By Iheanacho Nwosu
The declaration of Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) candidate, Mao Ohuabunwa, as winner of last weekend’s Abia North senatorial re-run election by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has been roundly condemned with some officials of the electoral agency and lawyers labeling it a flagrant violation of electoral laws.
They said the exercise should have been declared inconclusive since election did not hold in some wards.
The election, which held on March 5, had Dr Orji Uzor Kalu of Progressives Peoples Alliance (PPA) and Dr David Agba Onuoha (Bourdex) of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) as leading contestants.
INEC’s returning officer, Ojike Nwankpa, announced that Ohuabunwa polled 26,009, while Kalu and Onuoha scored 25,814 and 13,633 votes respectively.
Candidates of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Labour Party, Nwanna Okoro, and Oji Nwachukwu, polled 976 votes and 147 votes, respectively.
Nwankpa had initially declared the election inconclusive but reversed himself following pressures from PDP supporters.
However, faulting Nwankpa’s U-turn, a retired resident electoral commissioner and a serving director of INEC said the returning officer should not have declared Ohuabunwa winner of the election.
The duo, who pleaded for anonymity, insisted that it was wrong to declare a winner when election did not take place in eight wards . “I know the returning officer merely bowed to threats and pressure from an interested crowd who can even go to the point of wanting to mob him. But, the right thing would have been to declare the exercise inconclusive and conduct a supplementary election.”
He dismissed claims that a supplementary election was not legally approved in a rerun election. “I don’t know where some people got it from, he should have resisted pressure being mounted on him and declare the election inconclusive .
“The margin of victory is also too narrow . A returning officer should have taken things like these into consideration before taking a decision.”
For the INEC director, who does not want his name mentioned, “what happened in Abia is not in tandem with the law. I know that if the returning officer had sought an advice from our lawyers, he would have been guided properly. He should have stood his ground and declare the election inconclusive. “
Supporting the position of the two INEC officials, a legal practitioner, Jude Okolo submitted that it was wrong for INEC not to have held election in several wards in a senatorial election and still declare somebody winner of such election. He said: “It is a flagrant violation of electoral laws. INEC should have known that it is legally reprehensible to disenfranchise such a large population in a district election”.
Another lawyer, Clement Ibegbu criticised the electoral body for bowing to what he called the evil machinations of politicians. “Why is it that INEC always allow its name to be dragged in the mud by some of its staff? What would it have lost if it had done the right thing?” he queried.
He stressed that there is room for a supplementary election in every election that “those who are supposed to vote are denied, either as a result of violence or other reasons. We saw it in Kogi, we saw it in Bayelsa . I am surprised that anybody would justify what happened simply because he is benefitting from it .”
Meanwhile, state chairman of APGA, Augustine Ehiemere, described the result as a sham, saying that “it`s all fraud and unacceptable to us.”
Mr. Ehiemere said in a telephone interview that “PDP is in control of the instrument of power and the local government councils where election results were manipulated.”