Barely four days to the crucial February 16 presidential election, sensitive materials, including card readers, meant for the conduct of the election and housed in the storage facilities of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Awka, Anambra State, have been gutted by mysterious fire.
Dr. Nkwachukwu Orji, the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) in the state, who gave this indication on Tuesday declared: “The fire involved our storage facilities that are housing some of the most sensitive equipment that we are going to use for the elections.
“The content is mostly the smart card readers. I don’t have the details of the incident; I just reported what I know; what I know is that there is a fire incident involving some of the sensitive equipment we are going to use for the elections.”
Orji was speaking in Awka, Anambra State capital, at the state’s stakeholders meeting he was chairing at the Prof. Dora Akunyili Women Development Centre on his commission’s preparedness to conduct free, fair and credible election, while INEC officials and Anambra State Fire Service men were busy fighting the fire said to have broken out at the container section of the commission.
The fire, which was on for hours reportedly began about 2:14p.m, razing the whole two containers housing the said sensitive equipment for the elections before the arrival of officials of Anambra State Fire Service about 2.43p.m.
Caught in the moment, Orji hastily stopped the state stakeholders’ meeting and rushed to the office with virtually all heads of the security agencies that attended the event with him.
Speaking to newsmen, he said, “I don’t have the details of how the fire started, but all I can report is that there was a fire incident in our premises.
“We have to do assessment before we can tell the status, I am just arriving into the premises, and this is all I know as at now.
“We have to access the situation before we come out to logical conclusion on materials destroyed. I don’t know if the materials were configured because I am just arriving to the office.”
A source, however, said that the fire could have resulted from overheated card readers connected to the power sources in the containers possibly for recharging them ahead of the Saturday election.
Also, an eye witness, who was at the office for collection of posting letters as INEC SPOS, said the fire started at a portion and was put off only to double and escalate to other places.
“We were sent outside when the fire escalated, raising dust everywhere. We had come to collect our posting letters. We were told to drive out or park out our properties in case the fire gutted the entire buildings,” the eyewitness said.
Meanwhile, INEC last night confirmed that it lost a total of 4,695 card readers to Tuesday’s fire incident at the commission’s office in Awka, Anambra State.
Festus Okoye, National Commissioner in charge of Information and Voter Education, disclosed this in a statement in Abuja, adding, however, that INEC is doing all that is possible to ensure election proceeds according to schedule in the state on Saturday.
He said the commission is trying to ameliorate the problem by mopping up excess smart card readers from other states.
Okoye said the fresh fire incident is a setback to effort by the commission to run a transparent election, after two earlier cases in Isiala Ngwa and Qua’an Pan, Plateau State.