Violence, Delays, Voter Suppression Claims Trail Governorship, State Assembly Polls

While BVAS seemed to impress, relative to the February 25 elections, a number of polling units experienced disruptions and delays.

Police officers stand guard on the empty Lagos expressway as they enforce a restriction imposed on movement of motorists during local elections, in Lagos, on March 18, 2023. (Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP)


What several voters saw as an opportunity to exercise their franchise turned sour as violent attacks, ballot box snatching, delays and more tainted the governorship and state assembly elections across the country on Saturday.

While the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) seemed to impress voters, relative to the February 25 federal elections, and the exercise kicked off on time at many polling units, a number of others experienced disruptions and delays.

One prominent case was the affluent Victoria Garden City (VGC) in the Ajah area of Eti-Osa Local Government Area (LGA), Lagos State, where the exercise failed to be conducted.

After the situation gained attention online, the INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), Segun Agbaje, was forced to appear in person at the polling location to address the situation.

“We have eight polling units here with 6,024 registered voters and out of which 5,624 people have their PVCs,” he told journalists at VGC, adding that two other polling units at the estate’s main gate were also affected. 

“Eight here (in the estate) and two outside. After due consultation and further directive from the national headquarters that we should remobilise here tomorrow (Sunday) morning by 08:30 am to conduct the elections.”

Similarly, elections did not hold in Asari-Toru LGA of Rivers State, following the insistence of voters to sight electoral officers and collation officers.

It was gathered that a heated disagreement broke out at the Registration Area Centre (RAC) in Buguma over the absence of INEC electoral officers and result sheets, which required the intervention of security agents to bring under control.

Meanwhile, videos widely shared on social media showed Lagos-based voters with cuts and bruises, claiming to have been subjected to severe flogging and gruesome stabbings by hoodlums wielding canes and various sharp objects.

READ ALSO: Gov Polls: EFCC Arrests ‘Over 65 Persons’ For Voter Inducement

One of such victims was Nollywood actress Chioma Akpotha who took to Instagram to share her ordeal at the hands of men armed with knives and bottles.

The film producer, in a livestream, narrated to her followers how moments after she was accredited at her polling unit in Eti-Osa LGA, armed thugs scared her off and damaged her vehicle.

“They destroyed my side mirrors, hit my car. I don’t even know the extent of the damage to the car, but I just ran out for my life because they were bringing out knives; they wanted to stab me. Thank God I came with some people to help me,” she said.


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A post shared by Chioma Akpotha (@chiomakpotha)

Numerous other voters in Lagos reported instances of thugs threatening voters with assault – even death – if they did not cast their ballots for the ruling party. Multiple cases of property damage were also recorded.

“We came to cast our votes as good citizens,” one female voter told Channels Television at a polling unit with 150-200 other eligible voters in Ago Palace Way, Lagos.

“But then, we had thugs come in here with bottles, canes; they were chasing people away. They kept on saying things like, ‘If you’re not voting APC, get out of here. We’re going to kill you. We’re going to beat you.’ They started scattering everything. They were threatening people.

“They were breaking glasses, throwing stones, causing a mess. People started running from place to place because they were scared for their lives.”

Abduction, Extrajudicial Killing

Voters were not the only victims of violence at Saturday’s vote.

Officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) also shared in the horror resulting from security breaches around the country.

The electoral officer for Isu LGA of Imo State, Mrs Achibie Ogbonne, was abducted by gunmen, along with the returning officer and some collation officers for the state assembly election in the area.

According to the INEC spokesperson in Imo State, Chinenye Chijioke-Osuji, the election went smoothly and peacefully until the time for collation when unscrupulous elements invaded the LGA office under the pretence of being staff members, driving everyone away with tear gas and guns.

Later in the day, the Commissioner of Police, Mohammed Barde, confirmed that Ogbonne and her team were now “with the police”. 

Barde, however, did not give further information on their health status, the number of abductees in police custody, or how they escaped. But he promised to give an update on the matter at a later time.

In another disturbing incident, a bandit was set ablaze and died after an alleged foiled attempt to disrupt the exercise at a polling centre along the General Hospital Road in Batsari LGA, Katsina State.

Eyewitnesses reported that the deceased and another suspected bandit had been intercepted by a team of security forces. However, the criminal suspects were believed to have shown up with the intent to cause confusion. 

‘A Complete Sham’

INEC came under severe criticism by a number of dissatisfied individuals and groups, one of whom was the former Minister of Transportation Rotimi Amaechi.

Amaechi, who is a prominent member of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), described the exercise in the Ikwerre LGA of Rivers State where he voted as a “complete failure of governance”.

Speaking to journalists after he cast his votes, the former Rivers governor accused detractors of being behind electoral violence in the state, saying the situation led to voter apathy in the state as most people failed to show up for the polls for fear of being beaten.

“There is a total failure of governance in the country, complete failure,” he fumed. “People are being arrested and nobody has spoken. The Inspector General of Police is doing nothing, nobody is doing anything. 

“Now, there is voter apathy. I don’t know if it cuts across the country but there is complete voter apathy in Rivers State.”

In a similar vein, the National Chairman of the Labour Party, Julius Abure condemned the conduct of the elections across the country, describing the exercise as “a complete sham.”

He decried that “serious” thuggery, violence and suppression of voters prevailed unchecked as people were prevented from going to vote for candidates of their choice, “especially when they perceived you are supporting the opposition party”.

Enforcing Law And Order

The widespread apprehension that typically accompanies general elections in Nigeria kept the various conscripted law enforcement agencies busy.

Confirming reports of electoral violence in an interview with Channels Television, Lagos State Commissioner of Police Idowu Owohunwa said some of the cases were anticipated.

“It is true that we’ve recorded instances of violence in some areas within the state,” he said.

He, however, added that the incidents were “not as widespread as to affect the general dynamics of the process”. According to him, most of the instances were “properly responded to by the police”.

The command in Bayelsa State also arrested a suspected polling thug in connection with the seizure and destruction of some voting materials in some wards in the Ogbia LGA.

The state Commissioner of Police, Mohammed Dankwara, told Channels Television that efforts were ongoing to apprehend other suspects linked to the incident.

Likewise, the Nigeria Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) said four party agents were intercepted in Ogun in possession of multiple credit cards with the intent to buy votes.

In a tweet on Saturday, the agency said its Chairman, Brigadier-General Buba Marwa (rtd.), had ordered that the suspects be handed over to the police.

The EFCC also got in on the action.

Operatives of the anti-graft agency carrying out their election-monitoring duty reportedly came under attack at School Road, Unguwan Rimi in Kaduna State, while attempting to arrest a suspected vote-buyer.

At the point of apprehension, the suspect was said to have become unruly and attracted the attention of members of his syndicate, who “descended on the operatives, using all manner of weapons that left some of them injured”.

Later on Saturday, the EFCC revealed it had made over 65 arrests in cases of voter inducement. The anti-graft agency stated that the arrests were made across the 28 states where governorship elections were held.

In a statement, the EFCC spokesman, Wilson Uwujaren, noted that 20 of the suspects were arrested by its operatives from the Ilorin Zonal Command, while 13 were nabbed at the Kaduna Zonal Command.

Its sister agency, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), also stated that it arrested four suspected vote-buyers in Sokoto and Katsina states.