Since after the conclusion of the April 11 governorship election in Abia; it has been one problem or the other for the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC in the state. From card reader theft to wrong certificate or return, OKECHUKWU KESHI UKEGBU looks at why there is still tension in the long after the elections
Abians are yet to resolve the puzzle posed by some INEC staff in Umuahia, the state capital, who were last week caught illegally possessing some sensitive materials.
Nigerian Pilot reports that six INEC staff in Umuahia were arrested for illegally possession of seven card reading machines without the permission of the Resident Electoral Commissioner, REC, Prof. Selina Oko.
Those arrested are Head of the Information Communication Technology, ICT department , Mr Herbert Ejiofor, and his colleague, Nnamdi Nwabuko, who was driving the materials out of INEC office at the time of his arrest. Others are Amauche Ebi Dike, Charles Mba, Nkem Ichita, Uche Enyioma, Innocent Dire, all members of staff of the ICT department and the Secretary to the Resident Electoral Commissioner, Esther David.
Oko told journalists in her office in Umuahia that she was surprised to hear that a staff of the Commission could arrange to take away sensitive materials from the Commission’s strong room without her permission even as the two staff have been handed over to the police.
She said the suspects were caught by the security at the Commission’s headquarters as they were trying to drive out with the materials but were not allowed to leave until Tuesday morning when she was informed of the development, adding that the AIG Zone 9, Usman Gwarri sent his men to arrest the suspects who she said were at the Zone 9 police command headquarters Umuahia for further investigation.
She continued: “The police should conduct proper investigation and take the right action. I am in charge; they are taking things out without my permission.
“Even I as the REC do not take sensitive materials away from the office except it is demanded by my chairman in Abuja,” she said.
AIG Zone 9, Usman Gwarri, had said it would be too early to conclude what they wanted to do with the card readers or to establish any case of crime until investigation was concluded.
The incident has pitted the ruling party, PDP and the opposition party, APGA to throw punches on each other.
In his reaction, All Progressives Grand Alliance, Head of Intelligence and Surveillance, Mr. Chidi Ahiabike said the party has been monitoring the INEC staff and security personnel since the result was declared.
He accused the ruling party of conniving with INEC staff to manipulate the card readers to reflect what he described as the fraudulent result from Obingwa, Osisioma and Isiala Ngwa North.
He said they have it on good authority that the two staff were also in possession of the result sheets of the three local government areas even as he insisted that the card readers were those used for the election in Obingwa.
According to him, the aim was to take the card readers to an ICT expert who would manipulate them in order to be able to defend the result at the election petition tribunal.
Member representing Umunneochi State Constituency in Abia State House of Assembly, Hon Ikedi Ezekwesili, said they wanted to ensure that the figures they posted from those three local government areas tallied with the card reader.
He said the party would follow the matter to its logical end.
In a renewed attack, APGA alleged that PDP was working round the clock to compromise the Assistant Inspector-General, AIG, of Police, Zone 9, Umuahia, Mr. Usman Gwary, to release unconditionally the six INEC suspects.
APGA quoted a source at Zone 9, accusing PDP of offering irresistible and mouth watering sum of money to the AIG to release the suspects and kill the report.
The party also noted that the missing card readers and result sheets were deployed in Obingwa local government area, where a whopping 82,240 votes were credited to PDP against 1,952 votes for APGA, even when elections did not take place in the area.
This is as sources at INEC said that no card reader was used for accreditation in Obingwa, Osisioma, Ugwunagbo and Isialangwa North local government areas during the governorship election.
Meanwhile, Abia State chapter of PDP has dissociated itself from the activities the said INEC staff.
Dissociating itself from the incident at INEC, PDP said the report of the illegal removal of the card readers from Umuahia INEC was like a thunder bolt for the PDP in the state.
Speaking in a press briefing at the party’s state headquarters in Umuahia, Abia State Secretary of PDP, Mr. Charles Eseonu described the incident as a planned act orchestrated by enemies of free and fair elections in the state.
The illegal removal of the card reader machines came on the heels of another drama at INEC Umuahia when the Certificate of Return for Umuahia South State Assembly bore the name of the loser instead of the winner, Chijioke Nwachukwu of the All Progressives Grand Alliace, APGA.
The Certificate of Return, which was reportedly issued from Abuja bore the name of Jerry Uzosike of Peoples Democratic Party, PDP instead of Chijioke Nwachukwu of APGA who was declared winner by INEC in Umuahia.
The Resident Electoral Commissioner, REC, Abia State, Prof. Selinah Oko in her explanation said that while the original result sheet ( EC81) and the list they compiled bore the name of the winner, one of the certificates that arrived from Abuja the previous evening did not bear the name of the winner.
Oko, who absolved INEC Abia State of complicity but blamed it on typographical error, said that APGA had blamed INEC of complicity in the incident.
The Certificate of Return of Isiala Ngwa South was also affected because of the fire that gutted INEC office in the local government area.
The REC said that they had notified INEC Abuja of the mistake and that when the certificates are ready the owners will be informed to come and collect them.
Out of the 24 seats, PDP won 13 while APGA won 11.
Recall that Abia was one of the three states where the governorship election was inconclusive and this according to analysts was because of the interest and tension generated in the build up to the election, especially between the two frontrunners in the election, the PDP and the APC.