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How more than 70% of registered voters were disenfranchised in Abia

By Chukwuma Muanya
06 March 2019   |   3:51 am
There cannot be a bigger story coming from Abia state, ‘God’s Own State’, after the Presidential and National Assembly elections than the fact that the majority of Abians could not vote because of the late and non-arrival of Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) officials and materials in most of the centres; and non-functional card readers in…

There cannot be a bigger story coming from Abia state, ‘God’s Own State’, after the Presidential and National Assembly elections than the fact that the majority of Abians could not vote because of the late and non-arrival of Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) officials and materials in most of the centres; and non-functional card readers in others.

This is despite the promise made by the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) of Abia state, Dr. Joseph Iloh, even a week before the elections that the commission is 100 per cent ready and that arrangements had been made that materials and officials would arrive at the polling units by 7: a.m. because more than 168 special vehicles had been procured for each polling unit.

Following arson attacks at some INEC offices nationwide and in Abia state before the elections, Iloh had read the riot act to check the menace even as he promised 70 percent voters turnout on Election Day.

Iloh told journalists in Umuahia that the threat of arson was real in Abia state and drastic measures were being taken to check the situation. He said that had forced INEC Abia to send the sensitive materials directly from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to the Local Government Areas (LGAs) en route the Registration Areas (RAs). “As you can see, what we have here are the non-sensitive materials. For security reasons and for more efficiency we have made adjustments on the movement of sensitive materials,” he said.

Iloh said unlike what happened in Osun and elsewhere where there was about 44 per cent voters’ participation; there would be more than 70 percent turnout of Saturday.

He said: “We have done a lot of voters’ education. From what we have seen so far, we expect a very high turnout of voters’.”

Iloh had promised journalists that all things being equal the results of the elections would be announced the next morning.

Iloh told journalists that electoral officers with the materials should be at the not less than 184 polling centres or RAs by 7: a.m. on Election Day. “We have made provision for one vehicle each for each RA to ensure there is no delay,” he said.

Ahead of the polls, the city of Umuahia was cool and calm. The grass green coloured ‘Keke’ littered the roads. There were no motorbikes on the streets of Umuahia, Abia State. The traffic was light. Traffic wardens were at their duty posts directing motorists.

Interestingly you could hardly see potholes on the well-tarred mostly dual carriage roads in Umuahia, Abia State.

Residents were seen going about their normal businesses but not without concern that the city would be shut down for the elections. Some of the residents who spoke to The Guardian were more concerned that their businesses would not open because of the elections.

At the INEC office in Umuahia, there was a presence of heavily armed policemen with utility vehicles parked at strategic positions. The major roads leading to the INEC office were cut off from public use by several roadblocks mounted by the policemen numbering over 500.

On the major roads of Umuahia, there were still subtle campaigns going on. Motorcades with photographs of the candidates loaded with loudspeakers were playing sounds at very high volumes patronising the candidates.

Another interesting thing in Umuahia was the Harmattan haze. The morning temperatures on Friday before the elections were less than 24 degrees Celsius and not more than 26 degree Celsius in the afternoon. The dusty winds were back. The atmosphere was hazy and cloudy. The humidity was low because, despite the afternoon sunshine, you could hardly sweat.

The Guardian observed that more security cameras had been mounted inside and around the INEC State office in Umuahia. There had also been ban on bush burning in and around the office and the office was set to remain open for 24 hours until the election results were announced.

Less than 20% of registered voters exercised their franchise in Abia State

Analysis of results of Presidential and National Assembly elections in Abia State showed that not up to 30 percent of registered voters were able to cast their votes.

Reason: Results from eleven LGAs showed that less than 20 percent of registered voters performed their civic responsibility because of late arrival of INEC officials and materials in more than 90 percent of the polling units in Abia State.

Also, the results show that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has won in more than 60 per cent of polling units but with slimmer margin unlike what was obtained in the past. Also, the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), which was the mainstream party in most eastern states, has lost its grip.

The results of Presidential and National Assembly elections in Ikwuano LGA showed that out of 69,557 registered voters, only 13,117 were accredited and only 12,936 were able to cast their votes and only 11,694 votes were valid. This means that only 18.597 per cent of the registered voters voted and only 16.81 per cent of the registered voters’ votes were valid, that is counted, and 1,245 votes were rejected. PDP won 7,345 out of the 11,694 valid votes, All Progressive Congress (APC) got 3,311 votes, Labour Party (LP) with six votes, and APGA got only 524 votes.

There were indications that the situation may get worse because most of the registered voters in 22 polling units in Ndume LGA where the elections were postponed till Sunday could not vote. Some say they did not get the information until after church service and by the time they got to the units, voting had stopped by 2 pm.

A disenfranchised registered voter with valid Permanent Voters Card (PVC), Mr Patrick Chidiebere Ike, told The Guardian: “I could not vote. Yesterday we came after spending the whole day not even one INEC official was seen here. It was unannounced. I did not even know that they rescheduled it for today. I was just told in the church now as we are closing that election is ongoing here and it will end by 4pm. But to my greatest surprise on coming here, they told me accreditation stopped by 2 pm. I am very unhappy about this. I feel sad about this. I feel disenfranchised in this.”

Also, a PDP Chieftain in Abia, Ochiagha Reagan Ufomba, could not vote as at 1 pm. Ufomba was surprised there were no INEC officials nor materials at his polling unit when he arrived ready to vote. Ufomba was told that the villagers were making arrangement for a vehicle to go and fetch INEC officials with their materials. Ufomba told journalists: “It is unfortunate what is happening but we are not discouraged. We are determined to vote and that we shall do.”

Meanwhile, there was a recognisable presence of officials of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Nigeria Civil Defence Corps (NCDC) in most polling units in Umuahia, Abia State

INEC is causing us hypertension in Abia, says Theodore A. Orji

A former Governor of Abia State and Senator representing Abia Central, Dr Theodore A. Orji told journalists after voting how INEC is causing him hypertension and has failed to deliver on its promise in Abia state.

May we know how you feel?
Well, I feel I little relaxed because I have been on high tension all along because this is my unit, I am strong here and election is supposed to start at 8 am but I have been here three to four times. The materials never arrived. The materials came here very late and look at the time, 1.20pm that is when I am voting. We are four hours behind schedule and I cannot be happy when that kind of thing is happening. It is not only here. It is almost everywhere in the whole of Umuahia North Local Government Area (LGA) because I have gotten reports from people who are there calling me that materials have not come.

In fact, there is an issue in Umuana where result sheets are not there and I went to INEC and the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) said that he has volunteered to authenticate the existing one with signature and stamp of INEC but the political party, APC, refused. What can the REC do in a situation like that? Is he going to print result sheets? He is not going to print result sheets. So we have problems and problems here in Umuahia North LGA and other LGAs from the reports I have got.

In Isiala Ngwa South elections have not started anywhere. After the postponement, we thought INEC would have addressed all the logistic issues but we are here again. So what is your advice?
Exactly you have said it all. INEC gave us hypertension in this country last week when they postponed the elections unprecedented when people were prepared, politicians spent their money and everything and the election was put off abruptly like that and this week they gave us one week and said only the act of god can stop the election. To day see what is happening. My expectation is that everything should have been very smooth. Materials should have gone to their destinations on time since the materials have been with CBN. Look at here, this polling unit is one of the nearest to INEC Headquarters, it is one of the nearest to CBN, it is one of the nearest to INEC Umuahia LGA office. Look at the time materials came and look at the time we are voting. Then you can imagine those whose units are off in the interior when the materials will reach there. Some of them may not vote and we are having issues with some of the places where the card readers are not functional and the officials there do not have any alternative. They have to bring an alternative so that people will vote. Let this exercise be concluded by today.

But accreditation will stop by 2 pm?
I have told them they cannot stop by 2 pm because we are four hours behind. Look at when I am voting. Look at the crowd that has been here. They have been here since 7 am. Is it their fault? It is not their fault. It is the fault of INEC therefore if they stop the election by 4 pm they have prevented people from voting and it is not tolerable at all. They have to extend it. Extend the time so that people will vote.

If you will have to score INEC what would be your score?
My score, for them? I want me to score them? What do you want me to score them? First and foremost last week you saw their score but I am comparing them with what they did last week. That we are holding election is a little improvement but the distribution of materials is not well done at all. Materials are not effectively and actively distributed on time. If you do not have materials you will not vote. As of now look at the time it is almost 1.30pm and there are polling units in Abia State in Umuahia North LGA that have not received materials. If they received materials now will they accommodate all the electorates who are willing to vote? So they cannot stop by 2pm they have to extend it till 4pm if they want to be free and fair.

APC gaining grounds in Abia state
Results of the Presidential and National Assembly elections in Abia State showed unlike in the past, the APC is gaining new grounds in Abia. PDP won with 219,698 votes to APC’s 85,068 votes in the Presidential elections. The margin of victory has reduced because in the past APC could hardly get 10,000 votes in Abia.

Also, PDP won Abia central senatorial with chief T. A. Orji while APC won, Abia north senatorial with Dr. Orji Kalu while Abia south was inconclusive as at February 24, 2019. PDP won five Federal House and APC won two. Others were inconclusive.

An APC Chieftain and gubernatorial candidate in Abia State, Chief Ikechi Emenike, told The Guardian: “APC has gained grounds in Abia State. The party unlike in the past is matching the PDP vote for vote and even defeated them in some.”

What is your take on the conduct of the presidential elections?
Emenike said: “Generally the election is a demonstration or manifestation of the will, determination of Nigerians in general and Abia people in particular to exercise their franchise to vote and let their votes be counted. I say this with all sense of responsibility to the extent that you can see that in spite of the avoidable sloppy performance of INEC particularly the REC in Abia.

Abians trooped out in mass, they waited patiently to cast their votes and we give glory to God that Abia people have been able to demonstrate and prove the naysayers wrong, prove the world and other Nigerians who do not wish us particularly those of us in APC well. Abians have been able to demonstrate that Abians truly embrace APC and love Mr. President as manifested in the votes across most of the polling units where credible elections took place.”

So that means you are okay with the conduct of the elections?
He said: “There is no way I will say I am okay how the elections went 100 per cent in the sense that we could not start in my polling unit until about 1.15pm and that was when I voted. I was lucky to be the second person that voted. This was the situation where in some parts of the country voting opened as early as 8am and if you recall the INEC chairman as early as Tuesday of the preceding week had promised that all the materials were already in the states and fortunately there is no state in Nigeria that does not have a befitting CBN building. So you expect that you have a CBN in Umuahia and what would they be doing from 5am in the morning till 1pm in the afternoon before taking materials to the polling units if not for mischief.

“There were also a lot of in and out meetings and movements between INEC officials in Abia state with some of the PDP leaders which to a large extent led to several complains and minor problems here and there. But fundamentally in spite of all that you saw the determination of APC in Abia state to prove that we are strong and solid and on ground in the state.”

PDP rejects results of Abia-North senatorial election
The PDP in Abia State on February 26, 2019 rejected the result of Senatorial election conducted by the INEC in Abia North Senatorial Zone on Saturday, February 23, 2019.

In an emergency meeting of the State Working Committee of the party presided over by the Chairman of the party in the State, Sir Johnson Onuigbo, the party, after a critical review of the election, including unlawful manipulations and unjustifiable cancellations, concluded that, at best, the election was inconclusive and should be so declared by INEC.

Rule 33(e) of INEC Regulations and Guidelines For The Conduct Of Elections, 2019, stipulates that where the number of cancelled votes outnumbers the difference in vote of a ‘leading candidate’; such election shall be deemed to be inconclusive.

The PDP in a statement signed by the State Publicity Secretary, Sir Don Ubani, said: “From what the Independent National Electoral Commission purports to have as result of Abia-North senatorial election, the gap between the Senatorial Candidate of All Progressives Congress, Chief Orji Uzor Kalu, and the Candidate of our Party; Distinguished Senator Mao Ohuabunwa, is only ten thousand and four hundred votes.

“On the other hand, votes cancelled in Arochukwu and Nkporo alone amount to more than thirty-eight thousand.

“By the aforesaid Rule 33(e) of INEC Regulations and Guidelines, Saturday’s senatorial election in Abia-North should have been declared inconclusive by the Independent National Electoral Commission because the margin of lead between the leading candidates which is 10,400 (ten thousand four hundred) is less than the cancelled votes of over 38,000 (thirty eight thousand).

“PDP in the State shall not condone the unlawfulness of a calculated attempt to subvert the democratic will of the good people of Abia-North, for no fault of theirs.

“Our Party; therefore, rejects the result of Abia-North senatorial election and vehemently demands that INEC complies with extant electoral guidelines by declaring the election inconclusive and consequently fix a date to conclude the election.

“Our stand is not strange as it has been done in the Ondo South Senatorial Election which INEC declared inconclusive. That of Abia North Senatorial Zone can not and shall not be different.”