WACOL, IFES decry high rate of electoral violence in South-East

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A civil society organisation, Women’s Aid Collective (WACOL), has in partnership with the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), presented their 2019 general elections violence report, lamenting  the high rate of violence in some parts of South-East.
Presenting the report of the Nigeria Election  Violence Report (NEVR) project for the 2019 general elections in Nigeria to newsmen at the Dannic Hotel,  Enugu on Friday, the facilitator,  Dr Malachy Ochie, said that the project was envisioned to develop the capacity of civil society to monitor, analyze and respond to incidents of election-related conflict/violence before, during and after the elections in Nigeria; as well as to promote collaboration and dialogue between election stakeholders in order to mitigate and/or prevent election violence.
 In Imo State, Dr Ochie  said in their mapping report, they had classified the entire Imo State as a conflict-prone state and the sore thumb of the South-East in terms of expected political conflicts during the general elections.
“Imo State did not disappoint on this score. Our monitors in Imo State report massive violence in virtually all the councils of the state during the elections. For instance, during the Presidential and National Assembly elections, Orlu zone of the state was literally set ablaze. The Governor was allegedly said to have held the REC hostage and forced the REC to announce him as winner of the senatorial election.
The election in this part of Imo State was adjudged by observers and our monitors to be fraught with irregularities such as ballot snatching, invasion of polling units and harassment of voters by thugs. Shortly before the governor’s arrival, our monitor reported how a journalist, duly accredited to cover the polls, was harassed and briefly detained by the thugs acting on the orders of the governor. This happened in the presence of two female police officers at the collation centre”.
He disclosed that during the governorship and House of Assembly elections, their monitors reported palpable tension on the day of the election after political thugs murdered a party agent.
“The murder took place in Nkwerre Local Government Area of the state. The killing, one of our monitors stated, made voters who had yet to cast their votes to flee the area. Our monitor reported that the murdered party agent, whose identity had yet to be ascertained, had engaged in an argument with some other party agents in one of the polling units.
The party agent, who had left the polling unit after the argument, was ambushed by political thugs who shot him dead.”
The facitator said the  Police Public Relations Officer in the State, Orlando Ikeokwu,  confirmed the killing. He said that the police had taken over the investigation.
The PPRO said: “I can confirm that a party agent was shot dead at Nkwerre. We have swiftly responded and taken over the investigation process.”
He added that outside some pockets of violence, the security architecture of the state is wonderful. The security agencies are on top of the situation. We have made a couple of arrests including arrest of fake policemen and military men at Umuobom in the Ideato South LGA.
“Despite the assurances by the police, our monitors in Imo state observed that the worsening security environment in the State reached a frightening dimension on the eve of the March 9 elections.
The Executive Director, Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre and Convener, NCSSR, Clement Nwankwo, collaborated our monitors report when he remarked that reports at his organizations disposal confirmed partisanship of security agencies in the discharge of their duties, harassing and intimidating candidates, their supporters and voters, he said. 
“Generally, our monitors reported massive ballot box snatching in Nkwere, Ideato, Oguta, Mbaise and Isiala Mbano. There was also a high level of harassment, threat and intimidation of ad-hoc staff and electoral officers by military men and police men during the cause of the election. Across the voting centres in Imo, most of the Ad-hoc staff especially corps members carried out their duties in fear. 
Even before the elections, our monitors reported of political assassination in Logara community and some other areas of the State. The monitors report that the level of political assassination in Imo state is under-reported and this could continue after the elections. Vote buying was also a common trend in Imo State more than in other state in the southeast.   
In  Enugu State,   Dr Ochie  said that their 
members  monitored the pre-election activities (including primaries and campaigns) as well as the elections proper and reported  that, “Much as Enugu State cannot be numbered among states with propensity for election violence, the monitors identified potential flash points across the states particularly in Nsukka area, Greater Awgu and Nkanu areas. 
“Actually tensions ran high during the campaigns with campaign vehicles belonging to both the PDP and APC were set ablaze by suspected political thugs. These incidents were reported to the Police but nobody has been arrested or queried concerning the incidents ”
He went on to say, that there were also cases of defacing or destruction of campaign banners by suspected hoodlums. All these and tough talking by politicians created a tense atmosphere in the State prior to the elections proper. reports from our monitors during the presidential and national assembly elections as well as the Governorship and State House of Assembly Elections indicate a relatively peaceful electoral process in the State, safe some isolated cases of conflicts in some polling units and collation centres.
Ochie  noted that their monitors in Enugu State followed the sorting out of election materials including the sensitive and non-sensitive materials. They reported that all the party agents were in attendance during this process. There were no incidences of violence even during the distribution of election materials to the various RACs. However, tension built up in most RACs through the activities of some over-zealous party supporters. This was almost the case in all the polling units. In places like Mmaku (PUs 14), Nkwe and Obeagu, there were incidences of conflict, which were later brought under control. There were also incidences of conflicts in Nsukka area particularly at the residence of the APC Governorship candidate where one election observer was shot dead under very unclear circumstances. This is about the most significant incidence of violence in Enugu State. 
On the conduct of the security personnel, our monitors reported an excellent performance and professionalism. They did not meddle with the process. 
On the part of INEC officials, malfunctioning of card readers especially during the presidential and national assembly elections, created enormous tensions in many polling centres but no untoward incidents were recorded. Our monitors also reported that INEC officials adhered strictly to their mandate and many of them refused to be compromised. There was no reported case of ballot box snatching. In truth, the 2019 elections in Enugu State were peaceful and devoid of any serious conflicts. 
In Abia State, there was a different scenario from Enugu State.” In our mapping report earlier submitted to IFES, we had identified Abia North Senatorial zone as a serious flash point of conflict especially Bende, Igbere, Nkporo and Arochukwu areas. Our monitors in Abia State report that even before the elections proper, these areas had been heated up because of the political heavyweights from opposing political camps.” 
“There are reports of security personnel getting involved in the electoral process, sporadic shootings by political thugs, and incidences of ballot box snatching or creating sufficient confusion to scare voters away. One of our monitors reported the invasion of INEC ward collation centre by armed thugs in Police uniform,” he said.
According to him,  the incident happened in Azuinyaba Ward B PU 004 Azuofia Primary School, which is the ward collation centre. Around 5.20pm on the 23/2/19 during the presidential and NASS election, while sorting and counting were on, a group of armed police men stormed the collation centre and carted away the already sorted ballot papers. This happened in the full glare of the voters.  
In Ohuhu area of Umuahia North LGA, Abia State, our monitor reported cases of crisis/violence both in the national and state level elections on account of malfunctioning card readers and the insistence by some politicians and their agents to resort to manual accreditation. Secondly, INEC ad-hoc staff arrived late to the polling centres in Ohuhu; even when the voters had trooped out early for the election. The anger by voters of coming out early coupled with the late arrival of INEC as well as the dysfunctionality of the card readers combined to create enormous tension that generated heated argument among the agents of various political parties, which led to pushing and shoving. All these led to disruption of the voting process. 
Security operatives were not much in these areas and in some polling units, our monitors reported that there was just one unarmed policeman or Civil Defence man. The rowdy nature in these   polling units overwhelmed each security personnel in the booth and in most cases they lost control. Our monitors also reported incidences of vote buying and voter-intimidation by political thugs in Ohuhu and Ndume areas of Umuahia North LG of Abia State
In Ebonyi State in their  earlier mapping report,Dr Ochie  told newsmen that they  identified most parts of Ebonyi State as potential high risk areas of election violence especially Izzi, Ohaozara, Onicha, Afikpo, Ikwo, Abakaliki Urban and Onueke Ezza areas, the elections in Ebonyi was relatively peaceful.
According to him,   in Ebonyi, the elections (both the national and state elections) were marred in some areas by violence and incidences of vote buying and use of PVCs by persons who are not the real owners of the cards”.The impersonation by certain persons as owners of PVCs belonging to either dead or absent relatives, opposing party agents disagreed and this in most polling units nearly degenerated to fights but the policemen  were on hand to control the situation. 
‘Our monitors in Ebonyi State reported various forms of crisis/violence in Ohaukwu, Ohaozara, Ebonyi, Ivo, Abakaliki, Afikpo South, Afikpo North, Izzi, Ishielu, Ikwo, and Onicha Local Government Areas of the State, where the use of card readers was abandoned and there were reports of massive thumb-printing of ballot papers, pre-writing of results, denial of party agents access to polling units, use of hoarded PVCs, over voting and violence orchestrated by political thug, .”he said.  
In Ezza North LG, elections did not hold in three Registration Areas due to disruptions by armed political thugs who destroyed election materials in the early hours of Saturday, March 9th 2019. Our monitors listed the affected wards and polling units to include Ekka with code number 02, having 16 voting points with 137 polling units and Oriuzor with code number 09 with 32 voting points. According to one of our monitors, 15,452 registered voters in the ward did not participate in the elections in Ezza North East state Constituency. Our monitors also reported that Okposi Umuoghara in Ezza North West constituency was also one of the RACs where sensitive election materials were set ablaze by the suspected hoodlums. The total voting points in this area, according to our monitors are 75 and the total number of registered voters affected is 36,392.
One death was recorded in Ugwulangwu while in Okposi and Uburu communities there was fracas by opposing party supporters, which led to grievous injuries. The Police arrested some persons and are continuing with investigations. The Security agents conducted themselves very well and never interfered with the process. INEC officials were also reported to have been prompt and alive to their duties; though issues related to malfunctioning card readers also presented challenging circumstances to peaceful conduct of the polls. 

The Facilitator reported that in Anambra State before the national elections , there were violent incidences that portended serious danger to the election in the State.
“Our monitor in Awka reported that on February 12th 2019 (just few days to the Presidential and National Assembly elections), huge quantity of Smart Card readers were burnt by a mysterious fire that ravaged the INEC headquarters at Awka Anambra State.  Two metal containers filled with smart card readers for use in the general election were engulfed by mysterious fire at the Anambra headquaters. 
The incidence happened at the time when the Resident Electoral Comissioner and his senior workers were holding a stakeholders meeting at the Women Development Centre Awka. The cause of the fire remains unknown. Equally, there were reports of vandalization of campaign posters and billboards by suspected political thugs all across the State.
Given this scenario, it was expected that the elections in Anambra State would be marred by violence. However, reports from our monitors indicated a different outcome.
In real terms, elections (national and State elections) in Anambra State were relatively peaceful in some areas but violent in others. There were incidences of vote buying and using PVCs allegedly bought from voters. For instance, our monitor reports that in Nri area, police arrested some individuals that came to create confusion in the early hours of the day when election just started, making voters to flee.  At Unit 6, some unknown boys (about 10 of them) came in a bus to the unit to cast vote with hired voters cards which were not theirs and not also their polling unit, but unfortunately for them while they were in line, before they could cast their vote, alarm was raised and they all took to their heels and ran away in their bus while the security agent calmed down agitated voters and guarded the area more jealousy. 
At Poling Units 027 and 028 of Umunnowu village in Anaocha LG of Anambra State, violence erupted in I & II when 4 men with pistols stormed the poling units and began shooting into the air. The voters displayed courage when they confronted the thugs and eventually apprehended and handed them over to men of the Civil defense Corps. Similarly, at Poling Unit 026 in Ezinano Ward 2, the Presiding Officer was forcefully taken into a get-away vehicle by some political thugs. This created a lot of confusion leading to disruption of the voting process. However, the prompt intervention of security operatives and community stakeholders saved what could have been a bloody confrontation from PDP supporters. Even with the presence of the security operatives in this area, our monitors reported high incidence of vote buying/ inducement. 
In Awka area, our monitors reported relative calm during the presidential and national assembly elections safe the tensions generated by malfunctioning card readers and incidences of vote-buying especially in the following areas: Umuzocha Ward 2 (Polling Units 004, 005 and 006); Akoghelli Ward (here incidences of vote buying were reported), Okpuno Okochi Ward 3(Polling Unit 008) and other places where card readers could not function. Our monitors also reported that Security Operatives at these centres helped to reduce tensionband maintain orderliness at these polling units. They showed discipline and professionalism and never interfered in the process. 
The House of Assembly Election in the State on the 9th of March did not record any untoward incidents in terms of violence but vote buying was rampant especially at Amawbia, Nibo, Igwedimma Primary School  and other places like Onitsha, Nkwelle, Otuocha, Ayemelum and Ogbaru. Again, the Security Operatives demonstarted professionalism and ensured peaceful conduct of the process. 
Ochie  stated that ,reports from their  monitors concentrated on the conduct of the process of the election especially in the field. “Apart from reported incidences of violence in places like Ebonyi, Abia and Imo, our monitors equally reported large scale vote buying and voter-intimidation by political thugs. 
The security operations received plaudits in some areas and knocks in other areas. But it is noteworthy that many of these monitors could not gain access to major collation centres in most of the states and so could not report on the conduct of the process in those State Collation, “he said. 
He recalled that   WACOL covered the southeast region, engaged and trained monitors throughout hotspot states in the region during the pre-election, Election Day and post-election periods. In collaboration with the r local-level partners we also distributed public awareness materials and engaged in public education. 
The facilitator explained that the combination of activities helped to strengthen partners’ ability to reinforce peace in their communities and to help prevent tensions from escalating into violence. 
 He thanked IFES for creating NEVR website, a kind of situation room that housed SMS-based reporting from monitors in the project. This helped in no small measure to improve upon previous conflict reporting because it gave the public and other stakeholders near-instant access to incidents around the country as well as a variety of other election-related information. 
Ochie said that the core objectives of the collaboration with IFES include
increasing public knowledge and awareness of the dangers of election violence before, during and after elections.
Increasing the participation and involvement of election stakeholders in the mitigation and prevention of election violence
Increasing the capacity of CSOs and electorates to monitor and prevent electoral violence.

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