Geoffrey Anyanwu, Awka
The incumbent Senator representing Anambra Central Senatorial District and candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) in the last Saturday National Assembly election, Sir Victor Umeh who lost the election to Senator Uche Ekwunife of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has attributed his loss to what he called institutional conspiracy.
Umeh in this interview with Sunday Sun spoke about the intrigues that played out in the election and the role the vice presidential candidate of the PDP, Mr Peter Obi played to rob him of victory. Excerpts:
What really happened at the election on Saturday, February 23?
Well, the elections on Saturday in my senatorial district, I will use my senatorial district as a reference point, was marred by gross irregularities, and violence and voters intimidation. The INEC lost control of the process. One was that INEC made a guideline that accreditation must be made with the smart card reader and also warned that any polling unit where the card reader was not used, that the election results will not be accepted. But there was general non-functioning of the card reader in many parts of the Anambra Central Senatorial zone. The process was not even; with the manual register. You know, people were just coming and queuing and voting and INEC accepted the results. So, it was hypocrisy of some sort. They were shouting it and we were very hopeful that with the smart card reader, the election would be managed properly. As soon as they dispensed the use of card reader in my senatorial zone, it became obvious that they’ve lost and today is 26th of February; three days after that election and the Anambra State Senatorial District election results have not been announced. There were challenges, violence marred the election exercise in Obosi area in Idemili North; there were cancellations in many polling units in other places yet INEC is not making elaborate plans to go and repeat the elections in those places. They had their card reader report so it’s very easy for them to see that the card reader was not used in accrediting voters in over 80 per cent of Anambra Central Senatorial District. That led to abuse and manipulation of the election. So, the exercise is not credible, it’s not transparent, it’s not free; the voters were coerced into voting for a particular party; that it’s only PDP that should be voted for in the elections, with intimidation of the voters. They did that using various platforms to intimidate the voters that they must vote for PDP for president and all National Assembly positions. So, the exercise was not free and fair. Voters were not allowed to use their conscience to decide on whom to vote. They were pigeonholed into voting for PDP or nobody.
INEC said it will use the police copy of the duplicate forms of result sheet from areas that has problems to complete their collation, what do you say to that?
That is why I said that INEC lost the control of the process. They should know that there is no way the INEC can boldly tell the world that they’ve lost the originals of the result sheets for the election and go and pick carbon copies from the people on the street and compute a result to declare a winner. It’s not done. The originals of the results are the ones that are acceptable by the courts. So you cannot tender that one by any means. It’s not possible. So, using that one to declare the results is a travesty. They know that it is not permissible because the results INEC must tender in the courts as results of the election must be the originals in their custody. So, if they said they don’t have the originals in their custody and you want to rely on purported carbon copies from other sources to make a declaration, they should know that the right decision to make would have been to cancel the election and repeat it because it’s a prima-facia proof that they lost the control of the election. You’ve lost your materials, you are the umpire, you don’t have records again and you want people to believe that what you are collecting from people is the authentic result of that election. So, it’s already an admission that there was violence that destroyed what they had in that election and if violence marred the exercise, the normal thing to do is to cancel it. So, they can’t be lazy, trying to fish for numbers to declare a result. It’s not done.
If they go ahead to do that, what will you do?
The election will be set aside in the court. They can’t do that. They know that it is wrong. Three days after the exercise, they have not been able to declare the results. They cannot do that under the law because they don’t have the results anymore. Apart from that, the non-use of the card readers for accreditation, led to gross abuse. So the voting was not controlled by the mechanisms put in place, card reader; you must be identified, the card reader has to recognize you and verify your bio-data before it ticks you good to go and vote. There was nothing like that. So, it was a primitive election, let me put it that way. Like in the olden days, when you rush in with a busload of people, they will queue and vote and thumb print and put in the box and you count and make a return with that. In Nri town, my agents there were calling on me helplessly that there were so many thugs brought by the PDP candidate and they were bringing people to come and thumb print and put in. I called the REC, I called the police, I called the army, two hours after; nothing came, no rescue. I was forced to go there by myself and when I got there, I was almost mobbed. I had to run away for safety and they were doing that in my presence and that is the result they have put together as the authentic result for Nri. How can you do that type of thing? Nri is the home town of the PDP candidate, Uche Ekwunife and tomorrow she will come and say she has won. That is the kind of election they do here. Some youths were caught with multiple packs of PVCs. They were arrested with those things. When I was running for my safety, they started pursuing me with a bus and they ran into the soldiers. The soldiers apprehended them and searched their vehicle, recovered hordes of PVC cards, packed neatly with them. So, what they were doing, they were bringing people, they go there, give them the cards to go and thumbprint and they go and bring another set of people. That was what they were doing. So, INEC shouldn’t have allowed that kind of thing to happen at all. As soon as they knew that the card readers had failed, they should have called off the election because that is their guideline, that no result generated outside accreditation with the card reader will be accepted. That was their rule and they couldn’t enforce their rule.
People have been calling, getting worried; mostly from outside this state when they began to see the result from your senatorial zone, and taken note of what you have done so far in the one year you have been in the Senate, so at what point did problem come, what really went wrong?
In fact, my colleagues had called me to express dismay from the news filtering out from Anambra Central Senatorial zone. When we were leaving in December to go and prepare for this elections, everybody thought that it will be a must return for me, going by my representation of the people and contributions to national debates in the Senate. Indeed this morning, Alhaji Sidi Ali called me and asked me how has it been, I told him what happened and he started crying; an old man, Alhaji Sidi Ali, he said how can this thing happen, that it is a tragedy. He described it as a tragedy for Nigeria that the Senate will not have a person like me, with what I have done. He cried; I was consoling him. So, the election was there for me to win until about 10 days to that exercise. Peter Obi ran round the state and confused a lot of institutional leaders; both religious leaders and other leaders that he must have members of the National Assembly with him when he becomes vice president so that something must be done for the state to vote for PDP both for presidency and national assembly elections because they will work together. Out of emotions and sentiments, naively, they succumbed to that and they moved in against me in the whole place; both the town union leaders, Ohanaeze, the church leaders and all that; they started announcing that it is PDP all the way. Vote for PDP and rural women, they couldn’t withstand the intimidation, so they keyed in. These were people that were happy and clapping for me everywhere and getting ready to vote for me. I ran the best campaign in this exercise, visited the 58 communities with proof of quality services I rendered. So, there was no comparison between me and any other candidate in this senatorial zone, but when Peter Obi cried to them that he needs to work with members of the PDP in the National Assembly, I continued to tell them, that a potential is nothing until it is realized. Let us keep a valve, in case he doesn’t win so that we have people who are competent who can continue representing the people at the National Assembly. In fact, in radio talks, I said this very clearly, that by this Tuesday; that the eyes of everybody will be opened, that they will see that the noise made will translate to nothing without running the risk of saying that I’m campaigning against Peter Obi because I knew as a national politician, I saw the indices and I knew. I was telling them not to do a sweeping vote. I didn’t say that they should not vote for Peter Obi. I didn’t campaign against Peter Obi at all. I was saying, vote for him and follow it up with prayers for him. That’s what I said. That I have a mission I want to continue with in the National Assembly on behalf of our people. They turned deaf ears to that because he was crying from pillar to post that he needs the National Assembly people to work with, in the presidency and I said, what if he fails to win, what shall be our recourse, what will be our fallback? As results emerged from the states across the country and from what the PDP is now saying that they have lost confidence in the election, it’s obvious they have lost the election, so, if they have lost the election; where does that leave us as a people? The Anambra Central Senatorial District; the young woman who rode on the back of Peter Obi on this wirlwind movement, what is she going to do, who is she going to challenge in the National Assembly, nobody. I told them; don’t do this, that this thing is dangerous. Let us have good representation in the National Assembly. I’m not fighting Peter Obi, even if they have become President and Vice President, himself and Atiku, I won’t fight them, what am I fighting them for? I will go there and continue with objective, courageous and bold representation for our people. I made it clear. Out of emotion and sentiments, they mobilized all the platforms against us and look at the win, despite the intimidation of the voters, people still voted for me in the numbers they did. But the force was so heavy and the management of the election by the INEC didn’t help matters. So, we lost the grip of the election when they bypassed the smart card reader accreditation, it became a porous exercise. It’s unfortunate, but that’s what we are going to face right now.
What does this situation portend for the state, the Igbo nation and Nigeria?
Obviously, the Igbo should be in distress again, I am not saying that I would have done all by myself, but I know that I was spiritually mobilized and determined to continue to anchor the demand for equity and fairness in Nigeria through the National Assembly. It’s a job I started doing in the past one year and I have achieved that nationwide recognition as somebody who will not take any nonsense against our people, so we have lost that opportunity clearly. The young woman who ran through the PDP will do nothing, absolutely nothing. Her targets in the National Assembly are not my targets, my targets are how to restore the dignity of Igbo man in Nigeria, how to restore the rights of Igbo man in Nigeria, how to ensure that there is equity and fairness in the things we do in Nigeria as a nation. These are my targets and her targets are how to pursue juicy committees where she will make money, whether our people are being trampled upon she cannot speak, she can’t get up. I did revolutionary things in the past one year and drew the attention of the Nigerian nation to the plight of the Igbo people, the marginalization the Igbo people have suffered in Nigeria, I brought them through motions to the centre stage and boldly argued those motions and today, I don’t know who can do it, others may be able do it, but certainly not the person from Anambra Central. I don’t have anything to say more than to pray for our people, this one is bad enough today, but they’ll see the porosity of their action in a very short time. The conspiracy Peter Obi weaved against me in this election which they succumbed to will haunt our people. To have somebody who can stand up in Nigeria without fear to tell both the President of Nigeria and Nigerian people that this thing they are doing to Igbo people are not good. It is rare to get it, I was gearing up to push it to a level where I will sensationalize it in the next four years and the result will be huge for our people. So, Peter has manipulated our leaders who I can say succumbed to his manipulation due to shortsightedness. My going to the Senate does not harm Peter Obi being Vice President, if they haven’t succumbed to the invitation for them to vote for all PDP in this election, if they had continued to give him support, vote for PDP for Presidency then vote for National Assembly candidates of your choice not even vote Victor Umeh, I would have been able to scale through because I was a clear choice of the people. But they now decided to tell them to vote all PDP candidates, so I was running against a very huge institutional conspiracy that was difficult to break. All the places I was celebrated during my campaigns, including the week of the election, the result were shocking but still when the numbers come out finally you will see that people despite intimidation still believed in me. There was no chance given to me by what they did, but those votes I got are genuine votes. So, I submit that this election was not free and fair in Anambra Central Senatorial zone because the voters were not allowed to vote their conscience. They used all kind of threats to get people to vote for PDP all the way and you know religion is the opium of the masses, when clergymen begin to force people to vote for a particular party openly, the masses followed that direction, that’s what happened in this election. That’s why I am saying that it is very unfortunate, it’s a sad development, but God knows why it is like this, but there will be another day. Those who were part of this decision making to kill this mission that I have may have been able to do that temporarily, God will create a way at his own time, but I sincerely feel pained that the chance I was seeking to extend my mission at the National Assembly on behalf of Igbo people has been cut short now howbeit unintelligently by people who were manipulated and they didn’t look at the bigger picture.
Are you throwing in the towel?
Well, this exercise is not an easy one, I have been through judicial processes in the past, I knew what it took me to get redress, very painstaking efforts and all that. This one now that they have done in an outlandish manner, there may be other openings to go to do that. Card reader evidence, the courts have not accepted card reader evidence in an election petitions and the Electoral Act which we amended to incorporate the card reader in the Electoral Act was not accented to by the President, so these are the loopholes they exploited to do that. There are other issue of the PDP candidate been published as APC candidate after the primary closed she jumped to PDP and became candidate, so we are looking at the law guiding substitution to see what will happen. But in the whole, because of the way I was stopped in this election by the institutional leaders make me not to bother with anything, I leave it with God. The leadership you desire is what you get, they cannot say that after praising me for the gallant representation that I put forward, that Uche Ekwunife will be a substitute to my work, they cannot say that. So for doing that I leave with them and to their conscience, I am an Igbo man, I’ll remain a proud Igbo man, anytime God gives me the opportunity I will continue with this work I am doing. Today, God knows why it is so and to answer your throwing in the towel, I am not throwing in the towel, but I will not embark on a fruitless journey just because I don’t want to throw in the towel, so what they want let them have it, time will tell.