Posted by Okechukwu Nwanguma | 28 July 2016 | 3,563 times
The decision of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to declare the Saturday July 23 senatorial rerun election in Okigwe senatorial zone, Imo State, as ‘inconclusive’ is outrageous and calls for national and international attention on the integrity and competence of the current leadership of INEC, under the President Muhammadu Buhari-led regime, to carry out its sacred duty of election management in Nigeria.
Under the current leadership of INEC, and for various reasons, most of the elections so far conducted have been declared inconclusive. The number of elections – most of which are rerun – which had been so declared is unrivaled in the history of the nation’s electoral management. This has thrown up fears as to the competence, ability, or will by the current INEC to conduct free and fair general elections – if it cannot manage elections within a small part of a state.
In the particular case of the Okigwe senatorial rerun poll, accounts by different election observer-groups and commentators indicate that, although there was rain almost all day, which may have contributed to low turn-out of voters, but voting went on largely smoothly in most polling booths without significant incidents. Results monitored and documented by observer-groups and other keen watchers indicate that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate was leading by wide margins in most booths. However, at the local government collation centres, the results suddenly changed in favour of the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate. Reports and complaints are also rife that certain well-known politicians moved around freely with security agents, especially police and army officials who brazenly disrupted votes and vote counts; snatched ballot boxes at gun point and took them to locations associated with the Imo State Governor, Rochas Okorocha. The name of Senator Ifeanyi Ararume, among many other APC chieftains, has constantly come up in different reports and commentaries.
There were allegations that INEC collation officers were 'abducted' or disappeared and were later assembled at a certain hotel owned by Rochas Okorocha, before they later reappeared at the central collation centre, where they presented altered or fake results. Army officers, apparently acting at the behest of the Imo State Governor, are accused of disallowing PDP party agents and independent election observers from accessing the collation centre to monitor the final collation, prior to announcement of the outcome. Questions have been asked as to who authorised the deployment of the Army for this election! Only the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces can deploy or authorise the deployment of the Army. And, why should the Army be deployed in a single election as a senatorial election?
Allegations are, indeed, rife of collusion by the Police, Army and INEC with the Imo State Governor, to manipulate the Okigwe rerun senatorial election in favour of the APC candidate, as part of a larger political agenda by the governor and his party. Observers report that votes were inflated in some booths; in some cases, more votes were allocated to certain booths than the actual number of registered voters. The rationale being, “let's rig and get elected first, then let the ‘loser’ go to the tribunal later.” This is sheer impunity.
Of all the fingered accomplices in the Okigwe electoral banditry and violent subversion of the people's will and of the electoral act, INEC has a greater stake and higher moral burden to discharge. It is the electoral umpire which ought to be independent and impartial. It has powers under the law to ensure that electoral offenders are identified, arrested and prosecuted. This is imperative in order to create deterrence and ensure that desperate and conscienceless politicians get the message loud and clear: that the days of brazen electoral banditry and subversion of the will of the people are over.
Similarly, security agents involved in aiding and abetting such criminality and subversion of the electoral law should also be brought to account. INEC must redeem its public image by ensuring that this time, justice is done in this election and that the actual candidate voted by the majority of the people of Okigwe zone is allowed to carry the mandate. INEC must safeguard the actual ballot papers for examination.
•Okechukwu Nwanguma a rights and pro-democracy activist.
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