INEC office razed as Rivers protesters demand fresh polls
The office of the Independent National Electoral Commission in the Emouha Local Government Area of Rivers State was on Saturday night set ablaze by persons believed to be political thugs.
A senior official of the commission confirmed the incident hours after hundreds of All Progressives Congress protesters on Sunday besieged the INEC office in Port Harcourt demanding the conduct of a fresh presidential and National Assembly elections in the state.
The INEC official, who did not want his name in print, said, “I got information from one of our officials that some individuals harassed them before setting the place ablaze on Saturday.
“We are still trying to gather more information on the situation.”
The protesting APC supporters had converged on the Government House in Port Harcourt, around noon before proceeding to the INEC office on Aba Road.
The party supporters, who were led by their governorship, Dakuku Peterside, carried placards some of which read, ''INEC is an arm of Rivers PDP,'' ''There was no election in Rivers,'' ''We must be allowed to vote,'' and ''INEC, conduct election in Rivers State.''
At the gate of the commission's office, they explained that the protest was necessary because they were disenfranchised on Saturday.
Peterside told journalists that there was no election in the state, adding that the Resident Electoral Commissioner, Gecilla Khan, played a ''key'' role in subverting the will of the people.
He said that people did not vote after observing that result sheets were not available.
The APC candidate added, “What you are seeing here are registered voters, who are supporters of the APC. They are here to protest the fact that yesterday (Saturday), they were not allowed to exercise their franchise.
“They got to their various polling booths only to discover that there were no result sheets and without the result sheets, the election cannot be conducted in compliance with the Electoral Law.
“In substance, there were no elections anywhere in Rivers State, at least in 20 Local Government Areas. Apart from the fact that there were no result sheets, the few places where accreditation was done, results were not announced at the polling booths in accordance with the law.
“Results were not collated at the various LGAs; we later heard that results were being collated at various homes around the city of Port Harcourt and the suburbs. We are here to register our protest.
“There were no elections in Rivers State and violence was visited on our people. Over 10 persons died in various locations in Rivers State. Over 65 of our members were arrested by the police and the military.”
Peterside stated that it was wrong to seek the cancellation of the election since, according to him, no election was held in the state.
He expressed sadness that while he and some APC candidates were eager to see the state REC, they were not allowed to enter the office of the commission.
The governorship candidate said, “We are calling for elections and not cancellation because there was no election. All we are asking for is that please, can we vote? There are two different things; we are saying there were no elections at all and not that elections were not held.
“As you can see, we have been here for two hours and they said the REC is not available. Someone who identified himself as the administrative secretary of INEC in Rivers State received our petition.
“But we are insisting that we must see the REC because she played a key role in subverting the will of Rivers people.”
One of the protesters, Nelson Ogujie from Okakin in Ahaoda West LGA, told our correspondent that he did not vote in his polling unit because of the absence of result sheets.
Ogujie explained that they were at the INEC office to express their grievances and call on INEC to conduct a fresh presidential and National Assembly elections in the state.
Also, the lawmaker representing Rivers South East in the National Assembly and the APC senatorial candidate in Saturday's election, Magnus Abe, accused the police and the military of bias.
Abe said he saw some INEC officials putting their thumbprint on ballots in favour of the PDP, adding that when the Caretaker Committee Chairman of Gokana LGA, Kadilo Kabari, raised the alarm, some policemen descended on him.
He added that the PDP National Chairman, Adamu Mu'azu, would have conducted a fair and credible election than the state REC.
The Senator added, “I was nearly killed. I am from Ward 16 in Gokana LGA. There was no election in my ward. In Gokana, there was no election. People could not vote.
“Even when people were accredited, when they wanted to vote and they asked of the result sheets to collate whatever they voted, there was none. People came, shot guns and carted away the materials.
“So, I went to the police station with my local government council chairman to brief the SSS and when we go there, all the so-called INEC staff were all PDP members and they were there in the police station, thumbprint on ballots.
“The council chairman then called the police to say 'what is happening in your station? And you call yourself a policeman. These hoodlums descended on him. He is currently in the hospital.”
However, the state chapter of the PDP described the call by the supporters for fresh elections as “a behaviour of bad losers.”
The PDP, in a statement by the Special Adviser to the state Chairman Jerry Needam, denied allegation of violence against APC members.
According to the party , the allegation was diversionary and orchestrated by the APC to disrupt the elections when it became clear that the PDP was coasting to victory.
A part of the statement reads, “On the other hand, it is the APC that has been investing in violence in the state. A few examples will show. In Gokana LGA of the state, armed members of the APC in Bera, the home town of Senator Abe and Victor Giadom, went to the home of one of the PDP stalwart and the former PDP governorship aspirant, Dumbari Ben-Dimkpa, and burnt down his house.”
The PDP however hailed the conduct of the elections in the state, saying the results reflected the wish of the people.
“Rivers State is a traditional PDP state and even if the elections are conducted a million times, the PDP will win here. Was the APC expecting Rivers people to vote for another presidential candidate other than President Goodluck Jonathan? That must be a wishful thinking.”
Observers floor elections in Rivers
A group of international observers has however declared that violence and widespread irregularities characterised the exercise in the state.
The observers, who spoke with newsmen in Port Harcourt on Sunday, added that the elections faced the challenge of faulty card readers.
Jennifer Lynne, who is the leader of the Contact Project, United States, pointed out that many polling units were compromised due to the handling of the election materials.