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Violence, rigging mar weekend governorship elections

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INEC releases report of 2023 general elections

By OBINNA EZUGWU

The off cycle governorship elections in Imo, Bayelsa and Kogi states lived up to their billing. After what expectedly turned out to be the battle of guns, vote-buying and mass thumbprint of ballot papers, Hope Uzodimma, the incumbent governor of Imo State and candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), was pronounced winner by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Usman Ododo, candidate of the ruling party prevailed in Kogi, while the incumbent governor of Bayelsa, and candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Douye Diri barring last minute drama, is looking poised to hold off APC’s Timipre Sylva, in what was a heated battle.

In Imo, the Vice Chancellor of the Federal University, Oye Ekiti, Prof. Abayomi Fashina, who was the state Returning Officer declared Uzodimma re-elected on Sunday morning at about 10 am after over eight hours of collation of local government results.

“That you Hope Uzodimma of APC having satisfied the law is hereby returned elected,” Fashina declared.

The governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Senator Samuel Anyanwu, who placed second, polled a total vote of 71,503, while that of the Labour Party, LP, Senator Athan Achonu came third position with a total number of 64,081 votes.

But it was an election that produced magic numbers, even from areas voting never took place. While the election witnessed unprecedented voter apathy, as many residents stayed away believing, by their testimonies, that voting had become a fruitless venture given recent events, some local governments achieved more than 60 percent voter turnout, according to results announced by INEC.

In areas like Orsu Local Government, which had been the hotbed of separatist violence, voting didn’t take place, according to witness accounts, regardless, the APC swept votes in the area.

“In Orsu, there was no election. Many people stayed indoors, while some even relocated before the election out of fear, but we’re now seeing massive votes counted for Orsu,” said an Indigene, who craved anonymity.

Indeed, reports had emerged on Saturday morning that some polling units officials had arrived with already written results in Imo and Kogi states.

As one observer noted, “There was actually no election in Imo. They simple sat down, wrote the results and declared themselves winner.”

Meanwhile, in Kogi, Ododo, the incumbent governor, Yahaya Bello’s anointed candidate, prevailed in what was a battle of the Ebira, Igala and Okun, as represented by the APC candidate, Murtala Ajaka of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), who came second, and Dino Melaye, candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), who placed third, respectively.

The Igala, the clear majority in the state, had used their numbers to keep power in the state until 2015, when Abubakar Audu, who contested and won the state’s governorship election suddenly passed away, and under controversial circumstances, Bello, an Ebira, who came second in the APC primary that produced Audu, was drafted to take the ticket instead of Audu’s running mate, Hon. James Faleke, an Okun.

Bello, as governor, had, after his first tenure, deployed state apparatus to retain power, and with his eight-year tenure coming to an end next year, he anointed Ododo, a fellow Ebira, as his successor, arguing that just like the Igala, the Ebira ought to serve for 16 years before handing over to another group. The decision infuriated both the Igala, who felt that power should return to them on account of their majority status, and the Okun, who argued that being the only group that was yet to taste power, it was rightly their turn.

In the event, the battle line was drawn among the Ebira, represented by Ododo; the Igala, who rallied behind Ajaka, and the Okun who had Melaye, the PDP candidate, as one of the leading contenders.

Ultimately, however, Ododo prevailed relying on outrageous numbers from Okene local government, the heart of Ebira nation, where he polled 138,416 votes to thrash Melaye, who had only 1,463 votes and Ajaka, who was credited with a meagre 271 votes, as well as Adavi, where he polled 101,156 votes to Melaye’s 1,005, while Ajaka again trailed with 268 votes, among others, to beat his closest rival with as much as 200,000 votes.

While Ajaka held sway in a number of Igala areas, the massive votes Ododo got from Ebira areas ensured that he emerged victorious by wide margin, replicating tricks that had worked for the PDP in Abia State, where apparently manufactured Ngwa votes were used to tip the scale in elections, until March 2023, when Prof. Nnenna Otti, who served as the state’s returning officer, stood her ground and maintained that only votes by accredited voters would count.

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INEC has meanwhile ordered fresh elections in some wards in the state as a result of irregularities. Following some pre-filled result sheets, which went into circulation while voting was ongoing, INEC had suspended elections across nine wards and said further communication would be made.

In a statement on Sunday; Mohammed Haruna, a National Commissioner, said fresh elections would hold in the affected areas.

“Further to our Statement yesterday, we have received an update from our Kogi State office regarding the suspension of election in some locations in the State, where result sheets were completed before the commencement of voting. The most critical incident occurred in nine out of 10 Wards in Ogori/Magongo Local Government Area (LGA).

“We received reports of similar incidents in Adavi (5 Polling Units in Okunchi/Ozuri/Onieka Ward), Ajaokuta (5 Polling Units in Adogo Ward), Okehi (1 Polling Unit in Eika/Ohizenyi Ward) and Okene (5 Polling Units in Obehira Uvete Ward). Results from the affected Polling Units have been accounted for in Form EC40G for the four LGAs.

“However, in the case of Ogori/Magongo LGA, only the result of Oshobane Ward II with eight Polling Units and 2,264 registered voters has been collated. Election in the other nine Wards (Eni, Okibo, Okesi, Ileteju, Aiyeromi, Ugugu, Obinoyin, Obatgben and Oturu) involving 59 Polling Units and 15,136 registered voters remain suspended. In line with Section 24(3) of the Electoral Act 2022 and Clause 59 of INEC Regulations and Guidelines on the Conduct of Elections 2022, fresh election will be held on Saturday 18thNovember 2023 in the affected Polling Units.

“The decision to hold fresh elections is subject to the Returning Officer’s determination of the application of the Margin of Lead Principle. However, this decision is without prejudice to our avowed commitment to follow the audit trail of personnel and materials to ascertain those, who may have been complicit in undermining the process and apply appropriate sanctions where necessary.

“The Commission wishes to reiterate its assurances to voters in Kogi State that their votes will continue to count and their wishes respected.

INEC’s decision may have come too late, as it has already announced results in a vast majority of the local governments, and Ododo’s lead will not be threatened.

In Bayelsa, where the more favoured incumbent Diri faced stiff challenge from APC’s Timipre Sylva, the former, perhaps attempted to use numbers from the riverine Nembe and Brass Local Governments to overturn what was shaping up to be unassailable victory for the incumbent.

Officials of INEC were held hostage by political actors in the area, amid protests by PDP supporters, who alleged of plot to manipulate the polls.

So far, six of the state’s eight local governments have been announced, with the incumbent Diri winning comfortably in five, while Sylva prevailed in one.

The outstanding are Brass and Southern Ijaw LGAs.

The Head of Department Voter Education and Publicity, INEC, Bayelsa State, Mr. Wilfred Ifogah, who announced the adjournment after the session was reconvened by 7 pm on Sunday, said there are challenges in a coalition of some units and wards results of the two local government areas.

Tension is currently high in the oil rich state over the results of the remaining two local governments.

But in all, the shoddy conduct of the election, the first under President Bola Tinubu, has further dampened trust in the electoral umpire, which had dashed hopes of credible election in the country by walking back on its promises to deploy technology to check electoral fraud during the 2023 general elections.

And the judicial system effectively sanctioning the shortcomings by its various verdicts in the aftermath of the polls, many had predicted a return to the dark days.

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With scenes of violence and vote rigging witnessed at polling stations in the affected states, many have begun to draw parallels between the Prof. Yakubu Mahmood led INEC and the era of the infamous Maurice Iwu, who presided over the heavily flawed 2007 general election.

“We are officially back to the Maurice Iwu era of electoral banditry,” noted human rights lawyer, Inibehe Effiong. “They will start taunting their opponents to “go to court”. Criminals, who steal the electoral will of the people are not scared of the Judiciary.”

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