Over 30, 000 Eligible Voters Face Disenfranchisement As Herders Invade Enugu Community

Eha-Amufu community in Isi-Uzo Local Government Area of Enugu State was invaded in December 2022 by alleged herders. The attacks continued, resulting in the displacement of many inhabitants, death of scores and burning of houses and farmlands. Ben Aroh examines its implication in the 2023 general elections in Nigeria.

Voting Strength of Eha-Amufu

Eha-Amufu community has a population of about 70, 779 as at 2016, according to mindat.org. The final list of registered voters released by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, ahead of the 2023 general elections shows that the community has eighty voting points with a voting strength of 36, 310 across its four wards of Eha-Amufu I, Eha-Amufu II, Eha-Amufu III and Eha-Amufu IV. The unending crises in the community initially affected autonomous communities of Mgbuji, Ebor, College of Education, Umujiovu, and Agu-Amede, cutting across all the wards. The crises are spreading across other villages, forcing the inhabitants to live in uncertainties.

Fears of Disenfranchisement

The inhabitants of the community have expressed worries about their possible disenfranchisement in the forthcoming general elections. Simon Ede, a native, said, “The crises ravaging our community are very pitiable, and also suspicious. Many of our eligible voters have been displaced, some died and many of us have lost our voters’ cards. We expect INEC to urgently designate centres in the form of internally displaced persons and assign polling booths there. Such centres should be able to accommodate voters from different places. They will then address our peculiar problems.”

Monica Ekwueme, a teacher, said, “I can’t guarantee the safety of my PVC. We left our houses around the Federal College of Education, Eha-Amufu, immediately we heard that the herders were coming. Many of our houses were destroyed. So, PVCs must have been affected. Let INEC reissue us with voters’ cards.”

In the view of Charles Obeagu, “What is happening is unfortunate. We suspect some politics also. The governorship candidate of the Labour Party is from Mgbuji, one of the ravaged communities. He will lose many votes if lost PVCs are not reissued; that is if elections would be held eventually.”

Rev Thompson, a vocal voice in the community, said, “The crises have affected the entire Eha-Amufu. The political implication is that many people will be disenfranchised. It was also said that some members of Ebubeagu went house-to-house, collecting people’s PVCs and killing some for reasons best known to them. One of my parishioners at St Paul’s, Enugu, was killed in this process. It was later discovered that it was not Ebubeagu, but herders that disguised as Ebubeagu.

“People have abandoned where they registered. Some ran to Ikem, Umualor, Ebonyi State and Enugu. Those ones will not return again because they are homeless and the invasion is still ongoing. If this is happening now, who knows what will happen on the election day?

“Fear will not allow people to vote. Mgbuji alone, going by the 2006 census, is composed of more than 11, 000 people. We have seven autonomous communities in Eha-Amufu. If you divide the entire Isi-Uzo LGA into two, Eha-Amufu is more than half. Eha-Amufu is also the economic hub of the LGA. The largest market in Isi-Uzo is situated in Eha-Amufu. The landmass is also massive. We have over 12 secondary schools and over 30 primary schools. We also have a Federal College of Education.

“I am a chaplain at the college of education. As at today, no student and staff members returned. So they may not vote in 2023. Security wise, the herders have started killing vigilante people. On 18th December, they killed our youth leader. Some of our youths ran away. There was a young man they arrested at Agamaede; till today, we have not seen the man.

“Chukwuemeka Ede is also missing. They say they saw three bullets inside his pocket. He is a security agent, and they have refused to release him.”

An analyst, Mike Onwuzu, said, “The attack is heinous, especially at Mgbuji. Some people claim it is being masterminded by a political party to gain electoral advantage. If that is true, it is unfortunate. But I don’t know if Eha-Amufu is the only place that the Labour Party guber candidate is popular. Our understanding is that he is also popular in some parts of Nsukka political group. Are we now saying that Fulani herdsmen are working through the inspiration of a particular political party in the state?

“I want to believe that what is going on is an expansion of Fulani hegemony in South East using Eha-Amufu as the passage. If it has political undertone as far as the gubernatorial election is concerned, it only means that the political party involved is taking advantage of the killings at Eha-Amufu to subject the people to more hardship.

“Otherwise, one would think that the party in question might have discussed with the herders to make Eha-Amufu people not to vote in 2023. It is a very complex situation. One cannot put a finger on the involvement of any political party in these crises. But one can say that the Fulani herdsmen are responsible for what is going on.

“The inability of security operatives to checkmate what is happing shows you that the federal government is aware of it. If we have a serious government at the federal level, federal operatives would have stopped the killings at Eha-Amufu so that the people could participate in the forthcoming elections.”

A victim currently residing in Enugu, who does not want his name mentioned, said, “It is a pity that people are being killed, and suspects are being mentioned, and everybody moves on as if nothing is happening. This is politics. Some are talking about PVCs, and who to vote for, but people are dying. We expect our governor to cry out like Gov Samuel Ortom of Benue State. Ortom raises alarm when he sees trouble.

“There are communities closer to Benue where they attack. I want our governor to meet his Benue counterpart, alongside chairmen of council areas involved. If you wipe away people because you want to occupy a political position, what is the gain? If Chijioke Edeoga, LP candidate, is still in PDP, this thing would not have got to this level. The state government would have given the matter more attention. We want to know the role of police and army in what is going on at Eha-Amufu.”

INEC Explains

Mr Pius Eze held sway as the public relations officer of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Enugu State, until he was deployed to Isi-Uzo LGA as electoral officer mainly to ensure that Eha-Amufu and other crisis-affected areas of the LGA are not disenfranchised in the forthcoming elections as a result of the escalation of the crises.

Eze told THE WHISTLER that the affected people should approach the INEC office at the council headquarters, Ikem, for documentation.

In his words, “I want to believe that those who were affected found themselves at camps of internally displaced persons. They should approach the INEC office at the Ward Collation Centre with necessary information, such as passport photographs, drivers’ licences, international passports, and anything that can identify them. The officer-in-charge will attend to them properly.

“There is no staff member of INEC in Isi-Uzo LGA that is not unaware of the crises at Eha-Amufu: Eha-Amufu I, Eha-Amufu II, Eha-Amufu III and Eha-Amufu IV. The staff there will be in a position to address such matters by collecting the data of the affected persons, and recording them.

“The officer-in-charge will identify the persons and fill necessary forms. We then compile and upload the data. The commission will know what to do. Nobody will be disenfranchised.”

A staff member of INEC in Enugu, who refused to be mentioned because he was not authorised, added, “The community should write INEC for the creation of temporal polling booths for them. It is not for INEC to start looking for displaced persons. The commission will surely do the needful, including re-issuing their lost PVCs after due processes. Most people are unaware of this provision. We urge churches, traditional rulers, individuals, among others, to help in sensitising the electorate on this. Nobody will be happy that some registered voters are denied voting during this election.”

A visit to the INEC office at the council headquarters, Ikem, shows that many eligible voters who might have lost their PVCs have not reported for reissuance of their cards. A staff of the agency said, “I doubt if they are aware. I also guess that they are yet to settle down.”

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