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March 18th Election: Groups call for early commencement of election.

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March 18th Election: Groups call for early commencement of election.
……. Request for new set of security Personnels at the poll.

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As the March 18th election get closer, a group Known as Better community life initiative (BECOLIN) here in Imo state Under the leadership of Comr. Chibundu Uchegbu, is calling on independent national electoral Commission,to commence the voting process on March 18 election for state house of Assembly and Governorship early against what the voters witnessed in the last two weeks election.

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It will be recalled that, two days before the much awaited and highly anticipated February, 25th presidential & National Assembly elections, they addressed occasion of this nature with heightened hopes that we were going to have a people oriented process, at least, to improve on the records of previous elections. This is predicated on our steady campaigns for violence mitigation and peaceful environment for elections.

First,they commend the show of patriotism, enthusiasm and maturity of purpose displayed by Nigeria citizens during and after the elections notwithstanding the deliberate efforts of few criminally minded individuals to undermine the process.

Weeks and days preceding the election, while most Nigerians, first time voters inclusive, were expressing desire to participate in the apparently reformed electoral process to elect their leaders at various stages, a sizable number of African countries looked up to “Big Brother Nigeria” to set a shining electoral standard to follow. Sadly, all these hopes were shattered on the election day. The responsibility-bearer here is the country’s electoral body, the Independence National Electoral Commission (INEC).

According to them,Never a time had the population believed in the process and the assurances of INEC since the military regime gave way to democracy in 1999 more than they did before February 25th. Three factors are pointed to be responsible for this, the emergence of new Electoral Act, introduction of technological devices backed by the Electoral Act and commitment of President Buhari to ensure a credible electoral process before he leaves office on May 29th 2023.

Adding to that, they said, the head of the electoral body, Prof Mohmood Yakubu, on 17th January, 2023 at Chatham House, London, told the world that INEC is fully prepared for the elections and would meet the expectation of Nigerians, which is free and fair election – timely arrival of INEC staff, timely arrival of all election materials, including sensitive and non sensitive, early commencement of voting, giving all parties equal access to election materials, electronic transmission of results at polling units immediately after they have been declared at the polling units, etc.

Regrettably as they affirmed, that INEC floundered It in all measures. First, it was late arrival of INEC officials and materials in 90 percent of all the polling units’ elections took place, using Imo State as an emphasis. Secondly, it was non arrival of INEC officials and materials in most polling units in Orlu, Okigwe, Orsu, Oguta, Oru East, Onuimo and Ohaji/Egbema LGAs. All the eligible voters in all these areas waited till 4.30pm unattended to.

When concerns were raised on the issue and the disturbing development of non transmission of declared results at the polling units where elections were going on, the INEC National Commissioner and Chairman Information and Voter Education, Mr. Festus Okoye, released unsatisfactory, flimsy and self-indicting statement, saying that the Commission has noted the situation, therefore has taken responsibility. On the areas elections did not take place, Mr. Okoye stressed that elections will be extended to those areas the following day, Sunday 26th February, 2023.

It is disheartening that elections did not hold in those areas on the reappointed date as promised by the Commission. And it is more disheartening that the Imo State Resident Electoral Commissioner, Prof. Sylvia Agu, under whose watch these malpractices happened allowed results to filter from those areas. We need explanation of this trend!
Let’s buttress on the areas we recorded violence on the election day (25th February):

Polling unit 37 at Ezinihite in Mbieri in Mbaitolu LGA, the election there was marred by ballot-stuffing and voter intimidation to the extent that an observer who was taking picture of the charade was thoroughly beaten up by political party thugs with arms and his phone smashed on the ground.
In Ogwa ward II, also in Mbaitolu LGA, armed thugs working for a known political party invaded the area, intimidated the voters and took away the ballot box and papers to unknown destination.

In Eziama Obaire ward 10 polling unit in Nkwere LGA, armed thugs went there and carried ballot box away immediately counting of votes started.In Amuzi hall Dim na Nume ward 010 in Nwangele LGA, armed thugs in the company of police personnel went there, shot guns on the air and carried the ballot box away. This abruptly stopped voting process there.

“We have identified the perpetrators of this violence and their cohorts as well as the political party they worked for. We are going to make their names available to the relevant authorities for prosecution; we will equally make their names available to foreign authorities for visa ban. It is not to disparage anyone. We witnessed the moment; and we have evidence to buttress our position. Recall that in January this year, United States and some European countries issued a warning that they would place travel or visa ban on individuals who will be involved in electoral violence in 2023 elections in Nigeria. It is time to activate the warning” they said.

On Saturday, March 18 election, Chibundu noted that, Imo State undoubtedly has fallen in the league of states with off-season governorship election. For this, elections will only be conducted into the 27 seats for House of Assembly. While we call on all our eligible voters across the state to come out and vote, and conduct themselves peacefully in the process as they did on 25th February 2023, they made the following demands from the necessary umpires –
There should be early commencement of election in all the polling units in the 27 LGAs of the state.
The police should not deploy the same police personnel who collaborated with party agents and politicians to sabotage the electoral process on 25th February, 2023.
All results declared at the polling units must be immediately uploaded on INEC Result Viewing portal.
The excuse given on 25th February on why the results were unable to be uploaded is not going to be tolerated.

According to their report from their members across the 27 LGAs in the state, they recorded cases of recruitment of thugs, gathering of arms, property destructions, physical violence and vote buying in these identified LGAs – Ikeduru, Okigwe, Ideato North, Ideato South, Ahiazu Mbaise, Mbaitolu, Ngor Okpala, Ezinnitte Mbaise, Njaba, Owerri Municipal, Oguta, Oru East, Oru West and Owerri North. “Therefore the police and other security agencies should design tactics and expedite actions to arrest the situation in those areas, and as well bring the perpetrators to book. Election time is not war time ” They said

Although all the LGAs deserve fortified police and army deployments for effective security, special attention should be concentrated on Nwangele, Oguta, Okigwe and Ohaji/Egbema LGAs. We have received reliable report that some candidates of political parties and their agents have brimmed up plans to make the Saturday’s election there do or die just to serve their interest.
In line with the 2022 Electoral Act, police authority should detach all police personnel attached to VIPs. In the last election, we counted cases where VIPs came to voting premises with armed police officers attached to them. This speaks of occasion of some voters deriving unequal advantage over others, therefore contravening the law. The duty of police is to protect the law, not to violate it.
INEC should intensify the directives that prohibit voters from going to voting cubicles with smart phones for whatever reason. We recorded cases in the last election where voters went to the voting cubicles with smart phones and took photograph of the political party they voted for. We do not understand the rationale behind this.
All the INEC staff including the ad-hoc staff who were involved in the electoral malpractices on 25th February should be fished out, arrested and prosecuted. And INEC must see it as a duty to regularly update members of the public whose trust and confidence were betrayed by the irregularities exhibited by their staff.
The police authority should fish out, arrest and discipline all police personnel who were involved in the electoral malpractices on 25th February. And all the processes of the disciplinary action must be made public to gain the confidence of the population.
INEC should stop issuing flimsy apologies over its inability to upload results on their portal on the 25th February 2023 because there is no height of apologies it will offer that will able to mitigate the amount of damages it has caused to the country.

They concluded, the conduct of the 7th national election since we returned to democracy in 1999 failed credibility standards. “The manager of the February 25th presidential election, the Independence National Electoral Commission (INEC) catastrophically failed to deliver a clean ballot. The response of the aggrieved political parties to use legal means to address their grievances is exemplary. All attention will now be shifted to judiciary after the conclusion of this Saturday’s election. It has been often asserted that courts in the country only benefit the mighty and punish the needy. This is the time for judiciary to prove that assertion wrong by dispensing justice expeditiously, and renew the confidence of Nigerians in the system” he asserted.

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