Peaceful elections marred by voter complaints in FCT

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By Tola Akinmutimi, Abuja

Despite its efforts and assurances of its readiness to conduct hitch-free and credible elections on Saturday, field assessments of the exercise across communities in the Federal Capital Territory showed that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) failed to tackle the challenges of proper documentation and other logistics before calling Nigerians to come out and cast their votes.

The Nigerian NewsDirect’s assessment of the exercise in some satellite towns of Kuje, Lugbe, Soka and many others reflected that many voters couldn’t find their names on the voters registers even as some contended with the problems of Permanent Voter Card (PVC) non-recogntition as well as inability to find their polling units, despite being recognized by the INEC digital card readers.

Yes, the elections were peaceful in most polling units visited by our correspondents with adequate security provided around the polling units but the processes of accreditation were hall-marked by late arrival of INEC officials in some polling units and initial hitches in the card reader machines.

Our assessment of the exercise  at the Polling Unit 003 located in Kayada Primary and Secondary School, Kuje showed that many voters could not find their names on the INEC registers while others had problems with their PVCs not being recognized by the card reader machine.

In addition, at the Polling Unit 003(C), the Presidential election ballot papers were not available for the voters to use. The presiding officer of the Unit, who failed to mention his name, said that he was “not aware that the ballot papers for the Presidential election was not included in the materials handed over to him by INEC.

When asked about his assessment of the exercise at the Polling Unit generally, one of the Election Observers representing the Justice Development and Peace Commission (JDPC), Michael Abah, confirmed the technical and logistic challenges faced by the INEC officials, saying that “the card readers were not functioning effectively when they started the exercise but they are now doing fairly well.”

Abah expressed his disappointment over other ‘avoidable’ problems, including late arrival of INEC officials to the polling unit which, he said, caused initial delay to early commencement of the exercise.

When asked on his views about the exercise, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) agent, Sunday Haruna, said he was satisfied with the exercise in the unit.

However, his Alliance of Progressives Congress (APC) counterpart, Magaji Yusuf, expressed serious concern about the missing Presidential election ballot papers in Unit 003(C) which, he said, was “very worrisome in this exercise which is of national interest to voters”

In their  remarks, most of the voters who had voted, including Mallam Onuja Mahmood, Oyebode Moshood and Mrs. Funmilayo Adeosun, tod our correspondent that they were satisfied with the process of the exercise and commended INEC for its efforts to conduct the elections.

At Lugbe, another satellite town in the FCT, monitoring of elections at the various polling units reflected a delayed exercise, marked by complaints of voters who could not find either their names in the INEC registers or had the problem of the card readers not recognizing their PVCs.

At the Government Secondary School and Mr. Biggs polling units, the exercise did not start until about 11.am even after the INEC officials had arrived the polling units as early as 8.30 am.

Some of the voters who couldn’t find their names on the INEC list at the Mr Biggs polling unit 014, including Adegboyega Akindele, Frank Harbor, Joy Olewe, Nicholas Eku, Nwanodu Frank-Chioma, blamed INEC for not perfecting the voting arrangements and expressed their disappointment on the exercise.

Specifically, Nicholas Eku lamented the delay in the commencement of the exercise and the hardship voters were going through before they were accredited, adding that “I came as early as 7 am and INEC people didn’t come until about 8.30am and as I am speaking with you now, it is about 11 am, I have not been accredited”

Reacting to the voters’ complaints, the INEC Presiding Officer at the unit, Miss Christianah Bankole, admitted that there was some little delay of the exercise due to some hitches in the card readers but assured that all voters would cast their votes “as we have now commenced the exercise in full blast as you can see that voting has commenced smoothly here.”

Some of the party agents interviewed admitted that there was a little delay of voting but expressed full confidence in the INEC to make the exercise credible.

The Young Peoples Party’s (YPP’s) agent, Alex Balami; his ANRP counterpart, Kolawole Ojo; and the APC and PDP agents, Ahmed Hamman and Rhoda Beatrice  respectively  rued the late commencement of the exercise but then expressed  belief “that INEC has demonstrated that it is ready to make the exercise free and fair and violent free.”

At the Area 1 polling unit within the FCT metropolis, our correspondent observed that voters’ complaints were more strindent in polling units 001, 002 and 003 at the Area 1 Primary School where hundreds of voters claimed they arrived the polling units as early as 6.30 am.

While some of the voters like Mallam Muhammed Aliu Yabo, a physically challenged elderly man, and Christianah Alao expressed their satisfaction with the exercise, scores of the voters, including Chigozie Paul, Ugberukwu Kingsley, Juliet Uchenna, Shehu Abubakar Issah, Abigael Onuh and Cecilia Nwakwo, complained that of either their PVCs were not recognized by the card reader or that their names were not found in the INEC registers.

When contacted, one of the Presiding Officers in the polling units, Promise Ngozi NNaji, said that the complaints of the voters were noted and that she had contacted her Senior Presiding Officer (SPO) for possible solutions to the complaints.

“Yes, the voters are complaining over some issues like not finding their names in the register. I have contacted my SPO and I know their complaints will be attended to. I know INEC has made adequate preparation for this exercise and is prepared to solve all problems that may arise during the conduct of the elections. My appeal is that the voters should exercise some little patience”, Nnaji assured.

The APC party agent in one of the polling units, Musa Yusuf, expressed satisfaction with “the way INEC was handling the exercise so far”, while his PDP counterpart, who simply identified himself as Haruna, maintained a similar position, adding however that “the missing names of many voters in the INEC list is a source of worry to us.”