A few days to last weekend’s senatorial re-run election for Abia North, a friend of mine, who works with the state civil service, had called me from Umuahia, the state capital. He said he was not in doubt that Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, irrespective of party platform, would win – based on self-recognition and his general acceptance. But the caller had one fear: “OUK’s problem has never been with getting the votes. He will get them. He has always got them. The problem is with the collation and the final tallying of results. That is where they always change the figures. ”
I knew he was stating the obvious, but I felt comforted by the conviction that the current CHANGE era in Nigeria would have taken care of such shenanigans. Obviously, I was gravely mistaken. Abia remains one of the last bastions of the ‘PDP Way’.
And what is this PDP Way? In the course of my unofficial study of the politics of some of the political godfathers, thrown up by over 10 years of PDP rule, a few years ago, I discovered one constant trait in all of them: They would do everything to ‘win’. If you have to rig, then rig. It must never be heard that you were out-rigged. If you have to snatch ballot boxes to win, so be it. If you must engage in multiple thumb-printing, shoot into the air to scare away authentic voters, use thugs to intimidate the electorate or arrange the outright kidnap of both your opponent and INEC officials, just do it.
After you have secured ‘victory’, it would then be left to the lawyers and the judges and money-power to do the rest – of course, not too many opponents could outspend you, if you have the PDP financial war chest at your disposal. Impunity is the name! The era of ‘capture’!
But, with the routing of PDP in last general elections, one expected that the era of CHANGE would have abolished this old PDP way of doing things. But this does not appear to be so, going by what transpired in Abia North senatorial district at the weekend.
The Appeal Court had ordered a fresh election, following its cancellation of the warped 2015 election that produced PDP’s Mao Ohuabunwa as Senator. At that time, agents of the T.A. Orji-led government in the state had literally aborted the collation of the results at the designated INEC centre, hijacked the electoral materials to Umuahia and, from there, declared the PDP candidate winner.
But the then INEC returning officer, Dr. Chigoziem Ihekweaba, whose statutory duty it was to declare the result, soon distanced himself from the result declared in Umuahia. He deposed to a court affidavit that the declared result was not the same that he collated, adding that what was announced was an altered version.
Last weekend, one whole year after the ignominy of 2015, the PDP, still stuck in its old ways, did the same thing all over. Several hours after the re-run had been declared inconclusive by the new returning officer, and all honest men and women retired home to await further directives from the INEC headquarters on the date for the supplementary election, PDP went clandestine to again upturn the popular will.
Of course, calling for a supplementary election was the most reasonable thing for INEC to do. The two frontrunners, PDP’s Mao Ohuabunwa and PPA’s Orji Kalu, were separated by less than 200 votes. And without results from as many as nine wards (where alleged PDP operatives had either snatched voting materials or made voting impossible, to forestall bulk votes for their opponents), it was unthinkable that a winner would be announced. The vote of nine wards was too huge to discountenance in a senatorial election, especially when the margin is so narrow, as the figures showed on Saturday night/Sunday morning.
But the PDP goons soon moved in – like they did after INEC announced the cancellation of the results from three local government areas during the last governorship election.
Having failed to intimidate the INEC officials (in the presence of the agents of other parties) into declaring their candidate winner at the designated Ohafia Local Government headquarters collation centre, they again moved everything to Umuahia, from where they would return to Ohafia, on Sunday afternoon, to announce that the inconclusive election of the previous day had suddenly become conclusive and that PDP had won, even when all the conditions that necessitated the stance of the previous day remained unchanged.
The reasoning, we were made to understand later, was that there cannot be a supplementary election for a re-run election – I still don’t know which law books they’re quoting from! But, several weeks before the re-run, the PDP was said to have concluded that all it needed was to have a favourable vote differential of one single vote at the end of voting. The 195 votes difference between its 26,009 and Kalu’s 25,814 was, therefore, more than enough. It got INEC to reverse its earlier position on conducting a supplementary election in the shut-out wards.
But rather than wondering whether the system would allow PDP get away with it again, the focus should really be on strengthening our legal statutes to effectively punish electoral malpractices. It’s not enough to retrieve stolen mandates from electoral thieves, and allow them to walk free; time has come for us to go a step further by bringing perpetrators to book. Until politicians and their supporters begin to go to jail for electoral malpractices, there might never be enough deterrence to stop future election riggers from trying their luck.
If this is not addressed now, it would then mean that, in the event of future re-run elections, whoever has an army of thugs and guns can unleash it on his opponent’s strongest areas, to frustrate voting there. At the end of the day, the votes that would be counted would be those from the criminal’s own areas of strength. And since there would be no further re-run of a re-run, INEC would be forced to declare the thug-owning politician the winner.
Of course, I can already anticipate the posers: Would I consider an election free and fair only when my candidate wins? What else would you expect from a Kalu employee trying to justify his pay?
My answer is simple: There is hardly any election that is perfect, but there has to be an acceptable level beyond which we mustn’t degenerate. While I can overlook a little ‘tweaking’ here and there, I abhor this in-your-face, the-devil-may-care rigging that our politicians are allowed to get away with, in the name of election.
As for working for Kalu, I simply refuse to be blackmailed into silence and allow injustice free reign, just because I’m involved (apologies Odimegwu-Ojukwu).
And, let’s face it, everybody works for somebody else! Either as employee, client or customer.
The moment we get this fact straight, then we can dispassionately address the recurrent electoral injustice in Abia. It is only then that we can begin to appreciate the fact that Abia seems sworn to the oath of flawed elections. Better still, there seems to exist, in Abia State, some deity (like the historic Aro Long Juju) that makes every INEC official to double speak, be drained of all courage whenever it matters most and to do the most inexplicable things. Because, what happened in Abia last weekend followed a familiar pattern. If that was the type of re-run the framers of our constitution had in mind, then the Appeal Court would have had no reason canceling the first election in the first place.
Painfully, this illegality pattern has continued to play out since Kalu first indicated interest to run for this senatorial seat in 2011. At one point, soldiers were drafted to keep him under unofficial house arrest for the duration of voting. And when, after balloting, they still could not defeat him, they went to Umuahia and simply wrote the results. And this is a man they claim is not popular with his people? Yet they’re too scared to allow his people determine his electoral fate freely and fairly.