‘Failure to stand for what is morally right is the prelude to being the victim of what is criminally wrong.”
By Daniel Kanu
Prof Peter Ogban, a lecturer in the Department of Soil Science at the University of Calabar, who served as returning officer in Akwa Ibom North-West Senatorial District during the 2019 general election in the state, was on Thursday, March 25, jailed for three years.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Akwa Ibom State had in the landmark case dragged Prof Ogban to a high court in the state on a two-count charge of tampering with results of the senatorial district he was put in charge.
Sadly enough, he was convicted following his admission that he actually manipulated the election results in two local government areas, namely Oruk Anam and Etim Ekpo.
Consequently, the court found him guilty of fraudulent manipulation of the election results, publishing and announcing the same in favour of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
In his ruling, the no-nonsense presiding judge, Justice Augustine Odokwo, in the judgment that lasted for about two hours, refused to be swayed by the plea for leniency by Ogban.
He roared: “The prosecution was able to prove its case against Mr Ogban beyond any reasonable doubt. There was not much I could do other than to let the law take its course”.
That simple verdict provided the judicial stamp for Ogban’s long walk to jail.
Since then, Ogban has literally become an orphan as he has serially been disowned in the media, credible social media platforms, and even by members of the ruling party, which was assumed to have been the beneficiary of his fraudulent actions. Indeed, Senator Godswill Akpabio who was accused of being the direct beneficiary of Ogban’s inglorious action has come out to exonerate himself.
Of course, the development, is to say the very least, scandalous, disgraceful, dishonorable, and condemnable.
It is no doubt a big embarrassment to the Nigerian academia, expected to be above board on issues of integrity and credibility. It is, therefore, expected that the ivory tower must rise up to protect its image by ensuring that those who go to carry out election duties are their best.
It would be recalled that it was because elections in the country were fraught with various forms of electoral malpractices that the Independent National Electoral Commission devised the novel means of deploying senior academics in the country’s higher institutions as returning officers.
The expectation was that their deployment would foster trust and credibility based on the integrity and character of these senior members of the ivory towers. It was assumed that with that move, only those who were above board would thenceforth be involved in elections.
But INEC has been proved wrong as such objective is yet to be realised. Time and again, the figures churned out by these returning officers have been disputed, with a great number of election cases going as far as the apex court for final resolution.
In any case, it is a disgrace that a professor is now pleading guilty to election fraud, thus indicating that, perhaps the universities are no different from the larger society, where they are expected to be shining examples.
As developments have shown over time, some political commentators have posited that INEC was misled by its leadership into believing that senior academics would be immune to the various corruptive influences and tendencies in the Nigerian crooked political system. However, if a system is polluted, it is bound to affect all the units. This is because evidences abound that the conducts of affairs in the universities, including examinations and thesis supervision, are fraught with malpractices.
With the conviction of Prof Ogban, it is believed that INEC will sit up in conducting future elections by ensuring that its supervisors will only be persons of proven integrity.
Besides, many also believe that it will help the electoral umpire too if it recruits only credible staffers in the mould of its Resident Electoral Commissioner, Mike Igini, who is well disposed on election matters under his jurisdiction.
“May there be more Igini’s injected into our electoral system” Mrs Cordelia Owan, a psychologist, told Sunday Sun.
This will help INEC to regain the confidence of the people who research had shown are now no longer too keen in playing active role in politics either by voting for candidates of their choice or vying for political offices.
While commending Justice Odokwo for letting Ogban face the music as a deterrent to future offenders, most political analysts are of the opinion that Nigerians must own the electoral process, first by acquiring their permanent voters’ card, turn out to vote on days of the election and insist that their votes count to elect a responsible and responsive government whose ultimate interest will be the security and welfare of the people.