By Uzoh Ugwueze, Enugu
The memories of the local government elections conducted in Enugu State last Saturday are bound to linger for a while for politicians and other stakeholders in the state. The PDP won all the 17 chairmanship seats contested and 258 councillorship positions so far declared out of the 260 electoral wards by the Enugu State Independent Electoral Commission (ENSIEC).
According the ENSIEC, elections did not hold in Eke and Obioma wards, both in Udi council area of the state. The election came with much excitement, expectations and preparations on the part of the people, especially the two leading political parties in the state — the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC).
The first controversy came a few days to the elections as the ENSIEC disqualified many candidates for reasons ranging from non-payment of tax, non-possession of permanent voters’ cards to refusal to attend screening. However, owing to complaints from the affected parties, especially the APC, which headed to a Federal High Court in the state, the ENSIEC reversed itself and cleared all the candidates.
Orient Daily reports that as residents filed out to cast their votes, twin explosions were heard in two locations within the state capital. It was indeed a sign of many other things to expect. The explosions occurred simultaneously at Coal Camp in Enugu North Local Government Area and Obeagu in Enugu-South council area. Very promptly, a team led by the commissioner of police in the state arrested three suspects over the Obeagu explosion. The suspects are all from Ebonyi State.
Confirming the incident, the spokesman of Enugu police command, Mr Ebere Amaraizu, said “the incident of minor explosion at a spare parts workshop in the morning of 4/11/17, leading to a polling station at Coal Camp did not interfere with the voting in the polling centre.
“There was a reported incident of explosion in the morning of 4/11/17 at the Coal Camp axis which is an enclave of artisans like welders, mechanics and auto electricians, among others. No life was lost just as operatives of the Explosive Ordnance Department of the Enugu State command of the police were on hand to conduct analysis to find out the possible cause of the explosion at the workshop and its nature,” Amaraizu said.
It has remained a mystery, at least for now, pending police release of preliminary report, the motive behind the explosion.
That was not all; a few hours later, news filtered into town that at least two persons had been killed in Oji River Local Government Area. According to the unconfirmed information, those killed were members of the All Progressives Congress. However, the police quickly dispelled the rumour.
Amaraizu said in a statement that nobody died in any part of the state during the elections. “Against the backdrop of the rumours making rounds that some persons were killed in Oji River Local Government Area of Enugu State today 4/11/17, the state command of the Nigeria Police Force wishes to make it categorically clear that there was no loss of lives in Oji River and throughout the entire state.
“We wish to state that there was an issue in which some electoral officials and materials were held hostage by some group of persons who had insisted that there will not be election in Oji River and its environs and those persons also threatened to burn down the local government secretariat should the election go on.
“The situation lasted until the arrival of the state Commissioner of Police, Danmallam Mohammed, and his entourage who had been on visitations to polling stations and booths monitoring the security situation.
“Following the group’s resistance, the issue was professionally handled as they were dispersed and consequently normalcy returned and there was commencement of distributions of electoral materials to centres and wards within Oji River and its environs. No loss of life and injury was recorded,” he said.
APC cries foul:
For the APC, there was no election across the state. According to the APC, the exercise was characterised by massive rigging aided by the electoral umpire and the police. The party said there couldn’t have been election when result sheets were not provided in any of the polling units by the ENSIEC.
The APC vowed to head to the courts to challenge the outcome of the exercise. The Chairman of the party in the state, Barr. Ben Nwoye, as well as the South East publicity secretary of the party, Hon. Hyacinth Ngwu, alleged that there was no election across the state.
Nwoye, who added that there was widespread violence, queried: “Even if the ENSIEC does not want to do election, does it worth the blood of anybody?”
He alleged that the electoral body disenfranchised the people of the state by making sure that no result sheet was brought to polling units, after which already prepared results were announced.
Hear him: “In this circumstance, we have no other option than to go to court; we won’t call for cancellation because there was no election in the first place; you cannot cancel what does not exist; so we are going ahead to challenge the outcome of the charade they did today in court.
“We have got reports of violence across the state; even the party’s governorship candidate in the 2015 general elections, Barr. Okey Ezea, was tortured. He was abducted, beaten and the worst could have happened but for the intervention of security agents. As I speak with you, he is in hospital receiving treatment. Several other persons were wounded during the exercise.”
On his part, Ngwu said: “The November 4 election for the purpose of electing local government chairmen and councilors was nothing but a glorified primary election conducted by ENSIEC for the PDP in the state. The election was a charade, deceitful and it has exposed the emptiness of PDP in Enugu State.
“It is a verifiable fact that all the members of the ENSIEC are card-carrying members of the PDP. And a few weeks to the election, ENSIEC redeployed all the old members of staff it inherited and freshly employed card carrying members of PDP as members of staff. It therefore was no surprise seeing on the election day all card carrying and active members of PDP as ad hoc staff for the election.
What happened on November 4 in Enugu State was nothing but PDP primary election. “It is quite unfortunate that ENSIEC cunningly drafted other parties to this PDP primary election. As it was PDP occasion, the party lived up to its expectations, by intimidating, assaulting and thereafter chased out other parties agents and had their primaries their own way. This primary election had all the characteristics of PDP as usual.
“Even where they allowed voting to the end, counting of votes did not take place at the polling unit, but rather the ballot boxes were taken to PDP controlled local government secretariats. In fact, the only good thing ENSIEC was able to do in the whole process that lead to the November 4 election was keeping sacrosanct the date. You may wish to recall that it disqualified 73 candidates of the APC and later reversed itself just three days to the election.
“ENSIEC imposed fees on the candidates and later reversed itself. ENSIEC also mandated political party candidates to attend a workshop as part of the criteria for the election. It also reversed itself. So, in our opinion, ENSIEC was not prepared for a election in Enugu State, and they did not hold that in the state.”
37 parties endorse outcome
However, a group of 37 political parties are singing a different song. They have described the exercise as free, fair and credible and in line with international best practices.”
The position of the group was signed by chairmen of the 37 out of 40 registered political parties in the State.
In a statement read by the Chairman of Social Democratic Party and leader of the group, Barr. John Nwobodo, they said “from our first hand observation of the election in every part of the State and the interim report, we adjudge the election free, fair and credible and confirm that it met the minimum requirements of international best practices.”
While noting that there were cases of non-arrival of election materials on time in some places, the group said, “the commission, however, took immediate steps to remedy the challenge it posed to the exercise of franchise by the electorates and extended the period of voting to 5 pm to enable every eligible accredited voter to cast their votes.
“There were few skirmishes and isolated cases of attempts to hijack electoral materials, yet these incidents are too infinitesimal and not widespread or substantial to affect the outcome of the election. We commend the commission for its neutrality and impartiality throughout the period beginning with the issuance of notice of election on August 1, 2017.”
They further stated that “never in the history of Local Government elections in Enugu has there been a commission that leaves its doors open to the political parties. The Commission was accessible to the political parties and much more they were receptive to superior arguments.
“We acknowledge that the commission yielded to all the demands of political parties, including removal of payment of nomination fees by candidates, reversing the disqualification of candidates for non-payment of tax or presentation of tax clearance and on other grounds.
“Enugu State stands out as a reference point in Nigeria where parties have a level playing field to contest local government election without any form of encumbrances such as nomination fees, tax, and screening as opposed to what is obtained in other states of the federation.
“We want to place on record our gratitude to the Governor of Enugu State, His Excellency, Rt. Hon. Dr. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi who gave all the needed support and funding to the commission to discharge its constitutional mandate without any interference whatsoever.”
They congratulated the winners as well as the losers, noting that “election is a process and structured in phases; we have passed the pre-election stage, the election stage proper and now we are at the post-election stage to complete the cycle. “Aggrieved candidates should express their grievances in accordance with the electoral law of the State by approaching the local government election tribunal to ventilate their dissatisfaction if any.”
Observers hail poll:
Independent observers sang the same song, describing it as peaceful, orderly and transparent. The group’s position was signed its team leader and the secretary Comrade Kalu Victor and Hon. Daniel Nkpanam, respectively. They hailed the Enugu State Indepedent Electoral Commission, ENSIEC, for demonstrating its capacity to conduct a free and fair polls.
“The Enugu State Independent Electoral Commission (ENSIEC) conducted elections in the 17 Local Government Areas and 260 State Wards for Chairmanship and Councillorship seats respectively on the 4m of November, 2017 as scheduled in line with the state electoral laws.
“Our team of observers been duly accredited by ENSIEC to observe the election divided ourselves into three groups for each of the three Senatorial Districts in the State for adequate observation and reportage across the State. We therefore observed the election as thus:
“The Enugu State Local Government Elections actually took place as scheduled on the 4th of November, 2017 in all the Local Government Areas of the State. The Election was calm, peaceful, orderly and of course transparent without any unlawful interference though there were reported cases of complains in some Local Government Areas as a result of late arrival of election materials.
“We observed that ENSIEC was very careful to make available all the election materials both sensitive and non-sensitive to their polling units in good time, although there were reports of late arrival of election materials in some place like Orji River, Udi, Enugu South, etc which resulted to late commencement of elections in the areas.
“There was a reported case/observation of commotion in some polling units in Orji River, Udi; LGAS but the timely intervention of security personnel quickly restored peace. While an agreement for peaceful conduct was unanimously reached by political party agents, the process continued and was concluded peacefully.
“We observed that there was high turnout of voters in urban centres While relative low turnout were seen in remotely rural areas. We also observed that the restriction of vehicular movement was not Well enforced.
Following the above observations, the observers recommended that “priority should be given to the difficult terrains and very far LGAS, Communities, etc in the State While distributing election materials to ensure quick and timely commencement of election in such areas.
“The State Government and the Election Management Body should engage committed Civil Society groups on an intensive civic voter education, sensitization and mobilization ahead of every election. This will go a long in encouraging and improving voter participation in elections. The chanting of political party songs, display of symbols by party supporters in polling units should be stopped to avoid violent confrontation by other party supporters.
They commended the Election Management Body (Enugu State Independent Electoral Commission) “for its Wonderful preparation in providing all the needed logistics and materials on time which actually encouraged the success of the election. “We conclude by saying that the November 4 Enugu State Local Government Elections actually took place as scheduled under a conducive and peaceful atmosphere. The election was very peaceful across the entire LGAS visited by our teams.
“We, therefore, adjudge it to have met the accepted standards in line with the State Electoral Laws. Hence the result should be accepted by all the candidates and political parties as a true reflection of the Wishes and decisions of the electorates.
“The Enugu State Independent Electoral Commission (ENSIEC) should therefore, go ahead to immediately issue Certificate of Return to the Winners so declared for immediate issue of Office and swearing in for them to swing into action in their various LGAS and Wards for constitutional and effective governance and representation in the grassroots.
“Once again, we commend the Enugu State Government for considering it necessary to conduct a local government election in the State, as a respect and value to our constitution as a nation.”
Meanwhile, the PDP is still basking in the euphoria of its victory. It has aligned itself with other political parties in the State that the exercise was indeed most credible and peaceful. The party has expressed its gratitude to the people of the state, especially the electorate for electing its candidates during the elections.
The PDP also congratulated its candidates for emerging victorious at the polls and appreciated members of the party and its teeming supporters for the maturity they displayed during the exercise, even in the face of provocation, adding that it was a demonstration of the party’s firm commitment to peace, credible and rancor-free elections.
In a statement signed by its state chairman, Hon. Augustine Nnamani, the PDP applauded Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi for providing a conducive atmosphere for the conduct of the elections. The state chairman equally commended Enugu State Independent Electoral Commission (ENSIEC) for providing a level playing ground for all the participants, and for prosecuting a credible election in the state.
Hon. Nnamani also praised the professionalism displayed by the security agencies in the state in ensuring that the exercise was peaceful and fair and free.
The state party chairman stated that “the PDP will not be distracted by the antics of those who are unpopular and had pre-knowledge of their defeat at the polls but deliberately resorted to acts of mischief in a failed attempt to disrupt and discredit the elections”.
He maintained that the party’s victory was “well deserved” and a good omen for the state in line with the untiring efforts of the governor to entrench more dividends of democracy to the people of the state, especially at the grassroots. As it stands now, the only option left for aggrieved candidates in the election is the courts. It is likely that the APC is heading for that option.
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