Some card readers and ballot boxes were destroyed when fire gutted the office of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Nung Udoe, Ibesikpo Asutan local government area of Akwa Ibom State, a day to the crucial Governorship/House of Assembly elections in the state.
Part of the office was burnt
A security guard who was on duty at the INEC office told PREMIUM TIMES the fire started around 2 a.m. on Friday.
“We heard an explosion inside the building, when we rushed to check what it was, we saw flames of fire coming from one of the rooms,” the guard said.
“We raised alarm for help, and then we started fighting the fire, using water and sand. But it was too much for us.”
A section of the building still smouldered and election materials apparently evacuated from the burnt building, were scattered around the premises.
A handful of police officers were seen barricading the road leading to the INEC office as at 9 a.m on Friday.
Speaking during an interview on Channels Television on Friday, Mike Igini, the state’s Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), revealed that card readers and ballot boxes were destroyed in the fire.
Igini said, “In the wee hours of this morning, I got a call that one of area offices has been gutted by fire so we had to call the Fire Service and DPO around that area.
“They all moved in there and were able to evacuate the entire ballot papers that had been delivered to the local government the previous day intact.
“What we had destroyed there are just card readers, the register, ballot boxes and 13 generator sets.”
Igini assured that the commission is already working hard to rectify the situation to ensure that Saturday’s elections go ahead as planned.
“What we’re doing now is to quickly try to mop up our card readers and as I speak to you, we’ve already recovered from our reserve.
“It’s just one local government and just parts of the office so we’re good to go, irrespective of what has happened. The configuration of the card readers is already ongoing,” he said.
The REC stated that the fire is suspected to have been started by saboteurs, noting that footprints were discovered around the scene of the fire.
However, Kufre Eshiet from Afaha Ibesikpo in the area speaking in an interview with Straightnews reporter said “No one knows the cause of the fire incident.”
Though the state governor, Udom Emmanuel, has in a state broadcast on Thursday assured the people of their safety and security during the elections, there is widespread fear and tension that there may be bloody clashes between supporters of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Mr Emmanuel, who is contesting for a second term as governor, has Nsima Ekere of the APC as his main challenger.
Despite the incident, Igini assured that INEC would conduct the elections in the area on Saturday, March 9.