There was a high level of irregularities perpetrated by political thugs and some security officials at the November 16 governorship election in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State capital.
Observers witnessed ballot box snatching, disappearance of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) officials, harassment of journalists and observers, delays in arrival of voting materials and spontaneous protests.
The irregularities broke out shortly after the exercise began on Saturday morning, as supporters of the two dominant political parties — Peoples Democratic Party and All Progressives Congress — attempted to coerce voters.
PREMIUM TIMES observed that while thugs invaded some polling units, security officers were induced by party agents in some places, with some of them being caught on camera collecting bribes.
Elsewhere, the security agents were overzealous as they restricted vehicular movement of accredited journalists and observers. There were also cases of vote-buying in many of the polling units, acts that contravene electoral guidelines.
Thugs invaded Opolo Ward 5, Polling Units 4, 5, 6, 8, and 10 via a nearby river with an attempt to snatch ballot papers. The thugs who were fully armed also beat up some voters while some observers and journalists sustained injuries.
Security operatives were ultimately able to restore peace to allow voters cast their ballots from 12:00 noon, four hours after the exercise was scheduled to officially commence at 8:00 a.m.
PREMIUM TIMES on Saturday also reported how thugs invaded the PU 020, Ward 05, Etegwe Primary School, Yenagoa, at about 4:21 p.m.
PREMIUM TIMES reporter who witnessed the violence reported that about 20 thugs came with dangerous weapons and chased away some Youth Corps members working as ad-hoc staff of INEC.
The thugs carted away thumb printed ballot papers and boxes and escaped through the rear of the unfenced Etegwe Primary School. Many of the voters also fled the poling unit for fear of being harmed by the rampaging thugs.
Electoral observers and INEC officials also fled the venue.
Journalists, Observers Restricted
Security officials including police and soldiers prevented accredited journalists and observers from moving across Yenagoa, the capital.
PREMIUM TIMES and TheCable staff members were amongst those whose movements were restricted, even after showing their INEC accreditation tags.
One soldier said “that is the order” when asked why they were blocking the road and preventing free passage of accredited persons.
Some accredited journalists were also blocked from entering the state’s election collation centre in Yenagoa.
Wilfred Ifogah, a voter education official at INEC, said security agents misunderstood INEC instructions.
“We have restricted the number of journalists in the hall because of space but not the entrance to the premises,” Mr Ifogah said. “Observers too cannot have access to the main hall. We are sorry, there is no space.”
Corps Members Attacked
A Youth Corps member went missing after thugs returned to polling units 4,5,6,8 and 10 at about 1:00 p.m., about an hour after peace returned to the neighbourhood and people began coming out to vote.
Another corps member was harassed by All Progressives Congress (APC) party agent at PU 4, Ward 6, Epiie lll, Yenagoa.
The agent disrupted voting and also attacked a presiding officer. He argued that voting should not continue after 2: p.m. even though the exercise started late there.
He was seen dragging voters’ list with the electoral officer before security agents intervened to settle the disruption.
Security Agents Bribed
Three Civil Defence officers were caught on camera taking bribes from a party agent in Yenagoa.
PREMIUM TIMES captured the three officers at PU 4, 5, 6, 8 and 10, (positioned together) in Ward 5, Opolo, Yenegoa. A party agent was seen dragging the three officers to a hidden place where he gave them the money.
The officers were filmed as they shared the money among themselves after the agent had left.
Some women from Ward 5 in Biogbolo community, Yenagoa, protested alleged non-voting in the ward.
A video seen by PREMIUM TIMES indicated that the women who carried placards with various inscriptions alleged that thugs employed by the APC “ensured that voting did not take place in the ward.”
The women who also held plastic bottles chanted slogans of “we no go gree” in pidgin English, suggesting that they would not tolerate the situation.