The governorship candidate of the Abundance Nigeria Renewal Party (ANRP) in Akwa Ibom State, Iboro Otu, has said that because of the data in his possession, there are ‘forces’ determined to stop his petition from getting to the Akwa State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal. He believes that the governorship election was fraught with irregularities and wants a rerun to be declared.
Can you explain the circumstances that led to the rejection of your petition at the governorship election tribunal?
I went into the election like every other candidate; bought my form, was nominated by my party and did everything to push my message. I held town hall meetings throughout the state and even took it out of the country to get support. But a few weeks to the race, a lot of things happened; which is the normal politics of intimidation. I come from a political family even though I have never been a politician. Things started going bad with people coming to buy off some members of my team and some of them, in the name of stepping down, were paid off. Seventeen political parties, including Accord and Labour Party stepped down for me and endorsed my candidacy, which is very rare in African politics, especially Nigeria. It is always a situation where a major party like the PDP or APC gets to have the support of other parties, but having a smaller party which is less than a year old, having other parties coming out to support it was very intimidating. We got into the race and a week to the election; it was well known that there were four major contenders, the PDP, APC, ANRP and the Young Democratic Party (YDP). The elections came and went but what happened was very disastrous. We realised that there was proliferation of vote buying in all the polling units in the state. Votes were bought, people were intimidated and those who would not sell their votes were stopped from voting and for some of us that did vote, there were so many invalid votes. So we were very discouraged and I began comparing notes with the candidate of the YDP, Ezekiel Nya-Etok and he realised that the same thing happened to him and he even had a sadder story to tell.
We then held a press conference to address our grievances, I said I would be going to court and he said he will support me and we agreed to approach the International Criminal Court as well because vote buying is couched under political repression which is a crime against humanity. Constitutionally, petitioners have 21 days to file their petition from the day of the announcement of the results which was a Tuesday in Akwa Ibom State. It was supposed to end on March 31 but before then, we went to the court and luckily, my lawyer knew the guy in charge of the APC case, so they met and compared notes. The APC submitted its own petition but we were told that our own petition was late. As a politician, I know that someone somewhere does not want my petition to get to the tribunal because my petition can cause a lot of issues, so it is easier and cheaper for them to stop it from getting there. We have written to the president of the Court of Appeal, we have written reminders and I have even gone in person to her office in Abuja over this issue. I was in her office for hours and was not allowed to see her. I have written to the National Judicial Council, the president, Vice President and even the President of the Senate, just so all the arms of government will be aware and they will be able to do what they can. Till date, we have not gotten any response from anyone. I believe that the president wants a lot for this country and if this gets to his table, he should be able to act on it without fear. I am appealing to him, the Senate and all Nigerians that have the ability to look into this to realise that what is happening to me may one day also happen to their children.
How do you know for sure that there are people who are working against getting your petition to the tribunal?
It is because of the data that is in my possession. When I deployed agents to all the 2986 polling units, I told them to concentrate on data collection and they did. We have thousands of people with so much evidence of vote buying and intimidation. Also, a lot of aggrieved people from the bigger parties found a way to come to me with their data and everyone knows I have this information. I was able to gather enough data to prove that the process was not free and fair. So, it is not really about the score, it is that the process itself didn’t allow us to compete competitively like others because votes were bought. If I was allowed to compete and get my votes, then you would have considered the scores. It is easier to allow my case get to the tribunal and then get struck out based on technicality; but when a registrar refuses to take a petition which is against the law by all standards, it means there is something behind it. It is that action that is making us very concerned about our democratic process and what should be done to stop this disregard to law.
If your concern is just to show that the process was flawed, it means that you do not care whether you benefit from it at the end of the day. Is that correct?
I don’t care whether I become governor or not. If my people say that they do not want me that is fine; but the process has to be free and fair and the person whom the people want should get elected. It should not be the person with the highest amount of money that should win. Mind you, next year, we have counsellorship and chairmanship elections, so the question is, where does the vote buying stop? When you start buying counsellorship and chairmen that means the people have no voice. I am saying, let us do this thing again and let the process be free and fair. If the governor wins again, I will congratulate him and tell him we should work together to grow the state.
Why will they be afraid of you?
They are afraid because of the data that I collected during and after the election. I asked my agents to go in for the election in 2,986 polling units and concentrate on collecting data. So we have thousands of people with so much evidence to prove that their votes were bought and we have people that were wounded.
How will you rate the performance of the security agents at the election?
I think that is why I am asking for a rerun. I believe the security agents in Akwa Ibom were not well positioned at the governorship election. In each polling unit, we had just one policeman. Imagine just one policeman against thousands of people. In my unit where there were little bits of fracas, the Police couldn’t do anything. With this rerun maybe more personnel would be sent.
With regards to the election itself, the sophistication of the vote buying process was so smart because sometimes where the money is paid was different from where elections took place. In some areas, there were no votes at all. But in majority of the area where vote buying took place, it was so sophisticated and when you look at the video that we have, some were done in most unimaginable places like Churches. During voting, the places you collect ballot paper is quite different from where you thumbprint. So the agent had a way of making voters show them that they actually voted for their party. This is what I wanted to show at the tribunal. I have lots of data. I have videos where voters were given tickets, when they see you vote, they give you a ticket to a location where you get paid. They had so many ways.
Why did you wait till almost the end of the deadline to file your petition?
It is very hard to file election petition immediately after elections. Some people in the villages would call to inform you that they have data, on getting there, you will find out that what they had is not good enough to present at the tribunal. There is nobody on earth that would gather data in a day. Not even PDP’s presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar would file in petition a week to the time and they know this. That was why we filed it on the 18th. So unless you don’t have data you can just go into the tribunal.
Was it the same day the APC filed theirs that yours was rejected?
Yes. It was a coincidence that when the APC lawyer went there to submit that we wanted to submit ours before we were turned down by the registrar. In fact the APC lawyer did not submit immediately, when he realised we were on the on the same page, he had to return to his office to compare notes. You know lawyers know each other. It was when my lawyer engaged the APC lawyer that we realised that we were turned down the same day the APC lawyer filed their own petition..
Do you plan on continuing with the case?
I am more determined because I am more concerned about this country. It’s very unfortunate that I have to quote the IPOB leader Nnamdi Kanu but I think the guy is right in so many ways. ‘Nigeria is a real zoo and a jungle.’ The court official told to my face that nobody would respond to my letter wherever I go in this country. He is a court official with almost the lowest rank speaking on behalf of the highest rank. I have gone to see the president of the Court of Appeal, I have gone everywhere but nothing has come out of it, so the court official seems to be right.