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Last Saturday’s contest for control of local council administrations between the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) has confirmed the fact that Delta is on the list of politically volatile states. The election was a study in clash of political personalities, electoral irregularities and violent actions that have for long, characterized conduct of elections in Nigeria over the years.
Before the start of the poll, the ruling PDP had made it clear to anyone who cared to listen that the election would definitely turn out to be a one man show because of its power of incumbency. Independent findings revealed that the party planned to distribute chairmanship and councillorship mandates as New Year gifts to loyal members and those who would be relevant to its return to power in 2019 as a restraint to APC’s rising popularity in the state since the party took over Abuja in 2015.
A PDP success in Delta would not have rocked the boat because the trend across Nigeria is for the party in government at the state level to record suspicious landslide victory in council elections. Despite this, many in the APC, who also had their plan to subvert the process, went ahead to prepare and campaign vigorously for the poll in the belief that their promise to change the status quo would come to reality.
Therefore, when the two political parties went into the contest, it became a case of two elephants at war as they struggled to prove their strength at the grassroots level but the APC, much early into the election, began to feel the enormity of the obstacles put on its path by the system.
In many of the council headquarters of the Delta State Independent Electoral Commission (DSIEC) visited, there were protests by members of the APC that they were being sidelined, as they were allegedly denied entry to the premises to observe the process of distribution of electoral materials for the exercise. Officials explained they had to prevent the process from being hijacked by desperate politicians.
With allegations of connivance between the electoral body and security agencies, tensions began to build up especially in volatile parts of the state where large-scale violence became the order of the day.At Ebu and Illah in Oshimili North, the home council of Senator Peter Nwaoboshi, there were allegations that the umpire and the police were dancing to the tune of the Senator who is very influential in the area.
For example, some prospective voters challenged the discretion of the presiding officer in putting the ballot boxes in a room during voting contrary to the old practice of placing the boxes where the voters could view them.
A DSIEC official, Kingsley Ebie, defended this action as a measure to prevent the boxes from being snatched although he could not provide any evidence of possible threats. Tempers flared when the insistence by some politicians that the boxes be brought out was curiously overruled by the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) at Illah Police Station who insisted that there was nothing wrong in keeping them out of the public.
At Ugbuenyi primary school, there were pockets of violence and outright rigging during the exercise. Around noon, an unmarked bus came into the venue and on interception by some youths, it was allegedly found to contain already thumb-printed ballot papers leading to a fracas that ended in the destruction of the ballot papers, which were strewn on the school field.
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Various other irregularities like underage and multiple voting, hidden ballot boxes and inability of voters to exercise their franchise, were observed in the area. When these persisted, many youths in the area lost their patience leading to outbreak of violence. At Ughelli, the office of the electoral commission was razed by a mob while a DSIEC adhoc staff was killed in the orgy of violence.
At Idemili, Ndokwa West council, five journalists accredited to monitor the elections were attacked and thoroughly beaten during a violent protest by some youths against alleged snatching of electoral materials by hoodlums.At the end of the exercise, DSIEC chairman, Mike Ogbodu, announced that the PDP won all the 22 chairmanship seats and all but one of the 424 councillorship positions. APC won only in Onicha Ugbo, Aniocha North council where the Minister of State for Petroleum, Ibe Kachukwu hails from.While hailing the outcome, the State Governor, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa expressed satisfaction with the conduct of the exercise even while the process was on going.
Addressing reporters at his Ward 3, Owa-Alero, Ika North-East council shortly after casting his vote, Okowa said, “DSIEC has given assurance that the election will be credible, free and fair and so far, you can see that people have come out to cast their votes.”
According to him, “The voting pattern adopted by DSIEC is such that once you are accredited, you cast your vote and you go for your business unlike in the past when accreditation commences at 8 am and end at noon before voting will commence. With this process, accreditation and voting continues from 8 am to 3 pm and you are expected to leave the voting centre immediately after casting your votes.”
But the APC, speaking through the state chairman, Jones Orhue, declared in a press statement that the entire exercise was a charade and orchestrated to humiliate the party and to continue to present the state as a one party state.Part of the irregularities enumerated by the APC was that voting started very late, thus disenfranchising many voters and that there was inadequate security even while the exercise was starved of sufficient electoral materials.
Reacting to these, Ogbodu insisted that enough materials and security personnel were provided and that the election was free and far but the APC described this as laughable, saying there was widespread and open connivance between the umpire, the police and the PDP to rob the APC of victory. Orhue, who expressed dismay at the way the election was conducted, alleged that the electoral commission acted the script of its paymaster, the state government, in awarding undeserved victory to the PDP.
However, PDP Publicity Secretary, Michael Ifeanyi said the APC was only looking for excuses to justify its dismal performance in an election the opposition didn’t prepare for.He said the APC was only hoping to reap results where it had not sowed seeds for the people, adding that it is the party on ground (PDP) that has impacted positively on the lives of the people at the grassroots.
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