By Leo Sobechi, Msugh Ityokura, Murtala Adewale, Emmanuel Ande and Rauf Oyewole
It has emerged as a worrisome pattern. Of all the many pitfalls that trailed the just-concluded 2019 general election, none exceeded in travesty Independent National Electoral Commission’s (INEC) decision to cancel poll results from particular polling units at whim, which most of the time paved the way for the commission to declare the process inconclusive.
The spectre of inconclusive process, which was raised by INEC in Adamawa, Bauchi, Plateau and Sokoto States, has attracted national condemnation basically because in those instances the main opposition Peoples democratic Party (PDP) appeared to be on the verge of coasting home to victory.
Right from the outset of the processes leading to the 2019 polls, INEC has been constantly accused of siding with the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the presidency in circumventing the smooth operation of laid down procedures. In some instances the electoral umpire had erred by short-circuiting the entire the process in such a way that it became difficult for the public to endorse its impartiality and independence.
Despite the obvious shortcomings noted in the February 23, 2019 presidential and National Assembly election, INEC convinced Nigerians that it would correct those lapses, some of which it blamed on sabotage and organisational hiccups, during the gubernatorial and state Assembly poll. However, as the polls opened on March 9, 2019 INEC introduced the old gimmick of declaring the process inconclusive even in the face of obvious discord between facts and interpretation of the appropriate legislations and its electoral guidelines.
In the five states where the decision of the voters had been subjected to the caprices of the electoral umpire, particularly Adamawa, Bauchi, Plateau, Kano and Sokoto States, questions have been raised as to the credibility of INEC’s decision to put the election on hold. Most of those who are crying blue murder over the outlandish infringement on people’s will recall the obscene display of the commission in the last Osun State gubernatorial election, during which the inconclusive verdict paved the way for the loser to transmute to the winner.
Are these states facing a similar intrusion, particularly those ones the presidency has marked down for forceful takeover or protection from voter’s ire? To a large extent the prevailing circumstances seem to vindicate those who hold the view that INEC national chairman, Prof. Yakubu Mahmood, does not inspire confidence as one who can execute the mandate of the commission without fear or favour.
When contacted on the seeming partiality of INEC under Yakubu to serve the interests of those not contemplated by the law, the chairman’s Chief Press Secretary, Lawrence Oyekanmi, declared that whatever decision the commission took in declaring some governorship polls inconclusive is grounded in law and logic. Oyekanmi said INEC relied on the Electoral Act 2010, as amended to conduct the 2019 general elections, stressing that inconclusive election in some states was due to the position of the law, since according to him, the commission remains committed to a transparent electoral process.
Oyekanmi, who spoke to The Guardian, yesterday in Abuja, held that those not comfortable with INEC’s decisions are not in tandem with the reality of the law, even as he accused some media houses of bias and being at the behest of opposition parties.
Querying the rationale for asking self-explanatory questions about the election, Oyekanmi particularly fingered The Guardian, accusing the newspaper of joining forces with the opposition PDP to promote opposing agenda.
“You can go ahead and write anything,” he declared. “I know that The Guardian is in support of the PDP; so that does not concern me.” He failed to respond to the specific questions raised by the newspaper over the situation that warranted the inconclusiveness of the poll in states like Sokoto, Bauchi, Plateau and Adamawa. But despite the emotional outburst of the INEC’s chairman’s spokesperson, the reality on the ground shows that not only opposition PDP is incensed at the less than excellent performance of the commission in the gubernatorial and State Assembly polls.
For instance, in the case of Adamawa, the incumbent Governor Mohammed Jibrilla Bindow, as at the time the process was halted by INEC, was trailing the PDP candidate, Alhaji Ahmadu Umaru Fintiri, by 32,476 votes. The commission’s returning officer for the state, Professor Andrew Haruna, who is also the Vice Chancellor of Federal University, Gashua, Yobe State, declared the election inconclusive at INEC’s office in Yola on Monday morning.
Haruna said his decision was based on the fact that the margin of victory between Fintiri and his closest rival was less than the total number of registered voters where elections were either cancelled or did not take place at all. From the already collated results, the candidate of PDP, Fintiri, polled a total of 367,471, while the first runner up and APC candidate, Bindow, polled 334,995. Even at that, the difference of 32,476 votes is less than 40,988, which represents the total number of registered voters in the 44 polling units where results were cancelled.
But the snag, which is the fact lost on INEC, is that while 40,998 represents the number of registered voters, not all of them collected their permanent voter cards and therefore eligible to vote in the election.
Yet, citing the relevant sections of INEC Electoral Guidelines to back his decision to declare the election inconclusive, Haruna said: “In page 17 paragraph C, the Regulations and Guidelines for the Conduct of Elections on the margin of lead principle, states that where the margin of lead between the two leading candidates in an election is not in excess of the total number of voters registered in polling units, where elections are not counted or voided, in line with Section 26 and 53 of Electoral Act, the Returning Officer shall decline to make a return until votes have taken place in the affected polling units and the results collated into the relevant forms for declaration and return.
“This is the margin of lead principle and shall apply wherever necessary in making returns in all elections to which these Regulations and Guidelines apply. And, therefore, I declare this exercise inconclusive.”
The total registered voters in Adamawa State are 1,973,083, while a total of 894,481 voters were accredited for the election. The Guardian gathered that in some strongholds of PDP, election materials were delayed or there was a shortfall in ballot papers distributed to the areas. In Numan Local Government Area, for instance, there was a shortage of ballot papers. In one of the polling units inside Numan town, there was shortage of ballot papers and the voters refused to participate in the election, insisting that the complete ballot papers must be provided.
According to House of Rep-elect, Mr. Laori Kwamoti, at the Zabrama polling unit in ward 2 inside Numan town, which had 900 registered voters, only 500 ballot papers were brought by INEC and the people refused to vote.
“Soldiers were brought to the unit to force people to vote and a young man was shot at by the soldiers for refusing to be forced to vote,” he said.
However, the Returning Officer Professor Haruna said the affected units were cancelled due to violence and over voting. In the apparent attempt to save the incumbent, the 44 golden polling units that will decide the outcome 41 units out of the 44 polling units are in local governments that PDP had already won convincingly.
The home local government of Fintiri, Madagali, has three polling units, Michika five polling units, Hong four, Song four, Demsa four, Numan six, Lamurde polling units three, Mubi-North three and Guyuk three polling units. The APC candidate has only Toungo, three polling units with less than 2000 registered voters.
There are insinuations of a plan by the ruling APC to recruit solders, police and other security agencies to help them to mop up the 40,000 votes to give Bindow victory. However, the task before those that will be deployed in the alleged clandestine operation is that the embattled governor (Bindow) needs a minimum of 36,000 votes out of the 40,000 remaining votes to triumph.
In Yola, the state capital, PDP supporters are already celebrating victory, just as Fintiri maintained that triumph is already in his custody and urged his supporters to remain calm, noting, “Adamawa State is my constituency. So, if election is conducted 10 times, my people will vote for me 10 times. So, I and my party will gladly participate in the supplementary elections to crown our victory.”
But APC National Vice Chairman, (Northeast Zone) Comrade Mustafa Salihu, who kept on punctuating the announcement of the results with unproven allegations, claimed that the governorship election was full of irregularities. Salihu alleged that an APC agent was killed in his home local government, Hong, and that his agents were also chased away in Demsa Local Government Area, the home town of Governor Bindow’s campaign Director-General, Mr. Felix Tangwami.
When The Guardian visited APC secretariat along Galadima Aminu Way, the building was deserted, as goats and other domestic animals had taken over the place, a possible indicator that APC faithful knew that the end for the administration was at hand.
In Kano, the power of PVC spoke decisively, and so loudly that it buried the power of INEC’s technical knockout called ‘inconclusive’ election. In the case of PDP gubernatorial candidate, Abba Kabiru Yusuf, it was a zero sum game. As at the time of compiling results, the PDP candidate was still leading with about 20,000 votes in the 43 local governments so far announced.
Except for pockets of crisis that erupted at Nassarawa council, the final declaration of Abba was suspended despite the vote disparity against the incumbent governor. But the conditions for declaring the process inconclusive were not apparent.
Even when Ganduje won 29 LGAs, the two thirds of local government areas, INEC find it extremely difficult to declare the election inconclusive due to the wide margin difference. But in what seems a calculated attempt to destroy the smooth conduct of the collation process, Kano State deputy governor, Nasiru Yusuf Gawuna and Commissioner for Local Government, Murtala Sule Garo, allegedly led some state mercenaries to disrupt the Nassarawa collation at about 2:00 a.m. on Monday morning.
Having failed to accomplish their mission, the deputy governor alongside others were arrested and detained for electoral offences, thus quashing the script acted to ensue perfect alibi for INEC to declare the process inconclusive.
Also, before scaling through the electoral hurdles, Abba faced legal battles that challenged his credibility to stand before the election. The Federal High Court in Kano had nullified the primaries that produced him as PDP candidate for the race a few days to the election.
Critical among the technical faults against the Justice Lewis Allogua judgment was whether or not the ruling will stand, especially when the time stipulated by the Electoral Act to hold party primarily had already elapsed as well as the fact that Abba was not party to the suit in question, because the plaintiff only sued PDP and INEC.
But armed with an ex parte order for the stay of execution of the ruling by the Court of Appeal, Kaduna, Abba went into the election. Despite sentiments whipped against his nomination as PDP candidate, Abba overcame all known challenges, including the frustration from the powers that be, having secured the required public votes to become Kano State Governor-elect.
In Bauchi, INEC did not face a similar handicap as in Kano. But PDP has disagreed with INEC’s decision to declare the governorship election inconclusive, describing it as “arbitrary and unconstitutional.”
The commission had in the early hours of Monday cancelled the result for Tafawa Balewa Local Government Area over violence at the point of collation by hoodlums who carted away the original result sheet (FORM EC 8C1). The state’s Returning Officer, Prof. Muhammed Kyari, made the declaration at 12am at INEC headquarters, in Bauchi.
However, while addressing journalists the state’s PDP chairman, Alhaji Hamza Akuyam, contended that “the decision of the State Returning Officer to declare the governorship election as inconclusive and issue an order for supplementary poll within 21 days is unwarranted,” stressing that it was an illegality that has no any condition precedent.
He added: “Bauchi State’s Returning Officer lacks the legal competence to cancel an election duly conducted by various presiding officers and validly collated at ward and local government levels devoid of any opposition by any of the political parties.”
Akuyam further explained that the 11 electoral wards in Tafawa Balewa Local Government Area had computed results from the polling units within their jurisdiction without any complaint and that the collation centre in Zwall got the result.
A call for a re-run in the area, he argued, is equal to disenfranchisement of the electorate. As such the party demanded that: “INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, immediately compel the two officers to return to the State Collation Centre at once and complete the process of return of the state governorship election. They are without iota of doubt a party to the sadistic plan orchestrated by Governor Abubakar designed to return to office at all costs.”
Miffed by the development, Speaker, House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, challenged INEC’s chairman to as a matter of urgency attend to the electoral matters arising from his home state, Bauchi, saying the chairman must overtly display independence of the electoral body he is heading.
Dogara chided the state governor, Muhammad Abubakar for mocking his (Dogara) constituency for having no electoral value to his reelection, adding, “He has said that the highest score my constituency could produce is 75,000 votes. He said he didn’t need a single vote from there, so, will he go there to campaign again?”
Meanwhile, APC’s state chairman, Ahmed Uba Nana, hailed INEC for the decision, saying that its decision was legal, adding, “It is what is supposed to be. If you look at it, a whole local government election cancelled. The margin was nothing to write home about if you compare it with the registered voters; it is clear.”
Nana accused PDP of crying foul unnecessarily, saying, “If you have somebody, who is used to committing offences, he will run to the police station first to absolve himself. The lady alleged that she was put under security threat and that she wrote the result under duress. I want to call on the security agencies to probe it and whosoever is found guilty should face the wrath of the law.”
The Returning Officer, Professor Mohammed Kyari of Federal University of Technology, Yola, had said that the PDP candidate polled a total number of 469,512 votes as against his closest opponent, the incumbent governor Mohammed Abubakar of APC, who scored 465,453 votes.
For Rivers State, the gubernatorial candidate of African Action Congress (AAC), Mr. Awara Biokpmabo, is urging INEC to declare him winner of the governorship election, insisting that from the results collated and declared from different local government areas’ collation centres, he was in clear lead and was coasting to victory before INEC suspended the process.
Biokpmabo, who addressed journalists yesterday, at APC’s office in Woji, GRA, Port Harcourt, declared: “Some of the results announced at the polling units in the local governments where collations were not concluded clearly before the suspension of the processes show that I won over 15 local government areas.”
While disputing that security reasons were responsible for the suspension of the elections, the AAC candidate said:
“INEC pleaded insecurity, violence, seizure of electoral materials by hoodlums as reasons for suspending the remaining stages of the election. I reject those reasons given by INEC.
“In the local government areas affected, voting had concluded, results declared at the polling units and collation had begun before the abrupt suspension of the process. The commission does not have the power under our Electoral Act to suspend election that has already been concluded.”
Reacting, Rivers PDP Campaign Council maintained that the position is of a governor is for mature people, tested and experienced persons and not for schoolboys without record of public service.
The Director of Information and Communications of the state’s PDP Campaign Council, Mr. Emma Okah said, “I have seen and read a copy of the said press conference and our conclusion is that the entire content is as worthless as the piece of paper bearing the speech and it would be worthless to offer him a response. However, allegations of wrongdoing against Gov Nyesom Wike and the PDP in the press conference are false, baseless and lacking in merit.”