Preparations for tomorrow’s presidential and National Assembly elections heightened across the states and the Federal Capital Territory on Thursday with more sensitive and non-sensitive electoral materials sent to Local Government Areas by state offices of the Independent National Electoral Commission.
Security agencies also readied for the polls by deploying their men and officers to the streets and areas considered as flashpoints.
In Abuja where the Inspector-General of Police, Suleiman Abba, announced the redeployment of six Deputy Inspectors-General of Police and six Commissioners of Police, journalists and election observers besieged INEC headquarters to collect their accreditation materials.
Some of the journalists whose accreditation kits were not ready as of Thursday evening, expressed fears that the development could affect their activities tomorrow.
The INEC management is expected to address a joint press conference with the authorities of the National Youths Service Corps on Friday (today).
Security was beefed up at the commission’s headquarters with military personnel, complementing the regular and the riot policemen on guard on the premises.
Also, security personnel, including soldiers, were seen on patrol and at checkpoints along the Nyanya- Jikwoyi Road, the Airport Road and Galadimawa.
Policemen maintained their regular patrol of the Kubwa-Zuba Expressway and strategic parts of the territory.
There was no part of the city with no policemen or soldiers, who were heavily armed.
Heavy traffic was noticeable in areas where soldiers set up checkpoints and searched vehicles with many passengers.
The plight of commuters was worsened by the fuel scarcity, which had persisted in the FCT for two weeks.
Many vehicles queued at filling stations while commuters, particularly those plying the Nyanya area struggled to board taxis.
The Force Public Relations Officer, Emmanuel Ojukwu, described the deployment of policemen and soldiers as routine and part of the build-up to the elections.
He called on Nigerians to be law-abiding during the elections, adding that “voters should exercise their civic right and go home and rest.”
Ojukwu pledged that the police would be professional and impartial in the discharge of their duty to ensure that the elections were credible, free and fair.
He said, “The deployment is routine; it is part of the build-up to the elections; we are working to ensure that the elections are hitch-free, fair and credible. We therefore implore Nigerians to support the police to achieve their mandate. Voters should vote and after voting, they should go home and rest.”
Ojukwu also said in a statement on Thursday that Abba redeployed six DIGs and five AIGs to coordinate the polls in the six zones of the country.
The affected DIGs are Dan’Azumi Doma South-East; Mamman Tsafe, South-South; Hashimu Argungu, South-West; Christopher Katso, North-West; Hilary Opara, North-East and Adeola Adeniji, North-Central.
The AIGs are Kalafite Adeyemi, who will serve as assistant coordinator, South-West; Bala Nasarawa, North-Central; Adisa Bolanta, North-West; Usman Gwary, Federal Operations , Abuja; and Mark Idakwo, AIG Zone 9 Umuahia.
The IG also ordered the redeployment of six CP s to various commands for the period of the elections.
Those affected are Hosea Karma, Rivers State Command; Adamu Mohammed, Anambra; Dan Bature, Enugu; Usman Abdullahi, Katsina; Jimoh Ozi-Obeh, Benue and Hyacinth Dagala – CP Department of Operations,FHQ in Abuja.
Abba directed all officers to exhibit the highest level of personal and professional conduct in the discharge of their duties.
36,204 security agents deployed in Lagos
The Lagos State Police Command said on Thursday that 36,204 security agents would be involved in the elections.
The CP, Kayode Aderanti, told journalists at a news conference in Lagos that the number comprised men of the NPF, the Nigerian Army, the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, the Department of State Services , the Nigeria Immigration Service and others.
Aderanti added that 500 patrol vehicles, 100 buses, 100 motorcycles, seven trucks, three Black Maria trucks, one luxury bus, three Armoured Personnel Carriers, one in each senatorial zone would also be deployed in the state.
According to him, five gunboats will man the waters while two helicopters will be used for aerial surveillance and patrol.
The Lagos CP said movement would be restricted from 6am to 6pm. But the IG had on Monday said that there would be restriction of movement from 5am to 5pm.
Aderanti stated, “Parents are warned to speak to their kids and wards not to be used to perpetrate violence. We’re ready to arrest such persons. 6am to 6pm is the restriction time for movement. There’ll be total lock down. Try and complete your movement before 6am. We however reassure those who are essential workers, that their security would be guaranteed.”
The state REC, Akin Orebiyi, also told journalists that speed and commercial boats as well as canoes were ready to take voting materials to the riverine parts of the state.
The Commander, 9 Brigade, Brig.Gen. A.M. Sabo, while reacting to a question on whether the army was not flouting a court order by deploying its men in states, said since the army was specifically called for a national assignment, it had no choice but to comply.
In Bayelsa State, Governor Seriake Dickson declared Friday (today) a work-free day for people who registered in their communities to travel.
Dickson, in a statement by his media aide, Daniel Iworiso-Markson, appealed to the people to turn out en masse to cast their votes for their preferred candidates.
He stated that his government had constituted a special committee to ensure compliance by all offices in the state except financial institutions.
The REC, Baritor Kpagi, said that INEC was ready for the polls as it had received all necessary materials.
“All I can tell you is that we are prepared for the election come Saturday; we have received the materials required for the election on Saturday. That is all I can say for now, ” he told journalists in Yenagoa.
Our correspondents, who visited Otuoke, the home town of President Goodluck Jonathan saw soldiers and other security operatives at strategic places awaiting the arrival of Jonathan on Friday (today).
Activities have picked up in the few hotels in the sleepy community as some of them were almost fully booked.
The REC in Benue State, Istifanus Dafwang, told The PUNCH in Makurdi that the distribution of electoral materials, including ballot papers, to the 23 Local Government Areas of the state started on Wednesday night and continued on Thursday (yesterday).
Dafwang added that the commission had achieved 84 per cent PVC collection in the state.
He said he did not envisage violence because INEC and security agencies had worked to ensure that the polls were peacefully conducted.
“We have Inter-Agency Committee on Election Security, where all the heads of the security agencies are present. The situation is under control”, Dafwang said.
Our correspondent in the state noticed armed policemen guarding the INEC office ostensibly to protect electoral materials and ward off potential troublemakers.
The men of the Police Anti-Bomb Squad used metal detectors to search visitors , observers and members of staff of the electoral body.
The Niger State Police command and INEC said they were fully prepared for the elections.
The REC, Nasir Ayilara, said that the training of all personnel for the elections had been concluded while the distribution of sensitive electoral materials to LGAs had commenced.
He added that as of March 24, about 85.6 per cent of the PVCs had been distributed.
Ayilara said, “Logistic arrangement is very adequate and we are hoping that everything will go smoothly as we have arranged it because all the necessary things that are within our power have been put in place.”
He explained that electoral materials would be further distributed to camps set up within the LGAs on Friday from where they would be moved to polling units for the elections.
Also, the Public Relations Officer of the state Police Command, Ibrahim Gambari, said the police had taken proactive measures to ensure peace during and after the polls.
He explained that not only had the police deployed personnel across the state,they had identified trouble spots and positioned their men to secure them .
Gambari said, “The Niger State Police Command is totally set for the elections with a view to having a very peaceful atmosphere before, during and after the elections.
“Part of the measures we have put in place is to train both our officers and men, mentally and physically for the conduct of police officers for electoral duty.”
Meanwhile, residents of the state crowded Automated Teller Machines in banks belying their concern about a possible outbreak of violence.
A park in the heart of Minna witnessed a flurry of activities as people scrambled for vehicles to leave while many also arrived Minna from Abuja and other places.
In Cross River State, INEC announced that it had attained 86.2 per cent distribution of PVCs in the state.
The REC, Sylvester Ezeani, who welcomed accredited election observers on Thursday, said, “By March 21, the PVCs collected were over 82 per cent, but I have just received news that the collection in the state as of today, stands at 86.2 per cent.”
On the level of preparedness of the commission for the elections, Ezeani said non-sensitive materials were sent to the LGAs before the February 14 elections were shifted.
He stated that what the commission was currently doing was to send more materials as they arrive from the INEC headquarters.
He said, “We in the commission are well prepared for Saturday’s elections. Yesterday(Wednesday), we took delivery of sensitive materials – the ballot papers, result sheets and everything coming to the office.
“As I speak to you, most of them have been sorted out and ready to be conveyed to the various LGAs. By Friday afternoon most of the sensitive and non-sensitive materials will be taken to the rack centres.”
On the preparation for reaching remote and riverine areas, he said there were enough boats going to Bakassi, Boki, Akampa, Ibeno and Obanleko.
Security operatives mounted roadblocks on major roads in Calabar metropolis.
Our correspondents, who went round the city on Thursday, observed that most shops at the motor spare parts markets were closed as many traders, especially those from the South-East, were said to have travelled home to cast their votes.
INEC has also started the distribution of sensitive materials to the 31 LGAs in the state.
The state REC, Austin Okojie, revealed this to newsmen while briefing them on the commission’s preparedness for the polls.
According to him, non-sensitive materials had already been distributed to all the councils in the state.
He stated that out of the 1,692,662 PVCs sent to the state, the commission had distributed 1,599,769, representing 95 per cent rate of distribution.
“We have taken delivery of 4188 card readers meant for accreditation of voters on Saturday polls, 3650 will be distributed to all the polling units in the state while the remaining 538 are backups in case of breakdown,” Okojie said.
He added that the commission had trained 15,452 ad hoc staff to be used on Saturday and April 11.
INEC, according to him, has boats to conveying people to riverine areas to enable them to participate in the elections.
The sensitive electoral materials were on Wednesday delivered to INEC from the Umuahia branch of the Central Bank where they had been deposited.
The REC, Prof. Selina Oko, who supervised the distribution, said INEC in the state was determined to conduct credible polls.
She explained that the materials, including ballot papers and result sheets, would be taken to the various councils under heavy security.
The Head, Voter Education and Publicity in charge of the state, Edwin Enabor , explained that the reason the commission decided to move both the sensitive and non- sensitive materials two days ahead of the elections was to avoid their late arrival as witnessed in some places in past elections.
He said that the sensitive materials were customised such that each polling unit has its peculiar materials.
This, he explained, was to make rigging impossible.
He advised voters to comport themselves well at the polling booths and to stay 300 metres away from polling units after casting their votes.[Punch]