was not killed, rather but slumped and died.”
The state Commissioner for Information, Patrick Ukah, who voted at Ward 12, Unit 3, Okpanam, said voting materials were a little delayed as DSIEC officials waited for security agencies to deploy officers to escort the materials to the different areas.
He lauded the electoral process, noting that the concept of voting immediately after accreditation helped in decongesting the polling booths as people left for their homes after casting their votes.
The Commandant of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, Delta State, Ego Sam, who monitored the exercise said measures were taken, in collaboration with other security agencies to ensure a hitch-free election in the state.
Some journalists were attacked by thugs.
One of the victims, Matthew Omonigho, who works for Daily Post, slumped after he was severely beaten and his shirt shredded. He was revived by security agents. He, however, lost his Panasonic HD video camera, Nikon D80 photo camera, mobile phone and money to the attackers.
Earlier, the APC Aniocha South Chapter had raised the alarm that the PDP in the area had hijacked the DSIEC ad hoc staff and sensitive election materials.
The Director of Media and Publicity of the chapter, Nnamdi Ofonye, accused the ruling party of being in possession of already prepared voting materials as at Wednesday night.
It was learnt that fake result sheets were in circulation across the 25 local councils of the state, and that result sheets in circulation in some part of the state, particularly in Sapele, Ughelli South, Udu and Uvwie councils were different from the ones DSIEC used during the training of selected ad hoc staff.
There were also allegations of soldiers intimidating and colluding with agents of the ruling party to rig in some council areas, especially in Uvwie, where the APC Chairmanship candidate, Ufuoma Okenini, alleged that soldiers were deployed to intimidate eligible voters. He described the election as a sham.
He claimed that fake result sheets were in circulation and that in some parts of the council DSIEC officials were not on ground to conduct the election.