Guber poll: Voter apathy looms in Rivers as residents dread electoral violence

THE random blaring of sirens along the streets of Port Harcourt and dozens of security vans spotted on the highways suggest a heightened sense of insecurity within the city ahead of the March 18 Governorship and House of Assembly elections in Rivers State.

Assistant Inspector-General of Police, Elections, in the state Kayode Egbetokun, on Thursday, March 16, told journalists that the Command had deployed operatives massively and was better prepared to handle security issues which may arise during the exercise.

However, this has not eased the concerns of residents, many of whom are unwilling to participate in the election for fear of violence.

Some residents of Port Harcourt, including Victor Bassey, told The ICIR that they would not be involved in the March 18 election.

“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 key 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.

Further suggesting that Saturday’s election may be marred by violence, Publicity Secretary for the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Rivers state Darlington Nwauju accused the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) of recruiting thugs to destabilise the exercise.

“We want to put it on record to the Federal Government and the security agencies that lives are not safe in Rivers State on March 18,” Nwauju said while addressing journalists in Port Harcourt on Thursday, March 16.

He further alleged that the state governor Nyesom Wike was encouraging anti-democratic activities ahead of the exercise.

In the build up to the election, several cases of abduction have been recorded in the state.

Nwauju noted that gunmen dressed in police uniforms abducted the APC secretary in Ikwerre Local Government Area (LGA), Amadi Osaronu, on Wednesday, March 15.

Earlier in the week, 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 February 25 was also characterised by incidents of violence across several areas of the state, suggesting a possible repeat during the gubernatorial polls.

At least two persons were reported to have died from the violence that erupted during the elections, including a pregnant woman. Two houses were also burnt down in the Emohua LGA.

Our votes will not count

Other residents of the state have given more reasons why they may not participate in the governorship election.

A cab driver in Port Harcourt Kenneth Barry told The ICIR that he was disappointed with the outcome of the presidential election conducted in the state. He alleged that election results had been manipulated, noting that the development affected his confidence in the electoral process.

“As it stands, people are not interested. I predict there will be so much voter apathy. People are not happy. This was not what we envisaged from the previous exercise. People expected something better from INEC, and they got something totally different.

“We can go and do our voting, but at the end of the day, we do not know what the result will turn out to be. And from what INEC has shown us with the first one, the confidence is not there,” Barry said.

For Ben Karigia, who lives along Aba Road, Port Harcourt, the voting process is a waste of time.

“I am discouraged. During the presidential elections, I left my house very early and stayed at the polling unit till almost 12:00 am, counting votes. Still no results. It is a total waste of time,” he said.

These fears are also shared by hundreds of women in the state, who staged a protest at the headquarters of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Rivers on Wednesday.

    The women warned against a repeat of the February 25 election process, during which results were not uploaded from polling units and, in some cases, original results sheets were missing.

    Leading the protest, reality TV star, Natacha Akide urged INEC to conduct the elections according to the Electoral Act.

    “We are urging INEC to please do the right thing come March 18. It is a lot of sacrifice for us to come out to vote. We are voting because we are deciding our future and those of our unborn children. It is important to us. We are begging, INEC please, stick to the Electoral Act and deliver free, fair and credible elections to us,” she said.

    As Nigerians nurse their disappointment from INEC’s unfulfilled promises during the presidential election, states like Rivers may experience low turnout of voters in the March 18 governorship election.

    Ijeoma Opara is a journalist with The ICIR. Reach her via [email protected] or @ije_le on Twitter.

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