Intrigues characterise re-run elections in Akwa Ibom
Akwa Ibom State was one of the states that was ordered by the Court of Appeal to carry out a re-run election based on the results received at the tribunal by those who were not satisfied with the outcome of the 2019 general elections that too place in March. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was then ordered to conduct a re-run in Essien Udim Local Government Area because of what it described as “acts of unparalleled thuggery, intimidation, ballot-box snatching, abduction and other acts of hooliganism that pervaded the entire Essien Udim LGA,” during the 2019 elections.
About a month to the re-run, the state Resident Electoral Commissioner, Mr. Mike Igini, had invited chairmen and secretaries of the 19 political parties participating in the re-run to advise them against a repeat of such vices so as not to lead to the cancellations of elections in the council area again.
It is worthy to note that before the said meeting, the candidate for Akwa Ibom North West Senatorial seat, Senator Godswill Akpabio and Minister for Niger Delta Affairs, had written to his party that he was not interested in the re-run and that Mr. Ekperikpe Ekpo should stand in his stead. This was, however, not accepted by INEC because, according to the electoral umpire, the time for substitution of candidate had elapsed. Again, the Friday preceding the main re-run, APC chairman in the state, Mr. Ini Okopido, addressed a press conference saying that candidates of the party, that is, Senator Godswill Akpabio for Senate, Mr. Emmanuel Akpan for House of Representatives, and Mr. Nse Ntuen for State House of Assembly had withdrawn from the elections.
Interestingly, this was not to be the case on Saturday, 25 January, as all those that the party’s chairman said would not participate or had withdrawn from the contest participated. This was the intrigue that played out in Akwa Ibom. So was APC only flying a kite to deceive PDP? If the results declared had favoured APC, what would have been the party’s reaction after telling the whole world that it had withdrawn all its candidates?
Sensing that this would happen, immediately after APC’s press briefing, PDP through its publicity secretary, Mr. Ini Ememobong, issued a statement calling on the party’s faithful to disregard the purported withdrawal, describing it as a façade.
“APC will hide under that withdrawal press conference to visit Warsaw on the people of Essien Udim Local Government Area,” the statement said. “They want to catch people unawares and then deny it on the premise of an alibi that they had withdrawn from the race. Officially speaking, they have not withdrawn from the race because: No letter to INEC officially stating their withdrawal; the purported withdrawal does not meet the condition of the electoral guidelines on withdrawal, which should come 45 days before the election. So Essien Udim locals, please go out and vote for your PDP, and ensure that 100 per cent record is sustained”.
While speaking with The Guardian on APC’s tactics of deceit, a political stalwart in Ikot Ekpene, who claimed to be of the PDP but refused his name to be mentioned, alleged that the action was a trick by APC to deceive the PDP.“The truth of the matter is that it was a political strategy by the APC to spring surprise against the PDP. Their announcement of withdrawal was a tactical thing because, according to a reliable source, even up till now (before the election), they are yet to send a formal letter to INEC telling them they had withdrawn, even the senate seat, Senator Akpabio said he had withdrawn. So, their announcement was a tactical arrangement to take the PDP unawares. They were still very much in the race .
“To butters this point, as early as 7.00am, all their agents with the party’s tag were on standby at various poling units. So, how would you claim you had withdrawn from election meanwhile you are paying your party’s agents with your tag to go and represent you. So, it was a ploy. Their action was not tenable in law; they would have told INEC: ‘did we write to you that we are not participating in the election?’
“Don’t forget the state chairman of APC, during the press conference announcing the purported withdrawal, was asked, ‘if after the re-run and you discover that people still voted for your party and you win, what would you do?’ He replied that he would gladly take that victory. Meaning they were looking for tactics that would earn them victory and that was to announce that they withdrew whereas they had mobilized enough, spent money, brought in thugs and every other thing they needed”.
Other reasoning that took political observers in the state by surprised was the issue of abduction of INEC officials, thuggery, snatching of ballot boxes and other vices, which INEC’s REC in the state had warned political stakeholders to guide against in order not to rubbish the exercise for the second time. During the monitoring of the exercise, The Guardian learnt that Corps members were allegedly abducted, although they were later released through the timely intervention of security agencies. It was alleged that the act was allegedly perpetuated by APC’s agents that had said it would not participate in the elections, thereby lending credence to the
speculations that the withdrawal notice was indeed a façade.
This must have led to INEC, in its preliminary reports on that day,signed by HOD, VEP, Odaro Aisien, said, “The court-ordered re-run elections in Essien Udim LGA commenced on schedule. As at 8.00am, following early deployment of men and materials, polling had opened in over 90 per cent of the Polling Units (PUs).
“However, when the commission had thought that lessons would have been learnt from what led to the nullification of the 2019 Elections, the same acts of brigandage were on full display, as abduction of poll officials were reported. These reports were corroborated by video clips on social media showing corps members and other officials, who were abducted to private premises outside their PUs.
“They were further confirmed by INEC’s Monitoring and Compliance Team of the rank of directors of the commission, who were assigned to various wards. Disruptions were reported in Ukana West (Ward 11), Units 5, 8, and 9 as well as Ikpe Annang (Ward 5), Unit 12. Some of the abducted poll officials have been rescued by the police while efforts are being made to ensure the safe release of others”.
While speaking on Comfort FM Radio, on the programmee ‘Issues in the News’, Professor Des Wilson of University of Uyo, observed that since those abducted and the election materials were found in the house of an APC stalwart in Essien Udim, it therefore confirmed that it was APC that carried out the violence.
However, the result of the election as announced by INEC showed that PDP won in all the three elections. In the Senate, Dr. Christopher Ekpenyong of PDP beat Senator Godswill Akpabio with 134,717 to Akpabio’s 83,820 of APC. In the House of Representatives, Nsikak Ekong of PDP scored 45,366 to defeat Emmanuel Akpan of APC, who scored 22,757, while in the State House of Assembly supplementary election, Esse Umoh of PDP scored 18,999 to defeat Nse Ntuen of APC who garnered 7,108 votes.
However, in all these, the Resident Electoral Officer of the state, Mr. Mike Igini, had said the exercise was successful and commended security agencies in the state for their collaborative efforts that made the commission to succeed. “The commission once again notes with concern and disappointment the various acts of violence and electoral banditry in full display in 2019 election which were again repeated by key actors in Essien Udim in the early hours of the re-run elections. This was clearly exemplified by the disruptions that took place in Ukana West (Ward 11), Units 5, 8, and 9 as well as Ikpe Annang (Ward 5), Unit 12 in Essien Udim Local Government Area as documented by the commission and the Nigeria Police.
“The security agencies, despite the initial challenges, did a commendable job with satisfactory professionalism, particularly in the full implementation of the designed model for securing the collation processes and centres. This ensured that polling unit results were not compromised or swapped with pre-written results to supplant the will
of the people.
“The successful conduct of these elections marks the conclusion of the 2019 elections in Akwa lbom State, following a hitch-free collation of results at all stages of the process and final returns declared by the Returning Officers for the three elections. This was accomplished despite the extremely difficult situation and untold harassment, intimidation and abduction of poll officials by hired political thugs, many of whom were arrested and are in custody of the Nigeria Police in Uyo”.Again, the police through the state’s PPRO, Nnudam Fredrick, said the election was generally peaceful, but, however, said that a number of persons were arrested for electoral offences.
“Categorically, the re-run election in Essien Udim has been very peaceful,” Federick said. “This is what is duplicated in all the polling stations across Essien Udim. So, the elections have been generally peaceful”.He explained that those arrested for election malpractices were being investigated to know their level of involvement.
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