Abuja — The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has said collation and announcement of gubernatorial election results in Rivers State would take place between April 2 and 5.
The All Progressives Congress (APC) has, however, expressed concern over what it described as the inconsistency and unpredictability of the electoral body, saying the commission lacks standard approach in resolving issues arising from the disruptions in electoral process.
For the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), its concern Thursday was its discovery of alleged clandestine security meeting between the presidency and certain top officials of INEC and security agencies aimed at hijacking tomorrow's governorship supplementary elections.
The commission had on March 10, 2019, suspended all electoral processes in Rivers State, having discovered that there was widespread disruption of collation of results of the elections conducted on March 9, following the invasion of the collation centre in Port Harcourt by soldiers.
The electoral body had set up a Fact-Finding Committee to assess the situation and report back within 48 hours. The committee later 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 Government Areas (LGAs) out of 23 LGAs in the state were available in the commission's custody.
It also noted that the declaration and returns for 21 state constituencies out of 32 were made prior to the suspension.
The electoral body, therefore, assured that it would issue detailed timelines and activities for the completion of the election on March 20, 2019.
However, INEC National Commissioner and Chairman Voter Education and Publicity, Mr. Festus Okoye, while addressing a press conference Thursday in Abuja, said that the Certificates of Return for the governors-elect would be presented by supervising National Commissioners of the respective states between March 27 and 29, 2019.
He said that the precise date for the presentation in each state would be made known by the respective Resident Electoral Commissioners after consultation with their supervising national commissioners.
Giving further insight on Rivers, Okoye stated: "Following the violent disruption of the electoral process in Rivers State during the governorship and National Assembly elections, the commission has outlined activities and timelines of resumption and conclusion of the process. The timelines for the activities are as follows:
"On March 19, 2019, the commission will have some engagement with security agencies in relation to some of these supplementary elections and also in relation to the elections in Rivers State. That one has already been concluded.
"On March 29, the commission will hold what we call the Inter Agency Consultative Committee meeting on security. This will take place in Rivers State. Then there after on March 30, 2019 in Port Harcourt, there will be a meeting of critical stakeholders in the electoral process.
"Thereafter the commission will issue guidelines for resumption of collation of results and these guidelines will be issued from the headquarters of the commission here in Abuja.
"We are also going to have what we call the revalidation of polling agents and observers for collation of results. This revalidation will commence on March 25, and end on March 31, 2019 and it will take place simultaneously in Rivers and Abuja.
"Then, thereafter there will be resumption of collation and announcement of result and this will take place between April 2 and 5, 2019 and it will take place in Port Harcourt. The venue for this particular activity will be agreed upon within the commission and the critical stakeholders in the electoral process.
"Then, on April 13, there will be supplementary elections where necessary then thereafter there will be an announcement of all rests between April 13 and 15, 2019. And then April 19, 2019 will be the date for the issuance of all outstanding certificates of return in relation to all these activities of election."
Okoye revealed that supplementary elections would be conducted in 13 states of the federation tomorrow.
He explained that the process has a constitutional window which must be completed by April 29.
Okoye clarified: "There are two issues in Bauchi, one INEC says there are Polling Units and Registration Areas (RAs) result of Tafawa Balewa LGA. Collation of governorship election for seven out of 11 have already been collated and in the public domain before the disruption.
"Our position is that we have the original results of some of those registration areas and the duplicate of others and that the issue of going back to conduct fresh elections does not arise in the Tafawa Balewa LGA. It is based on the same principle that we declared the results of elections for the state constituency and the winners have emerged and have been returned.
"If at the end of the day the court says you cannot collate result, go back and conduct election, of course we will obey and conduct fresh elections. If at the end of the day, court says for the entire Tafawa Balewa LG, enter zero vote of course we will enter zero vote and announce the winner.
"The truth of the matter is that this process has a constitutional window. We must complete the processes related to this governorship election and this whole election before the April 29, 2019. Anything outside that will fall out of the constitution order and will become a constitutional crisis. So, the people of Bauchi must know who their governor is on or before April 29."
On Adamawa, the national commissioner said the State High Court issued an injunction restraining the commission from proceeding with the supplementary election, adding that while the commission has also complied with the order, it has equally taken steps to vacate this and dismiss the action.
On Imo West senatorial district which the governor of the state, Rochas Okorocha contested, he said that the decision of the commission could only be upturned by a court of law.
Okoye added that the position of the commission is that it would not issue Certificate of Return to Okorocha in relation to the senatorial election.
He stressed that since the governor has taken the matter to court, it would be more prudent and more rational to wait for the outcome of the matter he has filed in court before the commission would make any further comment.
"We also have a pending issue relating to Oju/Obi Federal Constituency in Benue State, where we declined to issue a Certificate of Return to the person that was declared as the winner on grounds that the certificate of return was procured under duress and there is also another one in Akwa Ibom State, there was another one in Angaye in Niger State, and I can't remember the exact constituency in Akwa-Ibom.
"There are four of such cases where the commission declined to issue certificate of return to the winners on the grounds that certificates were provided under duress. So, I think the commission has been consistent in relation to this matter.
APC Expresses Worry over Electoral Body's Inconsistency, Unpredictability
Meanwhile, the APC has expressed concern over what it described as lack of a standard approach by INEC in resolving issues arising from the disruptions in electoral process.
The party, which reacted to the decision of the electoral body to restart collation of the result of governorship and House of Assembly election in Rivers State and to conduct rerun poll in Bauchi State, told THISDAY yesterday that it was becoming worrisome that the commission's procedures are no longer consistent and predictable.
Speaking in an interview with THISDAY, the National Publicity Secretary of APC, Mallam Lanre Isa-Onilu, argued that the electoral umpire should allow known rules of the game to govern every step in the electoral process.
On the issue of fixing of timetable for the inconclusive elections and the resumption of collation of results, Onilu said: "there must be a pattern to it but we are not following such pattern.
There should be a pattern that everybody should understand that when this happens this will be the decision of INEC. We are not seeing so much consistency and if they are being guarded by guidelines, it should be clear to everybody on what the decisions of INEC will be".
The APC spokesman said the ruling party is as concerned as anyone else regarding the apparent lack of consistency in the decisions coming from INEC on the rescheduled elections.
"We have no benefit to drive from rigging of elections; the only time we can have maximum benefit is when we have a credible process because we have grassroots support. But where you don't have patterns, you cannot predict what the next actions of INEC will be; it is difficult for us not to complain. So, we are as worried as any other person regarding this kind of actions we are getting from INEC. But like I said, we arew also very careful because this is the ruling party and our actions will have very far-reaching impact. So, we try as much as possible not to appear to be putting INEC on the spot most of the time," he said
PDP Alleges Plot to Rig Supplementary Elections
But in a swift reaction, the PDP alleged that it uncovered clandestine security meeting between the presidency, certain top officials of INEC and security agencies aimed at hijacking tomorrow's governorship supplementary elections.
The National Publicity Secretary of the party, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, while addressing a press conference in Abuja, said that the party was informed of how a top army officer, at the meeting, directed the INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, not to ever declare Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike as winner, even when it was clear to all that he won the election.
He added that the main opposition party has full information on every move by the APC to manipulate the electoral process as not all Nigerians in their government subscribe to their cruelty, resort to violence as well as suppression of votes.
Ologbondiyan stated: "The PDP, therefore, in an unequivocal terms, cautions the APC and agents of the Buhari's presidency to know that Nigerians will never be intimidated but will confront and crush any oppressive force that attempts to defy and subvert their will at the supplementary polls.
"We also have details of how a top military officer, who is from Bauchi State, at the meeting directed INEC chairman not to declare our victorious Bauchi State governorship candidate, Senator Bala Mohammed, as the winner of the Bauchi State governorship election.
"The PDP is also privy to how a director of one of our security agencies, who was at the meeting, undertook to use his agency to deliver Kano State to the APC.
"Consequent upon this ignoble plot, the security meeting has directed the deployment of 30 DSS personnel and 300 mobile policemen to each of the states where supplementary elections have been scheduled with a standing instruction to take over these respective states and make effort to ambush the process, seeing that the PDP is bound to win."
The PDP reminded the military that Nigerians would not hesitate to treat individuals in military uniform, who is illegally involved in the supplementary election, as fake soldiers, saying, "After all, the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, has declared that uniformed personnel, who helped APC to rig presidential election, were fake."
Court Delivers Judgment on Bauchi Guber Poll Result, Monday
Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court Abuja will on Monday decide if the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) can go ahead to collate and announce the governorship election results in Bauchi State.
Justice Ekwo fixed the date on Thursday, after counsel to parties in the suit adopted their final brief of argument in the matter.
The judge also held that on that same March 25, he would decide if he has jurisdiction to hear the suit as challenged by INEC.
The suit filed by the APC and its candidate, incumbent governor of Bauchi State, Mohammed Abubakar, is asking the court to determine whether INEC having declared the March 9 governorship election in Bauchi inconclusive, can on its own rescind the decison and go ahead to resume collation, concluding and declaring any person as winner of the election.
The plaintiffs through their counsel, Ahmed Raji SAN, are praying for an order of the court prohibiting INEC from resuming collation of result for an election that has been officially declared inconclusive by a returning officer.
But INEC in an objection challenged the powers of the court to dabble into a post election matter.
In a counter affidavit by INEC deposed to by one Hassan Adamu, a Higher Executive Officer, in its legal department, the electoral body insisted that the Federal High Court has no jurisdiction to dabble into a post-election litigation.
The counter affidavit specifically stated that the matter of post election is exclusively for the Election Petition Tribunal and not any regular court including the Federal High Court.
Contrary to the claim of the plaintiffs that INEC cannot continue with collation of results, the counter affidavit stated that, INEC's decison to continue with the collation of the results was based on the figures contained in the duplicates of the results of the election.
The electoral body further stated that challenge of the decision of the returning officer in respect of declaration of scores and return of winner is the exclusive reserve of an Election Petition Tribunal.
INEC said that although the governorship election in Bauchi State was declared inconclusive, it however rescinded its decision based on facts that emerged later and made a return, adding that any grievance arising from that return should be channeled to the Election Petition Tribunal.
Justice Ekwo had on Tuesday ordered that INEC should not take further steps in respect of collating, concluding and announcing anyone as winner of the governorship election in Bauchi State, pending the hearing and determination of the suit.
The order was issued after the court listened to submissions of counsel to both the plaintiffs and defendant in the matter.
In the ex parte motion, the APC and Abubakar had prayed the court for an order of Interim Injunction restraining INEC from resuming, concluding or announcing the result of the Tafawa Balewa Local Government Area of Bauchi State in respect of the election to the office of Governor of Bauchi State.