After months of campaigns and preparations by the various stakeholders, voters in Bayelsa, Imo and Kogi states will on Saturday (today) elect their new governors.
In the three states, the Independent National Electoral Commission had revealed that 5,169,692 voters collected their permanent voter cards out of the 5,409,438 registered voters in the three states.
In Bayelsa State, the data on INEC’s website indicated that there are 1,056,862 registered voters, out of which 1,017,613 collected their PVCs, while 39,249 PVCs remained uncollected.
In Imo State, there are 2,419,922 registered voters, out of which 2,318,919 collected their PVCs, while 101,003 PVCs have not been collected. And in Kogi State, out of the 1,932,654 registered voters, 1,833,160 collected their PVCs, leaving 99,494 PVCs uncollected.
Meanwhile, in Bayelsa and Imo states, incumbent governors, Douye Diri and Hope Uzodimma, are respectively seeking re-election, while 18 candidates are jostling to succeed incumbent Governor Yahaya Bello in Kogi State.
In Imo State, the governor and candidate of the All Progressives Congress is contesting against 17 other candidates, with Samuel Anyanwu of the Peoples Democratic Party, and Athan Achonu of the Labour Party described as the top contenders.
Other candidates include Uchenna Okere of Accord Party; Jack Ogunewe of Action Alliance; Ifeanyi Awulonu of African Action Congress; Otumbadi Okoroma of African Democratic Congress; Steve Nwoga of Action Democratic Party; Anthony Ejiogu of All Progressives Grand Alliance; Chibuike Edoziem of Allied Peoples Movement; Obieze Achilike of Action Peoples Party; and Isaac Iwuanyanwu of Boot Party.
Others are Ben Ofunzeh of New Nigeria Peoples Party; Cole Okwara of National Rescue Movement; Ishiodu Uchechukwu of People’s Redemption Party; Bright Ekwebelem of Social Democratic Party; Chino Opara of Young Progressives Party; and Andy Chibuike of the Zenith Labour Party.
While Uzodimma had expressed confidence that he would win the election based on his performance in the last four years, Anyanwu, Achonu and other contenders boasted respectively that they would defeat the governor, saying he had performed woefully in his first term and did not deserve to be re-elected.
In Bayelsa State, the governor and PDP candidate in the election is also seeking re-election. He is contesting against 15 other candidates, with Timipre Sylva of the APC described as the top contender in the race. Sylva is a former governor of the state and is the immediate past Minister of State for Petroleum Resources under former President Muhammadu Buhari.
Other candidates include Eradiri Udengmobofa of the Labour Party; Oguara Nengimonyo of ADP; Ogege Mercy of APP; Idikio Jones of Accord Party, Bufumoh Alex of AA; Kalango Davies of ADC; Subiri Joseph of APGA; Osharikeni Saturday of APM; and Ben Magbodo of Boot Party.
Others include Azebi Ayabeke of the NNPP; Micah Akeems of NRM; Ozato Erepadei of PRP; Osuluku Binaleyefa of SDP and Simeon Karrioru of ZLP.
While the governor said his performance in the last four years would earn him re-election, the other candidates boasted they would win the election following what they described as the governor’s poor performance.
In Kogi State, the race is said to be between APC’s Usman Ododo, PDP’s Dino Melaye, SDP’s Muri Ajaka, and ADC’s Leke Abejide.
Other candidates are Adejo Okeme of the Labour Party, Fatima Suleiman of the ZLP, Musa Mubarak of the NNPP, Muhammed Umar of Boot Party, Onaji Frank of the APP, Isah Dauda of APM, Ilonah Kingsley of APGA, Elukpo Julius of ADP and Buraimoh Olayinka of Action Alliance.
In the three states, there have been incidences of violence with persons killed and some others injured. This had led to anxiety in the states, with the police and other security agencies assuring voters of their safety in the election.
Nsa Promises Security
Meanwhile, the National Security Adviser, Nuhu Ribadu, has assured residents of the three states of their security during the exercise as he warned political actors against any act of violence. He warned that there would be severe consequences for anyone found trying to disrupt the election.
A statement on Friday by the Head, Strategic Communication, Office of the NSA, Zakari Mijinyawa, quoted Ribadu as saying a monitoring system had been established with monitors deployed in the field to collect evidence of violence and irregularities.
The statement noted, “The National Security Adviser assures residents of Kogi, Bayelsa, and Imo states of security preparedness during the elections. He warns against violence by political actors and charges security agencies to adhere to professional code of ethics during the exercise.
“The NSA vows that there will be severe consequences for anyone who is found to have disrupted the conduct of elections or abused his authority. The NSA, who is the Co-Chair of the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security, charged all security, intelligence, and law enforcement officers deployed for election security duties to conduct themselves creditably.”
INEC vows upload
INEC on Friday also restated its readiness to upload polling unit results on its INEC Result Viewing portal, noting that it had made arrangements for land and maritime transportation to ensure that voting commences on time.
INEC’s Resident Electoral Commissioner in Kogi State, Dr Hale Longpet, at a press briefing in Lokoja, the state capital, said, “I wish to call on our officials, both regular and ad hoc, to demonstrate the highest level of patriotism and professionalism. The choice of who becomes the governor of Bayelsa, Imo and Kogi states is entirely in the hands of voters.
“We have delivered all sensitive and non-sensitive materials for the elections. The Bimodal Voter Accreditation System has been configured for deployment to polling units as the only means of voter verification and fingerprint/facial biometric authentication of voters. Polling unit results will be uploaded to the INEC Result Viewing portal.”
INEC offices manned
To avert any breakdown of law and order or any attack on INEC facilities, our correspondents observed heavy security presence at INEC offices in the three states.
In Bayelsa State, there was heavy security at the INEC office in Swali, Yenagoa Local Government Area of the state on Friday when one of our correspondents visited. The entrance to the office was cordoned off by heavily armed soldiers as they mounted a blockade with sandbags, while persons entering the facility were subjected to a thorough search.
Also, three police patrol vans and an Armoured Personnel Carrier were stationed at strategic locations leading to the INEC office. Soldiers were seen around the premises while policemen patrolled major streets of Yenagoa and other communities.
The operatives seen in about three vans, with some hooded, drove dangerously through the Swali axis, near the INEC office, to Ekeki, Azikoro and Okaka axis of Yenagoa, as they chanted warning songs.
Less than 24 hours to the election, violence erupted at the Twon-Brass jetty in the Brass Local Government Area of the state. One of our correspondents learnt that supporters of the APC and PDP clashed over where electoral materials meant for the area would be stored ahead of the election.
The officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission deployed in the area were trying to offload the electoral materials when the violence occurred. It could not be confirmed if the electoral materials were sensitive or non-sensitive items.
Some sources alleged that Brass LG PDP chairman, identified as Bara Daniel, was injured in the head during the scuffle that ensued. It took the intervention of some military personnel to restore normalcy.
In Kogi State, there was also heavy security around the INEC office. One of our correspondents observed on Friday the heavy presence of military, police and Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps personnel in Lokoja, the state capital, as citizens went about their daily activities.
Meanwhile, an APC chieftain in the state, Dr Friday Makama, on Friday debunked reports that he was arrested by soldiers.
Mamaka, who is the Director-General of the Kogi State Special Task Force on Illegal Smuggling of Firearms and other related crimes, said though he was not arrested, some chieftains of the party were arrested at Itobe Bridge along Ajaokuta-Ayingba Road on Friday by military men for allegedly being in possession of certain sum of money.
Also in Imo State, armed security men were also seen around INEC offices in Owerri, the state capital, and the commission’s offices in all the local government areas. A security source told Saturday PUNCH that the numerous attacks on INEC offices in the state necessitated the heavy deployment around the commission’s offices.
Apathy, violence fears
There were fears in many parts of Imo State on Friday that there might be voter apathy following the possible eruption of violence.
Our correspondents who spoke to voters in different parts of the state feared that many people might stay away from the exercise so as not to be victims of violence. Some others also said they had lost confidence in the ability of INEC to conduct credible elections and stay impartial.
A motorist who identified himself as Lucky said he would not vote given the outcome of the 2023 general elections.
“I will not vote in the election. I will stay in my house. I am discouraged by the outcome of the last general election. INEC disappointed Nigerians. It is obvious that our votes will not count.”
There were also fears that the election may not start in some areas as scheduled, given that some ad hoc staff and policemen had yet to board buses that would take them to their places of assignment as of 5pm on Friday.
Some policemen also said they were still waiting to get their allowances and that it would be difficult to operate without funds.
NOA urges participation
The National Orientation Agency has urged residents to come out in large numbers to cast their votes for candidates of their choice without fear of intimidation or harassment.
The NOA Director-General, Lanre Issa-Onilu, in a statement on Friday, said participating in the election was a civic duty and that no voter or resident should succumb to panic or fear.
In the statement signed by the Deputy Director, Press, Paul Odenyi, the DG stressed that choosing leaders who would govern the states for the next four years was a vital responsibility, and that failure to vote for their preferred candidates could be perceived as disinterest in the development of their states.
The statement added, “Our hope is that our enlightenment outreaches have created the much needed condition for massive participation of voters in the election in the three states. We have also interacted with the security agencies, INEC officials and civil society in furtherance of our campaign to achieve minimal voter apathy, curb violence, increase understanding of the new electoral act, and peaceful environment for the election.”
APC tackles PDP
The APC on Friday said there was no iota of truth in the allegation of the PDP that the Imo State governor planned to rig the election.
The rebuttal came in the wake of an appeal for INEC to disqualify the APC candidate for allegedly sponsoring a video against Anyanwu of the PDP in a bid to mislead the electorate.
The appeal was made in a statement by the PDP National Publicity Secretary, Debo Ologunagba.
A viral video circulating on social media on Thursday had claimed that Anyanwu collapsed his structure and asked his supporters to vote for Uzodimma in the poll.
Ologunagba, who labelled the video as fake berated the Imo State governor for allegedly resorting to such strategy to gain an undue advantage.
Reacting to the PDP’s claim, the National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Felix Morka, described the allegation as the ‘latest advertisement of crass irresponsibility’ by the PDP.
In a statement titled ‘Re: Fake video – Your fear of Governor Hope Uzodinma’s popularity won’t stop his re-election’, Morka disclosed that the PDP based its call on a concocted allegation, saying neither Uzodimma nor the APC had an input in the viral video clip.
He stated, “To be crystal clear, neither Governor Uzodimma nor our great party had any hand in making or procuring the making of that video. Our governor and party have been hard at work campaigning to persuade the good Imo electorate to renew our mandate to have any interest or time for such piece of frivolous and unhelpful propaganda.
“At the end of any credible investigation into the video’s origin, we will not be shocked to discover that it was a malicious creation of the PDP in a calculated but futile attempt to smear Governor Uzodimma and our party, exactly as this baseless and senseless allegation sought to do.”
Bayelsa flashpoints identified
An election monitoring group, CellHub, on Friday, urged security agencies, particularly the military, to focus its attention on five flashpoints in Bayelsa State.
While commending the show of force by the security agencies in the last couple of days, the group identified Brass, Nembe, Ogbia, Southern Ijaw and Yenagoa as key flashpoints to watch in terms of electoral violence.
A statement issued in Abuja on Friday by the Executive Director of CellHub, Idris Usman, acknowledged the commitment and professionalism displayed so far by the security personnel deployed to ensure a secure environment for the electoral process.
Usman added that the efforts of the security agencies had contributed significantly in building public confidence and ensuring the smooth conduct of pre-election activities.
He added, “However, as part of our ongoing collaboration to enhance the electoral process, CellHub urges the security agencies to concentrate their efforts in identified flashpoints within certain local government areas. These areas include Brass, Nembe, Ogbia, Southern Ijaw, and Yenagoa local government areas. We have noticed over the last 24 hours reported cases of intimidation and violence in some communities, in particular Brass and Nembe LGs.We call on the citizens of Bayelsa State to cooperate with the security agencies and electoral officials, contributing to the creation of a peaceful and credible electoral environment.”