By Ebere Wabara
FOR the avoidance of doubt, the former two-time governor of Abia State and global entrepreneurial icon, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, cannot give up on the subsisting political challenge in his constituency until he reclaims his stolen mandate to represent the Abia North Senatorial District There is a complicit institutional disposition by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) towards the instrumentality of zonal representation in the Abia North senatorial election and rerun poll. This standpoint is hinged on the unassailable fact that the returning officer for the prefatory March 28, 2015, election, Dr. Ihekweaba Chukwugoziem, had declined declaration of the result of the poll at Ohafia Local Government headquarters on grounds of personal conviction over falsification, mutilation and inflation of election figures in favour of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Chukwugoziem’s laudatory position was later reaffirmed by the Appeal Court sitting in Owerri, which consequently ordered a rerun. Curiously, the INEC in Umuahia had suspiciously appointed another returning officer to proclaim the PDP candidate in the stalemated poll, Mr. Mao Ohuabunwa, the winner!
It has become apposite to appeal to President Muhammadu Buhari to intervene in the blossoming PDP audaciousness, brazenness, effrontery, rascality, lawlessness, electoral violence/banditry and other innumerable acts of dubiousness, duplicity and malfeasance during polls in Abia State generally and Abia North particularly. This was how the Rivers State insanity began and has today become so monstrous, highly inflammable and almost irredeemable that the Federal Government seems hapless and at its wit’s end. The nature of Abia PDP deviancy is such that if not checkmated it will make the Rivers’ episode look like a child’s play. If the PDP warlords are allowed to keep getting away with their electoral insurgency, subversive pastime and political terrorism, the inferno will spread to other PDP states and, by extrapolation, Nigeria. There should have been a balance of terror by other parties before the federal might. Weaponry of mass destruction is not exclusive to the floundering and vanishing PDP. What is happening in Abia North is the last straw the PDP is clutching before their inevitable imminent implosion and subsequence of extinction.
From all manifestations of irrefutability, it has been reaffirmed by multifarious agencies, observers, individuals, groups, stakeholders, erstwhile electoral officials/directors/commissioners and independents that the March 5, 2016, Abia North senatorial rerun was monumentally and unprecedentedly flawed by every shred of polling imagination and engineering. The level of incontestable electoral banditry that characterised this particular rerun is unparalleled in Nigeria’s political history, especially since the revalidation of democracy.
The confusion that has trailed the rerun arose simply because of the weird decision of the representative of INEC to embark on a volte-face reversal of proclamations made earlier on the inconclusiveness of the polling. This action was grossly irresponsible, needless and anticipatorily unacceptable to the victim of the exercise. Indeed, I have argued elsewhere that based on the misconduct of some of its staff, the INEC may pass as the most corrupt government agency in the country today.
One oppositional fellow had asked me after my post-election analysis that would I have taken the same position of blaming the INEC Returning Officer had the outcome gone in favour of my principal, Dr. Orji Kalu. Some charlatans who contribute to national debates just make declarations that are clearly illogical. Is anyone saying that self-reversal on inconclusive elections is sauce for all? The point is that such an abrupt and suspicious action can never be sauce both for the goose (winner) and the purported gander (loser). At the risk of repetition, it is not about Dr. Kalu winning, but enthroning and institutionalising a good electoral threshold that will remain sustainable for the veritable deepening of our democracy. The INEC must get its act together and conduct credible polls—that is the point, not Dr. Kalu reclaiming his mandate or otherwise.
As the tribunal begins its sitting in Umuahia presently, I expect that in the event of the likely directive for another rerun, if not the declaration of Dr. Kalu as the rightful winner of the earlier rerun, the INEC, the Federal Government, security agencies, voters, observers and all stakeholders—and who is not?—should do their utmost and ensure that there is no illegality or blatancy of theft this time. We cannot continue to vacillate on just a mere rerun election.
A few Abians must not be continually allowed to flagrantly violate electoral laws through brazen intimidation and/or compromise of frightened INEC officials who lack state protection. Why would a former governor and the state leadership of the PDP storm the INEC office after polling and moments later the electoral umpires begin to chirp? Such interjections and meddlesomeness should be foreclosed by the national headquarters of INEC through adequate protection of its local officials who are left at the mercy of rampaging power lords bent on upturning people’s will and express mandate catalyzed by official instruments of terror.
What is the compelling reason for declaration of a final result when elections did not hold in some wards? Such disenfranchisement is antithetical to democratic norms. It is intriguing that up till now the INEC returning officer in the scandalous rerun, Ojike Nwankpa, has not been publicly interrogated to explain what happened. I had even expected that beyond the INEC domestic inquisition of Nwankpa, the police should have investigated this man.
Moving forward, if the tribunal orders another rerun, I am certain that the person who will function as the returning officer will not be the same characterisation with Nwankpa. Otherwise, we shall be moving forth and back on this matter ad infinitum. I say this because after the electorate had expressed their preferences, the ace of the matter thereafter will rest on the shoulders of the returning officer.
There was no basis for the affirmation of Ohuabunwa as the winner of the election that was not concluded. Similarly, if the reverse had been Dr. Kalu there would equally be no grounds for declaring him winner of a running election the end of which nobody could hazard a guess. The optimality of the circumstance would have been the conduct of a supplementary election to take care of wards where elections did not hold and which are Dr. Kalu’s strongholds. It is the extremity of stupidity for anyone to justify the illegality of March 5 in Abia North even if you are a beneficiary or an accomplice.
It is obvious that the March 5 rerun was roguishly flawed because of widespread violence and outright rigging. This is hoping that the next rerun, if or when fixed, would not be like the previous one, in terms of malpractices domiciled by the PDP. The INEC should do its best to ensure that the next exercise is not marred again by wanton irregularities. This is quite possible through the institutionalization of consistency in its modus operandi. The last controversy smacked of double standard that was quite avoidable no matter the pressure from the Abia State government and former political stalwarts who are ready to stake their lives in bovine frustration of Dr. Kalu for reasons that border on pedestrianism and amnesic ingratitude.
Ahead of the next rerun, possibly—in the absence of clinical declaration of Dr. Kalu as the rightful winner of the March 5, 2016, rerun poll—the INEC should strive after the foreclosure of indecorous staccato announcement of results. The agency cannot lose anything by sticking to electoral propriety. Conversely, any slight faux pas taints and rubbishes its reputational pedigree. This is the more reason it should not allow returning officers and ad hoc supervisors/resident electoral officials to diminish its image because of lucre or anticipatory recompense. The corrupt officials are giving the agency a very bad name.
The conflict between the returning officer and resident electoral colleague of his must be addressed. As in the case of our subject, both were at loggerheads as they gave contradictory decisions culminating in the needless controversy that has gripped the rerun. In fact, the disagreement questions the integrity of the INEC. The development is compounded by the fact that the agency’s antecedents are not particularly credible as most people believe that the country’s electoral drawbacks are exclusively caused by the umpire.
Why should an INEC official succumb to the whims and caprices of the PDP? Is it that his life would be endangered if he does not capitulate to their selfish desires? What proactive steps does the INEC take to forestall such inducements or intimidation? It is now obvious that it is not the voting that counts anymore but the manipulations between the end of voting, collation and announcement of results. It is at this point that the INEC needs to go the extra mile. Furthermore, the electoral agency should evolve a basic solution in line with statutory electoral provisions to issues of deliberate disenfranchisement by anti-democratic elements who want to commit fraud, non-voting or inconclusive voting in some wards and the criminal invasion of collation centres or the INEC office by desperate political warlords and PDP state governments whose surrogates must be planted in exalted political positions against popular wishes and mandate.
If it were during the time the All Progressives Congress (APC) were in opposition, its members could not have had the temerity and opportunity to be engaging in electoral robbery, as the PDP chaps have stridently birthed. This is why I am shocked that the APC is watching hands akimbo as oppositional forces behave as if no change has taken place in our political trajectory. It has reached a point where the APC should stop the music. If the PDP boys continue in their rampage, 2019 may not be as far as it seems. Ironically, the Supreme Court inexplicably appears to be aiding and abetting them!
The balderdash by the INEC that there cannot be a supplementary election in a rerun and that a winner must emerge at all costs has been dismissed by eminent lawyers and ex-electoral commissioners as lacking no constitutional or electoral law backing. Even for purposes of argument, must some voters be denied their civic right and declaration of a winner by hook or crook? No law will make such a bizarre provision!
If the electoral umpires cannot get an ordinary district rerun poll right for the second time, I shudder to think about a national scenario. The asininities going on in Abia North and the state overall must be halted. The imbecilities have gone on for so long—this is the opportune time to stop it. Such idiocies indicate bohemianism of a few Abians which makes the rest of us from God’s Own State look like morons who are systemically harebrained.
All the Abia PDP baboons, political small fries, tiny tots, mites, moppets, brats, papooses, bambinos, cherubs, striplings, sonnies, urchins, nippers, cubs, whippersnappers, skinheads and ducklings who had irresponsibly and irrationally held Abia North and the state hostage to permanency of electoral roguishness and theft of mandates should begin to pack their bag and baggage as the rigging music is over!
If not for the intrinsic element of status levelling that politics brings about, on what basis will the people’s man, OUK, be competing with his closest rival Ohuabunwa who is relatively unknown and unpopular unlike Dr. Kalu in the serial PDP manipulation taking place in Abia North?
Overall, I have the strong belief this time round that justice and equity will prevail pursuant to the restoration of Dr. Kalu’s delayed victory. The reclamation of his senatorial mandate will be a testament to his independent doggedness, self-effacing candour, level-headedness, peace advocacy, philanthropic superfluity and his people’s love for him as opposed to the surrogacy of his challenger.
The consensual point, even among the receding and boisterous oppositional clan, is that everyone knows that Dr. Kalu is best qualified to represent Abia North in the Senate, but in a democracy, ideally, nobody gives you power on a silver platter. So, the struggle continues unflinchingly as Dr. Kalu’s profound victory is robustly certain.
•Wabara ([email protected]/08055001948) is the media adviser to Dr. Orji Kalu.