From Paul Osuyi, Asaba
TONGUES are still wagging in Delta State over the recently concluded local government poll where the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state won all 25 available chairmanship seats and majority of the over 420 councillorship seats, albeit controversially.
The electoral umpire, Delta State Independent Electoral Commission (DSIEC) while declaring winners said the All Progressives Congress (APC) won just one councillorship seat in Aniocha North Ward 02 being the home of Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu.
Chairman of DSIEC, Mr. Mike Ogbodu who supervised the announcement of results and declaration of winners said 59 councillorship candidates of the PDP had earlier been returned unopposed across various electoral wards, in accordance with Section 46(1) of DSIEC Law, 2017.
But the announcement of the poll results was not without controversies, as the APC had earlier kicked, calling for an outright cancellation of the entire exercise on the ground that the process was compromised ab-initio, and that fresh election should be conducted.
Chairman of APC in the state, Jones Erue described the election as a “shambles exercise” that was not only marred by widespread violence, but conducted in substantial non-compliance to the provisions of DSIEC Law 2017.
In fact, doubts over the conduct of credible election started even when the date of the exercise was yet to be fixed. The dissolution of the former board of DSIEC headed by Mr. Moses Ogbe set the stage for the controversies.
Ogbe’s DSIEC was inaugurated in 2013 by the immediate past administration of Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, to run a term of five years. But the board was dissolved in an alleged suspicious circumstance in September 2017 by the state House of Assembly through an executive bill seeking amendments to some sections of DSIEC Law.
The swiftness with which the lawmakers attended to the amendment bill, and subsequently cleared the nominees for the new board heightened the suspicion in the mind of the opposition that the new DSIEC Law was a “contrived tool” to birth magic wands in the election.
The opposition insisted that the review of the law was haphazardly done with the intention to achieve a premeditated objective and with the possibility of DSIEC colluding with state powers to impose political cronies as council chairmen and ward councillors.
Particularly, the governor, Ifeanyi Okowa was accused of hand picking card carrying members of the his party, the PDP, into the new DSIEC board, which according to some leaders of opposition parties in the state, lacked the needed freedom and independence to conduct credible poll.
But the governor stuck to his guns, insisting that he would not run local government councils with appointed caretaker committees but with elected officials since the tenure of the subsisting officials at the time expired in October, 2017.
To the state House of Assembly that amended the old law, it described it as obsolete and out of tune with present circumstances, explaining that the dissolution of the former board was prompted by defects and shortcomings in the law establishing it, while the amended bill is to enhance electoral process in the state.
Having been constituted, the new DSIEC rolled out the timetable for the conduct of the poll, and blew the whistle for intensive campaigns by the various participating political parties and their candidates.
Interestingly, the PDP campaigned by way of organising public rallies in all local government headquarters where flags were presented to chairmanship and councillorship candidates with a charge to deepen the campaign from home to home.
APC and its candidates also played their part to sell themselves to the electorate with the party chairman, Mr. Erue maintaining that the party was very much on ground than the PDP, and that it would spring surprises at the election.
“Every time they talk that APC is not on ground, we don’t believe in politics of newspaper and social media, we believe in politics of going to the grassroots and talking to your neighbour that there is need to change the system.
“We are on ground more than the PDP; we are more popular and more acceptable. We know that the people are finished with PDP because the hardship is too much. PDP knows that they have failed.
“And the council election, we know that it is organised by the state, but we decided that we are going to beat them in their own game. We are coming out to let them know that we are on ground,” Erue had boasted.
But the outcome was not a reflection of what Erue expected as the PDP swept the poll said to have been marred by violence in some areas.
Elections in Ethiope East and Ughelli North, for instance, could not proceed due to the magnitude of violence. The exercise had to be rescheduled in the two areas of which the APC eventually pulled out.
48 hours to the election, the APC had raised the alarm of alleged plots by the PDP to manufacture results ahead of the poll, and unleash terror on voters on the day of the election.
Director of Media and Publicity of APC Campaign Organisation in Aniocha South, Nnamdi Ofonye who raised the alarm alleged that voting materials were already in the hands of members of the ruling party.
“They have recruited thugs from both within and outside the locality and stockpiled arms which they will use on innocent voters having seen that the PDP is no longer an option for the people. We were also reliably informed that all the ad-hoc staff who are civil servants are under serious threats to return all PDP candidates or risk outright sack or demotion,” Ofonye further alleged.
But state publicity secretary of the PDP, Ifeanyi Osuoza in a swift reaction described the allegations as baseless, noting that the complaints by APC are like “that of a lazy man blaming his tools for a poor job.”
Osuoza said there was no atom of truth in the allegations, adding that the PDP had campaigned vigorously across the 25 councils, and that APC was afraid of the ground swell of support for the PDP, hence “they have resorted to cheap lies.”
“We went round all the local government areas campaigning for our candidates, and challenged the opposition to do a semblance of campaign so that people will appreciate who they are voting for. But they chose to sit back, and that it has shown clearly that the people are with us, they are making unfounded allegations.
“Nobody has electoral materials in his or her possession within our party. And we don’t believe in thug. Our vigorous campaign and the wonderful achievements of Governor Ifeanyi Okowa will give us landslide victory on Saturday,” the PDP spokesman said shortly before the election.
Meanwhile, the protest against the outcome of the election has been loud in some parts of the state. At Okpe LGA, workers at the council secretariat were locked out by protesting APC women who alleged that the poll was massively rigged by the PDP and the state government.
The embittered protesters carried casket containing names of some PDP chieftains in the area and threatened to occupy the secretariat for seven days.
An APC councillorship candidate for Ward 09 in the locality, Victor Esivwenughu pleaded with Okowa and other PDP chieftains to return his alleged stolen mandate, adding that APC candidates won the election but the outcome was upturned in favour of the PDP.
In Ubulu-Okiti Ward of Aniocha South LGA, officials of DSIEC were held for several hours on the day of the election for not declaring the outcome of the election at the Ward collation centre which the APC insisted that it won.
Chieftain of APC in the community, Gideon Nwaomu said since he joined the opposition in the state over seven eight years ago, his party has been losing elections, and that he had always congratulated the winners “because it is always a family affair.
“But this, my party won the councillorship seat, they should at least concede victory to us in this election and congratulate us. DSIEC refused to declare the result until they got to Asaba where they changed everything,” he said.
Besides, APC members from Aniocha North stormed DSIEC head office in Asaba in protest with placards, demanding that the councillorship seat which they claimed they had won should be returned to them.
The protesters alleged that the state government induced DSIEC to fraudulently replace the APC councillorship candidate for Onicha-Olona Ward 05 of the locality, one Chi Emmanuel Oweazim, who they claimed won the election, with the PDP candidate.
Leader of the protesters and former president general of Olona Youths, Jude Gwadia said the Returning Officer for the Ward election, Mr. Jombo Michael declared Oweazim of the APC as winner alleging that the result changed as soon as it was taken to the DSIEC headquarters.
In a three page petition addressed to DSIEC chairman, and signed on behalf of the APC candidate by C.E. Dumbili from Reuben Izeze and Partners, the counsel wondered why an election won by its client should be manipulated to favour his opponent.
“The APC scored a total of 557 whilst the PDP scored a total of 466 coming behind directly the APC candidate, hence leading to open declaration of the APC candidate as the winner of the council election. It’s our client instructions that an immediate correction is made,” it stated.
However, the PDP said its candidates won the election fair and square, describing APC in the state as “a gathering of jokers, rabble rousers, unfortunate politicians and failed seekers of aspirations and ambitions.”
The party’s publicity secretary in the state, Mr. Michael Osuoza in a statement said the outcome of the election was a favourable referendum of the performance of the Governor Ifeanyi Okowa- led administration, and an indicator of the direction the 2019 election will follow. “It is unfortunate that the APC in Delta State has, like the proverbial ostrich, buried its head in the sand and is totally oblivious of the political realities on ground in Delta State, that the PDP is unshakable, immovable and unperturbed by their rantings and wailings,” Osuoza stated.
In a tacit support for the PDP, the state chapter of Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC) said the state government was sincere in providing a relatively good ambience for free and fair election, regretting however that all stakeholders have a share in the blame over the violence recorded.
According to IPAC chairman, Mr. Fred Obi, irrespective of some negative comments emanating from some quarters, “we believe that every sector has a share in the blame- the outcome of the election.
“To this end no one should turn Delta State into a theatre of war just because of an election. What has happened is part of the learning curve and we pray that 2019 should be freer, fairer and more peaceful than the just concluded council election,” IPAC chairman said.