(By Chris K. Amadi)-The bye-election on Saturday, to elect a representative to fill the vacant seat of Port Harcourt State Constituency 3 at the Rivers State House of Assembly has been suspended because of widespread violence.
The announcement was made Saturday night by the Resident Electoral Commissioner, REC, in Rivers State, Mr. Obo Effanga. Relying on Section 26 of the Electoral Act 2010, the REC said he had to do the needful in the circumstance but did not give a new date for the bye-election.
It would be recalled that the Port Harcourt State Constituency 3 seat became vacant following the resignation of Hon. Victor Ihunwo, a Peoples Democratic Party lawmaker, who is now the chairman of Port Harcourt City Local Government Council consequent upon his victory at the council election conducted recently in the state. In many locations, there were reports that voters, who had come out to vote were not allowed to exercise their franchise by hired hoodlums who shot into the air and ordered those who had come to vote to leave.
At Rumuelechi community, in the Mile 3 area of Port Harcourt, violent confrontation between Hon. Victor Ihunwo, Mayor of Port Harcourt City Local Government Council and a man eye witnesses said was Hon. Ojukaye Flag Amachree, chairman of the All Progressives Congress, was narrowly averted when Hon Ihunwo confronted the Kalabari born politician on his mission to the area on that Saturday morning, with a crowd of strange faces, at a time when the bye- election was supposed to be going on. We gathered that bottles were freely used by some youths, with National and other streets in the area littered with broken bottles.
Similarly, News Agency of Nigeria, NAN, reported that suspected hoodlums accused of working for one of the major political parties attacked election officials in an attempt to hijack election materials.
Mr Gbekwele Chidi, a voter and witness, confirmed the incident to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Saturday.He said that the attack took place at Nkpolu-Oroworokwu community. NAN reports that the incident took place specifically at Obiri Okah, Ward 10, Polling Units 023 & 024 in Nkpolu-Oroworukwu community.
Chidi said trouble started when suspected political thugs who attempted to force their way into the centre, were stopped by some unarmed police personnel at the polling units manned by INEC personnel. “So, after the police refused them entry into the centre; the thugs resorted to throwing stones and bottles at the police personnel,” he said. He said that the hoodlums, thereafter, started firing gunshots into the air apparently to frighten and intimidate voters and the unarmed police personnel.
“Later, some armed policemen in their vans arrived the scene and started shooting and firing teargas to disperse the rampaging thugs.
“After dispersing the hoodlums, the police then took the election materials, INEC officials and NYSC members to their station,” Chidi said.
Mr Chichi Agbamoro, a Principal Administration Officer of INEC, Abuja office, also confirmed the incident.
He told NAN that thugs attacked INEC officials and voters at Ward 10, Units 30, 206 and 207 at Nkpolu-Oroworokwu Town Hall.
Agbamoro, who claimed to have witnessed the attack, said that the hoodlums came to the polling units armed with guns, machetes and bottles.
“When they arrived, they started shooting and thereafter snatched the election materials to unknown destination,” she said.
NAN reports that the bye-election was largely peaceful at Ejiegbu 2 Ward 10, unit 44 and Mgbundukwu Ward 15, Unit 3, Polling Units 001, 006 and 007.
There was large turnout of voters with presence of unarmed police personnel and operatives of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) at the centres.
Bright Fabian, one of the APC party agents at ward 15 praised INEC for the early arrival of election materials to the centre.
“This is the most peaceful ward because there has not been any case of violence. Voters and party agents have been peaceful and orderly,” he said.
The Police Public Relations Officer, Rivers Command, DSP Nnamdi Omoni, who confirmed the violence to NAN, said the state Commissioner of Police, Zaki Ahmed, was leading a team to the affected wards.
Recall that, as a way of check mating violence during the bye- election, Governor Nyesom Wike had on Friday, in a state wide broadcast, imposed restriction of movements in the area where the exercise would be taking place, as part of measures to ensure a conducive atmosphere for the bye-election, but unfortunately, hired hoodlums had enough room to do the bidding of their masters.