Enugu guber: Aftermath of tension-soaked electoral process
One thing that has kept the four leading political parties in Enugu State – the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Labour Party (LP), All Progressives Congress (APC) and the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) busy, is the outcome of the 2023 elections.
Although winners had been declared, the sour feeling the outcome invoked in the state’s polity would however, take some time to heal. This is seen from the reactions that have trailed the development since March 18 when the exercise was concluded.
At first, these four political parties had gone into the February 25 Presidential and National Assembly elections with their best candidates for the three senatorial seats of the state. Few days to the elections, however, the Labour Party candidate for Enugu east senatorial zone, Oyibo Chukwu was killed. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) relied on its rules to postpone the election in the zone.
But the exercise held in the two other zones of Enugu North and West. In the end, LP picked the ticket for Enugu north senatorial zone and six House of Representative seats, while the PDP picked that of Enugu West senatorial zone and one House of Reps seat. The APGA and APC got nothing.
This outcome jolted the polity and rekindled the campaigns towards the March18 governorship and state House of Assembly elections. Every strategy that could lead to victory was activated. On the part of the PDP, which is the ruling party, its plan was to retain the political dominance, while the LP aimed to consolidate the winning streak. The APGA and APC on the other hand, seriously desired to change the narrative that had kept them away from power in the state. None of them had won a seat anywhere in the state before now.
Indeed, the outcome became almost like the first. Of the 24 seats contested in the state House of Assembly, the LP garnered 14, leaving the PDP with 10. APGA and APC got no seats. But PDP got the governorship slot from the pronouncement of the INEC. The party’s candidate, Peter Mbah according to the Commission scored 160,895 votes over 157,552 votes garnered by LP’s Chijioke Edeoga. APGA’s Frank Nweke was third polling 17,983 votes while APC’s Uche Nnaji polled 14,575 votes.
The final result and announcement of the winner of the governorship election was one that took time to come.
For four days tension had enveloped the state over the suspension of the process midway. The process was truncated following an objection raised by Edeoga regarding the collation of result from Nkanu east council over what he termed over- voting and bypass of the BVAS. He called attention that over 30,000 votes being returned in favour of Mbah from the council may have been fraudulently procured since the BVAS allegedly accredited about 7,450 voters for the election.
INEC had suspended collation and ordered a review of the result from the council. From Sunday 19 to Wednesday 22, when the final result and winner WAS eventually announced, supporters of the LP and PDP had occupied the Commission’s headquarters in Enugu, requesting outright cancellation of the result from the council or that collation be continued respectively. Before the review, Edeoga was leading with over 11,000 votes, having secured 155,697 against Mbah’s 143,938.
The Commission however, reviewed the votes from Nkanu east downwards. Instead of the 30,560 votes earlier announced by the Returning Officer for Mbah, it now decided to give Mbah 16,956 votes from the council, while retaining Edeoga’s original score of 1,855 votes from the local government. This is the development currently unsettling the polity and setting the pace for another round of judicial battle for the governorship stool of the state.
Edeoga, apparently convinced that the Commission had not done the right job is claiming victory. He has announced his intention to pursue the matter at the tribunal, pleading that INEC’s action in determining the winner of the election was against its own rules.
Reacting shortly after the declaration of Mbah as winner, Edeoga wondered how the Commission “manufactured” the figures that were used to determine the winner in a local government that had about 7000 accredited voters, stressing that it was not in consonance with the elections in the state.
“Of course, it flows from what I said earlier that the outcome of the governorship election announced by the INEC after three or four days of delay does not flow along what I have just enumerated; the victories of the Labour Party in the other elections. The outcome of the guber election, which was handed over to the PDP, with a margin of 3000 votes is not consistent with the electoral victories that were recorded by the Labour Party.
“One can say clearly that this outcome is not in consonance with the wishes and aspirations of the people of Enugu State, their democratic intentions. It is a matter that has raised disquiet in the state because it is a clear abortion of their democratic intentions and the people have become worried and agitated; tempers are rising but we have done everything possible, we have called our leaders to remain calm and resolute.
We are certain this electoral mess which was orchestrated by a few persons within INEC, both in Enugu and Abuja, will be addressed. We have resolved as a party, as a people, to follow the due process of law to retrieve the mandate.
“We are going to explore all options that are available; we are not going to rule anything out in the legal process. The result as announced by INEC is not in consonance with the votes cast; we have multiple evidences of clear illegalities that are not in line with the electoral laws”, he said.
The APGA candidate, Frank Nweke, who came a distant third in the election toed similar line when he stated that one “cannot hold accountable something that was acquired by illegitimate means”, describing the exercise as an “assault on the country’s democracy”.
Nweke, who rejected the results, stated that his party would explore and exhaust all options required to ensure the legitimacy of the next government of the state, stressing that even the electoral umpire downplayed its own rules in a determined effort to return a winner.
“The entire process, down to the declaration of its winner, is a complete farce and will lack legitimacy for as long as it stands”, he said
He continued: “The results of Nkanu east local government area which were contested got reviewed and revised by the national office of INEC without any basis given for the change in numbers. If it was a case of over-voting, the expectation is that the result from the local government area should have been cancelled.
“It does seem that the numbers were simply manufactured to fit a preprogrammed outcome and read out to the public, as can be inferred from the Returning Officer of INEC in the state, Prof Maduebibisi Iwe’s comments about acting under authority and reading out what he had been given.
“I am utterly disappointed with the manner in which the Independent National Electoral Commission handled the 2023 elections. I am also saddened by the actions of some members of our security agencies. Both of these institutions of state let the people down when they became compromised by a few desperate power mongers and looters.
“The unchecked intimidation and violence, the massive rewriting of results and the overall abuse of the people’s will would have failed if not done in connivance with the electoral umpire and members of our security agencies.
“I have no problem losing an election to the will of the people. But when this will has been subverted, we have no choice but to review the entire process and the outcome. We will explore and exhaust every action required to ensure the legitimacy of the next government in Enugu State. You cannot hold accountable something that was acquired by illegitimate means”, he added
The APC on the other hand has maintained sealed lips over the exercise. It has neither accepted the outcome nor rejected it. At the INEC collation centre, the state secretary of the party had submitted a petition whose content was not made known by the state Returning Officer.
But Mbah, in accepting the outcome of the exercise refused to speak on the allegations surrounding his declaration but rather extended the olive branch to those that contested in the election to join him in moving the state forward.
“I accept this announcement with a glad, solemn and grateful heart and with only one obligation; to devote every tissue of my flesh, the totality of my mind and spirit to the task of the greatness of Enugu state. Like every electoral process, the journey of the last few months was intense. One of the last three days was even fiercer. Enugu was literally at a standstill, waiting, with baited breath for justice to take its course.
There was restiveness in our youths and apprehension in the minds of the entire NdiEnugu. The fear was that there could be miscarriage of justice. On the streets of Enugu, you could feel the palpable air of an overheated polity brought by the prolonged, tortuous road to justice of the last 72hours… we will make you remember March 18, 2023 with a toothy smile”.
He promised infrastructure, health, tourism, education and development to the state in general as well as dualization of the Abakpa, Ugwuogo Nike-Nsukka road, build monorail from Enugu to Nsukka, Udi, Awgu and construction roads to link the 17 council areas of the state among others.
His party, the PDP, while responding to allegations of rigging the elections, however, stated that it was prepared to meet any of the candidates in court. Its Campaigns Communications Director, Nana Ogbodo stated that the party was prepared to defend the victory that belongs to the people of the state, stressing that the position of Nweke and Edeoga confirmed the party’s statement earlier that “they were not only making excuses for their expected failure at the polls, but also indirectly letting Ndi Enugu into the mayhem they planned to unleash on Enugu people, having failed to condemn the statement by the LP chieftain and senator-elect Okey Ezea designating the March 18 governorship election as a “do- or- die” affair”.
On the flip side, a flurry of commendations have continued to pour in for Mbah on his emergence, just as there is pressure on the other contestants to drop their idea to prosecute the outcome of the governorship election in court.
Former governor of old Anambra State, Chief Jim Nwobodo, in appealing to the contestants to accept the poll as the wish of the people, stressed that it would not be in their interest to continue to spend in endless litigation after spending so much in the election.
“Those people urging you to go to court would not follow you to the end. They would start disappearing one after the other, and you may one day find yourselves alone. I’m talking from experience. This is my sincere fatherly advice”, Nwobodo said.