About 40 adhoc staff of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) are currently stranded at Aboin community in Southern Ijaw local government area of Bayelsa state.
One of the victims told TheCable that the suspected militants attacked the electoral officials who were conveying materials to riverine communities through boats. She said the suspects hijacked electoral materials in most parts of the area and abducted the party agents in all the boats they raided.
The election could not hold in the area on Saturday as a result of violence between supporters of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Though the police denied the incident, residents, INEC staff and electoral observers who witnessed it confirmed that the party supporters engaged in a gun duel that lasted hours. Explaining that her team had its unfair share of the unfortunate incident around 3:20pm, the victim said officials of the joint task force came to their rescue after several hours but that they had to spend the night in the creek because they regained freedom very late in the day.
“I have really suffered and I blame myself for risking my life over how much,” she said.
“Yesterday (Saturday) was war. We lay on the bare floor for hours. The shootings were heavy and we managed to escape when the whole thing died down.
“I agreed to return here after I learnt that today would be peaceful. We heard that they signed peace agreement and the governor even visited Oporoma – headquarters of Southern Ijaw – to appeal for calm.
“After about 15 minutes into our journey from Oporoma, the militants just surrounded our boat. They ordered us out without firing a single shot. The policemen that followed us could not even cough. The guys had very sophisticated weapons.
They transferred us into another boat, seized the electoral materials and instructed the party agents to follow them.
“I and my team members were heading to our polling unit at Ward 15, polling unit 35 at Aboin community when this incident happened.
“After the JTF rescued us, they kept us in a place at Aboin, there again the villagers threatened to also abduct us until the party agents were freed. They accused of conniving with the militants.
“As I speak to you now, we are about 40 INEC staff, including corps members, who have been held hostage, excluding guys who are at a separate location. It was JTF that came to our rescue.
We tried to find our way out but those we called said it was late and we had no choice but to remain in this strange community. A jungle for that matter, we are being beaten by mosquitoes but we thank God to be alive.”
Efforts to get the reaction of Asinim Butswat, the police public relations officer of the state, proved abortive as he neither answered his phone nor responded to the text message sent.
Meanwhile, TheCable observed that the rescheduled election was marred by logistical challenges. Though INEC fixed the exercise for 8am, materials did not leave the commission’s office in Oporoma until 1pm and as at 5pm, some electoral officials were yet to depart for their units.
The exercise was delayed as a result of disagreement between supporters of PDP and their APC counterparts. While the APC wanted the exercise to go on as scheduled, the PDP asked INEC to shift the exercise.
Seriake D!ckson, governor of the state, paid a surprise visit to the INEC office in Oporoma, trying to convince the officials to reschedule the exercise. However, when all efforts to make the commission shift ground proved abortive, PDP supporters took to singing in protest.
They were shouting on top of their voices: “We are not safe o! We are not safe!” Realising that their strategy was not working, they turned to the direction of corps members saying: “You are not safe o! You are not safe! Corpers, you are not safe!”
While the drama lasted, all the major streets in the community were taken over by rampaging youths. Security men also mounted strategic positions to apparently forestall fresh attacks. By the time the officials left for their polling stations, they were escorted by at least 10 security personnel, comprising soldiers and policemen.
Operatives of the Department of States Services (DSS) also provided cover. Some adhoc staff abandoned the exercise, alleging that INEC did not make adequate provision.
“After all I passed through during that heavy shooting yesterday, they still want to put me through all these,” a lady who refused to disclose her identity told TheCable as she boarded a canoe from Oporama to Nyama, a community in the mainland. “How much are they going to pay me? We were in the boat that was suppose to take us to centre, next they said we should disembark and we boarded another one again and they asked us to alight, the stress is too much.”