Officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) are reportedly held hostage inside a public secondary school in Essien Udim, Akwa Ibom, in the ongoing rerun elections in the state, the electoral body has told PREMIUM TIMES.
The school – Independent High School, Ukana – is the location for polling unit 9 in Ukana West Ward 2, Essien Udim.
Godswill Akpabio, the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, is from the ward.
“In Independent High School, Ukana, poll officials have been taken in, we learnt that there are persons who are either they are fake or real DSS officers and soldiers. The poll officials, their phones have been taken away from them, we can’t reach them and an insider has sent a message to us that what they are doing there they are thumb-printing, they don’t allow the use of card reader in the place,” the INEC official said at about 12:20 p.m. on Saturday.
The official said voting materials for the ward were “hijacked” since 6 a.m. or thereabout.
“There are some disruption going on there, despite all that we have said that we must change the image of what we are doing. This is only one local government area,” he said.
INEC spokesperson in Akwa Ibom, Don Etukudoh, confirmed the development to PREMIUM TIMES. “They are still being held hostage right now,” Mr Etukudoh said at 1:52 p.m.
Earlier in the day, thugs, assisted by the notorious State Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigerian police, prevented some journalists from entering the Independent High School, Ukana, until the intervention of the police spokesperson in the state, Nnudam Fredrick.
The journalists, including officials of Nigeria Union of Journalists in the state, later left the school premises to other polling units in the local government area.
Mr Akpabio’s spokesperson, Anietie Ekong, in an apparent response to the reports coming out from Essien Udim, said the public should “ignore infantile propaganda linking Senator Akpabio to anything that is going on in Essien Udim LGA in the name of rerun elections”.
“We have gathered that some PDP-sponsored thugs were planning to carry out a sinister plot during the rerun elections and link it to Senator Akpabio.
“Security agencies should be on the watch out for miscreants and sponsored thugs, apprehend them and visit the full weight of the law on them,” Mr Ekong said in a Facebook post, Saturday afternoon.
Mr Ekong said the minister has been in his house in Uyo, and not in Essien Udim, since Saturday morning.
Mr Akpabio lost his bid to return to the Senate for a second term in 2019 when INEC declared Chris Ekpenyong of the Peoples Democratic Party winner of the poll.
Amid complaints of election fraud and a petition to the tribunal, the former Senate minority leader who was later appointed minister, said he was no longer interested in a repeat poll, but INEC rejected a replacement of candidate.
The electoral body is also conducting reruns for the state and federal constituencies in the area.
Both Nse Ntuen, the APC candidates for the Essien Udim State Constituency, and Emmanuel Akpan, the APC candidate for the Ikot Ekpene/Essien Udim/Obot Akara Federal Constituency on Friday announced their withdrawal from the elections.