Residents of Okota area of Lagos State will not forget the elections of Saturday February 23, 2019 in a hurry.
The day, which started as decision making day, ended up as a bloody one, with voters scampering for safety like there was war and they were shielding themselves from flying ‘missiles’.
Trouble started when some political thus on motorcycles rode into different polling units, allegedly threatened voters voting against All Progressives Congress (APC). Voters were alleged to have been beaten, slapped and threatened.
The thugs were said to have become incensed and lashed out at the voters after they discovered that most of the voters were reportedly casting votes in favour of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Before nightfall, one of the thugs, later identified simply as Demola, had tasted the determination, will and wrath of the voters. He was attacked; heavy stones were hurled on his head.
That he survived was nothing short of a miracle. He was said to have been rushed to a hospital by policemen. According to voters, who were at the polling units in the area, Demola led some thugs to disrupt the voting process. They burnt ballot papers and boxes.
While this mayhem was going on, no policemen or soldiers were sighted. Our correspondent went to the communities on Tuesday to find out what really transpired from some of the voters.
The atmosphere at Okota community was tense following rumours that there might be another attack on the communities. People stared at strangers with suspicion.
According to the residents, during the Saturday Presidential and National Assembly elections, thugs led by Demola, who is alleged to be a unit chairman of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) in the area, attacked the voters.
Mr. Peter Idah, who was at Polling Unit 020 on Ohafia/Okota Palace Way when the political thugs invaded, said that the hood burnt election materials and turned the peaceful process into a nightmare.
“We never expected that there would be problem on that day. We were all busy, casting our votes, when everything became violent. These political thugs, led by Demola, came to the place to disturb the election process. Some voters said Demola had earlier visited the unit. He left and went to the next polling unit located at the end of the street. He came to our unit and then left. When he returned again, he was with a group of thugs. They went straight to the table where ballot boxes were and carried them. They scattered the ballot papers boxes and on the ground before setting them on fire.
“When they came, everyone made way for them. Nobody knew then that they came to disrupt the election process. It was unimaginable. These thugs caused panic, forcing many voters to take to their heels. Some of the young men didn’t run far from the place; they stood afar off, watching what the thugs were doing. After the thugs destroyed everything at our polling unit, they went to the next, at the end of the street. When they left there, they went to the opposite street, Baba Ewe, where there was another polling unit and did the same thing.”
Idah recalled that after watching the drama of the political thugs for a while, the voters became angry, asking what the thugs thought they were doing. He said that the voters mobilised, gathered courage and went after the thugs.
“The voters pursued them. It was only Demola they were able to lay hands on. He was almost lynched by the angry mob, but he was rescued by the police. When the thugs stormed our polling units, only two policemen were stationed there. They were not armed. They probably, like us, expected the elections to be peaceful, which was why they didn’t come the polling unit with guns,” he added.
Another resident, Steven, lamented that the elections were peaceful until the thugs invaded the polling units.
“I strongly believe that someone was planted in those polling units to monitor the voting process and know the party that was leading. The thugs came to those polling units based on information. When they realised that the voting was not swinging in their direction, they decided to disrupt it.
“As the exercise was going on, some of the voters were finding it difficult to fold the ballot papers because of its length. They also struggled to put them into the boxes. Everyone was able to see who another person voted for. Again, most of the people, who were at the polling units, were non-indigenes.
They had a right to vote for whosoever they wanted. This development is trying to create bad impression among residents who had been living in peace in these communities for many years. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) must reschedule the elections because our votes must be counted. We will not accept intimidation from any group. Some of the residents voted for the ruling party. Most of the people I spoke with believed that Nigerians should give the sitting president a second chance.”
A private security officer in Okota, Mr. James, said:
“The thugs’ aim was to scare the people. The plan was to make them too scared to come out to exercise their civil right. What happened on that Election Day was part of the intimidation that had been going on; people are being harassed on a daily basis for being non-indigenes.
It is just that this one is election problem. If not, nobody would have done anything. I wish the military and police deployed in this place, could stay longer, even after the elections. We heard that some of the thugs had been threatening to carry out a reprisal on the communities.
We thank God that their leader didn’t die as earlier feared. When we heard that Demola was dead, we were all scared. His colleagues may use that as an excuse to attack residents and start destroying property.”
Another resident, Madam Tina, said that she was heading to her polling unit when she saw to people running. Without waiting to find out what was happening, she also took to her heels.
She later heard that some thugs stormed polling units to burn ballot papers and boxes. She was also told that the mayhem was because some people, perceived to be Igbo, voted against APC.
“When did it become a crime to vote for the party you like? I voted for APC during the 2015 elections, but it brought hardship. A lot of people are suffering under this government. You don’t expect Nigerians to still vote for a leader that brought hardship to the land.”
Chief Ben, who voted at Unit 017, Fasehun Street, said: “Some of the thugs told me that in 2015, APC lost the place because the late Dr. Fredrick Fasehun supported non-indigenes to vote against the ruling party.
Some of the thugs I met on the way to the polling unit as I was telling people I know that they should vote for their choice, threatened that if the residents refused to vote for APC, nobody would be allowed to vote.
I challenged them, that they should not say so. One of them insulted and threatened to slap me. I believe those boys were acting out a script given to them by their paymasters. Nobody can intimidate me in this Lagos State. I’m a Nigerian.”
Reacting to the matter, the National Coordinator of the Network on Police Reforms in Nigeria (NOPRIN), Okechukwu Nwanguma, said: “We always focus on political thugs without asking questions about or going after the sponsors of thuggery and electoral violence.
“Having identified the thugs who invaded polling stations in Okota, Lagos, chased away voters and INEC officials and burnt electoral materials, INEC and security agents have a duty to also arrest their sponsors and prosecute them. Residents of Okota have identified the sponsor of the violence as a woman whose name they gave as Mrs Olowoyo. She is the leader who mobilised all these thugs.”
The state Commissioner of Police, Zubairu Muazu, said that some arrests had been made. He disclosed that aside from Okota, arrests were also made at Shomolu. He added that Okota and Shomolu areas of Lagos had the largest number of arrests, with nine suspects each.
Muazu, who described the exercise generally as peaceful, said measures had been put in place to forestall any repeat of such incident in the governorship election.
“The election in almost every part of Lagos was calm. However, there were disruptions in some areas. The important was at Okota, where polling units were attacked. Some hoodlums went there when the elections were ongoing and disrupted the process. However, no life was lost in the violence. We heard the falsehood that people were killed but we went there and did not see any corpse. T
he Divisional Police Officer (DPO) in charge of Palace Way Police Station did not see anyone that was killed. In Okota, nine suspects were arrested. They came on motorcycles and 10 of these were recovered. Okota is a very large area and we cannot deploy armed policemen to polling units.
The armed policemen were far off. That was why the hoodlums were able to strike and fled before armed policemen could get there. It is indeed a breach of the restriction order. I wonder where they came from but the case is under investigation and we will find out where they came from.”
It was learnt that the DPO of the Ago Palace Way Police Divisional Headquarters, a Chief Superintendent of Police (CSP), Oyin Frances Adamu, and the station’s Divisional Crime Officer (DCO), a Superintendent of Police (SP), Oladimeji Olatunji, were queried over their alleged failure to prevent the violence which erupted in Okota during the elections.
Adamu and Olatunji were given 24 hours to explain why disciplinary actions should not be taken against them for failing to protect INEC officials and electoral materials.
It was also learned that aside failing to handle the security situation, the two police officers allegedly attempted to divert the attention of the Assistant Inspector-General of Police (AIG), Zone 2, David Folawiyo, and Muazu, from doing an on-the-spot assessment of the extent of damage in the area. Muazu ordered the Area Commander, Olasoji Akinbayo, to issue the two officers queries for allowing hoodlums to wreak havoc on the area.