President Goodluck Jonathan played a direct role in efforts to rig Nigeria’s presidential election that took place March 28, 2015, including placing telephone calls to pressure returning officers to alter vote tallies, an investigation by SaharaReporters has revealed.
The extent of the effort to rig the polls for Mr. Jonathan, and the outgoing president’s direct role in the scheme, emerged from interviews and tips offered by electoral officials, security agents, foreign and Nigerian election monitors, and members of the president’s own Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Weeks before the election, as Mr. Jonathan’s internal pollsters warned that his reelection prospects looked dire, the president and his inner circle of associates approved several measures to rig the elections. These included massive deployment of soldiers to several states in Nigeria’s southwest to help intimidate voters sympathetic to the main opposition All Progressives Congress (APC), the redeployment of police and other security officials to ensure that those who favored the incumbent president were assigned to “politically tough” states, and the movement of massive amounts of cash to designated states to entice both voters and opposition party agents to swing their support to Mr. Jonathan.
When all the steps failed to deliver enough votes to the president, Mr. Jonathan and his inner circle went into panic mode once collation of results began. At the end of the first day of election collation by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), as it dawned on the president’s team that he was headed for defeat, Mr. Jonathan sent retired Colonel Bello Fadile to shop around for any judge who would give an order to stop the collation.
A judge told SaharaReporters that this effort largely failed because the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court had warned other judges to refrain from entertaining such controversial and potentially incendiary election-related cases. The one judge Mr. Fadile thought he could count on pleaded that he had left Abuja for his hometown for Easter holidays.
Once the plan to use the judiciary to scuttle the collation collapsed, Mr. Fadile recruited former Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godsday Orubebe, to play the key role in a plan to physically disrupt the collation of results.
Mr. Orubebe drove into the collation center with two heavily armed men believed to be Niger Delta militants. Once Mr. Orubebe arrived at the International Civil Center (ICC), of the collation venue, the Department of Security Services (DSS) withdrew its security detail clearing the way for Mr. Orubebe’s thugs to foment mayhem. The agency also jammed the Internet service at the center, making it near impossible for reporters at the venue to access the Internet.
Our investigation revealed that what saved the day was the refusal of the Nigerian police at the venue to accept the order to withdraw from the venue. The police commanders at the collation center demanded an official letter from their Inspector General if they were to leave, arguing that their posting to the venue had been done via an official letter. “We said it would be unwise to leave [the collation center] without a counter letter or signal from our headquarters,” one of the police officers told our correspondent.
As Mr. Orubebe began his disruptive action, Usman Abdullahi, an aide to INEC chairman Attahiru Jega, sent text messages to a few notable Nigerians as well as some Western diplomats alerting them to the possibility that the armed men who accompanied Mr. Orubebe would abduct Mr. Jega. SaharaReporters saw a copy of the text message.
Mr. Jega’s calm response to Mr. Orubebe’s antics, as well as the refusal of the Nigerian police personnel to quit the ICC, foiled the plot to abduct the INEC chairman.
Mr. Jega remained on his seat for the better part of the day, refusing to leave the table even as he declared short breaks to await the arrival of election returning officers from various states.
SaharaReporters learned that several of the returning officers were flown into Abuja on a presidential jet. However, the jet made unusual “disappearances” and curiously long delays in bringing in returning officers from the South South and South Eastern states. One of the Presidency sources said the president ordered a delay in flying in the returning officer of Borno State by at least four hours. The president figured that the poll results from the state would widen Mr. Buhari’s lead, giving Nigerians and the global community a clear picture of the APC candidate’s decisive and irreversible domination of the presidential polls.
While the returning officer from Borno State was abandoned at the Air Force base in Maiduguri, the returning officer from Delta State presented figures that temporarily seemed to boost Mr. Jonathan’s electoral fortunes.
Several sources disclosed that these delays were part of President Jonathan’s tactical game. President Jonathan made frantic calls to several returning officers from the South South and South East urging them to bump up his final figures to enable him to win by at least 500,000 votes against his rival, Muhammadu Buhari. At the time of the president’s calls to returning officers, Mr. Buhari was already leading by at least three million votes according to authentic results published by SaharaReporters the day before Mr. Orubebe’s meltdown at the ICC.
A source at the Presidency confirmed to SaharaReporters that President Jonathan personally reached out to at least four returning officers to ask them to inflate presidential election figures by several hundred thousand votes to enable him to win the elections. In one instance, the source said, one of the returning officers told the president that the number of accredited voters was not up to the figures Mr. Jonathan wanted called for him. According to our source, the president remained unfazed. “Just declare the votes, I will take care of the rest,” the official quoted Mr. Jonathan as stating.
Our sources at the Presidency said Mr. Jonathan was counting on the usual tactics of using corrupt judges in the Court of Appeal as well as Supreme Court to uphold the outcome of fraudulent elections.
The sources also revealed that SaharaReporters played a critical role in frustrating the president’s rigging plan by publishing the unofficial results of the presidential polls based on accurate compilation of results called at various state collation centers. “When your website published the results, there was little or no room to maneuver,” one source at Aso Rock said. He added that Mr. Orubebe’s reference to the publication of the election results was actually a reference to SaharaReporters’ accurate representation of the polls tally from across the country.
Our source said that, having been convinced that President Jonathan could pull off a victory by manipulating figures, some of his ministers and party officials began celebrating. For instance, a junior minister for Foreign Affairs, Musiliu Obanikoro, tweeted that he wished to be the first to congratulate Mr. Jonathan for emerging victorious. Also PDP spokesperson, Olisa Metuh, spoke on Channels TV, urging the APC to accept defeat and behave peacefully.
In the end, President Jonathan and his team came to terms with the reality that no amount of hanky-panky could secure victory for them. Mr. Jonathan’s much-praised acceptance of defeat was not part of his original design, according to sources close to the president. They said world leaders had inundated Mr. Jonathan with calls demanding that he accept the outcome of the polls. The calls were intensified as soon Mr. Orubebe began his public action aimed at disrupting the collation.
Diplomatic sources in Abuja told SaharaReporters that the UK and US put enormous pressure on President Jonathan not to undermine the collation process or scuttle the polls. The barrage of pressure finally worked. Mr. Jonathan gave orders for the pilot of the presidential jet to head for Maiduguri to pick up the Borno State returning officer. Once the official was brought to Abuja, the final collation of results was done and Mr. Buhari emerged the winner.