Before Prof. Jega Retires
If Prof. Attahiru Jega is looking forward to a restful retirement after such a herculean national duty, he must address his mind to the serious issues that came out of Akwa Ibom and Rivers State after the general elections.
From newspaper editorials, TV debates, social media discussions, commentaries and opinion articles, the overall performance of the INEC Chairman in the conduct of the general elections is being blighted by the commission’s handling of the post-poll complaints in the two states.
Since democracy is all about expression of the will of the people at all times and locations, the success of the elections in other parts of the country cannot make up for the debacle in Akwa Ibom and Rivers State.
In these two states, the process was glaringly subverted leading to tragic loss of lives on March 28 and April 11 in the name of election. Yet the perpetrators of these heinous crimes, some of them senior INEC officials, police officers and men and women from the secret police (DSS) are walking free.
That those culpable INEC officials in Akwa Ibom and Rivers (allegedly including the Resident Electoral Commissioners and the Electoral Officers) are still left at their duty posts despite the huge amount of evidence against them is baffling.
Are they so highly connected as we hear or was the INEC chairman only interested in the success of the presidential election? The case of Akwa Ibom State of which I am very familiar is very sad.
In the weeks before the elections, intelligence sources have reported that the state government and indeed the PDP were making various efforts to subvert and manipulate the elections in connivance with the State INEC.
Part of the allegations was that the government had bought 400 new buses and branded them in the colours of a commercial transport company. Intelligence sources indicated that they were to be used to convey thugs who would be dressed in fake police and army uniform; and their mission was to cause mayhem on polling day and thus create the enabling environment to cart away ballot materials.
Expectedly, some elders and party leaders in the state and in fact some political parties, notably the APC raised alarm. They wrote to INEC and the Inspector General of Police with pictures of these buses and the fake police and army uniforms attached.
No action was taken. During the presidential and National Assembly elections, the thugs led by government and PDP officials and assisted by the police unleashed violence on the people, prevented the people from voting and took away the voting materials to private homes for secret balloting.
In addition, INEC officials in the state also diverted the original Result Sheets meant to record election results to these secret locations. Soon after that election, the concerned leaders who had earlier raised alarm — notably the former governor, Obong (Arc) Victor Attah; former Petroleum Minister, Chief Don Etiebet, Senator Ita Enang, Senator Aloysius Etok and a host of others — wrote to the INEC Chairman about the ‘unprofessional, partisan, ignoble and criminal activities of the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) for Akwa Ibom State and his subordinates, especially Electoral Officers, with regard to the conduct of the March 28 presidential elections.
The letter listed several areas of misconduct by the INEC officials and requested that the REC be withdrawn from conducting the April 11 governorship election.
The APC even forwarded a more comprehensive report to Prof. Jega with several annexes and attachments, documenting the REC’s misconduct during the presidential election.
They all requested the commission stop its REC from conducting the April 11 election. The protest letters were not even acknowledged, let alone being acted upon! If a party in a court case expresses lack of confidence in the presiding judge, the judge would be disqualified from hearing the matter. In fact it is the judge that will remove himself from the case before the Chief Judge even steps in.
Such disqualification does not signify guilt; rather it is meant to convey a sense of justice, fairness and impartiality to the process and the parties. But such did not apply to INEC, despite the well-founded reservations and complaints against the Akwa Ibom REC, elders and other stakeholders.
It bears repeating that just as in Rivers State, the governorship and State House of Assembly elections in Akwa Ibom were a show of shame. Various security and hospital sources claimed about 30 killings on April 11 and a lot more wounded in the state.
The independent observer teams from the European Union, British High Commission, U.S Embassy, Civil Society Organisations and even the INEC observers from Abuja have all confirmed that the elections in the two states were seriously marred by violence, irregularities and ballot stuffing; and that they did not meet standards.
‘‘We have observed many irregularities and violent conducts in all the polling units we visited,” said Mr. Andrew Fleming, Head of the EU Team that visited Akwa Ibom.
“We will forward our reports to INEC and the EU”, he added. I hope that the INEC Chairman will make out time to read the reports. If these elections have been so flawed, why are the two RECs still left on their jobs? The case of Akwa Ibom is in fact very tragic.
More than one week after April 11, the House of Assembly election results in Akwa Ibom were not announced at the Local Government collation centre levels as the INEC Guidelines stipulate, yet I understand that the results had been forwarded to INEC Head Office in Abuja! • Idiong teaches political science in a university.
I do agree with Prof. Jega that by law, INEC cannot cancel election results after they’ve been announced. But does the Commission not have any administrative sanctions for any RECs and EOs who display criminal and unprofessional bias and misconduct, especially since it is fair to believe that their continued stay in office will engender evidence tampering? The independence granted to State Offices of INEC and their RECs by the 2010 Electoral Law was meant to insulate them from undue interferences from Head Office but from the Akwa Ibom and Rivers experiences, that has become an albatross.
The commission cannot appear helpless in sanctioning erring officials, and indeed all other persons who have stained what could have been a sterling performance by INEC.
If the Chairman must finish the good work he started and bow out gracefully, he must investigate further the RECs in Akwa Ibom and Rivers State, and if possible suspend them from office to protect the sanctity of evidences that would be required at the tribunals. • Idiong teaches political science in a university.