BY KAYODE SANNI-AREWA
With 48 hours to the Governorship and state Houses of Assembly elections, concerns have heightened over alleged moves by governors to rig the elections by all means possible, including resorting to extra-judicial means to compromise the process.
Aside allegedly recruiting thugs to help them disrupt the process to garner more votes, THISDAY findings have revealed that one of the means through which the governors intend to rig the exercise is by working with the Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) in their respective states.
In addition to this is another alleged plan to further compromise the electoral officers, thus making the falsification of results much easier than it was in the previous exercise.
But if these moves were to be thwarted, observers hinted, the authorities and the people might have to observe the chemistry between the governors, their RECs and the electoral officers, closely before they close in on them.
The third idea being allegedly considered as part of the rigging plan is to frustrate the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) from working, a situation that would enable them handle the collation of results manually through their proxies for desired outcome.
To give force of effect to some of their other plans, the governors, allegedly in cahoots with security agencies, have started to arrest some prominent opposition members, especially in northern Nigeria, and forcing people to vote for them against their wish.
Expectedly, however, the opposition has not been finding any of the moves funny and had started reacting, a development close observers of the polity reckon could stoke violence before, during and after the elections.
Unfortunately, these allegations have continued to escalate across the states of the federation that governors of the ruling parties in their respective states, had been raising army of thugs to disrupt and rig the polls.
Most of the 28 states that are contesting in the elections that would hold in 1,021 constituencies across the country and also involving 993 state assembly candidates, apparently afraid of losing, are said to be devising these schemes to ensure they or their preferred candidates emerge victorious.
The allegations started to gain currency owing largely to how some of the governors helped to manipulate the last presidential election to favour their preferred presidential candidates.
In other instances, those whose candidates lost in the February 25 Presidential and National Assembly elections, are said to be girding their loins for the titanic battle to make sure that they prevail in the March 18 governorship and State Houses of Assembly elections.
Some of the results of the February 25 presidential and national assembly elections are believed to have sent shivers down the spines of some governors, a few of who also lost their bid to go to the senate in furtherance of their political career.
For instance, Governors Okezie Ikpeazu (Abia), Samuel Ortom (Benue), Simon Lalong (Plateau) and Ben Ayade (Cross River) – all lost their bid to move on to the senate, as they either lost to the OBIdient Movement through the Labour Party (LP) or the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Consequently, this has shifted the balance of power in many of the states, and in many respects, with the result of the presidential election sending a frightening signal to the governors, who now consider the need to brace up for their own elections before more surprises come their ways.
Not surprising, concerns by the governors have been exacerbated by the strengths of the OBIdient Movement, an idea patterned after the now failed presidential bid of a former Anambra State governor, Peter Obi, but which has undone many political structures and potential dynasties in the country.
It is against the backdrop of the recent political Tsunami, which eventually produced the All Progressives Congress (APC) presidential candidate, Bola Tinubu, as the president-elect, that the governors are now being accused of taking extra-judicial steps to either retain power or ensure their choice candidates coast home to victory this Saturday.
INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, had Tuesday, advised the candidates, their political parties and supporters not to see the polls as a war, but as a contest.
“It is important for parties and candidates to speak to their agents and supporters to see the elections as a contest and not war. They should refrain from acts of violence that may mar the elections or compromise the security of our personnel, observers, the media and service providers,” the INEC chairman had said.
Yakubu had also said the Commission was expecting a coordinated deployment of security, intelligence, law enforcement and safety agencies to quell violence that may arise.
At the same time, the National Security Adviser, Maj-Gen. Babagana Monguno (rtd), had said Saturday's elections were going to be much more complicated.
According to him, “First of all, we are going to have 1,021 constituencies. Meaning, we are going to have more people interested, more people voting, more collation centres and obviously the dynamics will be much more different than the elections that we have just concluded.”
He, therefore, urged political gladiators and individuals to demonstrate maturity and discipline by calling their supporters to conduct themselves in manners that are in sync with the expectation of a larger Nigerian society.
“We must comply with the rules; we must also allow everyone to exercise their fundamental rights as citizens of this country. What we do not want happening is for anybody to take the law into his or her own hands.
“I want to be very clear in this, we are going to give maximum support to all entities involved in this process and we are also calling on the political bigwigs to call their lieutenants to order. Anybody who is itching to undermine this process should please think again. It is not in his own interest; it is not in the interest of the nation as well,” he added.
Although some of the accused governors and their political parties have been refuting the allegations of planning to unleash thugs and other violent act, and in turn, accusing the opposition as stoking potential crisis ahead of the elections this weekend, the alarm raised have yet to subside, nonetheless.
Some of the developments across a few of the concerned states are captured below:
The Edo State chapter of the APC alleged that Governor Godwin Obaseki, had procured military and police uniforms, arms and ammunitions, for both the Edo State Security Network (Vigilante) and members of the Nigeria Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) under the leadership of the newly elected state chairman of the union, Mr. Odion Olaye, to disrupt the House of Assembly elections slated for Saturday March 18.
But Special Adviser to Obaseki on Media Projects, Crusoe Osagie, has dismissed the allegations as tissue of lies,
Addressing journalists at a press conference in Benin City, the state capital, chairman of the party, Col. David Imuse (Rtd), urged the state Police Command and other security agencies to remain vigilant to prevent the state government from using thugs to make the state ungovernable and avoid a backlash from these criminals.
“As at date, Edo is the only state without a functional legislature. March 18, 2023 is therefore seen by many Edo citizens as a golden opportunity to rewrite history of governance in the state and make the government accountable to Edo people,” adding that the governor, aware of his rejection and the PDP, has now embarked on clandestine moves to truncate and cause mayhem before, during and after the elections, particularly in Edo South and Edo Central Senatorial.
But Osagie in his reaction, said the governor was committed to free, fair and credible elections, just as Olaye too has said the governor has never called him for such an assignment, but that the APC had been the one moving from one community to the other,asking them to vote for them with the aim of impeaching the governor.
The governorship candidate of PDP in Cross River State, Professor Sandy Onor, alleged that the ruling APC in the state was preparing to use armed thugs, and fake policemen to rig the governorship, and State House of Assembly elections
Director General, DG, of Sandy Onor Campaign Organisation, Joe Obi Bisong, who spoke to THISADAY yesterday, said credible information at their disposal indicated that the state government, which was bent on imposing his stooge on the state intended to use thugs and fake policemen to intimidate PDP members and their supporters before and during the election.
Bisong said from available information, the APC in the state under Governor Ben Ayade's watch had been preparing fake police uniforms, which they would adorn the thugs they planned to use to rig both elections in local government areas that are traditional strongholds of the PDP.
Reacting to the allegations Special Adviser Media and Chief Press Secretary to governor, Christian Ita, said the PDP knew they would lose the governorship and House of Assembly elections, so “they are shopping for excuses in advance,” saying rather, it was the PDP candidate that was assembling allied forces to save them him obvious failure.
He said the PDP was scared because the APC paraded Prince Bassey Otu, a more popular and credible candidate, loved across the state, saying “It is a season of sweetness in Cross River State,” stressing that the state led by Ayade was not known for political violence, a fact he said was acknowledged by Senator Jarigbe, who described Ayade as a man of honour
The All Progressives Congress and Peoples Democratic Party in Benue, have accused each other of plots to rig the forthcoming governorship election in the State.
The APC, in a statement by its Publicity Secretary, Daniel Ihomun, accused the PDP of plans to boycott BVAS by influencing the reposting of staff of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and instigating violence in APC stronghold through the use of members of Community Volunteers Guards.
A secret meeting was held recently, in Government House where a plan was hatched to rig the Governorship and State Houses of Assembly election that is slated for Saturday, 11/3/2023. The plan is to totally boycott BVAS, influence the reposting of INEC Staff (Polling Officers, Collation Officers and returning Officers), create violence in APC strongholds.”
The plan, he added, included vote buying and the use of members of the recently established Community Volunteer Guards to instigated crisis in border communities to whip up anti-Fulani and religious sentiments amongst the people for political gain.
But the PDP, in its statement by the Publicity Secretary, Bemgba Iortyom, said the governorship election was about the home affairs, stated that the party and its supporters needed extra vigilance to ensure strict compliance with the Electoral Act.
“They (APC) have all reasons to be gripped by the fear they are exhibiting as for sure PDP in Benue under the leadership of Governor Samuel Ortom will not blindly trust in the electoral system put in place and run by APC as we did on February 25th. We will maintain extra-vigilance at the polling units and collation centres and insist at every point on strict compliance with provisions of the electoral act for conduct of the elections
In Kogi, the State Security Adviser, Commodore Jerry Omodara, has said contrary to insinuations that some governors were planning to use thugs to disrupt both the governorship and the House of Assembly elections on Saturday, there was no such plan the state.
Omodara disclosed this in a chat with THISDAY stated that the use of thuggery during elections was a thing of the past, saying, “the level we are in electioneering in Nigeria has gone beyond where thuggery can be used again,' even as he commended government for taking Nigerians to this level.
He added: “It sounds like a rumour. But as far as Kogi State is concerned, the last election should be used as yardstick when there was zero hostilities. We had peaceful election in Kogi state.”
Ogun State, has recorded its own share of allegations that the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and its candidate, Dapo Abiodun, were planning to intimidate members of the opposition parties and also planning other measures to compromise the election.
A group, Egba Patriotic Front (EPF), had in a statement by Olu Adejobi Coker, alleged that Abiodun and APC were planning to give military uniforms to thugs and also bypass BVAS.
“From an impeccable source, we intercepted some strategic communications of the All Progressive Congress (APC) and Governor Dapo Abiodun in a plot to hand out military uniforms to notorious thugs, who have been tormenting the peace of Ogun State in the last four years to disrupt the March 18 governorship election to enable APC rig the poll,” the group claimed, mentioning names of individuals in the conversation, who have vowed to deal decisively, against any person that votes against Abiodun.
Similarly, the PDP in the state, has alleged that Abiodun and his party, APC, were planning to use different means to attack agents of the PDP and scare them from various levels of Collation Centres.
Publicity Secretary of the party, Akjnloye Bankole, in a telephone chat with THISDAY, alleged that the option of the attack at Collation Centres was taken because the APC had realised that it could not do anything untoward at the polling units.
But the African Democratic Congress (ADC), said it had not recorded any case of attack or Intimidation during the campaign of its candidate, Biyi Otegbeye, for the Saturday's election. Media Adviser to the candidate, Bolaji Adeniyi, said the party, was not aware of any threat of attack against any person or party members.
However, the APC Publicity Secretary in the state, Tunde Oladunjoye, described the allegations by the PDP, as ranting of rabble rousers, saying the PDP and its candidates hadseen the hand writing on the wall that there was nothing left for them in the Saturday election.
The situation in Rivers State has peaked as five opposition parties in the state have accused the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) of conniving with the state government officials to subvert the will of the electorate and rig the March 18 governorship and House of Assembly elections in the state, just as INEC has begun distributions of sensitive materials across the local government areas in the state.
The aggrieved parties included Action Alliance, Accord, All Progressives Congress (APC), African Democratic Congress (ADC) and National Rescue Movement (NRM).
The five political parties' governorship candidates led by Mr Tonye Cole, gubernatorial candidate of the APC, made the allegation yesterday during a briefing with journalists in Port Harcourt.
Speaking on the title: “Deliberate plot by top INEC officials to manipulate electoral process, alter and rig the governorship and state House of Assembly elections in favour of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Rivers state', Cole urged the INEC officials to comply with the Electoral Act 2022, its provisions and regulations in the conduct of Saturday, elections in the state.”
The candidates alleged that Governor Nyesom Wike of the state, has directed the council chairmen to ensure that the PDP wins election by manipulating the results at the polling units before they get to the collation centres across the state.
In another breath, hundreds of Rivers women, yesterday, protested to the state office of INEC on Aba Road, Port Harcourt, claiming that some top staff of the commission had allegedly concluded plans to rig the Saturday governorship election in favour of the ruling party in the state.
The women in their black attire, and bearing different placards, decried the alleged role of INEC and some law enforcement agencies in sabotaging the elections, and called for urgent intervention of the Resident Electoral Commissioner, to halt possible manipulation of the election results of this weekend.
The Tinubu/Shettima Presidential Campaign Council in Osun State recently alerted that the INEC and the Inspector-General of Police, Mr Usman Alkali Baba, were in cahoots withGovernor Ademola Adeleke to use a regional security agency, Western Nigeria Security Network (WNSN) otherwise known as Amotekun to rig Saturday's assembly election for the PDP candidates in the state.
A party source who told THISDAY in Osogbo, stated that Governor Adeleke and the leadership of the PDP had concluded arrangements to use the Amotekun corps to rig the election by kitting some political thugs in the outfit of the Amotekun, who would be mobilised to prevent the opposition and their supporters from voting.
The source further confirmed that Adeleke had instructed the newly-employed Field Commander of Amotekun in Osun State, Captain Soji Akanni (rtd), who hailed from Ila-Orangun in the Osun Central Senatorial District of the state, to deploy some of the newly-acquired Amotekun-branded vehicles to the PDP candidates.
Chairman of the Media Committee of the Tinubu/Shettima Presidential Campaign Council in Osun State, Remi Omowaiye, condemned the plan and querried Adeleke and his co-travellers why they thought it was to use the Amotekun corps members to rig the election.
Meanwhile, Osun APC has urged State Police Command to Maintain Neutrality before, during and after the Saturday election.
In Taraba State, there have been allegations and counter-allegations by the ruling PDP and the main opposition APC over plots to rig and scuttle Saturday's elections.
While the APC, through one of its chieftains, Ambassador Hassan Jika Ardo, accused thePDP of planning to rig the election by all means using INEC officials and security agencies, PDP, through its Publicly Secretary, Ande'Tarang Iramea, has accused APC of resorting to violence to scuttle the election.
According to Jika, “The PDP has perfected plans to scuttle the March 18th general election in the state by using INEC officials and security agencies to rig their way through. The plan has been exposed and the electorate are sufficiently sensitised to resist any such attempt.”
He maintained that the PDP was jittery due to the outcome of the presidential election and the general acceptance of APC in the state, saying PDP was bent on perpetuating itself in power having been rejected by the people of the state.
But, in his reaction, Andete'rang expressed shock that the allegations came from APC, which he said was synonymous with cutting corners and undermining due process, and therefore, accused the APC of resorting to violence to win election, citing as instance, the PDP House of Assembly candidate for Donga Constituency, who was attacked during his campaign butescaped being killed by the whisker
APC is corrupt and did not believe in due process that is why they think everyone is like them. Since 1999, PDP has continued to improve on its reputation and it is a party that is committed to playing the game by the rule and will relate with INEC and all security agencies as partners in progress,” he stressed.
Opposition parties in Enugu State, have continued to express worries over threats of violence and thuggery which could mar the outcome of the polls.
At a news conference on March 3, governorship candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) Frank Nweke, alleged that the PDP, had concluded plans to rig the governorship election in the state.
The former minister said the PDP was working with officials of INEC and adhoc staff to bypass the use of BVAS and generally disrupt the governorship and house of assembly elections in the state through the use of thugs to cause mayhem, with a view to dispersing voters at polling units in order to have opportunity to rig the elections, subvert the will of the people to achieve victory at all costs.
Governorship Candidate of the Labour Party, Chijioke Edeoga also raised the alarm that the PDP was planning to use armed thugs, some of whom had been imported to frustrate efforts at free and fair election in the state.
He alleged that the plan was to strategically target areas that were strongholds of the party, disrupt voting and frustrat collation of results as well as ensure that results in polling units were not collated and uploaded to the INEC server, using the legally BIVAS.
The PDP in Akwa Ibom State has denied claim that Governor Udom Emmanuel was threatening traditional Rulers and his aides to deliver the governorship and State House of Assembly candidates in their areas come March 18th polls.
Publicity Secretary of the party, Mr Borono Bassey, told THISDAY yesterday that the state has a very politically enlightened population of people, which meant “you can't compell them to take an action along political lines if they don't, first of all, carefully analyse the merits of such action and how it will further the collective aspirations of the people.
So it is completely preposterous for anyone to allege that the Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Mr Udom Emmanuel will go to the extent of compelling his aides and not to even talk of Paramount Rulers, who are reverred traditional fathers to ensure or forcefully compel people in their respective domains to vote for the governorship candidate of the PDP, Pastor Umo Eno.
A Civil Society Organization (CSO) in the State, the Integrity Alliance for Good Governance, had alleged of plot by the governor to cause traditional rulers and government appointees to ensure the PDP wins the governorship and State House of Assembly elections in their areas.
But a Royal Father, who attended the meeting said the tone used to address them was not conciliatory, but was laced with threats of revoking their certificates if they failed to comply with government directives.