By Kayode Sanni-Arewa
The National Human Rights Commission on Sunday, said it would invite Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State and the Chairman of Lagos State Parks Management Committee, Musiliu Akinsanya a.k.a. MC Oluomo for questioning, following their behaviours and alleged inciting comments during the 2023 general election.
The PUNCH reports that a day before the Presidential and National Assembly elections held, on February 25, Bello allegedly ordered bulldozers to demarcate a road, linking Kogi Central Senatorial District.
The move was seen as an alleged ploy to prevent officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission from taking election materials to the stronghold of his political rival, and candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Natasha Akpoti-Uduaghan.
On his part, MC Oluomo was alleged to have warned the Igbo in Lagos to stay indoors, if they would not vote for Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu and the All Progressives Congress. MC Oluomo has however debunked this.
Answering questions from journalists after reading its preliminary statement of the 2023 Governorship and State Assembly elections, the Executive Secretary of the NHRC, Tony Ojukwu, said both Bello and MC Oluomo would be invited for interrogation.
He said, “We are monitoring the cyber space to track hate speeches and cyber bullying. Part of the sources of our information is the cyber space. We'll invite MC Oluomo for questioning because his statement is worrisome. I listened to the Commissioner of Police in Lagos State yesterday, (Saturday), and he said they were investigating the matter. But that will not stop the Commission from carrying out its mandate. We will also invite Kogi State governor for questioning over what happened in Kogi State.”
According to him, the Commission, as part of its mandate to promote and protect human rights, deployed 600 staff human right monitors across the 36 states for the governorship and House of Assembly elections.
He said the preliminary report highlighted key findings from monitoring over 1300 polling units by the commission's staff and reports, and complaints received from Nigerians in its Human Rights Situation Room.
The Commission, during the election, according to him, also monitored, among other issues relating to the conduct of law enforcement and security personnel, hate speech, election related Sexual and Gender Based Violence and vote buying.
Ojukwu stressed, “The environment before the election was fraught with tension, arising from reports and allegations of threats from different political parties and their supporters concerning the elections.
Ethnic division and hate speeches were rife in many states, including Lagos, Enugu, Kano, Kaduna and Rivers. This led to the publication by the NHRC of an ‘Advisory on Hate Speech Based on Ethnic and Religious Sentiments and 2023 General Elections in Nigeria,' on March 16, 2023.
“In Lagos, Enugu, Ebonyi and a few other states, there were threats of violence on opposition supporters, including the use of traditional institutions, schools and the public service.
The advisory highlighted areas of concern for the Commission and recommended steps to be taken by the various agencies to address the issues before, during and after the elections,” Ojukwu added.
He continued, “Compared to the Presidential and National Assembly election of February, the Governorship and House of ASsembly elections witnessed a low voter turnout.
In states like Niger, Kwara, Benue and Kogi, the turn out was abysmally low, and in almost all the southeastern states, low turn out was also recorded.
“It is important to note that the NHRC in its monthly Review Forum on Human Rights and the 2023 elections warned that the consequences of the hitches and irregularities recorded in the presidential election were capable of increasing voter apathy. It is also important to note that threats of violence prior to the elections may also have played a major factor.
“Our monitors reported incidents of violence, including cases of assault, vandalism, destruction of election materials and polling units in 16 per cent of the polling units monitored.
There were reports from Rivers State of hoodlums attacking INEC officials and stealing the BVAS device and election materials,” the NHRC boss further informed.
He stressed, “There were also reported cases of abduction of INEC Officials in Isu LGA of Imo State and attacks on INEC officials in Odoakpu Ward 7, Onitsha in Anambra State.
There were also various reports of attacks on polling units from Lagos, Rivers, Nasarawa and Enugu states. In Kano State, there was a report of violence in Rogo Ward of Sabo Gari Local Government Area that led to the death of one person.
“The Commission also received reports of disruption of elections in Ogbia Constituency 2 in Ogbia Local Government Area of Bayelsa State. This resulted in no elections in four wards and 94 polling units. There was also a report of ballot box snatching in Enugu East LGA.
“The Commission received with great concern, the attack on the ARISE News crew at Elegushi Palace. We call on law enforcement to investigate these and other incidents of violence and bring perpetrators to book.
The Commission received reports of the killing of thugs in Lagos, Katsina and Benue states, Labour Party agents in Lagos,” it said and cautioned, “Elections are not war and no life should be lost in the process of elections.
“Our monitors reported that there were incidents of voter suppression in 11 per cent of areas monitored. Thirty-two polling units did not have results corresponding with the number of accredited voters. This also suggests that there may have been cases of voter suppression or other irregularities in these units.
We will investigate these incidents further to ensure that voters' rights are protected. In Lagos, there were reports of disenfranchisement of voters, based on ethnic grounds and perceived opposite political persuasion. This has become a worrisome trend which should be checked.
“Vote-buying was reported in 14 per cent of polling units monitored by the NHRC monitors. Our monitors also reported 192 incidents of vote-buying, which is a disturbing trend in our electoral process. The Commission received reports of vote-buying from Imo, Zamfara, Cross River and Kano states.
The Managing Director of Kano line was allegedly arrested for vote-buying at Masaka polling unit, Kofar-Mazugal ward, Dala- LGA, Kano State. It has also been reported that operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency arrested vote buyers in Ogun and Kaduna states respectively,” the NHRC reported.