By Rotimi Agbana
An independent group who described their mandate as for the progress of AkwaI bom State, have decried the conduct of INEC officials and other security agencies in Saturday’s Presidential and National Assembly elections in many areas of Akwa Ibom State, describing it as shambolic, disgraceful, and completely unbecoming of election umpires in any elections in any part of the world in the 21st century.
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In a release signed by its Secretary-General, Akpan Udo Solomon, the group expressed their concerns about recent events in this state, saying, “From reports and independent observations, the malicious intention and activities of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in the conduct of the Presidential and National Assembly elections in Akwa Ibom on Saturday have left a lot to be desired and it is safe to conclude that Nigeria has taken a huge step back in consolidating on progress made regarding elections in the last couple of years; it is sad to note that a body as revered as INEC will stoop low to get into cahoots with politicians and other parties in the state to embarrass itself and shamelessly become a tool in the hand of politicians to promote their selfish agenda”.
Continuing, the statement said, “Akwa Ibom witnessed several incidents of voter intimidation, violence, and other untoward activities that marred elections in many polling units and areas that were seen to be loyal to the opposition across the length and breadth of the state, and these were either initiated or helped along by the INEC, the various state security apparatus, as well as other unscrupulous elements.
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“You will recall that the main opposition party in the state, the All Progressives Congress (APC), had earlier raised an alarm over the establishment of a parallel security agency by the state government to prosecute its election-winning agenda, as well as the influx of thugs and militants into the state from neighboring states, allegedly sponsored by the current state government, led by the PDP Governor, Emmanuel Udom; while a few arrests were made ahead of the elections, the bulk of these militants and thugs remained and were properly kitted in police and military gears and wantonly transported across the state in security-branded vehicles, allegedly provided by the state government, to intimidate APC voters and disrupt the voting process.
“Some of the incidents that were reported by the press and other independent observers include massive cancellations of results from poling units in opposition party strongholds. For instance, in Ikono Local Government, one of the strongholds of the main opposition party – the APC, results from 73 out of 144 polling units were cancelled for no reason at all. Also, in Ward 6, results from 9 out of 10 units were illegally cancelled, leaving just about 200 registered voters to decide the fate of more about 6000 registered voters in the ward”.
The coalition also alleged that many of the electoral officers of the INEC had been compromised, with cases of multiple voting reported, while indicting the Akwa Ibom State government officials.
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It read, “In many polling units, there were confirmed reports of card readers being deliberately turned off by INEC Officials who immediately switched to manual accreditation, which opened the floodgates for multiple voting by PDP sympathisers who had been ferried into such polling stations for this purpose. Media personnel and observers also recorded incidents of non-issuance of official result sheets, form EC8A, to many polling stations especially for the National Assembly polls; these results sheets eventually surfaced at the Collation Centers with manufactured results that had no bearing on the actual voting patterns. In Uda Ward 3 in the Mbo Local Government Area, the polling unit was allegedly illegally moved to the heavily fortified family home of the secretary to the state government, Dr. Emmanuel Ekuwem; an open invitation to bias against the opposition parties.
Massive collaboration was also reported between the state government, Police and INEC officials to disrupt the voting process in opposition strongholds and intimidate voters and supporters, whilst there were widespread reports of opposition supporters and agents being compelled at gunpoint to vote for the PDP.
Observers in Udung Uko Local Government Area reported that there were no result sheets and INEC collation officers in any of the units. As a result, no election took place there. In Etinan Urban Ward1, Unit 002, while voting proceeded normally, at the point of counting, the INEC officials proceeded to ignore the counting of votes cast for the main opposition party – the APC, despite loud protests from voters and party agents”.
The statement further claimed that the PDP had been circulated cooked and fake results ahead of general elections.
“There were also confirmed reports of the PDP masterminding the dissemination of fake, unverified results of these elections, perhaps in an attempt to lay a ground work for their fraudulent intention and acts; an offence punishable by the law, and the curious and noticeable absence of the police and other security agencies at many polling units across the state, which gave thugs – many of them loyal to the ruling PDP – the free hand to unleash terror on opposition supporters and sympathisers. The unholy alliance between INEC officials and the PDP was also demonstrated in the PDP reportedly providing official transportation, accommodation, feeding and refreshments for election officials at various RAC centers across the state.
“It is not unheard of for INEC officials to collude with the powers that be to illegally influence the outcome of elections in Nigeria, but for a body that now prides itself as being a truly independent and unbiased umpire in these elections, these reports were very heartbreaking, and it boggles the mind how such an organisation could agree to be used in said manners, all in a desperate bid to maintain the hold of the reigning PDP administration in Akwa Ibom State, even at the risk of completely throwing away decorum, and outrageously undermining the very bedrock on which it was founded, totally going against the values that the INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmoud Yakubu prides himself on.
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“The brazen use of security forces to intimidate, forcefully coerce and threaten the electorate in many areas of Akwa Ibom state by the ruling state governor should also be decried by all and sundry; as the first brief of these security apparatuses is the protection of Akwa Ibom residents and citizens as they go about exercising their constitutional right to self-determination, and we want to use this opportunity to call on the national leadership of the INEC and other security agencies tasked with keeping the peace and ensuring that due process is followed in these elections to intervene on behalf of the Akwa Ibom people, as the officers who have been assigned to the state seemed to have forgotten that they serve at the behest of the citizens and are meant to protect these citizens as they exercise their constitutional rights, and standing by or colluding with politicians who have been rejected by their people at the polls, but are determined to hold on to power at all costs in order to undermine these rights and subvert their resolve is a grave crime, punishable as prescribed by the constitution.
We call on these authorities to issue stern warnings to the PDP and other agencies within the state who are party to these illegalities that anyone who is caught flouting the law either by inciting violence, bending the rules guiding these elections in any manner or form, or announcing or publishing fake, unverified results will be made to face the full wrath of the law”, the coalition stressed.