2023 Governorship Polls: Rights Group Exposes Plots to Import Thugs, Fake Security Personnel into Akwa Ibom, Urges Security Agencies to be on Alert

Read details below on Item Number 11 titled: “GOVERNORSHIP AND STATE HOUHOUSE ASSEMBLY ELECTIONS”

PRESS CONFERENCE HELD BY THE CENTER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS & ACCOUNTABILITY NETWORK (CHRAN) IN COLLABORATION WITH OTHER CIVIL SOCIETY GROUPS, PROFESSIONAL BODIES AND TRADE UNIONS IN AKWA IBOM STATE AT THE SHAKESPEARE HALL, WATBRIDGE HOTEL AND SUITES, UYO, ON WEDNESDAY, 8TH MARCH, 2023, ON THE CONDUCT OF THE PRESIDENTIAL AND NATIONAL ASSEMBLY ELECTIONS ON 25TH FEBRUARY, 2023 AND THE FORTHCOMING GOVERNORSHIP AND STATE HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY ELECTIONS ON 11TH MARCH, 2023 IN AKWA IBOM STATE BY THE INDEPENDENT NATIONAL ELECTORAL COMMISSION (INEC).

Preamble:

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on Saturday, 25th February, 2023 conducted Presidential and National Assembly Elections across the thirty-six (36) States of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja.

Prior to the commencement of the elections proper, the Center for Human Rights & Accountability Network (CHRAN) and other civil society groups in Akwa Ibom State had not been part of (or made contributions in) several stakeholders meetings held at the instance of the INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner.

The Akwa Ibom State INEC Commissioner was working in isolation of some critical stakeholders including the civil society groups (CSOs) and professional bodies. Efforts made by the CSOs to be involved in the electoral processes in the State were rebuffed by the INEC Commissioner. For instance, the CHRAN wrote a letter to him seeking an audience with him but was not granted. Other CSOs in the State suffered similar experience from the INEC Commissioner.

The CHRAN had separately held interactions with some critical stakeholders such as the Commissioner of Police, Akwa Ibom State, CP Olatoye Durosimi and the State Director of the Department of State Services (DSS), Akwa Ibom Command, Mr. M. Modibbo, all in a bid to ensure that all concerned were alive to their responsibility of giving the people of Akwa Ibom State credible, free and fair elections.

As part of our civic responsibility to deepen democracy in Nigeria nay Akwa Ibom State, the CHRAN in partnership with Atlantic 104.5 FM, Uyo, had organized the 2023 Legislative Debates, a live radio show on Atlantic 104.5 FM, Uyo, Thursdays and Sundays 1:00pm to 3:00pm, respectively, for the State House of Assembly and National Assembly candidates of all registered political parties in the State.

During the elections, CHRAN had mobilized its members across the State as observers. Some members of CHRAN joined sister and partnering civil society groups to monitor the election around the entire 31 local government areas of Akwa Ibom State. The CHRAN also set up a Situation Room at its office in Uyo, where reports were received through a toll-free line and its social media platforms. In most cases, observer reports were accompanied with photographs and video clips.

In the light of this, the CHRAN makes the following reports of the Presidential and National Assembly Elections:

  1. DEPLOYMENT OF ELECTION OFFICIALS AND MATERIALS FOR THE ELECTIONS:
    INEC deployed ad-hoc Staff to conduct the various elections in the respective polling units across Akwa Ibom State. The ad-hoc Staff, mostly Youth Corps members, were deployed as Polling Officers and Assistant Polling Officers. INEC also deployed Returning Officers mobilized from tertiary institutions.

Voting materials (sensitive and non-sensitive) were said to have been received by INEC officials at the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Uyo, without the presence of critical stakeholders like the CSOs in the State. This was done before deployment of election materials were made to the various local government areas and eventually to the wards and the units. There were, however, some complaints of non-receipt of Result Sheets and other sensitive materials in many polling units and wards across the State.

  1. COMMENCEMENT OF ELECTIONS:
    Elections started at 8:30 a.m. as scheduled by INEC but in most polling units, both materials and personnel responsible for conducting the elections arrived late. There were also reported cases of materials being diverted to unknown places.
  2. VOTERS TURN-OUT:
    The feedback from the various observers across the State showed that the voters’ turnout was noticeably low. The fear of violence, lack of confidence in the electoral process, scarcity of Naira Notes occasioned by the cashless policy of the CBN were said to be the reasons given by most voters interviewed. Interview respondents noted that even those that came out did so because of the promise of monetary inducement by political parties. In some Polling Units, the large turnout of female voters was attributed to the cash-for-vote promised them.
  3. VOTE-BUYING:
    Perhaps the greatest undoing of the 2023 Presidential and National Assembly elections in the State was the large scale vote-buying that pervaded the entire State before, during and after the voting proper. Cash-for-vote was so pervasive that they were done in the open. For instance, in Itu Local Government Area in Ikot Ekwere village, Polling Units 2 and 3, our team arrived at about 8:00am. Accreditation and voting went on smoothly and peaceful but after voting, the voters were given serial numbers by some political party officials at the polling units for voting in favour of their candidates. While some thugs were seen fighting over the serial numbers. There was no security agent seen at the polling units.
  4. ELECTORAL VIOLENCE:
    There were minor reported incidents of electoral violence in the State. Political Parties’ thugs and hoodlums were said to have invaded some voting centers to snatch polling materials, destroying voting materials, harassing, molesting and intimidating voters, and, in some instances, INEC officials. Suspected political thugs, accompanied by security operatives in some cases, hijacked electoral materials, destroyed electoral materials, harassed, interfered with the voting processes, prevented the counting of votes at some voting centers, hindered voting, intimidated and prevented some people from voting and as well chased away some party agents and observers from Polling Units and Collation Centers.
  5. SECRECY OF THE VOTING PROCESS:
    The voting cubicle provided very little voter secrecy. In many observed cases, thugs and party agents invaded the privacy of the voter to find out in whose favour he/she voted or to direct voters, especially the elderly, as to which political party to vote. It was observed that in aid of vote-buying, voters were made to show by either turning their ballot papers or making some signs to show the political party they voted for. In some cases, some political party supporters tried to force voters to vote in a particular manner or even prevented or mutilated votes not cast in favour of their political parties.
  6. SECURITY:
    On the Election Day, there was scant security presence to prevent inter-local government movement, and this enabled thugs to move freely, snatching ballot boxes and disrupting voting in some Local Government Areas. At the Polling Units, the unarmed security personnel hardly tried to check election infractions. There was no attempt to prevent vote-buying, or snatching of voting materials. The security personnel merely looked away. In some instances, security agents appeared complicit in election violence, ballot box snatching, and the intimidation of supporters of opposing political parties.
  7. RESULT COLLATION AND TRANSMISSION:
    The game changer in the elections was the Bimodal Accreditation System (BVAS) and the INEC Result Viewing (IReV) portal. In line with Section 60(5) of the Electoral Act, 2022 and Clause 38 of the Guidelines and Regulations of the Conduct of Election, 2022, election results must be transmitted by Presiding Officers from Polling Units to the INEC Result Viewing (IReV) portal on completion of election. Our observers reported some cases of alleged missing Result Sheets. They further observed that the National Assembly results were transmitted with the BVAS to the IReV portal while results of the Presidential elections were not transmitted from the polling units with the BVAS to the IReV portal by the INEC presiding officers. No clear explanation was given for the failure. At the Ward Collation Centers, in all the Local Government Areas monitored, results were not collated at the Ward Collation Centers rather results were collated at the INEC offices in the Local Government headquarters. In most cases, observers and some party agents were not allowed to witness the collation of results. Some party agents, observers and even accredited journalists were chased away by thugs and security agents at the Local Government Collation Centers.
  8. SITUATION REPORT OF SOME LOCAL GOVERNMENT AREAS VISITED BY OUR TEAM:
    i. Ukanafun LGA:
    Our team visited the three Registration Area Center (RAC) at about 9:45am in Ward 5, Nsehke village where materials were distributed to the various wards, the exercise was peaceful. The Police and Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) operatives were present. In Ward 8 Idung Nneke RAC, the team arrived at about 11:12am. Materials were distributed to various wards peacefully. The Police and NSCDC officials were seen.

In Ward 1 Ikot Akpankuk RAC center, one of our observers was attacked by a political party thug who thought our observer was a member of the opposing party. But the distribution of materials was peaceful. The police and members of the NSCDC were present. In Ward 8, Polling Units 10 and 17 in Usung Akiat village, the Police and NSCDC were seen and the exercise was Peaceful. In Ward 8, Idung Nneke, accreditation and voting were peaceful.

In Ward 10, Ikot Etim, Polling Unit 2, accreditation and voting were peaceful. In Ward 1, Q.I.C. Group School, Ikot Akpankuk, accreditation and voting went on peacefully. In Ward 5, Nsehke village, accreditation and voting were peaceful.

ii. Oruk Anam LGA:
In Ward 5, Atai Obio Akpa village, accreditation and voting went on peacefully.

iii. Uyo LGA:
In Uyo Urban 3, Oku Street, our team arrived at about 1:35pm. The accreditation and voting were peaceful. Security agents were seen. The accreditation process using the BVAS machines were smooth and stress-free.

In Polling Unit 15, Jubilee Primary School, Uyo, the INEC official arrived at about 1:45pm with the BVAS machine meant for Polling Unit 16. The accreditation exercise could not be done. The INEC officials could not explain the reason for the mixed-up. Tension was high. The Polling Unit has over 700 voters. The INEC officials were accompanied to the INEC local government office at Ikot Akpan-abia to lodge a complaint. The INEC local government officials told the voters to return on Sunday, 26th February, that the BVAS would be sorted out. On Sunday, when our team visited the poling unit at about 2pm the voters were waiting while no INEC official showed up. Our team left at about 4pm when the voters had all gone with no INEC officials turned up.

At the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN), Udo Udoma Avenue, the INEC officials arrived late and allegedly four (4) fake police men were arrested by the Military men.

iv. Eket LGA:
In Ward 5 Central, Polling Units 001, 002 and 003, in Primary School Odio village, our team arrived at about 8:15am. INEC officials had arrived at about 8:10am. 15 Police men and women were seen. The process started at exactly 8:30am. There was voter apathy. The majority of voters could not turn up because of lack of mobility as a result of the CBN cashless policy. INEC officials briefed the voters on the procedures of the exercise. Accreditation was done with the BVAS before voting started. No incident was recorded. Voting concluded at about 1:30pm. Counting started at about 2:30pm. Party agents signed all the results sheets after the elections.

In Eket main town, Ward 3, Polling Unit 7 and 8 in Ikot Ebok village, polling unit 9 in Idung Uso village our team arrived at about 9:00am. The INEC officials had arrived at about 8:28am. There was high turn-out of voters. The accreditation and voting started at about 10:55a.m. Voting ended at about 2:45pm. The result was declared at about 5:09pm. Two Policemen were seen in polling units 7, 8, and 5, there were some Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) operatives who covered the exercise. In Ward 3, Polling Unit 5 and 6 in village square, Atabong roundabout our team arrived at about 1:00pm. There was a high turn-out of voters. The exercise was peaceful. Some policemen and EFCC operatives and patrol police team were seen.

At about 2:06pm our team arrived Ward 3, Polling Unit 21 opposite the Urua Afiong Etuk, there was a high turn-out. The BVAS recognized some voters’ thumbprints but their names were found in another register at another Polling Unit in Ikot Ebiyan village. So they could not vote but had to move to where their names were found, which was, a distance away from their residential areas where the BVAS could recognize their details before they could vote. In Ward 3, Polling Unit 4 in Asang village opposite Assemblies of God Church and Mount Zion Light House our team arrived at about 12:15pm. Voting was ongoing. Security agents were present. There were canopies and plastic chairs, and voters were on their seats. Party agents were present. No noise and the exercise was peaceful.

v. Ika LGA:
In Urua Inyang, Urban Ward 1, Polling Unit 001 our team arrived at about 9:00am. INEC officials came at about 10:35am. The INEC official used 10 minutes to set up their equipment and commence accreditation and voting started at about 10:50am. 726 voters registered at the Polling Unit but 225 came out to vote. There was a low turnout. One policeman, one police woman and party agents were seen. Some thugs came in with a 16-seater bus, but the community resisted them forcing them to leave unsuccessfully. The voting was closed at about 3:20pm. The BVAS machines had stopped capturing by 2:45pm.

vi. Essien Udim LGA:
In Okon Ward, Ifa Okon 1, Polling Unit 8 our team arrived by 8:00am. The INEC officials came at about 11 am. The INEC officials were unable to operate the BVAS machines, so they had to go back to the collation center at Secondary Commercial School Okon to be schooled on how to operate the BVAS. On their return, at about 2:45pm a lot of voters had left the Polling Unit. The few voters who were able to return were accredited and voted. No security presence. The exercise ended at about 4:45pm. There was low turnout. In Okon Ward, Ifa Okon 1, Polling Unit 11 our team arrived at about 8:00am, INEC officials came at about 11:00am. Accreditation and voting started at about 11:15am. One police lady was seen. No incident was recorded. Party agents were seen. The exercise was peaceful. There was high turnout of voters. The exercise ended at about 3:00pm. At Independent High School Ukana, the exercise was peaceful with heavy security personnel at about 2:15pm when our team arrived the venue.

vii. Ikono LGA:
In Ward 6, Polling Units 3, 4 and 5 our team arrived at about 9:30am.Voting started at about 10:30am and ended at about 1:35pm. The collation and announcement of result were done. The exercise was peaceful. No security agents seen.

viii. Urue Offong/Oruko LGA:
In Urue Offong Ward 5, Polling Unit 3 in Atteh village, at about 8:45am our observers arrived the venue. The Polling Officers arrived 9:10am, briefed the voters on procedures and started accreditation using the BVAS machines. 110 voters came out to vote. The exercise recorded low turnout. The exercise closed at about 2:30pm.

ix. ONNA LGA:
Hoodlums inflicted machete cuts on two voters before carting away one Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) for Polling Units 11 and 12 at Oniong West Ward 1. Those injured were taken to hospital.

x. Mkpat Enin LGA:
In Ikpa Ikono ward 1 market square at about 10:15am our team arrived the venue. Accreditation and voting were ongoing. The exercise ended at about 2:30pm and was peaceful. In Ukpum Minya clan, Ikpa Ibom clan, Ibiaku clan, Nyadiong village Primary School Polling Unit and Ikpa Ibom ward 4, Polling Units 006, 007 and 008, the exercise were peaceful. However, in Polling Unit 007, Ikpa Ibom ward 4, a lot of voters were disenfranchised because the Polling Unit has a large number of voters and the BVAS Machine went off in the process of the election and there was no standby generator to power it. The INEC officials however ended the election abruptly at about 2:30pm while several voters were still waiting to be captured.

xi. Ukanafun LGA:
In Ward 11, Polling Unit 2 and Polling Unit 3, at about 9:00am when our team arrived, election materials arrived late accompanied by one security personnel. There was no incident recorded.
In Ward 8, Idung Nneke (the Registration Area Center, RAC center), at about 9:10am election materials were being distributed to the various Polling Units. No incident recorded. In the INEC office, Ikot Akpa Nkuk, at about 9:20am when our team arrived, the INEC Electoral Officer (EO) was not found. Upon inquiry, the team was told that she went to the INEC office in Oruk Anam Local Government Area to reclaim some election materials meant for Ukanafun which were mistakenly taken to Oruk Anam.

xii. Abak LGA:
In Abak Urban ward 3, Polling Unit 001 and Polling Unit 14 our team arrived at about 3:06pm, voting had ended and counting was ongoing. In Polling Unit 14, no security personnel seen, even though, the exercise was peaceful. In Ikot Etukudo village square in Polling Unit 001, voting had concluded, counting was ongoing. The exercise was peaceful.

xiii. Etim Ekpo LGA:
In Ward 1, Polling Unit 5 and 11 in Asan Abang, the exercise went on peacefully. In Uruk Ata Ikot Ebo village, our team arrived at about 1:30pm, the exercise was going on peacefully. In Etim Ekpo Ward 6, made up of 11 Polling Units. It was alleged that a serving member of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly hijacked the election materials and he was held hostage by the people of the Ward for several hours on the road causing serious traffic. Some security personnel were seen trying to rescue the situation but, could not and had to call for a backup of four trucks of heavily armed security personnel who came to rescue the situation. This happened at about 2pm. The election materials were scattered on the ground. This was partly why the Abak/Etim Ekpo/Ika Federal Constituency election was declared inconclusive by INEC.

  1. Observations:
    i. Absence of vehicle to convey electoral officers to their respective venues;

ii. Non-functional of some BVAS machines;

iii. Lack of technical know-how of the BVAS by some POs and SPOs;

iv. Lack of tables and chairs in the collation room in LGA Headquarters;

v. Nonchalant attitudes by some EOs;

vi. Poor storage of election results on the BVAS by the POs and SPOs;

vii. Delay in assemblage of electoral materials for onward movement to the polling units;

viii. Infiltration of the collation room by some supposed security agents who manhandled some electoral officers;

ix. Late arrival of results from the Polling Units;

x. Non-restriction of movement in and out of the collation room;

xi. Non-performance of duties by members of the security agents especially in the peak of collation; and

xii. A large number of trained INEC ad-hoc staff were not deployed for the elections because political parties lobbied INEC and got them replaced with their party members for the job.

  1. GOVERNORSHIP AND STATE HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY ELECTIONS:
    Going by our observations in the Presidential and National Assembly Elections, the INEC was culpable and complicit in the electoral fraud and malpractices witnessed in the elections. INEC was a contestant instead of being a non-partisan electoral umpire. INEC provided the platform for the politicians who carried out rigging in large scale and electoral fraud in the polls.

We wish to call on the INEC in Akwa Ibom State to be neutral and non-partisan in the Governorship and State House of Assembly polls billed for 11th March, 2023.

On the issue of security, we wish to commend the Government of Akwa Ibom State and security agencies for their relentless efforts in ensuring that Akwa Ibom State is safe and the Presidential and National Assembly elections were relatively peaceful across the State, compared to what transpired in other states of the federation.

Worrisome to us, is the fact that our intelligence network, however, reveals that some politicians in Akwa Ibom State are perfecting plots to import political thugs, as well as real and/or fake security personnel from neighboring states, particularly, Rivers, Abia and Bayelsa into Akwa Ibom State with the intention to subvert the votes and wishes of Akwa Ibom people during the Governorship and State House of Assembly Elections billed for Saturday, 11th March, 2023.

We hereby call on the Nigeria Police and other law enforcement agencies to be on alert, and rise to the occasion of ensuring that the State remains peaceful while Akwa Ibom people go out en masse to elect the Governor and State House of Assembly Members of their choice come Saturday, 11th March, 2023.

We urge the security agencies in the State to pay serious attention to our riverine and bordering communities before, during and after the elections.

Finally, we appeal to the political class, particularly, the governorship candidates and their supporters not to approach the forthcoming elections with the “do-or-die” spirit, but with the spirit of sportsmanship. Of paramount concern to them, should be, the interest, peace and growth of Akwa Ibom State. No political office is worth the blood of any Akwa Ibomites. At the end of the elections, only one person will occupy the Office of the Governor of Akwa Ibom State and Akwa Ibom people will be the winners.

  1. RECOMMENDATIONS:
    i. INEC should return to the drawing board and re-strategize with a view to addressing the lapses which came to the fore during the conduct of the 2023 Presidential and National Assembly elections in the country in order to deliver free, fair and credible elections in the forthcoming Governorship and State House of Assembly elections on 11th March, 2023.

ii. Going forward, the critical stakeholders in the electoral process, such as INEC, security agencies, political parties, civil society groups and the Press, should close ranks and ensure that elections remain free, fair and credible.

iii. The political parties and the political elites in particular, should see elections as processes to elect leaders by the people and not warfare!

iv. There should be a reform in the country’s electoral system to address these aforementioned observations and other shortcomings in our electoral system.

Signed:

  1. Otuekong Franklyn Isong
    (State Director)
  2. Comrade Akanimo Attang
    (Secretary)
  3. Comrade Usen Johnson
    (Deputy Secretary)
  4. Comrade Aniedi Michael
    (Director of Students Affairs)
  5. Comrade Emmanuel Udoatta
    (Deputy Director, Intergovernmental Affairs)
  6. Comrade Ubong David
    (Director of Local Government & Community Affairs)
  7. Comrade Vincent Aluu

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