With the gubernatorial election in Imo State just three days away, the opposition and civil society organisations have become increasingly worried that tension is heightening with reported attacks and other developments believed to be targeted at denying a level playing ground in the state, Daily Trust reports.
The incumbent governor, Senator Hope Uzodinma of the All Progressives Congress (APC), who is seeking a second term, is facing a stiff challenge from Senator Athan Achonu of the Labour Party (LP) and Senator Samuel Anyanwu of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) among others in the November 11 polls.
However, observers and political analysts are of the view that with security already a bedlam in the state in the past few years, securing the state in this election period has become more challenging.
From government policy on signage to alleged attack on opposition candidates and the brutalisation of Joe Ajaero, the National President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), to the reported directives by the state government for all hoteliers in Owerri, the state metropolis, to reserve all their rooms for the ruling party ahead of the election, opposition parties, their candidates and civil society organisations believe the ruling party may be all out to deploy whatever means to retain power in the state.
The candidate of Labour Party (LP), Senator Athan Achonu, on Sunday, alleged that he was accosted by policemen and stopped from attending a church programme.
In a viral video released by his media handlers, Achonu was seen narrating what transpired between him and the police.
“I was on my way to honour an invitation by the African Church in Owerri North and as we were approaching the venue, we saw armed police stationed strategically in their cars and as soon as we got there (church), we saw an APC (Armoured Personnel Carrier) with most of the personnel dressed in black and fully armed.
“They stopped us and started shooting in the air sporadically, scaring the bikers leading the convoy.
“After a lot of shooting, I came down because I can’t understand why I won’t be allowed to go and worship God in Imo State. They claimed the governor was there and that somebody tore APC posters from the wall,” he said.
He asked why he was being prevented from going into the church when he wasn’t the one that tore the posters, adding that when the shooting continued and he didn’t want any life to be lost, they left the scene.
“The window of one of my escort vehicles was hit by stray bullets. This is what we are going through in Imo State. We have military, DSS, civil defence; so, if we cannot be protected by all these men, let us protect ourselves for God’s sake,” he added.
Cancellation of FGGC old students’ reservation at Marriot Hotel in Owerri
Similarly, a viral video capturing the moment former students of the Federal Government Girls College, Owerri, found out that the hotel reservation they made had been cancelled has also been used to give credence to reports that the state government has directed hotels in the state capital to reserve all their rooms for the ruling party.
A voice narrating the incident in the video was heard lamenting the unfortunate turn of events, stating, “A deeply regrettable incident occurred at the Marriott Hotel in Owerri where reservations for the Federal Government Girls College, Owerri, who had gathered for their 50th global reunion, were left disheartened.”
“What we learned is that, though reservations were made several months prior to this date, at the last moment, the hotel management gave the reserved rooms to politicians who arrived, leaving many former students of the Federal Government Girls College, Owerri, stranded in the lobby with no place to rest and no accommodation to stay.”
Some election observers had also alleged that they could not make reservations at any hotel in Owerri because of the alleged directives from the government.
Also, the gubernatorial candidate of the Action Alliance (AA), Maj. Gen Lincoln Ogunewe (rtd) had, when he appeared on Channels TV’s Sunrise programme on Tuesday, insisted that the government has not ensured a level playing ground for all contestants because of some of its actions.
“The high signage fee of N54m limiting you from branding your vehicles, mounting billboards is one example. When you come to Imo, you think it’s only one party that is contesting,” he said.
He said while he has personally not suffered any attack, it’s not to say that does not exist and the attacks are not rampant, adding that is why his campaign is on restoring security and peace to the state.
Govt says allegations cheap propaganda by oppositions
But reacting to the allegation of assault on the LP candidate, the commissioner of information in the state, Declan Emelumba, told Daily Trust that there is no iota of truth in the allegation and any of the several others coming from the opposition.
He said the report they got from the police was that the LP candidate arrived at the church with a large crowd and that because he had not informed the police earlier that he would be attending the church programme, which the governor had also been booked to attend, they turned him back to forestall breakdown of law and order.
“The police said they told him that before he arrived, some people riding on motorbikes came and were tearing the poster of the governor and with APC members already in the church. If you (Achonu) go in with this crowd, then there could be some clashes and they advised him against going in. He said he was invited because that is not even where he worships and there is no evidence to show he informed the police for them to make proper arrangements.
“That was what happened and he started raining abuses on everyone and calling on Imolites to defend themselves,” he said.
As regards reports of the government reserving all hotel rooms in Owerri ahead of the election and the reactions that have trailed it, Emelumba said the government had already denied the said letter as “fake”.
“The incident with the FGGC Old Girls association was a private business arrangement between the association and the hotel which was hijacked by the opposition as part of the propaganda to try to give credence to the fake circular that we had already debunked,” he said.
The commissioner said the allegations of increased insecurity in the state were also false and without any empirical evidence.
“All these are just ploys by someone going into a battle that he knows he will lose. He therefore begins to prepare the grounds so that when he loses, he will say I told you so.
“Insecurity has not risen in any form. Imo is still calm and you will see that Saturday’s election will come and go peacefully,” he added.
Intimidation of opposition not democracy – TMG
Commenting on the situation in the state, Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, chairman of the Transition Monitoring Group (TMG), said as the largest body of election observers in the country, the group has observed serious concerns regarding the Imo gubernatorial election and the intensity of violence.
“The power of incumbency is being abused which is basically harassing and intimidating other political parties in the state. This is not how democracy should be operated,” he said.