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INEC, PARTIES, POLICE PERFECT POLLS PLAN, WARN AGAINST VIOLENCE

By NBF News
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AMID persistent political violence in some parts of the country, elective office seekers and other party leaders yesterday appealed to their followers to refrain from acts that can affect the smooth conduct of the April polls, which begins with National Assembly elections on Saturday.

The police have also scaled up their preparations for the polls as they continued the deployment of officers and men across the federation yesterday.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) also continued the distribution of non-sensitive materials to the hinterland. Its officials said aircraft and boats would be used to deploy personnel and materials so that the polls can kick off almost at the same time throughout the country, adding that they were working hard to end the late arrival syndrome in the commission's operations.

For states and cities, classified as flash-points, the police authorities are deploying more officers and equipment to them.

Among the states regarded as flash-points or prone to political violence are Akwa Ibom, Bauchi, Benue, Borno, Jigawa, Ondo, Oyo, Ekiti, Osun, and Plateau states.

While 7,000 officers will monitor the polls in Plateau, 5,200 policemen will assist the INEC in Bauchi in the conduct of the exercise.

The decision by the police to send more personnel to these states was allegedly informed by the high incidence of political violence that they have recorded since the party's primaries were concluded.

Although Plateau has fewer cases of political violence, its inclusion in the list is believed to have been informed by the recurring ethno-religious crises, which police say political opportunists could capitalise on to foment trouble.

Meanwhile, the Police Assistance Committee (PAC) has pledged to mobilise its members to assist the police and INEC in the conduct of the April polls.

The group has held seminars and workshops for its members, where they were tutored on how to work with the political parties and INEC officials before and during the elections so that they can pass vital security information to the police and other security agencies to forestall rigging.

In spite of the intense preparations by the police, there were still pockets of violence in some states. In Kantanga, Warji Local Council of Bauchi State, supporters of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) took up one another in a fierce battle, leading to four people being killed, 20 houses torched while five cars were burnt.

The state Commissioner of Police, Muhammad Indabawa, who confirmed the clash, said no life was lost in the incident and that peace has since been restored in the area. But residents claimed that there were casualties.

The chairman of the ACN in the area, Suleiman Garba, accused members of the ruling PDP of being responsible for the attack, adding that property belonging to his party members, particularly those of the House of Representatives member from Ningi/Warji Federal Constituency, Uba Ahmed Nana, and those of his relatives, were burnt.

Garba alleged that the PDP supporters, who accompanied the Bauchi Central Senatorial District candidate, Ahmed Abdul Ningi to the area for campaign, ambushed the ACN supporters and wounded them.

In his reaction, the chairman of Warji Local Council, who is also the House of Representatives' candidate, Abdulrazak Nuhu Zaki, denied shooting anyone during the clash, but confirmed that ACN and PDP supporters burnt houses belonging to both parties.

Indabawa yesterday confirmed that 5,200 men and officers of the police have been detailed to monitor the election on Saturday.

At a media briefing in the Officers' Mess in Bauchi yesterday on the command's preparations for the election, Indabawa said any policeman who connives with politicians to manipulate the election would be sanctioned.

According to him, a meeting with all political parties/candidates in the state will hold tomorrow with a view to compelling them to call their followers to order.

Also, the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) presidential standard bearer, Malam Ibrahim Shekarau, has said the party has not recorded any political violence since the current campaigns started.

Pre-election violence, which is threatening the April elections seem to have taken over the real campaign on issues with a do-or-die syndrome infecting most of the political parties with scores of lives lost and many others maimed.

Shekarau stated this in Dutse, Jigawa State, when his campaign train berthed there yesterday. He said his campaign visit to the emir was only to familiarise himself with the historic house and not to sell himself to the people as according to him, 'we need not campaign for our party in Jigawa.'

The Emir of Dutse, Alhaji Muhammadu Nuhu Sunusi, who received Shekarau, said the 'home-coming of the Kano State governor only signified that he is still part of the palace and on the other hand a politician per excellence.'

At a national conference organised by the Nigeria Police on the theme: 'Partnering the Police for free, fair and credible 2011 elections,' PAC Director-General, Dr. Martins Oni, stressed the need for team work among all the stakeholders to ensure that Nigeria gets the electoral process right this time around.

In a paper titled: 'Policing and information management in election process,' which he presented at the event held in Asaba, Delta State, Oni said going by 'our previous experience on past elections, it was imperative that our security operatives, particularly the police, who are solely responsible for security matters should be assisted through timely information dissemination on what goes on among politicians and their cohorts who may be scheming to undermine the electoral process.'

The PAC boss noted that election times are crucial periods when information should be well managed and processed for effective usage in order to protect the sanctity of our elections, adding that the craftiness of our politicians does not help matters as they always have a mindset to manipulate the electoral system in whatever manner they may deem fit.

Also, the Benue State governorship candidate of the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP), Mr. Baba Agan, has called on politicians in the state to desist from using violence to intimidate the electorate ahead of the general elections.

In an interview with journalists in Makurdi yesterday, Agan regretted that some politicians had heightened tension in the state by promoting political violence, which had made it difficult for peace-loving politicians to carry out their campaigns.

INEC officials in Plateau State yesterday hinted that 7,000 policemen would be deployed in the state to maintain law and order during the general elections.

The commission also said that field electoral officers in the country have been swapped to ensure free and fair elections. Policemen would be stationed at all polling units.

INEC's Head of Public Affairs in the state, Mr. Bencyn Ikpe, disclosed this yesterday at an interactive session with political stakeholders. He said the commission had been speaking with the leadership of the Special Task Force (STF), the Police, the Civil Defence Corps, Immigration, Customs and State Security Service (SSS), who have assured that electoral officials, materials and the electorate would be adequately protected.

Ikpe said people going to cast their votes will not be allowed to carry sensitive information gadgets such as GSM phones, cameras and other devices. He was however quick to add that journalists are exempted from the ban.

This information on use of camera phones by Ikpe seems outdated as the Police High Command had refuted the ban on the use of camera phones at polling booths.

He revealed that about 297 camps have been provided to forestall late arrival of electoral materials, which would be kept near the wards.