…as INEC declares Uzodimma reelected in Imo

Yiaga Africa, a non-profit organisation promoting participatory democracy, human rights and civic participation, has queried the failure of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct elections in some polling units in Imo and Kogi States during Saturday’s off-cycle governorship elections in the three states of Imo, Kogi and Bayelsa.

Similarly, Connected Development (CODE), an INEC observer mission, has highlighted significant observations and concerns during the elections.

This is even as INEC on Sunday morning declared the incumbent governor of Imo State and candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Hope Uzodimma, winner of Saturday’s governorship election in the state.

The Vice Chancellor of the Federal University, Oye Ekiti, Prof Abayomi Fashina, who was the state returning officer, declared Uzodimma re-elected after over eight hours of collation of local government results.

“That you, Hope Uzodimma of APC, having satisfied the law, is hereby returned elected,” Fashina declared.

But Yiaga Africa, which played the role of election observer in Saturday’s governorship elections in the three states, in a statement on Sunday signed by the Chair of Yiaga Africa WTV Working Group, Dr. Hussaini Abdu, asked INEC to explain the status of the elections in the said polling units.

“Yiaga Africa calls on INEC to clarify the status of locations where elections did not hold, including the upload of results from polling units where elections did not hold,” Yiaga Africa said.

Quoting reports from some Yiaga Africa’s Watching The Vote (WTV) observers in Imo State, the organisation said the reports indicate elections did not take place in 12 percent of Yiaga Africa sampled polling units.

“These cases were prevalent in Orsu, Okigwe, Oru East, and Orlu LGAs. Yiaga Africa also monitored the upload of results on the IReV, especially those from polling units where elections did not hold.

“For Orsu LGA in Imo State, Yiaga Africa’s WTV observers reported that the election did not take place in nine (9) sampled polling units in the LGA.”

It said there were speculations that INEC may have relocated all polling units to the LGA headquarters on election day, noting, however, that voters in Orsu LGA were not informed of the change in polling unit location and INEC failed to issue an official statement on the supposed temporary re-location of polling units.

“In Okigwe LGA in Imo State, Yiaga Africa observers also reported that elections did not occur in eight (8) sampled polling units. In Oru East LGA, the election was not held in eight (8) of Yiaga Africa’s sampled polling units. In addition, elections were not held in seven (7) of our sampled polling units in Orlu LGA and in one (1) of our sampled polling units each in Ideato North, Ikeduru, Oru West and Owerri West LGAs,” the organisation said.

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Yiaga Africa said it was deeply concerned with the upload of results form EC8A for some of the sampled polling units where elections were not conducted in Orsu, Oru East, Oru West, Ideato North, Ikeduru and Okigwe LGAs on the IReV.

“To ensure transparency and to protect the integrity of the process, Yiaga Africa calls on the INEC to clarify the status of voting across polling units in Orsu, Okigwe, Oru East and Orlu LGAs in Imo State.

“Additionally, INEC should investigate the report of likely election malpractices in these polling units, especially for locations where results have been uploaded on the IReV without the conduct of accreditation and voting,” it said.

On its part, CODE, at a press briefing via its Situation Room on Saturday, commended INEC, security operatives, and the residents of the three states for their dedicated commitment to ensuring a transparent and credible electoral process.

It noted that election observers strategically placed across the states reported an overall atmosphere marked by peace and calm, as well as prompt deployment of adhoc staff and materials by INEC, which facilitated early commencement of voting.

It, however, observed that security personnel hindered observers from taking pictures at a polling unit in Ajaokuta LGA, Kogi State.

It also observed that there were instances of delayed voting. Bayelsa and Imo, for instance, experienced delayed voting in specific locations due to the absence of party agents and late arrival of INEC officials.

The observers noted the theft of INEC materials in Ekeremor LGA, Bayelsa State, which was, however, resolved by citizens without casualties.

In Eke-mbutu Market Square Ward, Imo State, a BVAS machine malfunctioned, displaying Chinese language and causing a temporary delay.

Also, the observer group said low voter turnout marred the election in some areas.

“Reports indicated low voter turnout in certain areas, including Owerri North at Okwu Uratta Primary School Ward,” the group said.

Equally, vote buying concerns were raised as verified reports revealed instances of vote buying in Bayelsa and Imo, with amounts ranging from N1,000 to N20,000.