Indigens of Ika South Local Government Area of Delta State yesterday embarked on a peaceful demonstration in their effort to draw the attention of Nigerians to their plight over the “missing” Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) voters’ register for the area.
Hundreds of green leaves and placard-carrying men and women marched through the Benin-Asaba-Onitsha Expressway, the Agbor-Eku-Sapele Road and major streets in Agbor, the administrative headquarters of Ika South Local Government Area.
Several of the protesters carried megaphones as they walked for over 10 kilometres, singing solidarity songs and asking to be duly registered by INEC as required by the Nigerian Constitution.
The protesters said that they were left with no other option than to take to the street in a mass demonstration of the disappointment over the fact that INEC had not responded to several petitions they sent to the commission’s office and the federal government, seeking a correction of the huge error.
They said their action had no political colouration as participation cut across all the communities that make up Agbor and Abavo clans of Ika South as well as across partisan divide in the area.
Nevertheless, the protesters subsequently trouped to the Ika South office of INEC on Edike Street, where they presented a copy of their petition to the INEC’s local electoral officer, Mr. Nzenwa Alozie.
Alozie, who thanked them for their peaceful conduct, assured them that their demands were being looked into in appropriate quarters of the commission.
The Agbor Divisional Police Officer, Mr. Albert U. Dike, also commended the people for the orderly and civilised manner they conducted themselves throughout the exercise that lasted about three hours.
Addressing journalist later, the President-General of Agbor Community Organisation, Major-General Nick Agbogun (rtd), noted that the people simply wanted to save tens of thousands of eligible Ika South people from being disenfranchised, a situation the incidence of the missing voters’ register was bound to create.
In a statement titled: “Cancellation of Voters’ Register for Ika South Local Government Area of Delta State: Request for Validation of the Status Quo/Former Register,” Agbogun noted that, “The cancellation has disfranchised tens of thousands of eligible voters in the area and, therefore is decidedly unacceptable.
“The cancellation stands in breach of INEC’s statutory obligation to maintain and display a valid voters register for every constituent district of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, including Ika South Local Government Area. The cancellation disenfranchises tens of thousands of eligible voters and, therefore, decidedly unacceptable,” he emphasised.
He however said as a people noted for their peaceful disposition to issues, Ika South citizens have decided to employ civil and lawful means to demand for a restitution so that those qualified and willing to vote in the forthcoming local council polls in Delta State and future elections would not be disqualified on account of the missing INEC register.
“In the unlikely event that the cancelled register is impracticable, we urge that you grant an adequate extension of time of no less than six (6) weeks to conduct a credible and inclusive voters’ registration in Ika South Local Government Area.”
INEC had recently announced the cancellation of the voters’ register for the local government area due to technical or computer errors, but the commission claimed that its database was intact.
The commission’s Electoral Officer for Ika South Local Government Area, who made the announcement shortly before the last exercise to distribute permanent voters’ cards in Delta State, said that INEC would conduct fresh registration in the area.
However, the people have insisted that less that 25 per cent of eligible voters in the area were captured during the nation-wide distribution of permanent voter’s cards (PVCs) and the continuous registration exercise held from August 20 to 25 2014.
The people had hinted on a possible protest march during a well-attended Ika South people’s forum last week at Agbor, saying a legal action could also be used as a last resort at seeking redress on the missing voters’ register.
The forum held recently at Agbor, was at the instance of Mr. Felix Morka, a legal practitioner and executive director of the Lagos-based New Dawn Centre for Leadership and Development (ND-CLD), who was also part of yesterday’s protest march.
Morka, who had urged the people to put aside their social or political differences and to close ranks to fight the perceived electoral injustice against them, described the action of INEC as being “without valid justification”.
In a petition he sent through ND-CLD to the INEC Chairman, Prof Attahiru Jega, dated August 27, 2014, urged the commission to “restore the register of voters” for the area “from the existing backup database and a validate all previously issued temporary voters cards for the purpose of voting in the forthcoming local government elections as well as the general election in 2015.
Meanwhile, the Delta State Resident Electoral Commissioner, Mrs. Gesila Khan, told THISDAY on yesterday that although she was quite aware of the development, the matter had gone beyond her as only the INEC headquarters in Abuja could look into the grievances of the Ika South people.
She said the INEC exercise of August 20 to 25, was a nation-wide affair and “was time-bound”, making it impossible for any further action to be taken at the local or state level.