An Election Under Scrutiny
The ultimate intention of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Rivers State is to prove beyond reasonable doubts that Governor Nyesom Wike did not attain the office of governor through legitimate means and eventually oust him from the exalted office while on the hand; the governor himself is not leaving anything to chance either.
The intensity of the political rivalry has not abated by any means even after the elections. Before the elections, it was as if things will return to normal after a winner emerges but that assumption came to be untrue as Governor Wike of the Peoples Democratic Party and Hon. Dakuku Peterside of the APC are still slugging it out at the election petition tribunal and the case in the court is also subject of huge interest among the supporters of both sides.
The unprecedented political rivalry in Rivers State, which has now become a subject of litigation, attracted the interest of watchers last week when eight witnesses on Thursday, September 3, told the Rivers State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Abuja that the 2015 governorship election did not hold in their various polling units.
The witnesses told the tribunal that the March 28 presidential poll and April 11 governorship elections were marred by irregularities and they gave their testimonies during cross-examination by counsel to the first respondent (the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC); second respondent, Governor Wike and the third respondent, the PDP.
The APC collation officer in Akuku Toru local government area, Mr. Jack Tamunosaki, said during cross-examination by counsel to INEC, Mr. Ikpeazu Onyechi, the PDP, Mr. Chris Uche and Governor Wike’s counsel, Mr. Emmanuel Ukala that there was no election in the 13 polling units in Ward 12, where he monitored.
Tamunosaki said: “I did not see any election materials at the centre where they are supposed to be. My job for my party was to cover the 13 polling units; I arrived at the collation centre as early as 6:30am. The shooting started at about 7:00 p.m. on the 10th of April up till April 11 in Abonnema town. I was in my ward up till 11:00 pm on that day and till the next day, there was no electoral materials
Another collation officer, Mr. John Lekova-Kootte, who testified for the APC said result sheets were not declared openly for the officers at the centre to see and that the election materials for the ward he supervised were taken to unknown destination by some PDP officials. He also alleged that there was no collation at the centre.
Mr. Mactarlane Dimabo, Ibifagha Adiesigha and Tamuno Bristol, collation officers for wards 5, 6 and 12 respectively claimed that materials like ballot papers, result sheets and ballot boxes were not made public. They also alleged that hired thugs intimidated voters and that most of the INEC ad-hoc staff were card carrying members of the PDP.
When the tribunal sat again on Wednesday, September 9, there were startling revelations when an organisation like the military admitted that the governorship poll in the state was characterised by violence perpetrated by political thugs.
When giving testimony on behalf of the military at the resumed hearing of a petition by the APC candidate, Dr. Peterside, Captain Garba Sani, who led a deployment of the military to maintain law and order during the poll, told the tribunal how members of his team encountered thugs in virtually everywhere they visited.
In a nutshell, the military affirmed to the Justice Suleiman Ambrosa-led tribunal that violence marred the process, saying that INEC officials were rescued by military operatives from the claws of the political thugs who attacked them.
The Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Gen Tukur Buratai, was issued a subpoena by the tribunal at the instance of the petitioners to bring the military to tribunal.
Sani, who was led in evidence by the lead lawyer to the petitioners, Chief Akin Olujinmi (SAN), confirmed the arrest of some of the armed thugs, saying the thugs were handed over to the police for further actions.
“We arrived at Tai local government on April 10 to ascertain the level of security but we encountered thugs, over 200 in a particular place and some of them carrying machete about. I was able to arrest one of them with their cutlasses and handed him over to police, who came in an operational truck. There were a lot of road blocks mounted by thugs and as we are clearing one, the hoodlums were erecting in other places.
“In some places, there were attempts to conduct elections but I did not see any particular place where election took place,” he explained.
When he was cross-examined, the witness told the tribunal that he led a team of 38 soldiers deployed to the place by the military authority; he denied that the military aided election rigging. He also denied ever shooting to scare away voters. Sani said as the team leader, he wrote a report on his finding and that the report was in possession of the military.
The military testimony was again corroborated by an officer of the Department of State Security (DSS), Mr. Godwin Mba, who testified at the Rivers State Governorship Election Tribunal, sitting in Abuja on September 11, where he disclosed that “cult groups and political thugs” perpetrated violence that disrupted the smooth conduct of the April 11 polls.
Mba, who led the team of operatives from the DSS on election duties to Andoni local government area, told the Justice Ambrosa-led tribunal that “The PDP in Rivers State worked closely with known cultists and thugs in Andoni from the eve of the election till the announcement of result.”
He alleged that the unlawful activities of the PDP on election day was evident because the perpetrators of the crimes are known people with affiliation to the PDP in the various communities and he mentioned one Ephraim Bara, who he named as the leader of the Iceland cult group with sympathy to the PDP and that they teamed up with other thugs who acted with impunity to intimidate voters including intimidating INEC ad hoc staff on duty.
Describing the election as “a highly tainted exercise,” Mba said: “By my own assessment, the April 11 governorship election was characterised by violence, intimidation, harassment and irregularities. This is so because the thugs created an atmosphere of tension and some persons who had wanted to vote stayed away. Even the ad hoc staff had to run for safety.
“Shortly after voting commenced, we started receiving reports of hijack of electoral materials by a cult group known as Icelanders. At Ngo Ward 1, materials meant for the election were carted away. At Ward 2, materials meant for the ward was also hijacked by the same group. At Ward 6, we received news of voter intimidation, particularly those perceived to be members of other parties apart from the PDP.
“At a point, voters could not come out to vote for fear of harassment and intimidation. We did our investigation and discovered that the cult groups worked for PDP. The same situation prevailed in other wards and units, and this adversely affected the electoral process. And in the course of our work, we also observed the absence of result sheets at wards 4, 6, 7 and 9.”
Further still, the claim that Governor Wike won the governorship election by landslide 1,029,102 votes, while Dakuku Peterside, of the APC polled 124,896, suffered a major setback when an Assistant Director in the ICT department of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Mrs. Abimbola Oladunjoyi, debunked that figure and told the tribunal that only 293, 072 voters were accredited for the state’s April 11, 2015 governorship polls.
The immediate past chairman of INEC, Prof. Attahiru Jega had made similar statement before the expiration of tenure, when he insisted that card readers were used for governorship election and that there would be sanctions against the states and places where the directive to use Card Readers were contravened.
He made the assertion in June, when Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) in the 36 states of the federation including, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), converged at the Le Meridien Hotel, Uyo, Akwa-Ibom State for a retreat to reflect on the March 28 Presidential/National Assembly Elections as well as the April 11, 2015 Governorship/House of Assembly Elections.
In a report submitted to the tribunal and admitted as exhibit A9, Oladunjoyi, who was in charge of INEC data base, including voter registration data base and the smart card reader data accreditation, said the information on the card reader was uploaded from the commission’s server at the close of accreditation.
Oladunyoji testimony was also sequel to a subpoena issued on the acting chairman of INEC and it was her evidence that the assistant presiding officer 1 (APO1) at a click of a button on the card reader, uploads the information to INEC data base.
“Data comes in polling unit which can be accredited to wards, local government area, state and federal levels as the case may be. So, the total number of 293.072 accredited voters was arrived at by adding successful accreditation and failed accreditation.”
Also, three police officers, on September 15, told the tribunal how the April 11 election in Rivers State was marred by violence and thumb-printing by agents of the PDP in Tai local government area of the state.
Mr. Garba Michael, a Superintendent of Police, who was on election duty on April 11 in Tai local government area, told the tribunal that his men caught agents of the PDP thumb-printing in a house opposite the party’s secretariat at Sime in Tai local government area.
He also stated that no fewer than 70 persons, including PDP agents, staff of INEC, the commission’s ad hoc staff and other individuals were arrested by his men shortly after noon on election day and taken to their office and that materials, including card readers, ballot papers, vests and ink pad were among items recovered from the group, who were eventually handed over to the force Criminal Investigation Department (CID) after preliminary investigations.
“At about 12.45 pm, I was sitting at INEC office, when I got a distress call that people were thumb-printing at Sime area. I found my way to the place after asking questions from people on the road. I was eventually directed to the place after sometime. I stopped very close to PDP secretariat and asked again where I was informed that the house opposite the PDP secretariat had a lot of people with electoral materials.
“I came down with my men, cordoned the compound and in the process of doing that, I sighted the patrol vehicle of anti-terrorism squad, they joined forces with my men and we entered the compound, where we met people thumb-printing on electoral materials and we arrested them. At that point, I called my superior commander and told him the situation. He came down with a lorry with which we evacuated the people and materials to our base in Tai. I took some photographs before leaving the place.”
Though the court did not admit the photographs in evidence, on the grounds that it offends the provisions of the Evidence Act, another police officer, DSP Yusuf Buba of Police Mobile Squadron, Ogoni in Rivers State, revealed how an Assistant Commissioner of Police, Mr. Kenneth Akabue, allegedly aided and supervised the rigging of the April 11 governorship election in favour of the PDP in Khana local government area of the state.
Not oblivious of the cost of the testimonies given by the military and the DSS, all the PDP lawmakers in Rivers State led by Senator George Sekibo and Mrs. Betty Apiafi, petitioned President Muhammadu Buhari over alleged interference by security agencies in the hearing of cases before the state election petition tribunal.
The lawmakers noted that the State Security Service and the Nigerian Army are security agencies and that the president should caution them to forestall a possible injustice in the prosecution of the cases. According to the petitioners, the soldiers and DSS operatives had allegedly aligned with the APC to appear before the tribunal to testify.
“Your Excellency, as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, we bring above actions of your officers to your notice and pray that you caution the Director SSS and Chief of Army Staff and indeed all other security agencies to desist from meddling into the electoral process, which presently is before the tribunals. Our institutions, particularly security institutions, should not only be incorruptible and apolitical, but should be seen to be incorruptible and apolitical. We trust on your timely intervention,” they urged.
Considering the slant of events at the tribunal in recent time, supporters of the APC candidate are jubilant that they have a good case that is likely to yield positive result for the party. In fact, they are confident that they would get victory. Members of the APC are already alleging that Wike is negotiating with a bank in order to obtain N10billion loan which he intends to allegedly use to influence the tribunals sitting in Abuja.
The Rivers State APC Publicity Secretary, Chris Finebone, alleged that the drive of Wike to obtain the loan and bribe the judges was as a result of recent negative outcomes for him and his party at various tribunals
“Following a spate of recent negative outcomes for the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) at the various Election Petition Tribunals sitting in Abuja, the governor has commenced negotiations to borrow a whopping N10 billion from Zenith Bank for the sole purpose of bribing judges of the Tribunals, Appeal Courts amongst others.
“To date, the governor has collected a total of about N100 billion comprising Federal allocations, Internally Generated Revenue (IGR), balance in the Reserve Fund and other sundry sums left in the state’s various accounts with the banks by 29th May.
“The aforementioned sum is exclusive of the earlier N30billion obtained from banks by the governor since he assumed office. About N130 billion has passed through the hands of the governor in three months with only a few projects of his predecessor which he is completing and some cosmetic asphalting and pothole filling of some streets to show for it.
“If he borrows additional N10billion from Zenith Bank as he has already decided to do, Rivers people and our next generation shall have been enslaved further to the tune of N40billion as loan before the tribunal shows the governor the way out of Government House, Port Harcourt,” Finebone said.
But when reacting to the allegation, the Assistant Publicity Secretary of the PDP in the state, Mr. Samuel Nwanosike, said the APC allegation was untrue. He said the governor cannot commence negotiation with a bank for a loan without writing to the State House of Assembly. Therefore, Nwanosike implored members of the public to get authentic information from the Rivers State House of Assembly about whether or not Wike made any such demand from the lawmakers.
At any rate, the Rivers State political antagonism between the PDP and the APC will continue to get massive following among Nigerians who are waiting to see the outcome of the legal battle. But fact is, irrespective of where the pendulum swings, the two opposing camps are not likely to find a truce even after the tribunal would have landed its judgment in the Wike and Peterside matter.
But if the revelations so far at the tribunal are anything to ponder, it is the belief of observers that both the PDP and Wike would need more than the ordinary to retain the seat as everything seems to be against them, pointing clearly to electoral robbery and abuse of power in the days gone by. Even if the tribunal judges are all PDP members, observers believe that the revelations are too startling to be swept underfoot, more so that they do not seem to be helpful to the PDP and its governor.