As part of its preparations towards a peaceful election in Ondo State on October 10, the Independent National Electoral Commission says it has enlisted the help of the military, police and other security agencies to flush out threats to the peaceful conduct of the exercise, especially in the creeks and other black spots in the state.
The commission noted that there were 62 creeks and more than 270 Polling Units in the riverine areas of Ese-Odo and Ilaje Local Government Areas of the state.
INEC’s National Commissioner and Chairman of its Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye said in an interview on Friday that the commission was in touch with the Nigerian Navy and Marine Police to protect and escort the commission’s personnel and materials to the difficult terrains.
He added that the commission would leave no stone unturned to prevent rigging and violence in the election.
In previous elections in the state, the riverine communities had often been identified as flashpoints, given the peculiarity of the terrain as security agents often encountered difficulties in navigating the terrain.
But in a bid to ensure a peaceful exercise in the flashpoints, Okoye said, “The police, Navy and other security agencies have been mandated to engage in clearance operation and flush out groups and individuals that threaten the peace of the state and the electoral process especially in the creeks and other black spots.
“More than 270 of our Polling Units are in the riverine areas of Ese-Odo and Ilaje Local Governments, with over 62 creeks, and we are in touch with the Nigerian Navy and the Marine Police for the purpose of protecting and escorting our personnel and materials to these difficult terrains.
“The security agencies will carry out mop up operations, deploy adequate platforms and conduct massive show of force especially in identified flashpoints. We will continue to appeal to the political parties and the candidates to eschew violence.”
Meanwhile, each polling unit is usually manned by between four and five election officers. Thus, given that there are no fewer than 270 polling units in the riverine areas out of the 3,009 in the state, the number of staff in the area would be about 1,080.
Okoye added, “Section 29(3) of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) gives the commission the power to request the assistance of any section of the Armed Forces for the delivery and protection of its staff and materials during elections.
“We shall therefore request for the assistance of the Navy for escort in the riverine areas, and the Army will block the entrance and exit out of Ondo State on election day.”
INEC, security agencies must pay attention to riverine areas – Election observers
Meanwhile, the Director of Programmes, YIAGA Africa, a popular election observer group, Cynthia Mbamalu, said previous election observation reports revealed that elections in riverine areas were usually susceptible to rigging due to poor logistics management, threat to life, violence and non-compliance with INEC guidelines.
She said in the 2016 governorship election in the state, YIAGA Africa’s Watching the Vote received most of its critical incidents from Ilaje LGA, one of the riverine LGAs.
She added, “To avoid election fraud and manipulation in this election, we need better coordination between the security agencies and INEC to ensure that effective security is provided for the INEC/polling officials for the safe and early deployment of materials to polling units and in securing the polling officials and polling units on election day.
“This would include ensuring that there is an effective transport plan that has proper security for the movement of personnel and materials to polling units in the riverine areas. The security agencies, especially the police should ensure effective and sufficient deployment of professional personnel to the polling units in riverine LGAs and the LGAs already identified as hotspots/flashpoints.
Calling on INEC to ensure consistency in the application of its guidelines and ensure the use of the Z-pad to upload the result sheet on the INEC Result Viewing portal, she added, “INEC and the police need to ensure that any of their officials involved in electoral fraud faces disciplinary actions and that electoral offenders are arrested and prosecuted. Finally, INEC should ensure that all its personnel deployed are adequately insured.”
Also, the Director, Centre for Democracy and Development, Idayat Hassan, called on INEC to know that not just political thugs posed a threat to elections in the riverine areas, militants and cult members were also culpable.
She added, “On deployment of logistics, INEC must make special plans to ensure that materials arrive on time in these riverine areas to prevent apprehension. Secondly, in previous elections, the results from the Ilaje and Ese-Odo were often the last to arrive at the collation centre.
“It is imperative that INEC use her new technology on result collation to ensure transparency, so in these difficult areas, results must be quickly uploaded. This timely upload will be of immense benefit.
“There is also the need for security deployment to protect materials and personnel. It is important to note that in this area that it is not just political thugs the election is contending with, militants, cult members and some stakeholders are also threats. We don’t just need deployment in numbers, effective and non-partisan deployment is key.”
Also, the Convener, Coalition in Defence of Nigerian Democracy and Constitution, Ariyo-Dare Atoye, called for surveillance in the air and on water in the coastal areas.
He added, “Every INEC staff that would be posted to these riverine areas and other sensitive locations must be kitted with a technological device that can trigger necessary alarm in a central location in Akure and Abuja once there is a major incident or danger is cited.
“Since it is a three horse race in the state, tension should lessen ahead of the elections, but nothing can be taken away from desperate politicians. INEC must call for and ensure security surveillance on water and in the air around these riverine areas.”
Army, Navy warn political thugs to steer clear of Ondo poll
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Army and the Navy have expressed readiness for the election.
The officers and men of the two security agencies on Thursday evening carried out an exercise tagged ‘Show of Force’ on waterways in Ilaje and Ese Odo Local Government Areas of the state.
The exercise, which started in Igbokoda in the morning and ended late in the evening, covered Atijere, Abereke, Agadagba, Obolowo, Asere, Arogbo, Dioba among others in the coastal area of the state.
Speaking after the exercise, the Commander of 32 Artillery Brigade, Akure, Brig Gen Zakari Abubakar, stated that the aim of the exercise was to signal warning to hoodlums on the waterways that the security agencies were combat-ready to ensure that the election was violence-free.
Abubakar said, “The purpose of the exercise is to get prepared for the October 10 governorship election. We want to ensure that the election is free and peaceful and to make sure that hoodlums don’t interfere.
“As you are aware, the places visited lead to Delta and Ogun states and they (militants) will be coming. But I want to assure you that wherever they come from, we will give them a blocking force.”
He advised youths in the coastal communities to shun all forms of violence and intimidation before, during and after the election, noting that the military was aware of several camps springing up on the waterways. He said some hideouts of hoodlums at Asere were destroyed during the exercise.
Similarly, the Commanding Officer of Naval Forward and Operation Base, Igbokoda, Navy Capt Mohammed Ahmed, explained that the exercise was to show readiness to secure the waterways from criminal activities.
He added, “It is to assure people that we are always there to secure the environment for them and inform hoodlums that we are watching because security agents are ready and it was a successful exercise. As the Brigade Commander has said, we may have a repeat of it before the election.”
Akeredolu, Jegede, Agboola, others sign peace accord Tuesday
In a related development, Okoye has said the 17 candidates and their political parties that will participate in the exercise will sign a peace accord on Tuesday, adding that 16 of the candidates are male while only one is a female.
He added, “The candidates and the political parties will sign the peace accord on Tuesday, October 6, 2020 and the commission will also hold a major stakeholders’ meeting within the same period.
“We have met with the Council of Traditional Rulers in Ondo State and the INEC chairman (Prof Mahmood Yakubu) has urged them to use their powerful voices and moral and traditional authority to impress on the parties and candidates to embrace peace.”
Meanwhile, amid the incidences of violence during the ongoing electioneering, Okoye said INEC would continue to appeal to political parties and their candidates to eschew violence.
Three commissioners, six RECs for poll
The INEC National Commissioner also pointed out that six Resident Electoral Commissioners and three National Commissioners had been deployed in the state to offer some support, stressing that the commission was ready for the election.
He added, “The commission is counting down and we are accelerating our preparations. Six supportive Resident Electoral Commissioners will be on the ground before October 1 and they will be joined by three National Commissioners.
“The chairmen of the commission, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, and national commissioners have completed readiness assessment tour of the commission’s local government offices and critical electoral assets.
“We have met with the Council of Traditional Rulers in Ondo State and the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security. We have consulted with the media and reenergised our staff.
Meanwhile, following the fire incident that destroyed about 5,000 card readers in the state, the commission said it was presently charging and configuring the Smart Card Readers that would be used for the election.
Okoye said in the interview, “The commission requested and got over 5,000 Smart Card Readers from its Oyo Office and they will be deployed for the conduct of the election. The commission has also configured and charged 1,000 Smart Card Readers for the training of its election personnel.
“The commission will complete the purging, configuration and charging of the Smart Card Readers at least a week before the election. We are on top of the situation and we are ahead of our schedule.”
The Senate Committee on INEC has called on all stakeholders in the election to eschew violence, while asking all security personnel deployed for the exercise to play their constitutional roles as expected.
Speaking during the committee’s inspection of non-sensitive materials at the INEC office in Akure, the state capital, the chairman of the committee, Senator Kabiru Gaya, said the visit was also to afford the committee the opportunity to interact with the state Resident Electoral Commissioner, Dr Rufus Akeju, and his team.
He urged “INEC to use all possible means to have a free and fair election.”
The REC has however expressed the readiness of the commission to conduct a free and credible election.
The REC stated this during an interactive session with the traditional rulers in the state, as he commended them for their roles in past elections and sought their help in the coming election.
He urged them to admonish their subjects and the general public to avoid violence.
Responding, the Olugbo of Ugbo and state Chairman of the Council of Obas, Oba Frederick Akinruntan, commended INEC for the job done so far as he promised that they would support the commission in conducting a peaceful exercise.
The Director-General, National Youth Service Corps, Brig.-Gen. Shuaibu Ibrahim, has warned corps members who would participate in the election to avoid being involved in acts that could make them run afoul of the law.
Speaking on Friday during his official visit to the state ahead of the election, the DG urged them to build on the performance of their counterparts in the recently held governorship election in Edo State.
While addressing the corps members, Shuaibu urged them to always be conscious of their environment. He added, “You should not compromise the integrity of the scheme and do not post results of the election on social media.”
He also visited the Palace of the Deji of Akure, Oba Aladetoyinbo Aladelusi, where he said the visit was important because traditional institutions were also stakeholders in the electoral process and that they were in the best position to speak to their subjects on the need for a peaceful election.
Responding, the monarch said the peaceful, free and fair election in Edo State could be replicated in Ondo, adding that he was sure of the neutrality of the corps members. “Whoever emerges is our governor, your corps members have been doing well so far,” he added.
Meanwhile, the candidate of the All Progressives Congress in the forthcoming governorship election, Governor Rotimi Akeredolu, has denied the allegation levelled against him by his deputy, Mr Agboola Ajayi, that he had been collecting N750m as security vote.
The media aide to the deputy governor, Mr Allen Sowore, had in a statement said Akeredolu received N750m as security vote but the governor denied it, describing the statement as false and mischievous.
The Chief Press Secretary to the governor, Mr Segun Ajiboye, who did not disclose the actual amount, said Sowore’s statement was to misinform the people.
In the statement titled ‘Re: N750m security vote your mindset of greed misleads you’, Ajiboye said, “True to type, Ajayi has resorted to lies and fabrications that Mr Governor gets a monthly payment of N750m as security vote. This brazen misinformation is not a surprise but a true reflection of the unstable and treacherous content in Ajayi.”
“The general public is urged to take advantage of the Freedom of Information Act to interrogate both statements by Mr Governor and Ajayi. For the avoidance of doubt, the state bureaucracy, which processes such payments, is very available to confirm the veracity or frivolity of either of the statements.
“The October 10 governorship election is between integrity and the absence of it. The patent greed which has provided motivation for the treachery and perfidy of Ajayi appears to have created further paths of dishonesty to oil his political misadventure. Succinctly, he is misled by his mind of greed.”
Ajiboye challenged the deputy governor to provide the evidence of payment of the security vote if he was sure of the allegation.