My first physical encounter with the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Prof. Attahiru Jega was on Saturday December 6, 2013 at Ugbegun in Esan Central Local Government Area of Edo State during the burial of former President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Prof. Festus Iyayi, who was murdered by the reckless convoy of the Governor of Kogi State, Idris Wada.
I had relocated to Edo State for about a week to join other activists, comrades and public spirited compatriots from within and outside the country to give our slain brother in the struggle "a befitting burial". On the day of the funeral, we were singing solidarity songs at the tomb of Iyayi when I sighted a tall, good looking man wearing a white Hausa gown popularly called "babariga". Without being told, I recognised the person to be Prof. Attahiru Jega, the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Throughout his stay during the interment, Prof. Jega neither uttered a word nor exuded emotions except the occasions he exchanged pleasantries with other sympathisers who came to greet him. As I observed Mr. Jega closely, I could see a well cultured, quiet and decorous personage that does not easily give in to the vicissitudes of life. My admiration for him soared afterwards.
It was therefore not eccentric to me when he exuded equanimity on Tuesday, 31st March, 2015 when Mr. Godson Orubebe sought to undermine his hard earned reputation with his thoughtless, shameful and baseless allegations of bias and compromise during the collation of the presidential election results at the International Conference Center, Abuja.
With the successful conduct of the presidential election on 28 March, 2015 which has been applauded by Nigerians and the international community, the reputation of Prof. Jega has further improved. However, I'm very worried that the respect presently being accorded the INEC Chairman may be short-lived owing to his worrisome disposition towards the evident, widely reported and verifiable compromise of the Independent National Electoral Commission in Akwa Ibom State led by the State Resident Electoral Commissioner, Mr. Austin Okojie.
It is sickening that despite the public outrage that has continued to trail the fraudulent conduct of the presidential and National Assembly elections in Akwa Ibom State, the INEC Chairman has not deem it pertinent to respond, even laconically, to the concerns and grievances expressed by residents of the State, political parties, the media, election observers and other Nigerians. One is tempted to ask whether the INEC Chairman has a special interest in Akwa Ibom State?
It is on record that petitions has been sent to the INEC Chairman by interested persons, particularly by one of the leading political parties in the State, the All Progressives Congress (APC), in respect of the March 28 elections in Akwa Ibom State. Yet, there is no indication at the moment that the leadership of INEC has given a fair hearing to the petitioners.
While it is true that politicians do make baseless allegations against the staffs of the Commission for political gains, it is not true that there are no bad eggs in the Commission. According to the results of the presidential election in the State as presented during the declaration of results by the State Collation Officer, Prof. James Ekpoke, Akwa Ibom State has a of 1, 644, 481 registered voters. Of this number, 1, 074, 070 voters were said to had been accredited while 1, 017, 064 reportedly voted. The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was said to had scored 953, 304 votes while the All Progressives Congress (APC) allegedly scored 58, 411 votes.
For God sake, where on planet earth did INEC get such alarming figures from? Certainly not from the same Akwa Ibom State that no elections properly so-called took place. It is note worthy that the results of the elections were not announced at the State level until about 10 am of Tuesday, 31st March, 2015 (3 days after the conclusion of the election in the State). Also, Prof. Jega had to stand down the announcement of the results by the State Collation Officer owing to discrepancy in the summation of the results until the figures were reconciled.
During the March 28 elections, eligible voters were denied their franchise due to the wilful and premeditated refusal by the INEC to release sensitive election materials, especially result sheets, to its ad hoc staffs. In most polling units, voters waited endlessly for the arrival of ballot papers and result sheets to no avail. In some places, elections actually took place but there were no result sheets to record same. In other places, known appointees of the State government went about with police and military escorts harassing voters and hijacking materials with reckless abandon.
For example, a serving Commissioner in the State went about with police and military escorts hijacking materials in his local government. In the process, he reportedly shot one Richard Frederick Okon, an APC supporter from Mbierebe Akpawat Community in Ibesikpo Asutan Local Government Area to dead. This report has neither been denied or investigated by the security agencies. It was later discovered that the materials were taken to a Village Hall in Nung Udoe, Ibesikpo LGA. Thousands of ballot papers casted for the opposition APC were isolated, condemned and abandoned. The APC agents then took custody of the abandoned ballot papers. Evidence showing this was published by online news medium - Sahara Reporters.
The rigging was so badly and carelessly done that result sheets were not even supplied at the polling unit of the APC gubernatorial candidate in the State, Mr. Umana Okon Umana in Nsit Ubium Local Government Area. It took protest by the candidate for the result sheets to be brought allegedly from the home of a former legislator from the area. The story was the same in most parts of the State.
Another online medium, Premium Times, has published a shocking video of INEC staffs colluding with agents of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party to thump print ballot papers in the full glare of the public during the last elections in the State. We have also seen plethora of other evidence of manipulation and fraud during the last polls in the State.
Surprisingly, the leadership of the Independent National Electoral Commission led by its Chairman, Prof. Jega has not deem it proper to react or investigate these documented, cogent and verifiable facts and evidence of massive fraud, rigging and subversion of the electoral process. At the moment, the State is literally in flames owing to the fear that the embattled State Resident Electoral Commissioner, Mr. Austin Okojie whose actions and inactions smacks of partisanship will still be the one to oversee the forthcoming gubernatorial and State House of Assembly elections in the State.
The opposition has accused Mr. Okojie among others, of lodging in Davok Hotel, Ewet Housing Estate, Uyo owned by the wife of the State governor, Mrs. Ekaette Unoma Akpabio. Dr. Ime Umanah, a prominent statesman from the State has gone further to give the specific room numbers (268/269) in the hotel where the REC was said to have stayed. Dr. Umanah went further to reveal that upon discovery that the location has been leaked, the REC was moved out of Davok Hotel to Le Meridien Ibom Hotel and Golf Resort by the State governor.
Late in the night on Sunday 5th April, 2015 information went viral on social media that the gubernatorial candidate of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party in Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Udom Emmanuel was having a meeting with INEC Returning Officers in the entire State at 'R & R Restaurant', along Babangida Avenue, Uyo owned by a former Head of Civil Service in the State under governor Akpabio, Mrs. Grace Anwana (deceased). The Returning Officers were allegedly offered N150, 000 each for "delivering" during the presidential and National Assembly polls with a promise that each of them will receive additional N500, 000 if they "deliver" during the gubernatorial and State House of Assembly elections.
The nocturnal meeting was leaked by one of the Returning Officers (a lecturer) who attended the meeting. An Akwa Ibom State Correspondent of one of the national newspapers has confirmed to this writer that he drove passed the Babangida Avenue where the meeting allegedly took place and that he saw hundreds of vehicles and people at two places, including the R & R Restaurant at the reported time that the meeting allegedly took place.
These are serious allegations that shouldn't be treated with kid gloves by the Chairman of INEC. At the moment, the reality is that the State Resident Electoral Commissioner cannot be trusted to conduct credible polls on April 11 in the State. He has become too controversial and embattled to be accepted as an umpire.
This is the same REC that refused to accredit local journalists in the State claiming that they were working for the opposition. It took three days of vigil at the State INEC Headquarters by the insistent local journalists before the REC bowed to pressure and accredited them.
So why is Prof. Jega still silent and unconcerned about the deprecable, volatile and precarious situation in Akwa Ibom State? Is it that Akwa Ibom State is not significant to warrant a decisive action by the INEC Chairman? Is the INEC Chairman trying to instigate violence in the State before doing the needful? Or are the evidence, facts and reports of compromise against the State REC not germane enough to justify a reaction by the INEC Chairman? Definitely, there is more to it than meets the eye.
I humbly advice Prof. Jega to make sweeping changes in the Commission before the April 11 gubernatorial and State Houses of Assembly elections in the country. It is only right and expedient for the INEC Chairman to redeploy REC'S and other senior staffs of the Commission from States that the March 28 polls were marred by irregularities and controversies. Anything short of this may spell doom for our nascent democracy and may greatly bastardize the reputation of the Commission.
The media, human rights community, local and international observers should take note and follow closely the troubling situation in Akwa Ibom State. Prof. Jega should rise above any primordial consideration and defend the integrity of INEC and the electoral process in Akwa Ibom State.
The time to act is now!
Inibehe Effiong is the Convener of the Coalition of Human Rights Defenders (COHRD).
Email: [email protected]