By NBF News

Before the April 26, 2011 governorship election, all eyes were on Akwa Ibom State, as politicians and the electorate, watch with bated breath on the likely outcome of the poll. The serenity of Uyo and the camaraderie existing among politicians in the state, across party divides had been threatened, following the violence that was unleashed on the state when supporters of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, [PDP] and the main opposition party, the Action Congress of Nigeria, [ACN] engaged themselves in free-for-all, leaving in their wake, sorrow, tears and blood.

Lives were lost, public buildings burnt and hundreds of brand new cars and tricycles purchased by the Akpabio administration for distribution to the people as part of its poverty alleviation programme, were equally turned to ashes. Nigerians were stunned that anybody or group could encourage supporters to go to such extreme in pursuit of whatever agenda.  But politicians indulged in their usual blame game over who was responsible for the carnage.

As opposition parties in the state on the eve of the election were busy perfecting their plans to ensure victory in the election, the man whose seat was being threatened was almost indifferent to the frenzied politicking going on around him.

'To Gov Godswill Obot Akpabio, a lawyer, his re-election for a second term was fait accompli even before campaign began last year as a result of what he did for the people in the past four years,' Barrister Onofiok Luke,  a loyalist of Governor Akpabio told Daily Sun.

While most of the candidates were gripped with anxiety on the eve of the election, Akpabio was busy commissioning the Ibom Tropicana Entertainment Centre in Uyo, a joint partnership project between the state government and Silverbird Entertainment.

He had no reason to nurse any apprehension, as the electorate had reassured him by voting for the PDP in the National Assembly and presidential elections held earlier.

The mandate of the PDP was renewed in the two senatorial seats that were contested.  In the presidential election, a week after the people gave the PDP presidential candidate overwhelming support with 1,165,629 votes, representing 94 per cent of total vote cast. The ACN presidential candidate, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu got 54,148 votes, representing 4.3 per cent.

But typical of the propaganda machinery of the opposition groups, they succeeded in putting Governor Akpabio on his toes.

There was speculation on the eve of the election that Governor Akpabio had imposed a curfew in the state  from 12am to 12 midnight to restrain the electorate from voting for  a candidate of their choice and buoy what the opposition called the PDP rigging machinery.

Governor Akpabio in a broadcast to the people on the day of election, however, refuted the speculation as he  called on the people to go out to exercise their franchise and elect their leaders while he assured them of their security. He told the people not to panic over mass movement of security personnel as reinforcement had been moved in from neighbouring states to ensure voters were protected.

The Assistant Inspector-General of Police (AIG) in-charge of zone 6, Calabar, Alhaji M. D. Abubakar, who had earlier relocated to Uyo to supervise police operations also  dismissed the rumours stressing that there was no curfew in the state and only the usual restriction of movement nationwide during the voting period would  be observed.

Akpabio returns
At INEC office, located at Udo Udoma Street, Uyo, the state capital, the electoral body had announced Governor Akpabio  as the winner of the election, having polled the highest number of votes -957, 585, to beat his main rival and ACN governorship candidate, Senator Akpan Udoedehe, who scored 163, 449.

Akpabio, according to INEC Resident Electoral Comissioner, Mrs Maria Ovwie, won in 29 local councils, out of the 31 councils, but lost in Uruan and Uyo.

Giving a breakdown of the results, the REC  declared 1,648, 808 as total number of registered voters, 1,448,433, as total valid votes cast. Total votes cast, according to the REC was, 1,173,469, while she gave 25,036 as  rejected votes.

But while majority  trooped to the streets to celebrate Akpabio's victory and finally converged at Government House, Akpan Udoedehe rejected the outcome of the exercise, describing the entire process as a charade.

Chairman, Media and Publicity Committee, of Udoedehe Campaign Organization, Thomas Akpan,  had alleged before the final declaration of results that the PDP state chairman, Prince Uwem Ita-Etuk, was seen in some polling units harassing voters with the connivance of security agents.

ACN as bad loser in Akwa Ibom?
Before the election was conducted, discerning Nigerians have come to the conclusion that the outcome of the exercise would not be acceptable to the ACN, except its governorship candidate was declared winner.

National Publicity Secretary of the party, Chief Lai Mohammed, had in a statement issued in Ilorin, Kwara State capital, alerted of the 'absence' of Form EC8 and lack of serial numbers on the ballot papers to be used in the governorship election in Akwa Ibom State and submitted that it was a recipe for rigging.

'When the ballot papers for the governorship were inspected yesterday, it was found that they do not carry serial numbers, while Form EC8 are also missing from the materials brought to the state for the governorship poll', he claimed.

His claim was later refuted by Mrs. Ovwie who acknowledged that there was a mix-up, but it was rectified.

'We discovered that though the serial number on the carton did not correspond to the serial number on the ballot papers in some cases, there were certainly serial numbers on all the ballot papers sent to the state and they all attested to this fact.

'We also have all the series of Form EC8 and other relevant electoral materials.  We also have the number we needed for the election and we do not have short supply of any item.  I even called my Chairman to tell him all these and he told me I should not bother myself,' she said.

Mr. Mohammed in a statement issued last week, declared that the party would challenge the victory of Akpabio in court, as the ACN claimed it has pictorial and video evidence to prove that the governorship election in Akwa Ibom 'is nothing but an unprecedented and bare- faced rigging and mindless violence.'

'Contrary to the results declared by INEC, the ACN claimed it won in over 22 local councils.

'To this end, we  hereby reiterate our rejection of the fake and bogus results announced by INEC in favour  of PDP and demand that they announce the authentic results which clearly established that we won in over 22 local government areas. We had the highest number of valid votes cast.'

But one of the observer groups which monitored the election has adjudged it as transparent. Chairman of Equity and Transparent Network, [ETN] Comrade Nathaniel Ifot  told journalists  that the governorship/House of Assembly elections went well and that the results met the expectations of Akwa Ibom people.

'We observed that most of the polling stations were located in public places like primary and secondary schools, Town Halls/Village Square among others and voters had unfettered access to most of the polling stations during the election.

'Posters and handbills were conspicuously pasted on the walls or the gates of some of the places used as polling units. There was no major or substantial confusion over the location of polling stations as voters gathered in schools or other public places to cast their votes. This crowd made such places to be easily identified as polling centres even to first time visitors to the area.

'In some of the polling units, the voting areas were set up in such a way that the voter could mark his or her ballot paper in relativesecrecy.

'Electoral officials in most polling units arrived for duty promptly. In fact, most of the security officials and National Youth Service (NYSC) Corps members were seen at the polling units as early as 7.30 a.m. setting up the polling stations. But it must also be noted that in some polling units, electoral officers arrived late.'

Also commenting on the outcome of the election, Elder Enefiok Ekefre, who was the pioneer chairman of PDP in the state, dismissed the ACN claim that it won the governorship election in the state as unfounded.

'Akwa Ibom people have spoken. They made a statement with their votes that Governor Akpabio is their choice. It also means that another mandate had been given to him and nothing can change it.

'There was no way any other political party could have won the governorship or any other elections in Akwa Ibom because they are not just there. All the noise the ACN was making in Akwa Ibom was empty noise. I was there, so  I know its strength. What was the spread of the party outside Uyo, where the standard bearer of the party comes from? Can ACN sincerely say that it has the pedigree to win elections in Eket or Ikot Ekpene Senatorial districts? Who are their members in these local government areas?', he asked.