Accredited officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission were on Saturday blocked by some soldiers from conducting their lawful duties in parts of Edo North, the Guardian newspaper is reporting.
The INEC officials were taking election materials to Ward 10, Unit 1 in Iyamho, Etsako West Local Government Area when they were stopped by soldiers who had laid siege to Governor Adams Oshiomhole’s hometown, the report said.
The officials told reporters they were forced to sit on the ground, alongside their police escort for several hours.
“They were later allowed to leave after they got calls from their superiors,” the report said. “The soldiers said they were acting on strict orders from above.”
The paper reported Governor Adams Oshiomhole as expressing shock at the development and wondering why electoral officials should not be restricted on their own day.
Even journalists, the report said, were blocked by the soldiers who insisted “that were not permitted to monitor the exercise from one unit to another as they were only allowed to monitor a particular unit”.
In response to the development, a livid Governor Oshiomhole said, “Yesterday (Friday) I addressed the Press and I did say that Brigadier Odidi has chosen to frustrate this exercise in Edo North. Ironically, Brigadier Odidi is from Agenebode and he is the one who is giving this unlawful order.
“Why the Nigerian Army will be used in this manner, only God knows. So I am surprised that they are restricting INEC Officers from distributing materials. I have told the Brigade Commander and I am waiting to see what he is going to do but when you bear in mind that time is if the essence, if we finally go and beg the General to please allow democracy, time is gone.
“First there is no light across the country so we are going to have everywhere in the dark. Under such situation, nobody knows what happens but I refuse to be frustrated and I appeal to our people not to be frustrated, we will sort things out.
“It is clear they have serious problem taking off. As you can see I am here and they say the card reader is not well programmed, it is not functioning and I got report from my Ward Headquarters that there are materials that are there and apparently the returning officers are trapped there because the soldiers wouldn’t let them cross their barricade. From Apana the Ward Headquarters to this place, my voting centre takes about 10 minutes because of the good roads we have done.”
The Governor, according to the report, added, “I have complained to the soldiers here. I have also called the Brigade Commander to draw his attention to it. This one is completely incomprehensible because I do not know what the briefing of the Army is but what Professor Jega said is that in the event of a machine not working, they have spare to use and they have officers who would put them to work.
“Now if the Army is blocking INEC officials from moving, this is a new dimension that we have not heard of before and I thought the business of the Army is basically to check people who are carrying offensive weapons, I do not know if card reader is now an offensive weapon. I have complained to the Brigade Commander, Major General Olaleye and you have also heard me mentioning it to the Electoral Officer (E.O).
“My appeal; our people have a proverb that when you know that enemies are surrounding you, you do not go and rub yourself with an inflammable chemical such that when they just push you a little bit and you sit near fire, you get roasted. There is no doubt there are enemies of democracy, there is no doubt there are people who do no want free and fair elections and therefore I am not going to lend support by way of any comment that will readily suit the expectation of those who are anti-democratic.
“I have spoken to the INEC REC in Benin and I believe that Professor Jega the Chairman should be aware of what is going on in Edo where card readers are not working in many places. We have gotten reports from Benin and across the state and it appears the problem is rather widespread but it is my hope that INEC has sensible alternatives to invoke when we are in this kind of critical condition.
“I want to appeal to Nigerians, we have suffered enough. One more day of suffering will not kill us so let us exercise all the patience that we can, let’s refuse to be frustrated, let us not resort to a shouting match. By the Grace of God, God will not leave us hopeless.
“As leaders we must provide leadership role, more so at this hour. I have faith in democracy, it is not a choice, it is the only option. All of us have to be ready to sacrifice the day. I am very impressed seeing ordinary people queue up patiently to vote. These are farmers who if they don’t work, they don’t earn. They are not like urban people who put pen to paper and steal money and earn even without working. If they sleep, their production will sleep. So they donate their production today for Nigeria’s democracy and this is what they get, but I am happy that they are not fighting.
“It is already getting to a critical point, it is few minutes to 11:00am and some materials have not been able to reach here because the Army blocked up the roads for INEC, and where INEC has reached, the machines are not working. I want to hope that this will be solved and so let us wait.”