Of Jega, Metu and Imo, Abia governorship elections

Posted by Chima Nwafo | 23 April 2015 | 4,312 times

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This is another passionate appeal to the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Attahiru Jega, and the Acting Inspector-General of Police (IGP) Mr Solomon Arase, to please, use their good offices to facilitate a level playing ground to enable Imo and Abia people make their choices on Saturday, the rescheduled date for re-run of the governorship election in wards and local governments where INEC declared the April 11 exercise inconclusive. There should be no sacred cows to be allowed free movement and unfettered access to INEC officials and collation centres. Above all, stakeholders would appreciate a monitoring team of neutral observers and impartial INEC referees.

This is against the backdrop of malpractices during the April 11 polls, which shocked Imo people and the incumbent All Progressives Congress (APC) administration beyond words. And the response of Abia people is best captured in the Daily Sun report of April 17 titled ‘Angry Abia Traders Boo Gov Orji Over Poll Result’. According to the paper, Governor Theodore Ahamefule Orji, who was on his way to Abuja, via the Owerri Airport, “was again booed and pelted with sachets of water on Tuesday, at Onu-Imo Market at the boundary between Imo and Abia states. They pelted the (Ochendo’s) motorcade with sachets of water, jeered and booed him, shouting Onye oshi vote (Stealer of votes).” And on April 15, the National Vice Chairman, South-east, of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Engr Uchenna Okogbuo, wrote to Jega, “requesting confirmation of the cancellation of the three local government areas as announced by the INEC returning officer and declaration of Dr Alex Otti as the duly elected Governor of Abia State, having pulled the highest number of votes cast in the gubernatorial election.”

In the same edition of Daily Sun, Rochas Okorocha Campaign Organisation called for the immediate removal of the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), Dr. Gabriel Ada, ahead of Saturday’s gubernatorial election re-run, saying they have lost confidence in his ability to conduct a free and fair election. The director-general of the organisation, Mr. Iheukwumere Alaribe, who made this observation added that he was at a loss whom to believe on the issue of collection of permanent voter cards (PVCs): Prof Jega said the collection exercise has stopped; whereas Dr. Ada said voters could still collect their PVCs. The APC is more worried over the REC’s refusal to entertain questions on the actual PVCs distribution in the areas designated for re-run of the governorship poll. Rather than release the figure, which is a potential instrument of manipulation, that Ada insists “that PVC collection was still on.” Although Ada had denied the charge in a Channels’ TV report, his uncaring attitude on such a sensitive issue leaves much to be desired. But equity demands that Jega should intervene in the APC’s request for a REC the people can trust.

Still on the April 11 polls. As a lay man, I may not be familiar with the provisions of the Electoral Act, but one expects that the law which prohibits electioneering 24 hours before elections and forbids non-election related movement during voting period, could not permit politicking by a high ranking political party official who has the means to influence both INEC officials and security agents. This was the assignment the National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Olisa Metuh, who hails from Anambra State, set out to accomplish in Imo and Abia states on April 11. By his own admission on Channels Sunshine programme, Thursday April 16, he left Owerri early in the morning to go home to Anambra and cast his vote, after which he returned. More revolting than this obvious act of impunity was its justification by the Channels TV male anchor, who almost shouted down the Imo State Commissioner whom they invited to “defend” the APC administration from Metu’s allegations of malpractices during the polls. The commissioner had complained that Metu, an Anambra citizen, has no business relocating to Owerri where he was behaving like a “General Officer Commanding (GOC)” while voting lasted. The anchor screamed that Metu was doing his work as a politician. But the young man failed to educate viewers on which law or institution empowered Metu for such dubious assignment. Neither did he provide evidence that his APC counterpart, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, was equally traversing states in the North-central zone where the two parties locked horns. Because, same Metu also left Owerri for Umuahia, Abia State capital, perhaps having been informed that results of three council areas had been cancelled by the INEC Collation and Returning Officer, Prof. Benjamin Ozumba, due to large scale electoral malpractices. Meanwhile, APGA was reportedly leading in the 14 other LGAs. Shocked by the people’s verdict, Governor T.A. Orji, in company of Metuh and Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, rushed to the Collation Centre and summoned Prof. Ozumba and the Abia Resident Electoral Commissioner, Prof Selinah Oko, to an unscheduled closed-door meeting.

In his letter to Jega, Okogbuo recalled: “Upon coming out of the meeting, which lasted an hour, the returning officer came downstairs and announced a reversal of his earlier cancellation in which he had said: ‘We are here to uphold the rule of law and the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. By the power vested in me as the collation and returning officer, I hereby cancel results from Obingwa, Isiala-Ngwa North and Osisioma local governments. This is based on the evidence before me and provisions of the constitution and the Electoral Act.’ We submit that with the formal cancellation of the results, the duties and functions of the Returning Officer with respect to those results ceased.” As soon as he rose from the meeting, Metu reportedly phoned Gbenga Aruleba of AIT. Fortunately, Gbenga said he told him that he had left the studio as the time of his call. Analysts are on the same page on this issue: Which segment of the Electoral Act permits Metu to play such roles during governorship elections outside his home state? While still expecting the answer to this puzzling question, concerned stakeholders insist that nothing of such should be tolerated during Saturday’s rerun polls.

It must also be recalled that after the March 28 elections, INEC and Police authorities were bombarded with several reports of acts of irregularity committed by their officials in collaboration with the PDP. For example, it was curious why INEC officials in Abia were placed under the care of Transition Local Government Chairmen.  According to Okogbuo, on April 2, APGA specifically wrote to Jega and “complained of massive rigging and electoral malpractices in the same local governments during the March 28 elections. We called for a monitoring team for the April 11, 2015 elections. Unfortunately, the same pattern of rigging was repeated, only that this time it was conducted in an obscene and brazen manner.” Once again, a situation where INEC officials are housed by local government chairmen is no longer acceptable. INEC officials must not only be impartial, on Saturday, but they must be seen to be so by the electorates.

•Photo shows Jega. Nwafo is Consulting Editor to News Express online/Business Express (e-mail: chi_dafo@yahoo.com)

Source: News Express

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