Voters in Nigeria’s Imo State are taking part in a rerun gubernatorial election days after the Independent Electoral Commission [INEC] annulled the earlier one.
The voting was first held on April 26, along with gubernatorial elections across the country. The opposition candidate was ahead when electoral authorities canceled the results in some local government areas, saying it was being marred by irregularities.
Among the observers of today’s election was the voter advocacy group the Cleen Foundation. Its executive director, Innocent Chukuma, visited polling centers.
In some of them, tensions arose when people learned that election officials didn’t have ballot boxes. Voters translated this as an effort by INEC to rig the election, Chukuma said. “They interpreted that to mean an attempt to disenfranchise them.”
Many voters had to leave the lines because of heavy rain. “At the time we left there, it was getting out of hand, very tense, with party agents saying they would deal with election officials if the ballot box was not brought,” Chukuma said.
Military deployed in advance of voting
The Nigerian government sent troops to the state ahead of the rerun election. The incumbent governor, Ikedi Ohakim, of the ruling PDP has been accused of deploying them heavily as a way to intimidate the opposition. “There is a high presence of security officials -- both paramilitary and military. The military took charge of the highways and intersections and police and paramilitary were at the polling units,” said Chukuma. He added that up until that point the security forces had conducted themselves with discipline.
The governor has been criticized for imposing a curfew, “effectively making it difficult for people to move around,” Chukuma said. The authorities defended the deployment as necessary to protect the population in case of electoral violence.
Imo is a southeastern state with a population estimated at 4.8 million, mostly Ibos. Chukuma underscored the importance of the elections there, saying that even though the INEC has generally received positive reviews for its work during the elections as a whole, ”this is the Achilles heel….”
INEC has also been criticized for having made last-minute changes in the voting process without giving observers and opposition monitors enough time to get to their new locations. And at the last minute INEC introduced new accreditation requirements for election observers, further disrupting their efforts to get to the voting stations, Chukuma said.