Imo State Election Faces Disruption as INEC Meeting Turns Chaotic
Chaos Erupts at INEC Meeting Ahead of Imo State Election
A peace meeting convened by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) ahead of the upcoming governorship election in Imo State took a chaotic turn on Tuesday in the state capital, Owerri. The disruption occurred after INEC’s National Commissioner representing the South-East region, Kenneth Ukeagu, ordered journalists to turn off their cameras and electronic devices.
This directive led to uproar, particularly among traditional rulers and participants, with some fleeing the hall. The confusion ensued as opposition members from the Labour Party and the Peoples Democratic Party voiced their opposition to Ukeagu’s order.
Additionally, the Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress issued a call for a strike to commence on Wednesday, potentially affecting the election. The strike was organized in protest against Governor Hope Uzodimma, who is seeking re-election in the upcoming poll. Concerns were raised that the strike could disrupt the election’s logistics and public services in the state.
The turmoil at the Owerri meeting began when Ukeagu, representing the INEC chairman, instructed journalists to switch off their equipment. This directive was met with resistance from the Labour Party’s deputy governorship candidate, Tony Nwulu, who questioned the reasoning behind it. Nwulu argued that the media should not be excluded from the stakeholders’ meeting and questioned if the meeting was meant to be secretive.
The running mate to the Peoples Democratic Party’s governorship candidate, Jones Onyereri, supported Nwulu’s stance, insisting that the media must be allowed to participate. Onyereri also alleged that the directive was evidence of collusion between the All Progressives Congress (APC) and INEC to manipulate the election. He displayed copies of documents he claimed were fake result sheets published on the INEC portal during a previous House of Assembly election in the state.
These allegations led to a heated confrontation between APC members and opposition party members in the hall. Fearing potential violence, traditional rulers, party leaders, and the nine resident electoral commissioners deployed for the election evacuated the hall.
Security forces, including the police and Civil Defence Corps, struggled to control the unruly situation as party members exchanged verbal insults. After the traditional rulers left the meeting, calm was eventually restored.
Once normalcy was regained, INEC officials and party leaders who had left the hall returned, but the traditional rulers did not. During the resumed meeting, opposition parties insisted on the removal of the state Resident Electoral Commissioner, Sylvia Agu, whom they accused of bias in favor of the APC.
The opposition parties demanded Agu’s removal, with the Labour Party expressing disappointment at INEC for retaining her despite opposition outcry. Subsequently, the governorship candidates of the opposition parties staged a walkout from the meeting, reiterating their demand for Agu’s immediate redeployment.
While the opposition parties pressed for Agu’s removal, INEC defended its decision to retain her, stating that those calling for her transfer had not provided sufficient evidence to warrant such action. INEC assured that Sylvia Agu would be supported by other national commissioners physically present in Imo State on Election Day.
The Labour Party and other opposition parties continued to criticize INEC’s decision, alleging collusion and calling for transparency in the electoral process.
In a separate development, the Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress directed workers in Imo State to initiate a strike, affecting various services and facilities in the state until their demands were met. The unions had previously listed multiple grievances against the state government, including salary arrears, the declaration of ghost workers, and intimidation of labor leaders.
These developments have raised concerns about the potential impact on the governorship election scheduled to take place on Saturday. Security agencies have deployed additional personnel and measures to ensure a peaceful and orderly election process in Imo State, Bayelsa, and Kogi States.