Election ‘Abracadabra’ in Rivers and INEC’s Deafening Silence ,By Uche Igwe

Uche IgweThat the results of the Presidential elections were allegedly manipulated in Rivers State was not completely surprising to many. What was surprising was the clinical scale of the act and the stupendous audacity of its perpetrators. I was there and I saw things for myself.  It happened as though it was a well-planned, well-funded and rehearsed endeavour.  I wonder why other political parties like the All Progressives Congress (APC) did not see them coming. The funders of the plot may yet be unknown but a top politician who held a meeting at the premises of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on the eve of the elections unwittingly made himself a key suspect. Even the armed security agents who were at the gate could not pose the least resistance when he drove in. It was as if he was a regular visitor or the security men were under an instruction to allow him free access. Everyone was under a clear but unwritten instruction to cooperate and ensure that maximum votes are manufactured for incumbent President Jonathan at all costs. And they did under the able leadership of the resident electoral commissioner (REC) Mrs Ghesila Khan whose undisguised partisanship made a scorn of the whole exercise.  I call it the Kibaki style after the former President of Kenya, Mwai Kibabki who reportedly manipulated elections against his key opponent Raila Odinga by announcing cooked figures in his so called strong holds.  I must confess that although the REC was harsh to many people especially the APC party agent, she managed to be friendly to some of us who came to observe and report on the elections.

Now let me say that the President might have won the majority of votes in many south-south states including Rivers if the elections in these states were free and fair. I would have been surprised if he did not. He was quite popular down here due to the sentiments that he is ‘our brother’. Many of the pre-election opinion polls that I saw said so too. However everyone knowledgeable about the politics of the state knows that he could not have gotten 1.4 million votes and for his then opponent (now President elect) to have scored less than 20,000 votes. They votes were simply not there. The almost 2 million votes were not there in 2011 and with the card readers one would have expected far less. Even if one assumes that only registered members of All Progressives Congress (APC) will vote for their Presidential candidate, then the number of votes should have been at least be up to 400,000.  Even those who manipulated the elections did not take that into consideration. They just wrote the votes and did not give a damn about the consequences of their action. The culprits wanted the concocted figures announced first so that they will meet other parties in court later.  Their mission was said to be clear to the Resident Electoral Commissioner who gave her full support. You do not need to spend ten minutes to see though her antics. After meeting her, one will go away with a feeling of surprise how such characters find their way sensitive offices. Some argue that she was sent on a special assignment but I suspect that there are many people who would have done the same dirty job with some pretence.

I had the opportunity to move around Rivers State observing many polling units and also received feedback from other areas where I could not visit personally. I must say that what happened in Rivers State last Saturday was a clear mockery of the electoral process. This is a view shared by many journalists and observers who visited the state. Granted, it may not be a sufficient basis to nullify the overall results of the Presidential election, however other positions in the National Assembly were equally affected.  That election was a referendum on the desperation of the President and his ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP). How is it possible that the APC will lose all the three Senate thirteen slots for House of Representatives in the state?  Will trusted erudite minds like Senator Magnus Abe and grassroots politicians like Hon Dawari George be left as hapless victims of electoral malpractice of March 28th?

For the avoidance of doubt, let me say that I observed four layers of the manipulation. The first is the deliberate denial of security for the staff of INEC carrying sensitive electoral materials. The second is the unavailability, late arrival and diversion of electoral materials especially the results sheets. The third is the dysfunctionality of the card reading machines. The fourth is the seamless cooperation of electoral officers in all the local governments in the state due to alleged early ‘reach out’.

In many of the local governments in the state, there was scanty security for the INEC officers. That made them vulnerable to attacks by hoodlums who freely attacked them and took away their materials. Many of them were attacked and hapless voters were killed in Tai and Omoku. In many riverine local governments, some of the INEC officials refused to go to their duty posts because the police declined to provide them security. I was at St. Martins Primary school Omagwa where I met electoral officials who were attacked at Ward eleven at Ozuoha in Ikwerre Local Government. Before the attack, they were being escorted by just one civil unarmed defence personnel. It was easy to overpower him and beat him up. The security personnel reported that the hoodlums forced them back, claiming that the elections had already held.

In many polling stations, there was general unavailability of results sheets. Now there is an argument out there that the elections can go on even if the materials are not complete. This is a point that only INEC can clarify. However, in Rivers State, many of the results sheets were allegedly diverted to the houses of prominent politicians where the results were allegedly written.  That suspicion might have triggered the boycott of the elections by other political parties in the state apart from the PDP. Many people have come out to criticize the boycott but my position is that for the sake of transparency, all electoral materials ought to have been displayed at the polling units before all the party agents before resuming the accreditation. Many informed commentators argue that there is no reason to keep away any of the electoral materials except to facilitate manipulation.

Now for the widespread failure of the card readers, my gut feeling is that it was more due to calculated sabotage than technology failure. It was gathered that specific individuals within the information technology unit of INEC office were allegedly induced to disrupt the use of the card readers. Many of the card readers were neither charged nor configured for use. Some of them were removed before they could arrive the designated polling units. Part of the plot was to ensure that accreditation was done manually so that cooking of the outcome will be a lot easier. To pre-empt the failure, the Resident Electoral Commissioner allegedly ordered the printing of more than two million extra Incident Reporting forms. Part of the forms were surreptitiously distributed to the LGAs and a few are still lying at INEC office for the next elections.

The forth aspect of the observed manipulation was the use of card carrying members of a political party as majority of INEC adhoc staff and the alleged bribery of the officials.  I will not dwell on the wild allegation that the Resident Electoral Commission was given a sum of two million US dollars and each electoral officer, a sum of fifteen million naira. I have no evidence to substantiate this. What I saw is that many of the INEC staff on ground were surprisingly helpless and cooperative with those who came to spoil their work. I went away with an ugly impression about INEC and I was shocked that the results of the state were accepted without thoroughly investigating these allegations. I make no conclusions here but all the issues I raised here are easy to verify. The INEC has a burden to do so and make their findings known. They should do so fast enough so that precautionary measures can be taken in the gubernatorial elections next Saturday. INEC is on trial before Rivers State. Their deafening silence is unacceptable.

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