Donatus Ohajianya, the returning officer in the Imo North Senatorial District supplementary polls, breached the procedures for receiving and collating results, an administrative committee of inquiry set up by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has found.
The committee, which indicted Mr Ohajianya and one other electoral official, subsequently recommended that the duo should be blacklisted and barred from participating in any future electoral activity, PREMIUM TIMES can authoritatively report.
Due to widespread irregularities and violence, the February 23 National Assembly elections in the senatorial district was declared inconclusive and a rerun in five of the six local government areas in the district was scheduled for March 9.
But the supplementary election could not resolve the rancour surrounding the election. Inundated by complaints of discrepancies and misconducts during the supplementary election, INEC could not announce a winner. To get to root of the complaints, the commission, on April 4, set up a committee to review the conduct of the election. The committee submitted its report on Tuesday.
Details of the committee's report seen by PREMIUM TIMES revealed how Mr Ohajianya and a local government collation officer, Steve Onyeagocha, deliberately undermined the collation process.
The panel then recommended the appointment of a new returning officer to "re-collate all the results for the Senatorial District and make a proper declaration and return."
According to the report, Messrs Ohajianya and Onyeagocha erred in three major areas: receiving and collating results, possible mutilation of results, and the authenticity of the form EC8C for Ehime Mbano and Isiala Mbano local governments.
The 19-page report opened with a recap of events leading to the supplementary polls. The panel found that of the six LGAs that make up Imo North, only the results of Okigwe were correctly collated in the February 23 poll. Others were marred by irregularities. In fact, the INEC office in Isiala Mbano was attacked and burnt down.
Consequently, rerun was conducted in 302 polling units with a total of 184,678 registered voters in 28 registration areas of the five LGAs - Ehime Mbano; Ihitte Uboma; Isiala Mbano; Obowo; and Onuimo.
Apart from Onuimo LGA, the report noted varying degrees of irregularities in the collation process at the other local governments where supplementary elections held.
According to the panel, results were not presented in the presence of relevant stakeholders as is the normal practice.
"Even at that, the results were not announced loudly as the returning officer only copied the results thereby keeping everybody in the dark as to what he was doing."
The committee singled out by Mr Ohajianya for sharp criticism saying it was particularly disappointed with his testimony and general performance. The panel noted several discrepancies in the results computed by the returning officer which allegedly breached procedures guiding the process.
The panel stated that he collated results on the wrong sheet, an action the committee said was at variance with the provisions of paragraph 37B of INEC guidelines.
It stated that the returning officer did not wait for the outstanding results from two LGAs (Ihitte Uboma and Obowo) before "making his purported declaration and return."
While testifying during the inquiry, Mr Ohajianya claimed that he decided not to wait for the results from the two local governments due to the "margin of lead principle". He explained that the margin between the two leading candidates was more than the total number of voters registered in the areas in the two LGAs where results are still being collated at that point.
The panel, however, said his explanation was at variance with the regulations and guidelines of the commission.
"The returning officer unilaterally decided not to use the results for Ihitte Uboma and Obowo LGAs in making a declaration under the pretext of applying the "margin of lead principle", which clearly was not applicable in the context at hand."
"The principle is only applied after results have been submitted by relevant collation officers and areas with problem have been determined.
"The principle ought not to be abused in the way he (returning officer) did by excluding results that are still being collated", it noted.
The report also indicted the returning officer of collating the results from Ehime Mbano and Isiala Mbano with forms that were not issued by the commission.
"The name and signature on the suspicious result sheet submitted to the returning officer as the collated result sheet for Ehime Mbano did not belong to the LG collation officer, Steve Onyeagocha, who denied ever seeing or signing the said result sheet."
Similarly, the committee rebuked Mr Onyeagocha for several mutilations reportedly observed in the result sheets he completed and submitted to the commission, describing it as practically unreadable.
"The committee counted over thirty mutilations on that one result sheet. Onyeagocha's performance was exceedingly below par that he requested for the replacement of his EC8C form twice. His request for a third was correctly rejected by the REC. It seems to the committee that these errors could not have been due to honest errors."
Thus the panel recommended that Mr Ohajianya and Mr Onyeagocha should be blacklisted and barred from taking part as electoral officers in future elections.
"In addition, a strongly worded letter should be written to their Universities expressing the commission's disappointment with the performance of these two very senior academics and communicating their exclusion from future electoral activities."
The committee also recommends that the results of the supplementary elections of the four LGAs fraught with irregularities be properly collated on fresh result sheets in accordance with commission's guidelines.
"A new returning officer should be appointed to re-collate all the results for the Senatorial District and make a proper declaration and return", it stated.
"In future, where multiple elections are to be held, staff of the commission should be attached to the returning officers."
A stay Injunction
Meanwhile, Benjamin Uwajumogu, the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate had instituted a case against INEC, at the Federal High Court ,Abuja, a day after the commission set up the committee of inquiry.
Benjamin Uwajumogu. [PHOTO CREDIT: The Guardian Nigeria]
Subsequently, on April 9, the court ordered the commission to stay "all further proceedings and actions" by the respondent (INEC) connected with the declaration of Imo North Senatorial District election results.
The case has been adjourned to April 30.
Before the rerun, Ndubueze Patrick, candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), was leading Mr Uwajumogu, his closest challenger who is also the incumbent senator of Imo North.
No winner was formally declared from the rerun.