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Polls critical to us, determine our future, says Rivers residents

[FILE PHOTO] INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu

In Lagos, Chibuzo Okwudili has been mobilising people to go out and vote today, “but more importantly, not to waste their votes.”

A number of people expressed their disappointment in INEC for inability to obtain their PVCs, despite the extensions. Chioma Eze said: “The election is here already and it simply means I cannot participate in the election.

“I wish I could, because I am really upset about the situation of this country and if my vote and the votes of a number of people who still couldn’t get their PVCs would not count, then we would all miss out in voting for our preferred candidates.

“Nigeria needs a saviour to deliver us from the excruciating agony we the citizens go through day-in day-out because our country isn’t working. We don’t have the least basic infrastructures, electricity and good road. They keep hoarding prepaid meters and if you want it by all means, you would be made to pay through your nose, a ridiculous amount of money for something that should be given free of charge.

“Lack of electricity has contributed to increment in market price and a number of other things done with electricity, as people have to settle for generators.

“So, for me, any candidate that would solve the issue of electricity and the terrible roads we have in this country that cause traffic bottlenecks and delay in input and output is who I would have loved to vote for if I had a PVC. Unfortunately, I and others who do not have PVCs will just sit in our homes and hope that somehow, God intervenes in the election.”

Ondo: Govt, Others Assure Of Peace Despite All Odds 
From Oluwaseun Akingboye, Akure 

As the general elections commence today with the presidential and National Assembly elections, the anxiety that heralded the polls is gradually fading away in some areas and heightened in others.

In Ondo State, residents prayed for violence-free, fair and credible polls. 

Aside the rancour within the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), some residents who spoke with The Guardian expressed misgivings about the elections, especially political inactivity even among the candidates of the ruling party in the state. 

A civil servant, Adewale Olumoyega, said: “The atmosphere has been too dull, hardly would you notice that the state is preparing for major elections. There are no campaigns or the usual fanfare as it used to be. 

“Two months before election in previous years, everywhere would be agog with political activities, but the whole state was just as quiet as if is nothing happened.”

Olumoyega, who expressed deep fear over the neutrality of major institutions in the elections, said the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is not doing enough, in terms of voter education and sensitisation.

A social analyst and President of Movement for the Survival of the Underprivileged (MOSUP), Dappa Maharajah, rather believed politicians were only being strategic in their approaches, adding: “The traditional approach to election over the years is fast taking another dimension.

“We found out that the candidates were being meticulous with spending that characterised campaigns and other pre-election activities in previous years. It shows that they are hoarding money for ‘see and buy’ at the polls.

“Every candidate, regardless of political party, feels he/she cannot waste money before election and run short of cash to buy the voters. It is axiomatic; they are all saving up for ‘see and buy’ of votes.”

Another issue that kept the people on tenterhooks was the alarm raised by the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that APC had hatched plans to use ex-Niger Delta militants to influence the elections in the state. 

Unlike the usual rush that characterised past elections, other tribes in the state, especially the Hausa/Fulani and Igbo in Akure seemed comfortable and unperturbed about the election; hence many did not travel to their various states ahead of today’s elections. 

A cobbler, Abubakar Adamu, from Kebbi State, said he was prepared for the elections and had no plan to travel to his home state. 

Adamu, who is the Chairman of cobblers association in the state, noted that since the presidential poll was mainly between two northerners, there would be no trouble and he would vote for one of them. 

“As for me and many of my colleagues, we are not afraid and would not be travelling back to the north; we will cast our votes here and a better candidate shall win the election. There will be no crisis, Insha’Allah. The elections would come and go peacefully, a better candidate will emerge victorious. Atiku and Buhari are brothers, so there will be no fight.”

Meanwhile, the INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) in Ondo State, Chief Rufus Akeju, affirmed the commission’s readiness to conduct the polls in all the 18 councils and 3,009 units, disclosing that 1, 828, 219 voters were registered. 

Contrary to some misgivings, the REC explained that INEC was fully prepared for today’s exercise, in collaboration with security agencies, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and major stakeholders to ensure a peaceful, credible and free poll. 

Akeju, who declared zero tolerance for vote buying, noted that the Smart Card Readers would be used to confirm and verify that the PVC presented by the voter is genuinely issued to the holder by INEC. 

“We are reviewing the administration of polling units to enhance secrecy of votes by locating the voting cubicle outside the glare of party agents.

“We are also enhancing the ability of visually impaired person to votes without assistance and addressing abuses in the process of assisted voting for non-literates voters, who will be requesting such assistance to protect the secrecy of their votes.

“So, we shall be collaborating with security and law enforcement agencies on monitoring, arrest, investigation and prosecution of offenders to put an end to election related criminal acts, especially within the vicinity of our polling units,” he said.

Aside the crisis-prone Niger Delta (Ondo North) area of the state, Owo Council, where Governor Rotimi Akeredolu hails from, is one of the hot spots in the state.
Akeredolu has expressed optimism that the elections would be credible, free and fair, adding: “I implore local and foreign journalists, the media, organisations, social commentators, etc to be objective in their reportage.”

‘I Have Been Disenfranchised Because I Could Not Pick My PVC’
From Charles Ogugbuaja, Owerri

AHEAD of the elections, the Imo State Resident Electoral Commission (REC) of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Francis Chukwuemeka Ezeonu, said sensitive and non-sensitive electoral materials had been taken to the 106 Registration Area Centres (RACs)/Collation Centres, as against the council headquarters, as in the past. 

On Monday, all the Electoral Officers (EOs) in the councils, alongside other staffers at the commission’s headquarters in Owerri, including Ezeonu, swore to an oath of “Reaffirmation of Neutrality,” reassuring that they would be unbiased during and after the polls.

Out of the about 2.27 million registered voters, about 540,000 PVCs were uncollected as at Monday.

The Police have assured that more personnel would be deployed to identified flashpoints, such as Ohaji/Egbema and Oguta Councils, based on antecedents.

Another challenge is the inability of some registered voters to obtain their PVCs during the period of collection, even the three-day extension, which ended on Monday, February 11. One of them victims, John, said: “I went to the collection points to pick my PVC, but each time I went, they said my card was not there, despite that I registered there. I spent money on each visit, yet I did not receive it. I will stay back home during elections.”

Ikechukwu expressed disgust and frustration, saying: “As it stands, I cannot exercise my civic right. I have been disenfranchised because I could not pick my PVC, despite frequent visits to get it at my area.”

A member of the state House of Assembly, Oliver Enwerenem, charged: “INEC must be transparent. If the results are manipulated, the country will be dragged into serious break down of law and order. The stability of this country now is dependent on the actions and inactions of INEC. 

“The INEC chairman will earn national and international recognition and respect and write his name in gold if he conducts credible and transparent election.”

Despite the above, the mood of the people was expectant, as they expressed their readiness to cast their votes for their preferred candidates.

‘There Is No Need For Violence’
From Isa Abdulsalami Ahovi, Jos

Plateau State is one of the hotbeds of political activities in the country, as the residents are politically conscious and well enlightened of political development in the state and the country in general.

As a result, the mood in the state is pensive with palpable anxiety, with some people praying to God for the victory of their preferred candidates.

George Alfred, a resident of Jos, wondered why people should indulge in violence when election results do not favour them, saying: “Whether you are APC or PDP or whatever political party one belongs, you should embrace your opponents, whether they win or lose.

“There is no need for violence; if the opponent wins the position you are also vying for, embrace him/her. The spirit of sportsmanship should carry the day, because you are all trying to develop your state or country whatever happens.

“So, to me, it is an act of ignorance and lack of political education and enlightenment that will lead some people who lose elections to start inciting people to violence.”

The state Police Command has deployed 5,000 personnel to ensure peaceful and successful conduct of today’s elections.

Commissioner of Police, Isaac Akinmoyede, said the personnel would be deployed to various polling units, voting points and collation centres, not to intimidate the public or create anxiety, but to ensure a peaceful, successful and free conduct of the elections.

He assured that the officers and men so deployed are highly professional and competent and would ensure a level-playing ground for all political parties, warning that anyone caught violating electoral rules and breaching public peace would be made to face the full wrath of the law.

Also, the Special Task Force (STF), known as Operation Safe Haven (OPSH) deployed to the state to keep the peace in the state has assured of adequate security during and after the elections.

Its Commander, Maj-Gen. Augustine Agundu, said a parade round the major streets of Jos, the state capital, recently, tagged ‘Walk The Peace On The Plateau,’ was meant to appreciate all the stakeholders of the peace process in the state.

Agundu added that troops were not resting on their oars to ensure that peace was fully restored across the 17 councils of the state and in parts of Kaduna and Bauchi states under his supervision.

Mixed Feelings In Cross River
From Tina Todo, Calabar

THE mood and expectations in Cross River State is mixed, with lots of doubt as to whether the elections would be free and fair.

Another issue is how intra-party crises would impact on the outcome. Martins Anyafulu, a resident, lamented the low number of voters in the state, wondering: “Even at that, are people willing to vote? Allowing public holiday makes civil servants to travel, especially here in this state, where, when you give them free day, they go home and do their farm and harvest food. So, that holiday will affect the voting strength.

“Many will sit at home and many have travelled out and they registered where they are working or domiciled, so now that they travelled, they will go to where they cannot vote.”

Heavy security was mounted at the gate of INEC state office in Cross River State, with men of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) trained and ready to screen and profile drivers and vehicles, as well as guard against violation of the restriction on movement during the process.

From Ann Godwin, Port Harcourt
THIS general elections seems to be very critical to residents of Rivers State, who see them as time to take their destinies in their own hand; hence the zeal to go out and vote credible leaders.

It was gathered that some individuals made extra efforts to get their PVC to enable them exercise their franchise despite, but faced frustrations on the way, all in vain.

Benedict Chindah, who lives in Choba area of Port Harcourt, like some others, said he went to INEC office in Obio/Akpor Council four times, spending over N1, 500, yet could not locate his PVC due to challenges, such as non-availability of their cards, incorrect spelling of names, etc.

Some of them were seem hanging around INEC office up till Thursday, asking if they could vote with their temporary voter card, to which an emphatic ‘no’ from the INEC officials around dashed their hopes of participating in today’s exercise and subsequently.

By yesterday, INEC was ready for the elections, despite disruptions by members of one of the political parties, who were promptly dispersed by armed security personnel on guard.

Trucks were sighted moving materials in and out of INEC office, while staffs accredited organisations for the polls.

The exclusion of the APC from all the election, except the presidential, by the Supreme Court ruling had heightened tension in the state.

Some residents believe that the judgment would reduce the level of electoral violence in the state and have expressed willingness to go out and vote, unlike previous years, when families advised their loved ones to stay at home. Some of the residents said this year’s polls would determine the future of Nigerians; hence the need to go and vote.

Chamberline Amadi, a Niger Delta activists, said: “Our votes determines where Nigeria will be in the nearest future, so for me, I am ready for this critical exercise. I have got my voter’s card, the era of selling our vote or fighting is over, this vote determines the life and death of Nigerians, so we are prepared.”

Chairman, Police Community Relations Committees, Rivers State Chapter, Casca Oguso, said: “I and all my households are prepared for this election. We have our PVCs because I would not need to sit down in one corner and allow someone to choose a leader for me.

“No politician will come and deceive us again. If you have performed, let your performance speak for you. Enough is enough, security agencies should allow the populace cast their votes without interference.”

A legal practitioner, Romeo Need, added: “This is a critical time for Nigeria; the election determines our destinies and Nigerians are prepared for it. Nigerians at the moment are so concerned on who leads them, so we are really prepared for this exercise.”

The state Police Command spokesman, Nnamdi Omoni, said: “Every arrangement has been made for a hitch-free election and our officers have been trained and retrained to discharge their duties professionally and to remain apolitical.

“Any officer that decides to take laws into his/her hands would be dealt with, no matter how highly placed. We are not ready for any interruption.”

Similarly, state Commandant of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC), Muhammed Haruna, said the organisation has deployed about 5,011 personnel for today’s presidential election across the 23 councils, in collaboration with other security agencies to ensure a hitch-free exercise.

The Nigerian Army warned its officers to stay away from polling units, not to fraternise with political parties or escort politicians during the elections.

The General Officer Commanding 6 Division/Land Component Commander, Nigeria Army, Maj-Gen. Jamil Sarham, also announced that soldiers were not allowed in the vicinity of polling units, warning sponsored miscreants planning to use military camouflage, such as fatigue dress, to disguise as troops and perpetuate violence at polling centres to have a rethink.

Abia In Election Mood 
From Gordi Udeajah, Umuahia 

In Abia State, INEC, the Police and other security outfits, as well as residents, politicians and potential voters were ready for the elections.

According to the state REC, Joseph Iloh, everything had been put in place for free, fair and credible polls that would produce credible outcomes in accordance with the law.

He urged eligible voters to turn out to vote for their preferred candidates, projecting that not less than 70 per cent of registered voters in the state would cast their votes today, assuring that security agencies would provide adequate security for voters, officials and materials before, during and after the polls.

This was corroborated by the state Commissioner of Police, Etim Ene Okon, who urged the people to ignore the alleged directive and threats by MASSOB and IPOB not to come out to cast their votes.

Apparently irked by the IPOB and MASSOB threats, a former senator, Chris Adighije, urged the groups to allow democracy to take root, adding: “They should realise that general polls must hold nationwide, even in the northeast.

“Rather than stop the people from voting, they should ensure that our people have their PVCs, as the days of election boycott are over. They should also know that whether our people vote or not, there will be results of polls in other states and zones.”

‘Don’t Come Out With Insignia, Banners Or Anything That Violates Electoral Act’
From Inemesit Akpan-Nsoh, Uyo

BEFORE today, Akwa Ibom State Commissioner of Police, Bashir Makama, had warned politicians and the electorate to desist from buying, selling or canvassing for votes at polling units, as anyone caught doing so or indulging in electoral malpractices would be arrested by the Police.

Makama assured that necessary measures had been put in place to ensure free, fair and credible polls today and beyond, charging political party leaders to build on the arrangements already made and control their supporters to ensure that peace reigns before, during and after the elections.

“Politics should be without bitterness and rancour; it is not a do-or-die affair. You must behave yourselves at polling units, because we will not tolerate any irresponsible behaviour. Canvassing for, buying or selling of votes is against the Electoral Act and anybody seen doing this will be arrested.

“Don’t even come out with insignia, banners or anything that constitute a violation of the Act, because when you are caught, we will arrest you,” he warned.

He vowed to provide a level playing ground to all political parties to ensure free, fair and credible elections, noting: “The Police and other security agencies are ready to provide safety to INEC staff, the electorate and
politicians alike.”

The state REC, Mike Igini, reiterated his Commission’s readiness to conduct free, fair and credible polls today, citing the relocation of 22 polling units from the private homes of politicians, while calling on politicians to always play according to the rules of the game.

Some of those who spoke to The Guardian, expressed reluctance to go out to vote, based on the utterances of some persons in the state,
despite assurances by the security agencies and pleas by their party members.

Fear Of The Unknown In Kogi
From John Akubo, Lokoja

IN Kogi State, the mood has been that of fear of the unknown in the build-up to the elections, with violence, accusations and counter-accusations heralding the exercise.

Signals from the three senatorial districts are nothing to cheer about, going by the reported cases of violent attacks on political opponents in the bid to outwit one another, with lives already lost.

Though the state had always been on the headlines for the wrong reasons, the new wave of political violence has started sending jitters in the spines of prospective voters, fuelling possible voter aparty today.

The hotbed is not restricted to any senatorial district, except that Kogi Central, which used to be notorious for such violent disposition, is almost now overtaken by Kogi East, especially Dekina Council.

However, it seems the people have made up their minds on the party and candidates to vote, but unlike in 2015 when feelers around one could easily predict the direction, this time around, it is difficult to predict who would win between the two major political parties.

Amana Obaje, a resident, said the elections are dicey, especially between the presidential candidates of PDP and APC, adding that many of the people are divided along party lines.

In spite of the mood, INEC said it was good to go as far as preparation for the election was concerned.

The state REC, Prof. James Apam, disclosed said the commission had distributed almost all the PVCs in the state by midweek, as out of the 1,646,350 registered voters, 1,452,969 had collected their PVCs, leaving a balance of 193,381 uncollected cards as at Wednesday.

The commission’s officials charged parents to caution their children and wards against thuggery and electoral violence, as such were detrimental to political participation and good representation in governance.

On the voting pattern, Kogi State presents an interesting contest, given the mixed fortunes both parties have enjoyed and endured in the last three and half years. 

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