At least 27 different parts of Ondo State will be receiving special security attention when voters file out today to elect the governor of the state for the next four years.
The 27 areas have been identified by the security agencies as flash points and it is expected that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will also give them due attention.
Security has already been beefed up in all boundary towns with the police pledging the safety of all stakeholders.
However, the Transition Monitoring Group (TMG), a coalition of over 400 civil society organizations, cried out yesterday over what it called an invasion of the state by some governors.
The Chairman, Transition Monitoring Group, Dr Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, said at a pre-election press briefing that the refusal of these governors to leave the state constituted a threat to the peaceful and credible conduct of the election.
The INEC debunked the allegation by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that it had appointed a townsman of Governor Rotimi Akeredolu as the Chief Returning Officer for the election.
The commission said not only was the allegation untrue, it would not share its responsibility of appointing officials with anyone.
A highly placed INEC source said, ahead of the election, that more attention was being paid to security in order to protect the sanctity of the ballot.
“So far, security agencies did their assessment in Ondo and they have identified 27 flashpoints,” the source said.
Continuing, he said: “They named the affected places and the concerned local government areas.
“Since we have the intelligence at our disposal, we are taking to the advisory. We have also done our own risk assessment too.
“In terms of coverage, Ondo State has more wards than Edo State. We have 3,009 polling units in Ondo State, unlike Edo with 2,600 plus. Also, there are 192 wards in Edo compared with 203 in Ondo.
“Definitely, we need to deploy more resources and security personnel in Ondo. We are considering the intelligence at our disposal.
“We had a meeting with the Nigerian Navy on protection for electoral officers and the ballot process in coastal areas of the state. The Navy has promised to provide adequate escort on the sea to the remotest parts.
“In fact, there are some coastal towns and villages where officials will spend four hours on boat to get there. With the support of the Navy and other security agencies, these coastal areas were the first to get all the needed materials.
“The Army was simply superb in Edo State where they blocked all the entry points to the state. We are adopting the same strategy in Ondo for Saturday’s poll.”
Responding to a question, the source said INEC was expecting a peaceful poll.
The source added: “Historically, it has been politically volatile in Ondo State, but we are looking at another good outing. Overall, we hope it will be a peaceful poll.
“In 2016, there was tension in Ondo and we were worried. But a former National Commissioner said the threats were Shakara (mere hype).
“We didn’t believe but it came to pass. We are expecting that the same peaceful outlook will repeat itself.
“Like we did in 2016, INEC will ensure a free and fair poll. Since the election of ex-Governor Adebayo Adefarati in 1999, it was only the 2016 poll that was not challenged in court.”
The source said INEC would sustain its uploading of results at the polling unit to earn the confidence of voters.
“This uploading of results at the polling unit level was a test-run and it worked because voters were able to track the voting process and the outcome.
“INEC won’t compromise on the standard it has set in Edo. We will rather build on it.”
Police arrest 25 for firearms possession
Also speaking on Friday ahead of the polls, Police Deputy Inspector General in charge of the election security, Leye Oyebade, said a robust mechanism was already in place to ensure the safety of all stakeholders.
He said tactical squads and experts had been deployed to crime map the state for adequate security planning.
Oyebade said the police, in collaboration with the Navy, had adequately secured the riverine areas of the state.
His words: “We have been able to put a robust mechanism on ground that is going to work; a mechanism that it is going to give us the desired result, which is safety.
“We have deployed to the riverine areas at least three per unit. We have deployed men to all the collation centres and given adequate protection to INEC officials, and materials in all the necessary areas that are meant to be covered.
“Our preparation has been ongoing before now behind the scene. We have been able to crime map the state and noted the threat analysis.
“We will not be distracted. We have enough personnel to address the issues of banditry, kidnapping and all of that. We have our technical platform to track and do the needful.
“We have adequate number to address the supervision of this election; personnel are sound technically. We are good to go.
“We have been able to structure the terrain, the waterways, land and air, all entry and exit points. We have been able to get adequate personnel lectured, trained and tutored to be professional.
“So, with the personnel we have on ground, appropriate logistics and with the mindset to sacrifice, because this is a major event to celebrate our democracy, the police officers’ morale is very high. We know that the police and other security agencies are ready to protect lives and property.
“We have been able to support in terms of protection of INEC officials and transportation of INEC materials that has begun for some days now and has been going on without any issue.
“We have also had confidence building patrols and have assured the people of their safety. We are on ground to protect them, so, they should come out and cast their votes.
“We have a code of conduct guiding the personnel that have been deployed. They have been given a tag with their names and pictures on it to identify them in the places they are posted to. “Their names and mobile phone numbers are also with the officials at the various places they are posted. That is how we will curb fake or illegal policemen.
“We have also sent out dedicated mobile numbers- 07049960674 and 09152784339. These two numbers are for members of the public to have access to us through calls and text messages.
“If they think there is an urgent matter going on, they can send a message, pictures or videos to us through WhatsApp on this number: 07049936417.”
The DIG appealed to residents and non-residents alike to respect the movement restriction.
There will be no vehicular movement between 11.59 pm yesterday and 6 pm today across the state.
The move is meant to prevent political actors and trouble-makers from engaging in disruptive acts, circulation and use of illicit arms and hard drugs, movement of political thugs and disruption of the electoral processes.
Police Commissioner (CP) Bolaji Salami said at least 25 suspects were arrested in the last two weeks for illegal possession of firearms.
The suspects were alleged to be political thugs armed for the disruption of the electioneering process but were picked out by tactical squads following actionable intelligence.
According to Salami, most of them have been charged to court, adding that the police would leave no stone unturned to ensure peace and security during and after the voting processes.
“We have been picking them out. We have arrested like 25 for illegal possession of firearms and charged them to court.
“So far, there is calm and we are well prepared to ensure this exercise goes smoothly,” he said.
60 sniffer dogs, 7,079 to be deployed by NSCDC
On its part, the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) has deployed about 60 sniffer dogs and 7,079 officers and men drawn from the six South West states including Kogi and Kwara commands for the election.
Four Assistant Commandants General will be on duty during the poll.
Deputy Commandant General, Operations, Hilary Madu, who spoke in Akure on the preparedness of the corps, said six of the sniffer dogs would be deployed to INEC headquarters to complement personnel from the Special Force, Intelligence Department and SWAT unit.
Madu stated that the NSCDC officials had been properly briefed on their roles during the poll.
Governors’ presence threat to credible poll — TMG
The Transition Monitoring Group, a coalition of over 400 civil society organisations, kicked on Friday over the presence of governors in Ondo State for the election, saying their visibility was a threat to credible polls.
Addressing reporters in Akure, TMG chairman Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi wondered why the unnamed governors “refused to leave after campaign has ended.”
She said: These governors who travelled and sponsored their political expedition with the meagre resources of their states may constitute a threat to free and fair election by taking advantage of their immunity to be involved in election malpractices like vote-buying, intimidation of security operatives and sponsorship of political violence.
“All invading governors should leave since campaign has ended.”
She alleged that the three leading political parties for the election had engaged in promoting violence and inducing voters ahead of the poll.
“Since the beginning of electioneering, the three major political parties, APC, PDP and ZLP, have been involved in promoting political banditry, violence and reprisal, allegations and counter-allegations, vote-buying and voters inducement at different levels and in varied forms,” she said.
She added: “This action is illegal as it flouts electoral law.
“This has raised political tension in the state until a few days to the election when more security personnel were deployed in the state. TMG condemns this desperation for power by political parties as it undermines the fundamental tenet of democracy, which is free choice.
“TMG appeals to political parties and candidates to translate their agreement to observe peace by consenting to sign peace accord into practice through maintenance of order and observe all the rules governing elections during and after the poll.
“Election should not be a do-or-die affair if the purpose is to serve and not to loot the treasury. We demand the establishment of Electoral Offences Mobile Courts in future to deal with electoral offenders with dispatch on the day of election.”
The TMG, she added, had identified Akoko South East, Ilaje, Oke-Igbo/Ile Oluji, Akoko South West, Owo, Idanre, Akure South, Ese Odo local government areas as hotspots during the election.
Jegede to INEC: this election must be transparent and credible
The Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP’s) candidate, Eyitayo Jegede (SAN), asked INEC to build on its performance in Edo State by ensuring that Saturday’s election is free, fair, transparent and credible.
“We were excited about INEC performance in Edo, but we are slightly apprehensive that if INEC follows tradition and takes four steps backward, it will not be pretty for the election, for the state and the nation,” Jegede said through the spokesman of his campaign organization, Gbenga Akinmoyo.
He added: “INEC should remember that in 1983, the electoral crisis that brought down the Federal Government started here in Ondo State. So, free, fair, transparent and credible election is all we ask of from INEC. No favours to the PDP; just a fair contest.
“If INEC does its own job as a neutral umpire, we are confident that the people of Ondo State will be victorious in choosing their governor.”
OAU Vice-Chancellor is not our returning officer – INEC
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on Friday denied appointing the Vice-Chancellor of the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Prof. Eyitope Ogunbodede, as the Returning Officer for the election.
Mr Festus Okoye, INEC’s National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, said in Abuja on Friday that claim by the Chairman of the PDP National Campaign Council and Governor of Oyo State, Mr Seyi Makinde, that the Commission had appointed Ogunbodede as the Returning Officer was untrue
Makinde also alleged that Ogunbodede is a known crony of Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and might not be fair to all in the election, and called for his immediate replacement.
But Okoye clarified that INEC’s returning officer for the Ondo governorship election is not from Ondo State or from OAU.
He said: “While the Commission will not be drawn into speculations relating to the performance of its constitutional and statutory functions, it is imperative to set the records straight for the benefit of the people of Ondo State and the integrity of the electoral process.
“It is the sole responsibility of the Commission to appoint a returning officer for the Ondo governorship election and does not share this responsibility with any individual, group or political party.
“The returning officer appointed by the Commission will report to the Resident Electoral Commissioner for Ondo State on the date conveyed in his letter of appointment issued several days ago.
“The Commission is firmly focused to conduct a free, fair and peaceful election and implores all stakeholders to cooperate and play their own part in ensuring a peaceful election and not to engage in unhelpful speculation.”
Okoye said that the main concern of the Commission was to ensure a credible electoral process while the outcome is in the hands of the people of Ondo State.
Akeredolu himself said the allegation by Makinde was embarrassing and disgraceful.
Spokesperson of the campaign council, Mr. Richard Olatunde, said in a statement that Makinde, being a member of the Nigerian Council of State, should know that INEC would never, under any circumstance, appoint a native of the state as a retuning officer, but the Oyo governor circumvented truth and decency for political exigencies.
Akeredolu’s statements reads in parts: “We find as unfortunate the statement credited to the Governor of Oyo State and Chairman of the PDP National Campaign Council for the governorship election in Ondo State, Seyi Makinde, rejecting the Vice-Chancellor of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Prof. Eyitope Ogunbodede, as the Chief Returning Officer for Saturday’s governorship election in Ondo State.
“While it is forgivable for the PDP in Ondo State to continue to raise false alarm and make spurious allegations over the election, it is inexcusable for a governor like Seyi Makinde to market ignorance in such a shameful manner. This ridicules, in no small measure, the exalted office of Governor.
“As at the time he raised the objection, INEC had not even announced the appointment of a Retuning Officer for this Saturday’s election. We cannot but wonder how and where Governor Makinde in particular, got the information.
“Governor Makinde, as a member of the Nigerian Council of State, ought to know that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) does not and shall never appoint a returning officer who is an indigene to administer elections. No indigene of Ondo State can ever be made a returning officer.
“By this pedestrian dance, Governor Makinde has shown himself to be a disgrace to public decency and the office he is holding.
“For us in the All Progressive Congress (APC) and the Akeredolu/Aiyedatiwa Campaign Organisation, we believe in fairness and credibility. Our trust in INEC on a free, fair and credible election on Saturday remains undoubted.
“Therefore, we urge the people of the state to disregard the ignorance exhibited by the PDP and Governor Seyi Makinde while getting set to participate in the election on Saturday,” the statement said.
One million and four hundred thousand voters are eligible to take part in today’s election, which has Governor Akeredolu of the APC, Eyitayo Jegede of PDP and Agboola Ajayi of Zenith Labour party (ZLP) as the frontline candidates.