Three Presiding Officers of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC , Saturday narrated their harrowing experiences in the hands of political thugs during the February 23, 2019 Presidential and National Assembly Elections in Essien Udim Local Government Area, with one of them a female saying she escaped death by the whiskers.

Miss Hallelujah Grace Oni, presided over Unit 7 of Ukana West 2, maintained that she was so shocked that she scampered to safety as soon as she submitted the result sheet, vowing that after her experience, nothing could take her to Essien Udim for any similar assignment.

“My lord, I witnessed intimidation, violence and threats, in fact they nearly smashed my head,” she sobbed.

The electoral officers who were recruited for the exercise as NYSC ad hoc staff, told the National Assembly Elections Petitions Tribunal in Uyo that no sooner had they arrived their respective units than gun wielding hooligans invaded the centers, abducting them in vehicles to unknown locations.

The presiding officers who were appearing as witnesses to the 2nd Respondent, the Peoples Democratic Party, confessed in their separate testimonies that they saw other polling officers from their respective wards held in bondage and compelled to record results read to them by their abductors.

Oni Hallelujah Grace, on cross examination by Counsel to the Petitioner S. I. Ameh SAN, told the Tribunal that she could not cancel the result because the thugs escorted her right into the INEC collation center and watched her and others submit the result.

All the witnesses also agreed that the Police Report which stated that there were peaceful elections in all parts of the senatorial district was not applicable to their respective units where violence, ballot snatching and non-accreditation was recorded.

“So are you saying that INEC and the police officers you saw there could not offer you protection?” Ameh asked.

“My lord, I don’t know if they could offer us protection because there was so much shooting and we could not tell who was who again”, Hallelujah Grace affirmed.

On his part, Endurance Osakere who was the Presiding Officer for Ekpenyong Ward 1, Unit 2 explained that the results of his polling unit was canceled because they did not come from any electoral process.

Endurance said he was able to identify the Supervisory Presiding Officer and other presiding officers from his ward, at his place of captivity, and after doing the bidding of their abductors, they were escorted by the thugs to the INEC Office and made to submit the prepared results to the commission.

S. I. Ameh(SAN) Counsel to the Petitioner, in his cross examination, pointed out that the witnesses did not attach their NYSC Id cards and appointment letters to their Evidence in Chief, only to be told that appointment letters were not given to presiding officers, as their names were merely shortlisted and put on the notice board at the Commission’s office.

An attempt by Ameh to refer the witnesses to INEC guidelines where manual accreditation is supposedly recommended for instances where Card Readers fail, was swiftly parried by the witnesses who maintained that there was no accreditation of voters and the results which INEC cancelled were not product of any electoral process.

Another witness Ajebitimi Abraham who presided over Ikpe Annang Unit 002, said he did not submit any result to the ward collation officer as there was no result in his unit, contrary to the claim by the petitioner that he won in that ward.

He said election materials in his unit were carted away and never returned to him, adding that the earlier testimony of a credible poll in all units of Ikpe Annang Ward by One Dr. Chris Akpan, who was the petitioner’s 13th witness, was false.

Again, Ameh asked the witnessed, “Are you saying that the police is lying?”

“My lord, I don’t know where the police is referring to, but in my own Unit, what I saw was violence, intimidation and there was no election”, he added.

On the statement in a national publication by the Secretary to the State Government, Dr. Emmanuel Ekuwem that the elections were generally peaceful, the Counsel to the PDP, Solomon Umoh referred the tribunal to another section of the same statement that condemned violence in Essien Udim and some parts of the state, and wondered why Sunday Ameh only selected a part of the statement he liked, for reference.

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