TENSION rose across the length and breadth of Ekiti State on Thursday, as the Joint Task Force in the Niger Delta popularly called Operation Restore Hope and riot policemen have been deployed to the state ahead of the Local Government election slated for December 20.
The combat-ready soldiers were seeing on Thursday, parading the major street of Ado-Ekiti, the state capital, apparently to warn potential troublemakers ahead of the controversial elections.
Residents are gripped by fear of a possible outbreak of violence at the polls.
Some youths who mounted road blocks at about 2.10 pm to collect money from motorists for their end-of-the-year carnival at Basiri on Iyin Road of Ado-Ekiti had a dose of military action, as the soldiers jumped down from their vehicles, cleared the barricades and chased the youths away.
The two Toyota Hilux vans carrying the soldiers later headed for the Ado Area Command of the Nigeria Police Force at Okesa.
It was gathered that the soldiers had been deployed in major towns believed to be trouble spots to forestall a breakdown of law and order, just as they were said to be conducting stop-and-search on all vehicles coming in and getting out of the state.
Besides, a legion of aggrieved pretesting youths clashed with riot policemen in some part of the state.
In Ikere-Ekiti, scores of Action Congress (AC) youths took to the streets to protest against the planned local government polls.
They blocked the entrance of the town with drums, logs of wood and other objects in a bid to prevent some vehicles from the Government House from passing through the town.
Riot policemen fired tear gas at the irate youths and shot into the air to disperse the protesters who replied with stones, sticks and other objects.
Many of the youths were wounded, some were arrested a situation that paralyzed the economic and social activities in the town.
One of the AC youths who simply identified himself as Femi said they started their peaceful demonstration and they were marching on the house of former Governor of old Ondo State, Evangelist Bamidele Olumilua, when they were tear-gassed by the riot policemen.
He said three of them were arrested. Traders and other bystanders fled to escape the dose of tear-gas fired by the riot policemen. Traffic to and from Akure, the Ondo State capital, were disrupted.
It was bloody in Ikole-Ekiti in the northern senatorial district where another group of protesting AC youths clashed with policemen who fired guns and tear-gas at them.
The irate protesters who hurled stones and other missiles at the security agents made bonfires in some strategic parts of the town.
Those injured were rushed to hospitals in the town.
Violence was also reported in Oye-Ekiti, also in the northern senatorial district, where youths clashed with policemen.
Protests were also reported in Ijero-Ekiti.
Besides, the row over the planned elections continued on Thursday.
AC state Chairman, Mr. Olajide Awe, alleged that the government listed for the police headquarters names of almost all AC leaders, including chairmanship candidates, to be arrested ahead of the local government polls.
Addressing a news conference over clashes reported in some major towns and the deployment of soldiers in the state, Awe criticised the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)-led administration for “putting the state under siege over patently-illegal local government elections.”
To him, drafting soldiers to the state is an indication that the PDP-led government wants to intimidate the “Ekiti people who have rejected the conduct of the elections in a bid to commit another electoral rape on them.”
“Ekiti is now under siege, with the deployment of over 4,000 riot policemen who have been ordered to shoot on sight and this will not augur well for the state. We believe that Oni will see reason by not going ahead to conduct the illegal elections as the whole exercise is a charade.
“We went to court and a law-abiding government is expected to halt every process concerning the local government elections and we have written letters to the President and all the governors in Nigeria over the matter.
“The people are not ready for these illegal elections as the various factions in the PDP are also not comfortable with the election.
“Oni’s action has shown that he is not a peace-loving person because he has sent for a detachment of soldiers from Okitipupa (Ondo State). If he is insisting on conducting the elections, it has portrayed him as a violator of the rule of law,” Awe added.
Reacting to the violence in Ikere, rights activist and lawyer, Mr. Morakinyo Ogele, said the governor would be held responsible for any breakdown of law and order in any part of the state.
Ogele, a native of the town and National Co-ordinator of the Ekiti Democratic Coalition Alliance (EDCA) said the AC youths were provoked by the jubilation of PDP candidates “who are happy with the no-contest situation” following the non-participation of AC.
Compiled By KAZEEM MOHAMMED