Says Atiku's request for election materials made on Friday
Promises to attend to it
APC describes commission's decisions on Rivers, Bauchi States polls as Illega
PDP insists electoral body's verdicts proper, asks Tambuwal be declared Sokoto gov-elect
Presidency: APC leaders upset Buhari won't interfere with conduct of extra election
By Iyobosa Uwugiaren, Omololu Ogunmade Onyebuchi Ezigbo and Adedayo Akinwale in Abuja
Following the unprofessional conduct of some military personnel during the March 9, 2019 governorship and state Houses of Assembly elections, especially the invasion of the collation centre in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has said that it did not request for the deployment of soldiers in its collation centres.
"I am not aware that the commission requested for the deployment of soldiers in collation centres," INEC National Commissioner and Chairman of Voter Education and Publicity Committee, Mr. Festus Okoye, told THISDAY yesterday.
He said the commission would, therefore, hold high level meetings with the leadership of security agencies before the conduct of supplementary elections scheduled for Saturday to avoid a repeat of what happened in the earlier elections.
The electoral body had fixed March 23, 2019 for conduct of supplementary elections to conclude the process and make returns in the governorship elections in Adamawa, Sokoto, Bauchi, Benue, Kano and Plateau States, which it had earlier declared as inconclusive.
Though the commission later reversed itself on Bauchi State as it approved the resumption and conclusion of the collation of results of Tafawa Balewa Local Government Area, after the committee set up by the commission established that the result in Polling Units and Registration Areas are available and in safe custody.
The committee also established that the number of cancelled votes for the four polling units in Ningi Local Government Area, which was recorded as 25,330 in form EC40G (1) was incorrect, as the actual figure is 2,533.
Similarly, after the invasion of the collation centre in Port Harcourt, the commission had on March 10, 2019, suspended all electoral processes in Rivers State having determined that there was widespread disruption of collation of results of the elections conducted on March 9, 2019.
The commission subsequently set up a fact-finding committee to assess the situation and report back within 48 hours.
But after a week of silence, the committee set up by INEC established that the governorship and state assembly elections in the state took place in most of the polling units and results were announced.
The committee also established that the results from 17 local governments out of 23 are available and are in the commission's custody, adding that the declaration and returns for 21 state constituencies out of 32 were made prior to the suspension.
The committee stated: "INEC expresses its displeasure with the role played by some soldiers and armed gangs in Rivers State, disrupting the collation process and attempting to subvert the will of the people.
"INEC is committed to expeditious completion of the collation process where results of the elections have been announced."
INEC, therefore, assured Nigerians that it would issue detailed timelines and activities for the completion of the election on Wednesday, March 20, 2019.
However, while responding to THISDAY enquiry yesterday, INEC National Commissioner and Chairman Voter Education and Publicity, Mr. Festus Okoye, said that the meeting with the security agencies would focus on professionalism and the proper role of security agencies engaged in election security.
He stressed that the meeting would underlie the importance of delivering supplementary elections that would meet the requisite threshold of credibility and transparency.
The National Commissioner noted that Nigerian people want an election that reflects the true voting preferences of the people.
Okoye explained further that at the national level, the commission has an inter-agency consultative committee on election security, saying that the committee meets quarterly and as at when due to review election security related matters and the different arms of the security services part of the committee.
He said: "On election security, there is no dispute whatsoever that the Nigerian Police is the lead agency on election security. However, based on its numerical strength and the size of the country, polling units and constituencies, the lead agency invites sister agencies to assist in providing security at the inner cordon of polling units.
"Security officers in the inner cordon do not bear arms. At the outer cordon are mobile police officers that can intervene rapidly when there is a challenge at the polling unit or when there is breakdown of law and order. The police drew up their deployment plans for the various collation centers and shared with the commission.
"Section 29(3) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) provides that the commission can only request for the deployment of the Nigerian Armed Forces only for the purposes of securing the distribution and delivery of election materials and protection of election officials."
Okoye said that the commission requested and received tremendous assistance from the Nigerian Air Force in airlifting and distribution of sensitive materials, stressing that the Navy has also been assisting in protecting election officials on the high seas.
On military deployment, he stated: "I am not aware that the commission requested for the deployment of soldiers to the collation centres.
"Constitutionally, the police can request for the assistance of the Nigerian Army in certain circumstances. The commission will continue to rely on the Nigerian Police Force as the lead agency on election security.
"The police and the commission will continue to enjoy the cooperation and assistance of other agencies especially in the inner cordon of the polling units.
"The commission does not deploy the military. The military are engaged in internal security operations in some states of the federation and it is the Commander-in-Chief and the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria that can determine their deployment. Our expectation is that all the security agencies involved in election security must remain apolitical, professional and act ethically."
Atiku Only Requested for Materials on Friday, Says INEC
The electoral umpire also denied refusing the Peoples Democratic Party's (PDP) presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, access to election materials in line with the Court of Appeal's order asking it to turn in the materials for the PDP candidate for his perusal.
INEC also said that the Nigerian Army and other security agencies are being engaged on what should be their level of involvement in the supplementary elections.
The PDP recently accused the electoral commission of denying its candidate, Atiku, access to inspect the documents and materials used in the February 23 presidential election.
The main opposition party said that the leadership of the commission led by Prof. Mahmood Yakubu had refused to obey the March 6 ruling of the Court of Appeal, directing it to allow the party to inspect the electoral materials and document used for the presidential election.
The National Publicity Secretary of the party, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, in a statement Saturday in Abuja, said this was a deliberate and wicked ploy by INEC, acting in cahoots with the APC, to frustrate the people-backed resolve by Atiku and the PDP to timeously file and mention their petition at the Presidential Election Tribunal.
He said that the leadership of INEC and the APC were seeking to frustrate the party's court option, seeing that the documents and materials would expressly show that Atiku clearly won the election by the votes directly delivered at the polling units across the country as well as expose how the commission and the Muhammadu Buhari presidency manipulated the results.
But speaking with THISDAY yesterday in Abuja, INEC said the statement by the main opposition party was not correct.
"It is not true that the PDP and its presidential candidate were denied access to election's materials. That is not correct. To the best of my knowledge, we only received their request last Friday. And we are always available to attend to them whenever they are ready," the INEC Director of Voters Education and Publicity, Mr. Oluwole Osaze-Uzzi told THISDAY yesterday.
INEC recently condemned what it described as the role played by some soldiers and armed gangs in Rivers State, which it said led to the disruption of the electoral process.
In a statement dated March 15, Okoye said the action was an attempt to subvert the will of the people.
According to him, this was part of the submissions made after the commission set up a fact-finding committee to assess the situation in the state.
On their parts, EU and other international election monitors had said that going by their evaluations, many aspects of the general election, particularly the involvement of military personnel, were not in conformity with international best practice.
Following reports of widespread violence and other forms of intimidation in the state, collation of results and other activities for the governorship and state assembly elections were suspended on March 10.
Reiterating the INEC's statement, Uzzi-Iyamu told THISDAY yesterday that the electoral commission was engaging the Army and other security agencies on what should be their level of involvement in the planned supplementary election, stating that the electoral law clearly states the level of the security agencies' involvement in an election.
INEC's Decisions on Rivers, Bauchi States' Elections Illegal, Says APC
The APC yesterday deplored some of the decisions taken by INEC on the inconclusive elections recorded in six states, especially Rivers and Bauchi.
The party urged INEC to put a halt to what it described as madness and brazen illegality.
INEC had declared as inconclusive elections in six states - Adamawa, Bauchi, Benue, Kano, Plateau and Sokoto during the governorship election.
In a statement issued yesterday by APC's National Publicity Secretary, Mallam Lanre Isa-Onilu, APC claimed there was an unholy alliance between Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike, the PDP and INEC to impose the PDP candidate on the people.
The party said that it was concerned and deeply troubled by the unfolding events in Rivers State.
APC said that Wike was losing until INEC stepped in to halt the process, apparently to save him from impending defeat.
"The desperation of the PDP governorship candidate, Governor Nyesom Wike, to remain in office, even if it means destroying the state, killing its people and throwing the state into turmoil and crisis is clear," it said.
According to APC, it is on record that Wike through the Rivers State Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), Mr. Obo Effanga, engaged PDP card-carrying members as Local Government Area (LGA) Collation Officers to skew the elections in favour of Wike and the PDP.
APC asked the INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, to immediately redeploy Effanga from Rivers State in order to avoid crisis.
The APC also contested the declaration of the governorship election result of Benue State inconclusive, saying there was no doubt that its candidate, Mr. Emmanuel Jime, won the election.
The party called on INEC to declare its candidate the winner of the governorship poll, in line with the Electoral Act.
It claimed that its candidate obtained the highest number of legitimate votes obtained with the usage of the card reader.
Reacting to the planned supplementary election in Kano, APC said the opposition PDP was engaging in self-deceit and had been deluding itself on its non-existent electoral chance in Nasarawa Local Government Area of the state.
"Considering what happened in the inconclusive election widely characterized by PDP vote buying and voter intimidation, relevant agencies must ensure that such anti-democratic practice is not repeated," it said.
As for the supplementary poll in Bauchi State, APC said it was opposed to INEC's decision on the governorship election results from Tafawa Balewa Local Government Area in Bauchi State, as signed and announced by the electoral body's Okoye.
The party alleged that there was a close relationship between Okoye, who chaired the fact-finding committee and Yakubu Dogara of the PDP, adding that it had rendered him inappropriate for the fact-finding exercise on Bauchi State.
It said that INEC has failed to adhere to the fundamental principle of fair-hearing by not inviting its agents during the hearing to ascertain the circumstances leading to the cancellation of the Tafawa Balewa Local Government election result.
"INEC's decision is illegal as the electoral body has contravened the provisions of the Electoral Act 2010 as amended," APC said.
PDP Insists INEC's Verdicts Proper, Asks Tambuwal be Declared Sokoto Gov-elect
But in a swift response yesterday, the PDP reiterated that INEC's position on Bauchi, Adamawa and Rivers States were proper and also asked the commission to proceed to declare Governor Aminu Tambuwal as the governor-elect of Sokoto State.
According to the party, it is ludicrous that the APC could seek to play the victim when all material facts have established that the ruling party militarised, perpetrated violence and unleashed mayhem on Nigerians in the elections.
It recalled in a statement by Ologbondiyan last night that even the recent US States Department's Bureau reports showed that state apparatus of power was used for intimidation and electoral violence to favour the government.
It noted that in Kano, the people known to be incorruptible and had always detested leaders who were corrupt and incompetent, adding they have always elected governors that were acceptable to the ordinary people.
It stressed that the corruption and incompetence of the Governor Ganduje administration was, therefore, distasteful to the people and that was why they had collectively rejected the APC and rallied with the PDP, adding that all the shenanigans by the APC and compromised INEC officials in Kano would be unachievable.
The party spokesperson said that Rivers State had been an impregnable home of the PDP since 1999, stressing that the results of all the elections held in the state, including the state House of Assembly showed that the PDP was in control of the state.
He described APC as a vicious interloper in the state, which it said had been perpetrating violence and killings as a means to subvert and truncate the electoral process since it had no candidate in the election.
It said it was clear the people of Benue State preferred it, adding that it was in a clear lead with 81,000 votes.
"In Bauchi, the PDP has already been elected and this reality cannot be altered by the APC. INEC had already established that the APC compromised its official to declare Tafawa Balewa LGA as inconclusive and had restored the votes that were stolen by the APC. It is imperative for APC to accept the fact that its bunch of broom has become famished," the PDP said.
"In Sokoto, the people have given us the mandate. The constitution provides for simple majority of votes. The declared results show that our candidate clearly won and that is why our candidate has been mandated to go to the court to seek interpretation of the section of the constitution that deals with the declaration of results", it said, adding that INEC should do the needful by declaring its candidate, Tambuwal as governor-elect.
PDP's comment on Sokoto was part of the pressure on INEC to declare Tambuwal as governor-elect of the state as there were indications at the weekend that the tension in the seat of the Caliphate might worsen if the incumbent governor who was enjoying a clear lead in the poll is denied victory.
A top politician from Sokoto who spoke on condition of anonymity told THISDAY that tension was building up in the state over fears of plans to stop Tambuwal for another term in office.
He said though the governor appeared to be the popular choice of his people as shown in the collated results of the guber poll, the power brokers of the APC were bent on taking the state, which they consider strategic to the party's future political plans.
He said: "The powers that be should declare Tambuwal as the authentic winner of the March 9 governorship election in Sokoto State. The collated result showed that he won the election by the simple majority which is what the constitution provides. They should not set the seat of the Caliphate on fire.
The PDP had expressed fears of a plan by the ruling party and INEC to repeat what happened in the Osun governorship election where the PDP lost to the APC under controversial circumstances.
A video recording between the INEC Admin Secretary in Sokoto and a collation officer, which trended over the weekend further escalated fears of interference in the coming supplementary election.
The video which was in Hausa but translated to English showed an exchange between the INEC Admin Secretary in Sokoto and the collation officer, which suggested attempts to skew the election in favour of APC.
In the results declared by INEC, Tambuwal was leading his closest rival, Mr. Ahmed Aliyu of the APC, with a margin of 3,413 votes.
Speaking on the development at a press conference, the governor had observed there was no cause for the election to be declared inconclusive.
Though the governor said the INEC was yet to communicate to him the reasons for cancellation of votes in the 136 polling units, he said it was necessary to draw the attention of the electoral umpire to its guidelines for the exercise.
He stated that the issue of margin difference was technical and alien to the Nigerian constitution which stipulates a simple majority and 25 per cent of votes cast in a two-thirds majority of states of the federation, as basis for determining a winner.
"This technical reason of margin differences has not been applied in Osun and Ekiti elections," Tambuwal said arguing that since he secured the higher number of votes at the concluded election, he ought to have been declared the winner.
He said: "Going by Section 179(2) of the Constitution as amended, there was no clause that gave room for inconclusiveness."
"The Returning Officer, up till now, has not told us why (we should have a) re-run in each of the polling units. The Electoral Act is very clear on reasons for re-run or inconclusiveness.
"Where there is violence or malfunctioning card reader machine, what is expected is to record zero vote in such polling unit(s).
"If INEC did not do the needful, I will approach the court to test the viability of the Commission's technicality."
Mr Tambuwal argued that votes have been cast and he was clearly ahead with the highest number of votes in more than two-thirds areas of the state.
He said INEC needs to declare the result.
Presidency: APC Leaders Upset Buhari Won't Interfere in Conduct of Extra Election
Meanwhile, the presidency last night said members of the APC had been upset by the refusal of President Muhammadu Buhari to yield to their pressure to interfere in the forthcoming supplementary polls in favour of the APC.
According to the presidency, while party men had been criticising Buhari for declining to interfere in the scheduled polls, the PDP on the other hand, had been bashing the president over its belief that the president was planning to interfere in the polls.
Since the elections were declared inconclusive, some APC governors including those affected by the development had been visiting the Presidential Villa to hold secret talks over the polls with both the President and Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo.
But Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu, in a statement at the weekend said Buhari had come under criticism from party men over his refusal to accede to their requests.
The presidential spokesman who argued that Buhari had sworn to protect the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, described the criticism of the president over what he described as his refusal to abuse his powers as ridiculous and unacceptable.
It therefore warned against inciting citizens to violence through polarising statements as the supplementary polls draw near, pointing out that INEC had the sole responsibility to handle the entire electoral process.