From: Okey Sampson, Aba
Abia State has in recent times become home to all manner of electoral absurdities with the supposed umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) being at the centre of the abracardabra that has characterised the announcement of election results in the state.
After the controversy that surrounded the announcement of the 2014 governorship election in the state in which results of some local government areas were cancelled but strangely annulled, one had thought that officials of INEC in the state would have learnt their lessons.
What happened on March 5 after the Abia North rerun in which the election was declared inconclusive in the morning before party agents at the district headquarters, Ohafia, only to be declared conclusive in the afternoon at INEC headquarters, Umuahia, without agents of the opposing parties present, shows that INEC had learnt nothing.
Prior to March 5, the day for the election proper, while the Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA) candidate and the former governor of Abia State, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu was busy campaigning and selling himself to the electorate, his main opponent and his party were busy at the same time perfecting their strategies to get victory through the back door.
What was to be expected on the election day began to unfold the evening preceding the D-day. On the said Friday evening, hell was nearly let loose as irate youths attacked the convoy of senior top officials of the state government
of Abia North extraction who were said to have gone to the headquarters of Bende Local Government Area and attempted to do something funny at the INEC office located within the local government headquarters.
These officials, who were said to have gone to the INEC office in a convoy of seven vehicles ostensibly to engage in acts that would swing the pendulum in favour of their candidates, however, got what they never bargained for as some vigilant youths stopped them from having their way.
It never ended there. The youths were reported to have been so infuriated that they also deflated the tyres of the vehicles with which the officials came with and told the government officials in their face that those days were gone when the PDP in the state used harassment and intimidation to win votes in Abia.
Within a space of time, soldiers and security personnel were reportedly alerted and this led to the condoning off of the entire local government headquarters as only accredited persons were allowed in and out of the area.
On Saturday, March 5, the election day proper, the ruling party adopted all manner of antics including the use of thugs to ensure victory for its candidate. At the end of the day, election rigging and thuggery made INEC to cancel election in eight wards of the senatorial district.
In a place like Umuhu Ezechi in Bende Local Government Area, voting stopped at 2.00pm as stipulated by INEC and the people gathered at the ward election centre for the announcement of the result, but the returning officer was nowhere to be found. The information received was that the returning officer was taken to Bende, the local government headquarters by a top notch of the ruling party from where he directed that the result be brought to Bende.
The youths of the area, sensing that the result would be tampered with as they said had been the case in the past, insisted the result must be declared at the ward collection centre or else INEC officials would not leave the community.
The youths held on till about 7.00pm when soldiers arrived and after pacifying them, accompanied the result to Bende.
Elsewhere in Abia North, there were pockets of violence in some areas which led to the arrest of five thugs armed with guns and were said to have terrorized voters in some areas and snatched ballot boxes in other areas.
Those arrested had been arraigned for electoral violence. Armed with this violence that led to the cancellation of the results of eight wards, which is an antithesis to the electoral law, the returning officer, Prof. Nwankwo Ojike in the morning of Sunday, declared the election inclusive, citing portions of electoral law. Strangely, the same returning officer, who had in the morning announced that the election was inconclusive, later in the afternoon, declared the PDP candidate, Mao Ohuabunwa winner, saying he acted on the directive of his employers, INEC.
It, therefore, became crystal clear that he (the returning officer) was led by the nose to make the later declaration. The question then remains, having declared the election inconclusive before all the party agents who signed and collected the result sheets, apart from perhaps PDP, which other party agent as required by law was at INEC office in Umuahia when the second declaration was made?
As it appears, the last may not have been heard about the Abia North rerun election.