AnalysesElection Security

Thuggery, Voter Apathy Taint Nigeria’s Election For New Governors

Counting is underway in Nigeria for new governors and state house assembly members. 

Thuggery and low voter turnout trailed the delayed elections conducted on March 18 by Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for 993 state house assembly and 28 governorship seats. 

During the elections, there were reports of thugs carrying out attacks to intimidate voters and suppress the voting process in some locations, particularly in the southwestern state of Lagos, the country’s economic nerve and home base of the President-elect.

In one of the incidents, thugs in large numbers were said to have invaded a polling unit in the Oshodi/Isolo Local Government Area of Lagos to disperse voters, waiting for election officials to commence voting activities. 

A similar case involved thugs moving in motorcycles and wearing masks to attack voting areas in the Igando/Ikotun area of the state. Security concerns also lead to the postponement of voting till Sunday for ten polling units in the Victoria Garden City (VGC) around Lekki. 

“We made a number of arrests. We also made some recoveries, in terms of INEC-sensitive materials, ballot boxes, and offensive weapons. The number of arrests is still being compiled from our field officers,” the state commissioner of police, Idowu Owohunwa, briefed the media.  

Similarly, in the southwest, a policeman and a child were shot during elections in the Idanre area of Ondo State. A witness disclosed that some hoodlums had stormed the polling unit but were pushed back by police officers.

“In the heat of exchange of fire, one police officer was shot, and a small girl was also caught in the crossfire,” the source said.

The state also experienced other election violence, including when thugs with dangerous weapons disrupted the elections and destroyed voting materials in Ute, Ose Local Government Area. 

In the southeastern state of Imo, security forces rescued  19 INEC Ad-Hoc staff abducted on their way to polling units in Ideato South Local Government Area. However, the election materials, including BVAS and sensitive materials, were not recovered.

“While the commission remains grateful to the security operatives, it condemns such acts of thuggery, intimidation and disenfranchisement of voters and urge the public to continue to have confidence in the electoral process,” the Resident Electoral Commissioner for the state, Sylvia Agu was quoted as saying. 

Though there were no governorship polls in Edo state in the south south of the country, the elections for the seats in the state’s House of Assembly were reportedly fiercely contested, and one incident of a gunshot sparking pandemonium was reported. 

Voter apathy

The use of thugs was a tactic to suppress voter participation in some locations. However, in some places, voters stayed away from the elections. 

In the northeastern state of Borno, it was reported that the situation was worse than in the Feb. 25 presidential and National Assembly elections.

“The majority of the voters in the metropolis of the two local governments that form the state capital, Maiduguri, did not turn out to vote”, the report stated. 

In the southern coastal state of Rivers, the Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers expressed concern over the low turnout of voters and blamed it on the previous national elections. 

“The first election came and people didn’t get what they wanted; obviously they are discouraged and it is expected. 

“But for whatever it is, it is still okay. You can’t force people to go and vote. But I am happy with the way it is going. The security agents are doing what they are supposed to do,” said the Governor.

The Governor of Kaduna in the northwest also lamented about the low voter turnout and intimidation.  “What I am seeing in the turnout is a little bit low compared to the presidential election. We already received reports of voter intimidation particularly in Southern Kaduna”.

Attacks on Journalists

The International Press Centre (IPC) has condemned the harassment and attacks on journalists while covering elections in some parts of the country, including Lagos, Ogun and Rivers States.

A crew from ARISE News channel was reportedly attacked, and their drones and other equipment were seized at the Elegushi palace area in Lagos.

Thugs were also said to have molested Africa Independent Television personnel and prevented them from covering the elections at some polling units in Eti-Osa, Ifako-Ijaiye and Amuwo Odofin local government areas of the state. 

According to IPC, In the neighbouring state of Ogun, a News Agency of Nigeria reporter was molested in the Itori Odo Area of Abeokuta South Local government. The mob also reportedly assaulted INEC officials with axes and allegedly destroyed ballot boxes.

In the northwestern state of Kano, a journalist, Ashiru Umar, with Premier Radio, was beaten by thugs while covering Saturday’s elections in Gwale Local Government Area of Kano.

According to him, it happened after an interview with a relative of a person who was attacked in the area by the thugs. “I went farther into the scene to confirm the name of the attacked victim. While filing my report, I heard someone saying that ‘he was taking video of us’, which alerted other gang members”.

Vote buying 

Voter inducement also marred the election in some locations. The country’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, arrested 65 persons for alleged vote buying.

The report says the Ilorin Zonal command in the northcentral arrested 20 of the suspects while operatives at the Kaduna Zonal Command apprehended 13. 

The officials of the EFCC monitoring the process in the zone of the southern city of Port Harcourt arrested 12 people for various offences related to inducing voters with money to vote, while the Uyo Zonal Command in the region arrested four people in Calabar. 

The remaining suspects were said to have been arrested in Gombe, Sokoto, Kebbi and Niger states.

In Gombe, the agency officials arrested ten people suspected of vote buying with N1.9 million cash and 43 wrappers.

Security Response 

Security forces deployed personnel across flashpoints, but it was insufficient to halt the violence on battlegrounds. It is expected that more details will be available in the coming hours and days on individuals arrested for election violence.

Apart from the Lagos police briefing, the Ogun State Commissioner of Police confirmed the arrest of some persons who tried to manipulate the electoral processes in some locations around the state.

Similarly, the police in Kano confirmed the arrest of three political thugs that disrupted elections at Gwammaja Yan Kosai, Kofar Mata area of the state.

HumAngle reporters saw the aftermath of an attempt to break up a polling unit in Chiranci, Gwale local government, where cutlass wielding youths were chased away by anti riot police. They arrested one man who was beaten bloody.

HumAngle election insecurity tracker continues to collate trends and incidents. As vote counting progresses, security will remain fragile in parts of the country where the governorship race was tense.

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Murtala Abdullahi

Abdullahi Murtala is a researcher and reporter. His expertise is in conflict reporting, climate and environmental justice, and charting the security trends in Nigeria and the Lake Chad region. He founded the Goro Initiative and contributes to dialogues, publications and think-tanks that report on climate change and human security. He tweets via @murtalaibin

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