Why do some of the heroes of our profession (journalism) take pride in demystifying themselves? This is the question that has been ringing in my ears since I read the article, “Peter Obi, Akunyili and Political Folly”, written by Okey Ndibe and published April 19 in his column in Sahara Reporters.

I had always respected Okey Ndibe as a senior professional colleague but after reading the said article, my respect for him simply evaporated. I am going to restrict myself to the claims he made about Prof. Dora Akunyili since I do not speak for Governor Peter Obi.

In the said article, Okey Ndibe tried to give the wrong impression that his candidate, Dr. Chris Ngige of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), won the disputed April 9 Anambra Central senatorial election in South East Nigeria, in which Ngige and Akunyili of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) were the foremost candidates.

Let me quote Okey Ndibe: “Many people in Anambra are certain that Mrs. Akunyili, the candidate most after the governor’s heart, was also decisively defeated. The haste with which she’s seeking a re-run of the senatorial race with Mr. Ngige suggests that she knows, deep down, that she was roundly beaten on April 9. It would amount to a monumental injustice to the voters of Anambra to revisit an election that became competitive only after the shameless manipulation that took place in Anaocha Local Government Area. The APGA team should not be rewarded with an undeserved re-run. INEC chairman Attahiru Jega should insist that the investigative panel he set up deploy forensic technology to probe the votes in Anaocha. I believe such a test would unmask a narrative of stuffed ballots.” 

Continuing, Okey Ndibe said: “It’s odd and disturbing that Chukwuemeka Onukaogu, the Resident Electoral Commissioner for Anambra, would appoint Charles Esinone, a professor of pharmacy, as the new returning officer for the Anambra Central senatorial zone. The fact that Mr. Esinone and Mrs. Akunyili were colleagues in the same department at the University of Nigeria casts serious doubt about the returning officer’s impartiality.”

To say the least, Okey Ndibe’s claims left me sad and disappointed because they are not only false but also betrayed an absence of scholarly research and journalistic inquiry. On what basis is Okey Ndibe, who is based in faraway United States of America, concluding that “many people in Anambra are certain that Mrs. Akunyili . . . was also decisively defeated”? Did he conduct a survey in Anambra before arriving at that conclusion? If so, the reading public would like to know when the survey was conducted and the details. The truth, of course, is that no such survey was conducted, meaning that Okey Ndibe, who apparently harbors sentiments for the ACN and for Ngige, has allowed himself to be misled by party sentiments and Ngige’s propaganda. This is unfortunate and unbecoming of a senior journalist and university teacher who is ordinarily expected to carefully investigate all sides of a story before publishing.

According to Okey Ndibe, Akunyili’s purported haste in agreeing to a rerun suggests she is aware that she lost the election. Quite to the contrary! As a humble and law abiding citizen who has respect for constituted authorities, Akunyili is only accepting the position of INEC, the electoral umpire, which ordered a rerun in a few places despite unequivocally declaring that Akunyili was leading in the valid collated votes.

In case Okey Ndibe is not aware, the official INEC result released at a press conference held Monday morning, April 11, in the INEC office at Awka, Anambra State, showed that Akunyili polled 66,273 of the concluded votes, while Ngige got 65,576. The result was announced by Esimone (as the name appears on INEC records) in his capacity as the new Returning Officer (having been so appointed by REC Onukogu following the abscondment of the previous Returning officer, Dr. Alex Anene). But rather than declare Akunyili winner, Esimone ruled the election to be inconclusive and ordered a re-run in four wards and four polling booths in the Anaocha area, which happens to be Akunyili’s stronghold.

In Okey Ndibe’s view, “the fact that Mr. Esinone and Mrs. Akunyili were colleagues in the same department at the University of Nigeria casts serious doubt about the returning officer’s impartiality.” This claim indeed proves that Okey Ndibe does not have all the facts about Esimone’s role during the election. Before his appointment as the new Returning Officer for Anambra Central Senatorial Zone, Esimone was, in fact, the Returning Officer for Idemili North Local Government where Ngige was credited with 22,559 votes – the highest number of votes from a local government in the election, including Anaocha. Esimone returned this number in spite of complaints from APGA agents that the results from most of the polling booths were heavily rigged in favour of Ngige, who is from Idelimi South. Yet the impression is now being created by people like Okey Ndibe that this same Esimone is favouring Akunyili just because both of them are pharmacists and once worked together!

Okey Ndibe’s claim of an Ngige victory in the said election is not only strange but also ridiculous. It is based on Ngige’s own claim and an illegal nocturnal pronouncement by Anene, the absconded erstwhile Returning Officer. Several hours after INEC’s press conference at which Esimone announced the official INEC result and ordered a rerun in some areas, Anene at 9:45 p.m. that same Monday, April 11, assembled some journalists at a hotel in Awka and announced that Ngige had won the election by scoring 68,208 votes against the 68,164 votes which he allotted to Akunyili. The press conference was not attended by any INEC official or agents of the political parties as required by law. It is unbelievable that anyone – not the least somebody as educated as Okey Ndibe – could take Anene’s illegal action serious, knowing fully well that it clearly violates the Electoral Act, which requires that results be announced at the INEC office in the presence of INEC officials, agents of the political parties that contested the election and security agents.

Ngige’s claim to victory and insistence not to participate in a rerun is in keeping with his well known antics of rigging himself into office and illegally occupying the office for years before his victim finally gets justice. His desperation for power is legendary. Okey Ndibe cannot pretend not to know how Ngige in 2003 rigged himself into power to become the governor of Anambra State, a seat he illegally occupied for three years before he was ousted by the courts, which rendered judgment in favour of Peter Obi. Ngige is simply trying to re-enact that scenario out of his desperation to become a senator, having unsuccessfully run once more for the office of governor last year (he is still pursuing the case in court).

It is ironical that Ngige as well as his supporters like Okey Ndibe, who claims that Ngige is the more popular candidate, is afraid of going for a rerun in a few places. Why this fear if indeed he is as popular as he is being portrayed?

Since INEC Chairman Prof. Jega has set up an internal panel to investigate the crisis, what every lover of justice and fair play should do at this stage is to allow the panel to complete its work and properly guide INEC in resolving the impasse. But if Ndibe and his ilk choose to play to the gallery, that is their right – just as it is Ngige’s right to boycott the rerun if eventually ordered by INEC’s national headquarters.

*Isaac Umunna is Special Assistant on Media to Prof. Dora Akunyili.

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