By Stephen Ubanna
Barely three days to the February 16, Presidential election, officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, are still counting their loses. At the last count about 4, 695 Card Readers, and thousands of Permanent Voters Cards, including power generators have been destroyed by mysterious fire outbreaks. The worry: the fire disasters occurred in supposedly strong holds of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, thus, fueling speculations of sabotage. The fire incidents had occurred in Abia, Plateau, and Anambra states in quick succession.
Take for instance, the Sunday, February 10, 2019, incident at the Commission’s Secretariat, Awka, Anambra state. Only the intervention of the state Fire Service, on the invitation of the Commission, saved the fire from spreading to other offices. Notably, Anambra state is the home state of Peter Obi, the Vice Presidential Candidate of the PDP.
The initial assessment of the damage to facilities confirm that 4,695, Card Readers were destroyed. But an eyewitness account insist that other election materials were also destroyed in the process. INEC officials in the state admit that the fire incident is a ”setback to its” preparations for the conduct of the elections but refused to give details of the cause of the inferno and the extent of damage to facilities. The question is: Who dunnit? The impression is that it is a deliberate ploy to suggest a postponement of elections in some states and Local Government Areas.
Festus Okoye, an INEC National Commissioner, and Chairman, Information, Voter Education Committee, however, assures that” there is no cause to worry”, insisting that the Presidential and National Assembly elections in the state would hold as scheduled on February 16 , 2019. OKoye disclosed that the electoral umpire has taken immediate measures to ameliorate the situation by mopping up some of the spare Card Readers from other states to deploy to the state.
He confirmed that the report of the incident has been sent to the state Police Command and the Fire Service, which have commenced their investigations.
Meanwhile Nwachukwu Orji, the Resident Electoral Commissioner in the state, has denied reports making the rounds that the fire incident was caused by electrical faults, an indication that there might be sabotage. Orji may have been convinced that the Container, where the equipment and other materials were kept in the Commission Secretariat at Awka, may have been set on fire as the inferno started at about 2.30 pm when members of staff were still in the office.
According to an official of the Commission who spoke to The Source in the state, ”we have been using the facility since 2011 to keep our election materials and never experienced any problem”. The official wondered why the problem should occur in this 2019 general elections.
Recall that there had been other fire incidents on INEC facilities in some local government offices before the Anambra state INEC incident. Given a break- down of the incidents, Okoye cited the Qua’aan Pan local government inferno on Saturday, January 9, 2019, and that of the Isiala Ngwa South Local government in Abia state on February 2, 2019.
According to him, about 2,979, PVCs, and other election materials were destroyed in the fire incident while in the Qua’an Pan office in Plateau state alone, 5, 987, uncollected PVCs , 380 voting cubicles , 755 ballot boxes , 14 generators, election forms and official stamps were destroyed.
The recurring fire incidents may have informed the reason why Mahmood Yakubu, the INEC Chairman, has notified Mohammed Abubakar Adamu, the acting Inspector General of Police, IGP, that additional security measures need to be provided to the Commission offices nation-wide to protect election materials and other critical structures .
The INEC boss has every reason to cry out to the acting IGP, for help. This is because the Nigerian Air-Force, has been contracted to start the airlifting of the Commission’s electoral materials to designated states across the country for the conduct of the elections.