•INEC must respect the wish of the people –PPA chairman
… Stakeholders slam electoral body
From Chuks Onuoha, Umuahia
CONFUSION yesterday pervaded Abia State when the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) reversed itself after it had ealierdeclared the Abia North senatorial election rerun inconclusive.
Yesterday morning, at the Ohafia Local Government headquarters, the returning officer, Professor Nwankwo Ojike, had declared the election inconclusive following irregularities leading to the cancellation of elections in some wards across the state.
He had ordered supplementary election in some wards, where results were cancelled.
In the result he released, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu of the Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA), garnered 25,814 votes, while his Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) counterpart, Mao Ohuabunwa scored 26,009 votes.
The All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) candidate, Dr. David Onuoha, scored 13,633 votes; Labour Party (LP) polled 147 votes, while the All Progressives Congress (APC) garnered 976 votes. With 195 votes difference between Ohuabunwa and Kalu, INEC declared the poll inconclusive.
A few hours later, the returning officer at INEC office, Umuahia, changed his position, an action reminiscent what happened during the Abia governorship elections, where the PDP candidate was declared winner.
Following this twist, political observers in Abia have expressed shock and surprise at the turn of events.
During the rerun election on Saturday, Daily Sun learnt that there was heavy shooting and snatching of ballot boxes in some areas in Umunneochi, while violence marred the exercise in some parts of Ohafia, Isuikwuato and Arochukwu.
Following reports from both the INEC officials and party members who worked in those areas, the returning officer declared the election inconclusive, and ordered a supplementary poll in the affected areas before a winner will be announced.
After the returning officers’s pronouncement at Ohafia, PDP agents mounted pressure on him to reverse the decision and declare Ohuabunwa winner.
It took the intervention of security agents who saved the INEC officer from being mobbed by PDP agents and officials for refusing to acede to the request.
Speaking to newsmen yesterday, INEC Public Relations Officer, Mr Edwin Enabor, said it was wrong for Ojike to have declared the election inconclusive as a winner must emerge during a rerun.
However, an Abia North stakeholder, Chief Agu Ojukwu expressed shock at what happened yesterday. He regretted that elections in Nigeria have turned into something that those who want to be fair should not get involved. Ojukwu also stated that the trend poses a threat to democracy, as the electorate are no longer allowed to freely choose who they want to lead them.
He said the trend is worse in Abia, where returning officers are made to reverse earlier decisions.
“What I have learnt is that victory in Nigeria is not about winning, but about grabbing, because ,while some people were working, trying to win through free and fair means, others were working to grab it by force.
“That is what I have experienced. It has taught me a lesson and it has shown me that Nigeria has to be fixed as urgently as possible, because, the more we carry on with unfair practices and unfair processes, the more we endanger the country and the more people will think evil because right now, anybody who tries to win fairly will be looked at like a fool.”
Controversy has always dogged Abia North senatorial elections.
In April 2015, the INEC returning officer refused to announce the result at Ohafia Local Government area headquarters over what he called irregularities and mutilation of result sheets by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
At Umuahia, INEC appointed another returning officer to declare Ohuabunwa winner, whose result was later cancelled by the Court of Appeal leading to last Saturday’s rerun.
In the governorship election, the INEC returning officer had announced the cancellation of the results from Obingwa, Isiala Ngwa and Osisioma Local Government areas following irregularities, but was forced to reserve the decision by former governor Theodore Orji after a meeting.
This led to the declaration of Governor Okezie Ikpeazu winner of the election, which was challenged by APGA candidate, Alex Otti at the tribunal.
In the Abia North rerun, some the wards INEC had earlier ordered supplementary election are Okamu ward in Ohafia, two wards in Bende, two wards in Nkporo, two wards in Arochukwu, and two wards in Umunnechi.
In his reaction, PPA Chairman, Chief Emeka Okafor advised INEC to improve on its performance for the wish of the people to count.
“What I would say simply is that INEC should improve on their duty. From what I saw, they are improving, but they should improve more to make sure that the wish of the people counts, so that whoever wins it will be known that the person worked for it.”
On whether the party would be going to court, Okafor said: “ it is the decision of our candidate, whether he would go to court or not.”