More assets of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) came under attack in Imo, Anambra and Enugu states yesterday.
The Commission’s office in Ahiazu Mbaise Local Government Area (LGA) in Imo, the state headquarters in Awka, Anambra capital and Igboeze South LGA office in Enugu were burnt.
INEC, in a statement by National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, described the escalating attacks as a national emergency.
The commission held an emergency yesterday over the unabating onslaught.
Okoye stated: “In the latest incidents, three offices of the Commission came under attack in Anambra, Imo and Enugu States.
“The resident electoral commissioners for Anambra Dr Nkwachukwu Orji; his Imo counterpart Prof Francis Ezeonu and that of Enugu Emeka Ononamadu have reported that the attacks took place at various times on the night of Sunday, 23rd May 2021.
“The state headquarters in Awka was set ablaze in the most devastating onslaught on the Commission’s facilities so far. The attackers were systematic and selective in their targets.
“The pavilion which serves as collation centre during major elections was burnt down.
“In what is a major blow to our preparations for the governorship election scheduled for 6th November 2021, two stores housing electoral materials were burnt down.
“New and old (but serviceable) electric generating machines numbering 376 for all the electoral wards and the extra numbers for backup were completely burnt.
“The electric generators were recently relocated from the LGA) to the state headquarters in the belief that it is more secure than the LGA offices.”
Okoye said non-sensitive materials were also destroyed in the Anambra incident.
“As part of the Commission’s proactive measures to ensure the success of the governorship election later this year, about 50 per cent of the non-sensitive materials required for the November 6, 2021 governorship election already delivered to the state have also been lost in the fire.
“In addition, seven utility vehicles (Toyota Hilux) were burnt.”
INEC said fortunately, new smart card readers were not damaged.
Following a fire incident on the eve of the 2019 general elections in which the smart card readers for the state were destroyed, the Commission moved the replacements from the shipping containers to the concrete store for enhanced protection.
“Also yesterday (Sunday), our office in Ahiazu Mbaise LGA was attacked at about 6.45 pm in an obvious attempt to set the building ablaze.
“Fortunately, the damage was limited to a section of the building, specifically the windows and part of the roof. No electoral materials or office equipment were destroyed.
“At about 1.00 pm yesterday (Sunday), our Igboeze South LGA office was attacked.
“The store was completely burnt down before the Neighborhood Watch and the Enugu State Fire Service responded and prevented the inferno from razing other parts of the building.
“This is the third attack on INEC facilities in the state in less than two weeks following the destruction of our Udenu LGA office on 13th May 2021 and the state headquarters building in Enugu on 16th May 2021.
“All three incidents in Anambra, Imo and Enugu have been reported to the police for investigation.
“Although no life was lost, these are clearly orchestrated and targeted attacks aimed at incapacitating the Commission in conducting electoral activities, especially in Anambra State.
“The attacks on the Commission’s facilities have now become a national emergency. Accordingly, the Commission will brief the government and stakeholders on these incidents.
“Despite these setbacks, the Commission is determined to continue to discharge its responsibilities including the conduct of the scheduled Anambra Governorship election.”
Police kill four gunmen, recover three vehicles
The Anambra police command on Sunday night killed four of the gunmen who invaded the state.
Three operational vehicles of the hoodlums were recovered.
Our correspondent gathered that three policemen may have been hit during a shootout, but the Commissioner of Police, Chris Owolabi, said no officer was killed.
The gunmen stormed the capital city in three Hilux vehicles and shot repeatedly at about 9.30 pm.
The hoodlums torched the charge room of the B Division, opposite Chief Jerome Udoji Secretariat in Awka, while a Sienna vehicle parked outside the outpost was riddled with bullets.
An eyewitness said the assailants came from Ifite Road to Dr Alex Ekwueme Square before moving to the INEC office, shooting nonstop.
Owolabi said normalcy had returned and urged residents to go about their normal business without any fear.
The police chief said: “The attack on our charge room at B Division was a decoy to attack INEC office
“We mobilised and waited for them. My men were in their element. We demobilised their three vehicles, recovered six pump action guns, one AK -47 and one General Purpose Machine Gun from them
“It was unfortunate that they succeeded in burning the collation centre of INEC and four vehicles, but it was a huge success for us.
“We didn’t record any casualty, but investigations are still going on and after it, we give you full details.”
A senior police source, who pleaded not to be named, said three of their men had been taken to the Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu Teaching Hospital in Awka.
The source said nobody knew whether the officers were dead or alive, adding that the command got information about the planned attack on Sunday morning.
Another eyewitness said the war-like attack lasted for about two hours.
“They shot for more than one hour at B-Division before leaving.
“They then stopped at Ekwueme Square and shot for about 10 minutes before proceeding to the INEC office which they set on fire,” the source said.
Timeline of attacks on INEC offices
No fewer than 23 INEC offices across 10 states have been attacked, vandalised or set ablaze in 24 months.
The Data Processing Centre (DPC) located at the premises of the Commission’s state office in Kano was razed on April 20.
On May 2, arsonists burnt the INEC office in Essien Udim LGA in Akwa Ibom State. At least 345 ballot boxes, 135 voting cubicles and other equipment were destroyed.
On May 9, the INEC office in Ohafia LGA in Abia State was burnt. The commission’s office in Abia South LGA was earlier torched on December 13, 2020.
The commission’s Udenu LGA headquarters in Obollo-Afor, Enugu was completely razed on May 13.
On May 14, seven Hilux vans were burnt in a night attack on the headquarters of the commission in Awka.
On May 16, the state office in Enugu suffered yet another arson and vandalisation in which parts of the building were ransacked and several vehicles razed.
Two more offices in Ebonyi and Ezza North LGAs in Ebonyi were burnt on May 18.