BETWEEN 8:30 am and 9:00 am on Saturday, March 18, officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had begun to appear at various polling units in Rivers State, setting up booths for the voting exercise scheduled for the day.
Hours after the booths were set up, the low turnout of voters was the first pointer to a looming apathy, as many polling units were utterly devoid of voters for long periods.
At a polling unit in Ndah-Bros, Elekahia Ward, Port Harcourt, INEC officials told that they had to send passers-by to inform other residents that the polling booth had been set up for voting.
This is despite the fact that residents were spotted walking individually or in small groups past the polling unit.
Some young men had also gathered a short distance away, drenched in sweat, energetically running after a football down the street.
Speaking with some residents gave various reasons for non-participation in the exercise, including lack of faith in the process and the threat of violence that hovered over the state prior to the election.
Early signs of violence
Ahead of the March 18 elections, several abduction cases were recorded across the state.
The Local Government Secretary of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Ikwerre, Amadi Osaronu, was abducted on Wednesday, March 15, and Publicity Secretary Darlington Nwauju said the abductors were dressed in police uniforms.
Nwauju also accused the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) of recruiting thugs to destabilise the exercise.
The police had also confirmed another abduction involving the Accord Party’s candidate for the State House of Assembly, Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni constituency, Chukwudi Ogbonna. He was kidnapped by gunmen while driving in his car at Rumuigbo, near Port Harcourt, on Monday, March 13.
The presidential and National Assembly elections held in the state on February 25 were also marred by cases of violence which left at least two persons dead and two houses burnt down.
These, among other incidents, had instilled a fear of possible violence in some residents, including Victor Bassey, who told that he would not be involved in the elections during a chat on Friday, March 17.
“I gave a man a ride last week, and he was in a long conversation with somebody on the phone. I realised from the discussion that he was probably one of these grassroots politicians.
“His statements suggested that the elections will be rough. I also know that some of the candidates have has thugs, including APC or PDP candidates. They have boys who work for them. So no, I will not even come out on that day,” Bassey said.
The observed during the elections that ballot papers provided at several polling booths in Port Harcourt were less than the number of registered voters per unit.
This led to a clash between party agents and INEC officials at Unit 046, Ward 19, Elekahia, in Port Harcourt.
The agents insisted that voting would not proceed until the required number of ballot papers were provided, regardless of the presence of only a few voters.
“Even if it is only five persons that vote here, the remaining papers should be cancelled,” the APC agent screamed.
The argument which ensued at the unit and some other areas observed by were early signs that the exercise could get rowdy in the state.
Movement of essential workers restricted
Despite tags issued by INEC to essential workers in the state, movement was an arduous task, as journalists experienced some difficulty visiting polling units on election day.
Police officers stationed along Port Harcourt roads to enforce the restriction of movement stopped reporter along with other journalists on election duty, delaying them in some cases before eventually allowing them to go.
During one of the numerous stops, a policeman explained to that the checks were necessary as there were reports of hoodlums making away with ballot boxes in the state.
There were also at least five deaths reported during the polls in Khana and Emohua local government areas of the state.
Although INEC officials arrived at polling units between 8:30 am and 9:00 am, sorting and counting began in several polling units as early as 2:30 pm due to the low turnout of voters.
As ballot boxes were delivered to Registration Area Centres (RAC), observed some violence at the Ward 3 RAC, Rumuokwurusi, resulting from issues relating to uploading of results.
There was an exchange of words and blows between some party agents present, including the Social Democratic Party (SDP) candidate for the Obio-Akpor House of Assembly Bright Chizzi Amadi.
He was seen crying and drenched in sweat, and speaking to, he and some party agents alleged that INEC officials had not uploaded figures announced at polling units to the result viewing portal (IREV).
“All the agents I sent to my unit, they chased them away. Now I have come to the RAC centre. I said let them upload and show me their BVAS let me see if they uploaded it, they refused. Is it good? Rather they want to fight me,” he said in tears.
Regardless of the irregularities recorded at the polls, and despite being stuck with a corruption case brought against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Siminalaye Fubara emerged winner of the elections in Rivers.
Fubara was declared winner by INEC on Monday, March 20, after polling 302,614 votes, followed by Tonye Cole of the All Progressives Congress (APC) with 95,274 votes, while Beatrice Itubo of the Labour Party (LP) took third place with 22,224 votes.