Intrigues and drama characterized last Saturday’s governorship election in Abia State, which culminated in INEC declaring the election inconclusive, writes OKECHUKWU KESHI UKEGBU
Moliére (1622-1673), in the Renaissance Theatre, was a French playwright who wrote several comedies. Moliére is a pseudonym used by the author to protect his family by those offended by his work. His most famous plays include ‘Tartuffe, The Misanthrope, and The School for Wives.’ If Moliere were to be alive, his services would have been highly sought after to capture last Saturday’s governorship and state assembly elections in Abia State to add to his hall of comedies because that was what the elections were.
It was an election where the Returning Officer (RO), Prof. Benjamin Ozumba, the Vice- Chancellor of University of Nigeria Nsukka, UNN reversed himself from an earlier pronouncement.
Ozumba had announced the cancellation of results from Osisioma, Obingwa and Isiala Ngwa North local government areas on the grounds of “incontrovertible evidence of violence” and reports from international observers.
The returning officer reversed the decision after Governor Theodore Orji-led chieftains of PDP consulted with the Resident Electoral Officer, REC, Professor Selina Oko and Ozumba.
The returning officer reversed the decision after Governor Theodore Orji-led chieftains of PDP consulted with the Resident Electoral Officer, REC, Prof. Selina Oko and Ozumba.
Ozumba said the cancellation was reversed due to fresh information concerning the conduct of the election in the three council areas. He said that polling centres with issues would be isolated and decisions taken on them later.
The governor arrived the collation center shortly after the announcement of the cancellation visibly upset. He walked up to the table where the officers were sitting and then left the collation point with the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), Professor Selina Oko. A little later, the PDP chieftains including, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, Chief Onyema Ugochukwu, Dr Eme Okoro, Chuku Wachuku, Minister of State for Defence, Col Austin Akobundu, among others, also invaded the collation center where the PDP secretary, Charles Esonu, allegedly threatened the RO should he continue with the announcement of the result.
Upon the threat, the RO also left the collation point and went into the INEC office. He came out after a while and declared that the earlier cancelled local government results were going to be announced. This drew the protest of the APC agent, Chibuihe Onyemechi, who walked out of the center after questioning the rationale for the reversal.
But the APGA agent, Barrister Ahamdi Nweke, remained behind to condemn the reversal, saying that it was obvious that elections did not take place in Osisioma. At that point one of the observers from the European Union Election Observation Mission testified before the collation officers that election at Osisioma was marred by irregularities, corroborating that there was no election there.
Before the governor came to disrupt the process, the PDP national publicity secretary, Olisa Metuh came in and was introduced by the PDP agent, Solomon Ogunji. Thereafter the whole INEC premises were invaded by PDP and government officials.
The polling agent of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, Chief Ahamdi Nwaeke, had questioned the rationale behind the decision by the returning officer to reverse his earlier pronouncement.
Nwaeke insisted that elections did not take place in Osisioma, adding that the party would not accept any result from the area. He tendered a hand-written note reportedly signed by the Commissioner of Police, Mr Habila Joshak, indicating that electoral materials recovered from the bush in Osisioma were in the police custody. Joshak, who was present at the centre, did not controvert Nweke’s assertion.
Proceedings were later disrupted after an international observer, Ms Shirle Wilson, from Noble Leadership Initiative, United Kingdom, testified at the centre that “election did not take place in Osisioma”.
Wilson said that election in the area was marred by violence and snatching of ballot boxes and other electoral materials by hoodlums.
The pronouncement heightened tension at the centre, leading to the adjournment of further announcement of results. Ozumba said the cancellation was reversed due to fresh information concerning the conduct of the election in the three council areas.
He said that polling centres with issues would be isolated and decisions taken on them later.
After announcing the result of Osisioma the PDP overtook APGA which was leading by 104,776 to 85234. This generated protest from the APGA agent but the RO insisted that the whole result would be announced.
The cancellation of the local government areas stalemated the collation of results on Sunday and collation had to be adjourned to Monday. When collation resumed Monday at INEC headquarters, Umuahia, it was another round of comedies spiced with hilarious interjections.
APGA agent, Nwaeke while addressing the Returning Officer, Prof. Benjamin Ozumba said: “please sir, it is not the level of integrity we saw when you started this exercise. We know that when the governor came, everything started turning around”.
Nwaeke further accused the governor while addressing PDP agent, Engr. Solomon Ogunji: “when the international observers observed that there were no elections in some local government areas and they were cancelled, your governor paid and the cancellation was reversed”.
At about 12 noon Monday, the collation of the controversial Obingwa LGA, the home local government of PDP governorship candidate, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu was concluded. Ikpeazu polled an overwhelming 82,240 votes against Otti’s 1,952. Chief Nyerere Anyim, governorship candidate of APC, who hails from the same local government, got a paltry 2,704.
The voting strength of Obingwa is 98,085 and a total of 88,917 voters were accredited for the exercise. The total votes cast were 88,003, while the total valid votes cast were 87,313. A total of 690 rejected votes were recorded.
Obingwa is noted for proffering solutions to politicians problems of winning elections and because of this several appellations such as “Tsunami, Miracle Centre” have been ascribed to it.
It will be recalled that during the March 28 presidential and National Assembly elections, President Jonathan scored 16,000 votes, while Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe polled 64,000 from the same local government council.
According to Dr Alex Otti, PDP should have been smarter than to think that any local government could return 90% registered as they did in Obingwa and Osisioma.
After Obingwa was collected, another intrigue was played out as INEC officials, security agencies and journalists had to wait for almost six hours for the last local government, Ohafia to be collated.
The high hopes of PDP supporters who had maintained inconclusive were dashed as the election was declared inconclusive. It is apparent that when the margin of lead is not in excess of the registered voters of polling units where the elections were cancelled; there is no declared winner of the election.
Ikpeazu polled 83,053 over Otti but the strength of registered voters in areas where elections could not hold as a result of violence or card reader problems is 179,224, and therefore the Abia governorship election was declared inconclusive and a rerun election is to be held in those areas.
Nigerian Pilot reports that stalemate looms as APGA demands cancellation and rerun in those local government areas cancelled. They are Obingwa, Osisioma and Isiala Ngwa North.
Addressing journalists on the development at the Alex Otti Campaign office Umuahia on Tuesday, Umeh said the visit of the governor and other PDP chieftains to the collation center at INEC state office put pressure on the Returning Office to reverse himself, saying that Professor Ozumba took the decision to cancel the election based on overwhelming evidence of irregularities in the three local government areas.
“We believe their visit truncated the process, this has introduced an unfortunate twist and fiasco to Abia State politics,” he said, and warned that the will of the people which they have expressed by voting overwhelmingly for APGA should not be tampered with.
He called on the chairman of INEC, Professor Attahiru Jega, to ensure that the proper thing was done in the conduct of the re-run. He also demanded that the compromised INEC staff in the state should not be used in the rescheduled election, saying that only card readers should be used for the election.
According to Umeh, the matter should be addressed immediately now that the process has not been concluded instead of referring it to the tribunal.
The APGA chairman said that from the pattern of voting, it was clear that the people voted APGA everywhere in the state and wondered how Obingwa local government where President Jonathan scored 16,000 votes, Senator Abaribe, 64,000 votes would post 82,000 votes for Okezie Ikpeazu, the PDP candidate.
In his remark, the APGA governorship candidate, Dr Alex Otti, appealed to the people to be calm while the matter was being handled saying that no life should be lost because of the election.
“At this time that we want to change society, some people are resorting to savagery; Abia people have rejected PDP. I am ashamed that even the governor is supporting this even the people we call elders,” he said.
He alleged that no card reader was used in Obingwa. He expressed disappointment that the Returning Officer recanted 45 minutes after the governor and PDP leaders stormed the collation venue, saying that the only competent authority that can reverse the decision is the tribunal.
The question remains: “Will PDP subscribe to the demand of rerun in the local government areas where they wield enormous strength”?
The answer is provided by a chieftain of the PDP who spoke on condition of anonymity. “This is the last option PDP can think of even at gun point”.