By Dr. Ugoji Egbujo
At some point during the collation of the results of the March 18 elections, INEC cried out. Many ordinary people mocked. They said, “Yes, everybody must chop breakfast.” Because when people had cried about thugs, INEC had jumped in and say, “there were only isolated incidents and pockets of violence.” INEC had been so obsessed with presenting a beautiful facade to cover all lapses in the process.
But isolated or widespread, incidents of violence against human beings and their freedom to vote and choose their leaders are abominable. The incipient normalisation of evil by government agencies is a great evil. So while people seemed justified to ridicule an INEC that was crying about the thugs that had jumped into its Obingwa collation centre to torment people and mutilate results, the enormity of the incident must be emphasized.
Obingwa isn’t just another local government in Abia. It has a reputation. Besides being the home LGA of Governor Ikpeazu, Obingwa could change the fortunes of Abia governorship candidates during elections. Obingwa has so much in common with Obio Akpor of Rivers. Obio Akpor is Wike’s home LGA. Obio Akpor, like Obingwa, has an oversized population on the voter register. Obio Apkor, like Obingwa, has a battalion of thugs. Obio Akpor had lived up to its ugly reputation by presenting results totally at variance with the results uploaded on the INEC result portal after the Feb 25 elections. Perhaps Obingwa had watched Obio Akpor with envy. Perhaps Obingwa had wondered why it couldn’t live up to the daringness of its Port Harcourt cousin after all its own son was also a strong member of the G5. So Obingwa decided to match Obio Akpor on March 18.
According to third-party figures of the collation of results from INEC portals, and the figures presented by the Labour Party to the election tribunal, in Obio Akpor, votes were manufactured. Almost 95% of the votes awarded to a particular party came from nowhere. Almost 80,000 votes. Oh sorry, most of it was stolen take from the basket of another party. The entire Rivers state result must have emboldened vote thieves in the country. A cursory glance review of the BVAS accreditation figures for Rivers by INEC would have stopped the madness. But nobody bothered. Complaints were summarily dismissed. Almost two-thirds of votes a particular party secured in Rivers were invented. Yet after it all, the inventors celebrated like democrats. So it would appear that Obingwa decided to employ its own magic since Yakubu Mahmood Yakubu refused to check through the results submitted to him from Rivers State in the presidential elections.
So on March 18, Obingwa came for magic. Most of Abia voted for Labour Party’s Alex Oti. After the results in 16 of the 17 LGAs had been gathered, the margin of lead was about 94,000. It seemed unassailable. But Obingwa’s result was lingering. Though Obingwa had about 157,000 registered voters, the number of voters that were accredited on March 18 was less than 28,000. Oti’s margin of lead was too much for Obingwa. But the thugs from Ikpeazu’s home LGA were undaunted. They were determined to do the impossible. So what did they do? Even though less than 27,000 voters were accredited to vote in Obingwa, a mutilated result sheet emerged seeking to award the PDP over 100,000 votes. Once the magic was done, prominent politicians and their surrogates started howling. They wanted the abracadabra accepted so that cheated folks could go to court.
But unlike Yakubu Mahmood who didn’t bother to review patently dubious results, the INEC returning officer for Abia rejected the Obingwa result. Professor Mrs Oti stood her ground and refused to accept the Obingwa result. In a normal country, no human being would fabricate a result and seek to tender it. But in Nigeria, worse things have been tendered and accepted. So the thugs in Abia had a reason for their faith in wuruwuru.
When the strong-willed vice chancellor, forsook inducements and forced a cross-check, the PDP only scored about 9,000 votes in Obingwa. Had the woman acted like Mahmood Yakubu, PDP would have scored about 108,000 and celebrated a win in Abia. Fortunately, the electoral armed robbery was aborted. What happened in Obingwa was beyond the scandalous, but where is the outrage? Once the result was corrected, the public jumped about, celebrating the defeat of evil. The same public that retrieves stolen item from petty thieves and then goes on to mete jungle justice on them. Jungle justice is unlawful and must be condemned, but the righteous anger that engenders it should have yielded a protest to the police to insist on the arrest and prosecution of the politicians who masterminded the Obingwa heist.
After that attempt to truncate the wishes of the Abia electorate, the public has showered praises on the returning officer. Some have presented gifts. These are laudable acts, but the noble returning officer hasn’t stopped saying that many people had tried to induce her with bribes to accept the Obingwa coup. Given that she has been upright and outspoken, why haven’t the police and DSS invited her so she can share her experience? What has stopped INEC from inviting the police to investigate the Obingwa scandal?
Ikpeazu PhD preaches peace and principles. But this atrocity happened under his nose. Yet rather than condemn it vigorously, Ikpeazu came on national TV to trivialize the gallantry of the returning officer. He said state returning officers lacked the power to change any results since their job was to add up already collated results. That is a dubious argument. Before BVAS, a state returning officer might just be a mere calculator of figures. Because she had no data other than the voter register to refer to. But with the introduction of BVAS, a collation officer is permitted to crosscheck figures of accredited voters from the BVAS and Irev to prevent the announcement of grossly inflated results. Ikpeazu should have kept quiet. A governor in whose home LGA thugs intervened so brazenly and in whose ultimate political favour electoral armed robbers intervened so cynically, should be sober.
But the blame must go to the Police and DSS. If they had invited all the INEC officials that took part in the governorship elections in Obingwa and arrested the thugs, they would have arrived at the political sponsors of the Obingwa scandal. How can electoral malpractices stop if the agencies saddled with the constitutional responsibility to investigate, arrest and punish electoral offenders and communicate with the public to establish deterrence, see the naked atrocity in Obingwa and look away?
Obio Akpor happened. Nothing happened. The perpetrators celebrated. Then Obingwa happened. A woman stood her ground. The stolen items were recovered. But the perpetrators have been left to swagger away, feeling unlucky rather than guilty. Crooks will study Obiokpor and Obingwa and feel that on a rational cost benefit analysis electoral crimes are rewarding. Impunity makes it so. Regardless of the technology and systems we adopt, if law enforcement agencies fail to descend on the politicians that sponsor electoral offences, the system and culture will not improve significantly.
The prosecution of electoral offenders must be predictable. Their conviction must be swift. The sentences for grave electoral offences should be exemplary. An Electoral Offences Commission has become overdue. If that commission were in existence, many Obingwa politicians would have been on the run. But that commission doesn’t exist; so, electoral Escobars everywhere can continue going from one tv station to another, like their Obio Akpor colleagues, to annoy our collective sensibilities.