A wise man does not cut his nose, just to spite his face. The unfolding electoral drama in the Bayelsa State governorship election, especially the cancellation of the election in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area of Bayelsa State by the State Returning Officer, Prof. Zane Akapaku, who is the Vice Chancellor (VC) of the University of Calabar, reminds me and other political watchers of a similar exercise of power by Prof. Benjamin Ozumba, the State Returning Officer for the April 11 governorship election in Abia State.
Ozumba had announced the cancellation of the results of the election in Obingwa, Osisioma and Isialangwa North Local Government Areas of the state, saying that the action was in exercise of ‘’the powers conferred on me.’’
He cited the reports of the accredited local and international election observers, who monitored the election in the state, for the cancellation.
He said that the report contained ‘’incontrovertible evidence of massive violence, rampant cases of ballot snatching’’ and other irregularities that characterised the election in the affected council areas.
Shortly after Ozumba’s pronouncement, heaven was let loose by the powers-that-be in Abia. No sooner had he cancelled the results than the former Governor Theodore Orji, leading a delegation of chieftains of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), stormed the venue of the collation of results on the premises of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Umuahia.
On Orji’s entourage was Sen. Enyinnaya Abaribe, representing Abia South Senatorial District, along with the National Publicity Secretary of PDP, Chief Olisa Metuh, former Minister of State, Defence, Rtd. Col. Austin Akobundu, former Chairman of the Niger Delta Development Commission, Chief Onyema Ugochukwu, and the current Secretary to the State Government, Dr. Eme Okoro, among others.
The delegation halted the collation on its arrival at the centre, when Orji summoned the former Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) in the state, Prof. Selina Oko, to her office.
A few minutes later, Orji also ordered Ozumba to be invited to the closed-door meeting, thus disrupting the exercise, while scores of election monitors, journalists and heads of the various security agencies in the state, who were present at the centre, waited anxiously for what would be the outcome of Orji’s visit.
At the meeting, Ozumba was ordered to reverse the cancellation. So, as soon as he emerged, he proceeded to reverse himself, saying that the outright cancellation was no longer tenable and that they have decided to isolate the polling units where the reported violence and snatching of ballot boxes took place. Of course, that never happened.
After recanting, the professor of Medicine and Vice Chancellor of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, also went on to readmit the initially cancelled and rejected results from the three LGAs.
This was how PDP and its governorship candidate, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu, stole the mandate, with the bogus figures allotted to them in the three disputed council areas over the leading All Progressives Grand Alliance’s (APGA) candidate, Dr. Alex Otti.
Before the untidy conduct by INEC, in complicity with PDP, Otti was leading with over 60,000 votes in the 14 LGAs whose results were already collated by the returning officer. The contentious results from the remaining three local governments for PDP and APGA, which upset the applecart, are as follows: Obingwa PDP=82,240, APGA=1,952; Osisioma PDP=42,122, APGA=1,017 and Isialangwa North PDP=19,789, APGA=6,853.
It is gratifying that the tribunal, which handled the petition filed by Otti, challenging the declaration of Ikpeazu as the winner of the election, upheld the cancellation.
Otti’s contention is that having cancelled the results of the election in the three council areas, the returning officer lacked the power to reverse himself.
In view of the cancellation, the only option open to any aggrieved party, especially Orji and his PDP stalwarts, was to seek redress in the election petition tribunal.
It is a serious threat to the nation’s democracy that rather than seek redress in the tribunal, Orji resorted to the obscene act of impunity and use of brute force to arm-twist, intimidate, blackmail and coerce the returning officer to do the illegality by reversing himself and readmitting cancelled results.
Imagine the war-scene that could have been created at the INEC collation centre, had Otti and APGA thrown caution to the wind and mobilised their party chieftains and aggrieved youths to counter PDP’s anti-democratic and uncivilised conduct.
It is paradoxical today that the same PDP, which forced the Abia INEC to reverse the cancellation, is celebrating the cancellation of the results of the election in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area of Bayelsa State by yet no less an official of the commission than the returning officer.
While the All Progressives Congress still kicks against the cancellation, PDP’s acting National Chairman, Prince Uche Secondus, and his National Publicity Secretary, Chief Olisa Metuh, who was part of the party’s delegation that invaded Abia INEC collation centre, in their reactions endorsed the INEC cancellation in Bayelsa. They have even warned APC ‘’against truncating democracy.’’
Expectedly, the Bayelsa REC, Mr Baritor Kpagih, who has reportedly gone underground, following alleged threats to his life, has continued to justify the cancellation. Media reports stated that Kpagih ‘’remained unmoved, insisting that the action of INEC was within the ambit of the laws of the federation and in fulfilment of INEC’s mandate to conduct a credible election.’’
The Constitution of Nigeria duly empowered INEC to conduct elections into political offices in the country, ranging from the state Houses of Assembly to the governorship, National Assembly and presidential polls.
But for the commission to effectively discharge this constitutional mandate and ensure that elections are credible and that votes must count, it must exercise the powers to annul elections considered substantially flawed and marred with irregularities.
And once this happens, it surely would not reverse itself. The power to reverse the decision on annulment, rightly or wrongly, should reside with the tribunal.
Considering Orji’s role, together with his PDP imperial shenanigans, in the Abia governorship election vis-à-vis the current drama in Bayelsa State, it is obvious that he only succeeded in cutting his nose in order to spite his face. Thank God President Buhari has called for the prosecution of electoral offenders in the country. We expect that the case being referred to here will be in the front burner for prompt prosecution.
By Yusuf Oladipupo
Yusuf Oladipupo is a public affairs analyst