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Governorship Poll: Between Bayelsa, And Abia



polling booth

IN a constitutional democracy like ours, there is no alternative to constitutionalism and rule of law. Whether in election, criminal or civil matter, the first and last resort for all is the court, where judgments are delivered in line with provisions of the laws and the incontrovertible evidences before the court. This has sustained Nigerian democracy in the last 16 years, despite the emotional and tribal sentiments being bandied by losers of electoral contest in the field and court. But even at this, election losers and their hatchet writers cannot stop whipping sentiments where there is none, or stop trying to delude the public by twisting facts to suit their motives.

It is in line with this attitude of some election losers and their hatchet writers that the article titled “Like Bayelsa, like Abia governorship poll” likened the inconclusive Bayelsa governorship election to that of Abia governorship poll. Arguments in the article were lacking in facts and law for there was no similarity between the cancelled Southern Ijaw election result in the inconclusive Bayelsa poll and attempted cancellation of Abia governorship results from Obingwa, Osisioma and Isiala Ngwa local government areas.

Obviously the line of argument in the article aligns with the unsustainable position of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) which they have canvassed since they lost the election both at the polling units and at the governorship tribunal. So nothing is new in their media war; elections are won in in the polling units where voters make choice based on conviction.

The cancellation of the election result from Southern Ijaw council area was supported by INEC, resulting in declaring the Bayelsa governorship poll inconclusive. There is a huge difference in both situations, which accounts for the untenability of the attempted cancellation in Abia poll. In Bayelsa case, there was wide spread reports of violence, ballot box snatching and even murder cases in Southern Ijaw to the extent that security agents were overwhelmed and helpless. Again, 14 of the political parties, which fielded candidates for the election, were unanimous in calling for the cancellation of the election in Southern Ijaw. But in Abia, there was no report of mayhem in any of the three local government areas whose results the State Returning Officer action suo moto attempted to annul. Besides, at the point when the Returning Officer made his curious announcement, none of the Local Government Returning Officers from any of the three local government areas in question had arrived the State Collation Centre. A development, which makes one wonders as to the basis of the attempted cancellation. It was shocking to hear the State Returning Officer say he acted based on the report of a purported International Election Observer.

Nigeria electoral law 2010 is very comprehensive and unambiguous in its provisions. It has no provision whatsoever for any weight to be attached to any such report in determining election results. If anything, election results can only be cancelled at the polling units if the processes are marred by irregularities. Results, once announced at the polling units cannot be annulled by INEC or any person acting on its behalf. Anybody not satisfied with such results can only challenge it at the appropriate Election Tribunal.

Section 27 (1)(a) of the Electoral Act 2010 as amended provides that the results of all the elections shall be announced by the presiding officer at the polling unit.”  This position is further reinforced by Section 65 of the said Act, which provides that after the recording of the result of the election, the Presiding Officer shall announce the result. The business of the returning officer is to declare the winner of the election in accordance with the provisions of sections 133, 134 and 179 of the Constitution following the collation of results.

Looking at Section 69 of the Electoral Act, nowhere in our laws is the State Returning Officer at the collation centre invested with the constitutional right or power to cancel any results. It is only the Presiding Officer at the polling unit who can annul the process, not the result after it has been announced. This provision makes a lot of sense since it is the Presiding Officer that can give authoritative and authentic eyewitness account. Whereas the totality of all those involved in the conduct of the election in Ijaw South are in agreement that the election was substantially flawed by monumental irregularities, the Returning Office in the case of Abia State acted alone when he purportedly cancelled results he had not even seen, talk less of heard from the officers that conducted the process. Some have accused him of acting a written script.

The constitution empowers INEC to conduct elections into elective offices albeit with the proviso that INEC would only do so within the ambit of the law.  Neither Nigerians nor the court can be easily deceived with jaundiced media propaganda in a judicial matter. Post-election matters are not argued or won on the pages of newspaper, but at the Election Tribunals where justice will be meted out to all that are involved. The Abia case will not be different as the matter is now before the Appeal Tribunal. In line with the constitutionalism and rule of law, the two major tenets of democratic governance, Abia people are patiently waiting for the Appeal court verdict on governorship poll won by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate, governor Okezie Ikpeazu being challenged by the APGA candidate, Mr Alex Otti.

• Dominic Chida, a legal practitioner wrote from Port Harcourt, Rivers State

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