BY CYRIL UJAM
Clever thieves cover their tracks well and leave no clues. What obviously compromised officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the desperados of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have just done in Enugu State, however, does not show they are clever at all: their footprints and fingerprints are visible in many of the state’s 17 LGAs as well as in the capital Enugu and in Abuja.
Nigerian elections tend to turn many politicians into clever robbers. But for the introduction of BVAS, they would almost always escape detection and punishment, and then enjoy their loot unchallenged. BVAS caught the vote thieves of Enugu State with their oily fingers in the soup-pot this year!
The ruling PDP chieftains had been terrified by stories about BVAS’ ingenuity in stopping rigging. That’s why PDP candidates campaigned this year – it’s their first time since 1999. Election day was often coronation day! Whether the people voted for them or not, they were sure of victory. Imaginary results were compiled two or three days before polling day, and reportedly compromised INEC officials only had to put their signatures at the appropriate places.
This year, the game changed. As the first round of elections approached, Enugu PDP knew they were sure of losing if they didn’t find ways of beating BVAS. So they resorted to hiring thugs – some from Anambra, Kogi and Benue states – and cult boys to scare voters away or intimidate them. However, security forces were able to raid the hideouts of the hoodlums in places like Ikem, Enugu-Ezike, Nsukka, Opi and Eha-Alumona.
When the results of the February 25 polls started coming in, the PDP members were shocked to their marrows. LP not only defeated the sitting governor who was a senatorial candidate, it won seven out of eight House of Representatives seats in the state. LP presidential candidate Peter Obi took 93 per cent of Enugu votes.
Humiliated and humbled, PDP became doubly prepared for the last round of the polls that took place on March 18. It was do or die! Thugs couldn’t work effectively because soldiers were on their heels. The PDP gladiators had to activate their moles in INEC. The governorship candidate, Peter Mbah, must win by hook or crook. Vote buying,
intimidation of voters and suppression of vote figures, especially in the Enugu North senatorial district, were deployed. Each ward reportedly received a minimum of N2.5m for vote buying on February 25; it was increased to between N3.5m and N5m on March 18.
Even though there was poorer voter turnout on March 18, PDP hirelings were not ready to take any chances. When it became clear that the voting pattern would not change from the presidential and National Assembly elections, thugs moved in to destroy ballot boxes, snatch result sheets and chase away voters who were guarding their votes in places LP had received massive votes on February 25. Such polling units therefore couldn’t post any results.
The thugs waited as compilations of vote figures at local governments progressed. LP was still
leading. They knew that Nsukka LGA always provides the largest votes. Because of its size, Nsukka has always decided the winner of governorship elections in Enugu State. To counter that, PDP targeted Nkanu East, the home LGA of the PDP candidate, for the vote harvest that would give them “victory” in the governorship poll. First, they tried to manipulate the use of BVAS for accreditation. Then they waited for Nsukka to declare its figures first.
Local government chairmen, who were planted last year for a task like this, worked frantically to
suppress or increase votes in their areas. But LP supporters kept vigil and monitored movements in and around the INEC offices. It was about 5pm on Sunday, March 19, that results for Nsukka were declared: LP polled 30,294 votes against PDP’s 10,886. It was now time to announce Nkanu East’s results. By then, however, nothing had been collated at the wards.
Three elections had been held in the area on Saturday, March 18: House of Assembly, Senate and Governor. Every voter was given
three ballot papers; the same BVAS accredited each voter. The results declared for Nkanu East turned out differently! The PDP hawks in collusion with the returning officer for Nkanu East, Dr Nnaemeka Ogbene, a junior lecturer at UNN, went into overdrive. BVAS was discarded or reported bad. POs and SPOs worked fervently. All that mattered then was the total number of registered voters in each PU, not the number accredited or the votes recorded.
In most polling units, the PDP candidate incredibly got all the valid votes! That’s how they were able to mop up 30,000+ votes for PDP and less than 1,900 for LP. The 28,000 vote difference, they believed, would put PDP ahead of LP. BVAS or no BVAS, the deed had to be done. The opposition party could go to court! Returning officer Ogbene quickly signed the result form. Nkanu East, one of the smallest LGAs in the state, with only 14 wards, had recorded less than 14,000 votes on February 25; now it had 32,000 votes. Conversely, Nsukka had recorded over 63,000 votes on February 25; its figure came down to 41,000.
At the state collation centre in Enugu, a crowd was almost erupting in violence. There were fights. It was left for the state REC Prof Maduebibisi Ofo Iwe to accept or reject the bogus figures from Nkanu East. Of course, no sane person would fail to ask why the LGA was able to produce fewer than 18,000 votes for senatorial and House elections but suddenly gathered 32,000 votes for the governorship in polls held at the same time on the same day.
The returning officer was queried: Did you use BVAS? Answer: No! The RO and collation officers at the wards confessed the results didn’t pass through BVAS’ scrutiny. Yet, the desperate PDP goons were everywhere – on the radio, in the streets, on social media – threatening to spill blood if the results were not announced. They taunted dissatisfied parties to “go to court”.
The LP candidate Chijioke Edeoga promptly petitioned the REC over the violation of the Electoral Act and the INEC guidelines at Nkanu East. In a response, Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi’s chief of staff, Dr Festus Uzor (who had lost his House of Reps election), wrote a petition against the results from Nsukka LGA. The INEC headquarters invited the REC, the ICT head and all others to Abuja.
The fraud committed in Nkanu East LGA was glaring. Nothing wrong was found against Nsukka, as the BVAS was used everywhere. What to do? PDP chieftains had moved to Abuja with their credit cards and cash. Negotiations continued from Monday until Wednesday when they returned to Enugu with the news that INEC had directed REC Iwe to allocate almost 17,000 votes to Nkanu East and leave Nsukka as it was. That would enable the PDP to “beat” the LP! No word about the obvious fraud in Nkanu East.
By 10pm on Wednesday, it was an obviously frightened REC Iwe who returned to Enugu to announce the results of the governorship poll held in Enugu State four days earlier. His countenance and his words betrayed a guilty conscience. He appeared subdued. It was obvious to every onlooker that the vice chancellor of the Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike, was fighting for his life.
Even the result sheet on which Iwe declared the results was mutilated by several cancellations: In the space meant for the winner’s name, Iwe wrote his own name; he had to cancel his name and squeeze in “Mbah Peter Ndubuisi”; and Iwe’s address was cancelled to accommodate “Peoples Democratic Party”, making the document look like a forged one.
“As a man under authority, I will do what the authority asked me to do,” he said in his opening remarks. What was he asked to do? “This afternoon, I was requested to return to Enugu… The petition against Nsukka was overruled by the commission. However, the petition against Nkanu East was sustained. The commission found that there was over-voting. From 30,350 the commission reduced it to 16,956 votes
This was a shocker! According to the electoral law, the penalty for over-voting is cancellation of the election, not reduction of vote figures, as INEC chairman Mahmoud Yakubu, spokesman Festus Okoye and other chiefs reiterated constantly on TV. It is enshrined in the Electoral Act.
Now it is left for the courts to do the right thing by reversing the fraud. The votes allocated to the PDP from Nkanu East were only able to let PDP “beat” LP by 3,000+
votes. PDP in Enugu believes that everyone has a price. Its illicit cash has led it thus far – but not to the finish line yet. LP candidate Hon. Barr. Chijioke Edeoga, who won the election fair and square, has indicated he will go to court.
Ujam, a public affairs commentator, writes from Enugu.