Albert Einstein said, “evil men will rule the world if the few good ones continue to remain silent.” This statement of fact without equivocation is apt in the description of the bizarre and sham election conducted last Saturday, March 28, 2015 in Cross River State and supervised by Dr. Okey Ezeani, the Resident Electoral commissioner who since he resumed, assured Cross Riverians of the neutrality of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.
Whilst many Cross Riverians as expected are rejoicing with other Nigerians for the clear victory of the resilience and dogged crusader of corrupt-free Nigeria, President-elect, Muhammadu Buhari, others are down casted due to the glaring mismanagement of the electoral process during the last March 28 elections.
It is on record and indeed in the minds of well meaning Cross Riverians that before the forthright Barr. Mike Igini was posted to head INEC in the state, the commission was suffering from lack of public confidence. The people did not believe, trust and had no confidence in INEC.
The situation was so bad that even genuine results were never believed, in so far as such result was coming from INEC. Elections in the field were usually marked with fake, scanned or photocopied result sheets given to INEC adhoc staff whilst the originals were exclusively left with the PDP as collaborators. Similarly, INEC then degenerated to the point that election results were filled and recorded in government house before falsely announced at the collation centre, the situation was as bad as that.
However, Cross Riverians had respite and relief when the forthright Barr. Mike Igini came on board the INEC leadership as Resident Electoral Commissioner, REC; he brought back integrity and restored confidence in electoral process. INEC was no longer seen as PDP agent in election rigging. Though he related with the State Government, he still maintained dignified independence, hence Imoke’s PDP antics to transfer Igini out of Calabar. Despite the blackmail, the proud and dignified Igini stoutly refused to surrender the electoral process to Imoke.
As if the above was not enough, Igini on the other hand checkmated some of the known political agents and the commercial staff, some of who are heads of departments in INEC. No wonder the news about his transfer to Edo State was received with mixed feelings by Cross Riverians who thought the era of transparency in the electoral body was over in the State. But the habitual known INEC commercialists jubilation with glowing faces and broad smiles to do business as usual.
It is now an admitted fact that the first electoral assignment, supervised by the new Resident Electoral Commissioner, Dr. Sylvester Ezeani, as to the 28 March election was a monumental disaster already predicted by many who before now doubted his capacity to conduct a free and fair elections in Cross River State.
It will be recalled that when Dr. Ezeani arrived Cross River State as the new INEC REC, it was a unanimous voice by the opposition parties that he was a Liyel Imoke agent, with no capacity to be independent, an accusation Dr. Ezeani strenuously tried to deny. The APC that eventually won the presidency was the first to fire the salvo. This was closely followed by the youthful Labor Party state chairman, Austin Ibok.
The conduct of the March 28 election under the management of Dr. Okey Ezeani was an acknowledged horrifying experience never to be forgotten in a hurry. It was a day of shame to INEC, an era the outgoing Imoke has fervently prayed for, the day the PDP rigging machine was at its peak with the connivance or in collaboration with a supposedly independent electoral umpire.
An era where original result sheets were willy-nilly surrendered to the authority of the ruling PDP, thus giving its ad hoc staff in the field scanned or photocopied result sheets. The era of multiple thumb printing was re-enacted with impunity. It is common sense that a free, fair and transparent electoral process is routed in confidence and confidence is lost as soon as room for suspicion is created as was the case with the Ezeani managed election.
With this monumental mismanagement and apparent compromise by INEC, the question is, should Cross Riverians still have hope or confidence howbeit false that the April 11 election will not be compromised again by INEC under Ezeani?
INEC Cross River State and the outgoing governor, Liyel Imoke, must by the declaration of Buhari adjusted to the Biblical lesson, “a rejected stone has become the corner stone of the house.”
Assuming for purposes of argument that Dr. Okey Ezeani is innocent of the existence of well known compromised INEC staff working with him, then he should spend time studying the staff working under him like his predecessor Igini did to gain INEC’s lost glory.
Before Prof. Jega concludes his assignment for the nation, it is desirous that he promptly cautions INEC leadership to be more transparent, otherwise he should promptly re-assign one Mr. Okereke and other staff. This he needs to do with dispatch or bring back Mike Igini to show the required example.
Barrister Utum Eteng is a private legal practitioner and public affairs analyst based in Calabar, Cross River State.