For more than 140 days since the legal brickbats started in the ongoing trial for the determination of the authenticity or otherwise of the April 11, 2015 governorship elections in Akwa Ibom state, Nigerians, and more specifically Akwa Ibomites have waited , with baited breath, for the likely outcome.
And, by the time hearing ended abruptly Thursday, September, 17, 2015, many of these agitated Nigerians who have been following proceedings from the Room 8, of the Abuja High court, venue of the relocated Tribunal sitting, would have formed their opinion on what would be the likely outcome of the debilitating exercise, in terms of the tide of judgement.
How do I mean? For some of us who participated in the elections and had firsthand experience of what happened on the election day, it is not strange or surprising that everything went wrong with the Akwa Ibom governorship elections. In fact, prior to the election itself, the opposition All Progressive Congress (APC) had shouted itself hoarse, through press releases and media conferences, trying to draw the attention of Nigerians to the schemes and underhand play of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and the likely culpability of the umpire, INEC, in the conduct of the governorship and state assembly elections in the state. Virtually all the guidelines required for a major election of that magnitude were not adhered to. They were no display of voters register for people to verify their eligibility to vote, threat of violence and intimidations of the other candidates, lock-out of opposing parties from campaign venues as well as the state-owned media, among many other undemocratic attitudes by the ruling party in the state.
The state APC equally drawn attention to the security breaches that were brewing in the state. For instance, attention were drawn to the purchase of about four hundred hilux vehicles and the sowing of military fatigue uniform for the PDP goons, in the state, but nobody paid any attention. And, when those ‘arsenals’ were unleashed on the hapless citizens of the state, most people were not surprised. Perhaps, that probably accounted for why the APC adopted a more painstaking approach in recording proceeding at the elections, compiled verifiable facts and were more circumspective in their presentations at the trial.
It is equally clear that the Akwa Ibom PDP were not ready to go for the trial ab initio, judging from what has transpired so far. First, they couldn’t readily accept the fact that ‘change’ was here. Their usual shenanigans in bulldozing their way in previous elections, through the allocation of figures and getting away with it had become obsolete by the Attahiru Jega’s introduction of the innovative card readers machines and a court system that had woken up from the slumber. First, it was the deployment of intimidation at the Tribunal sitting that failed. Even their attempt to stop its relocation to Abuja for the safety of the judges and litigants equally hit the rocks. From their bag of tricks came the use of technicalities to knock off the trial which also met a brick wall. And, when it dawn on them that the trial was real, everybody could smell panic from their camp.
And, so it was when, the petitioners, APC and its flag bearer, Umana Okon Umana called its witnesses to the dock, and the damning testimonies came forth, pouring like torrents, that Nigerians began to appreciate the inhuman nature of our brand of politics. I mean how can anyone explain that a hapless Youth Corp member, was beaten to stupor, stripped naked and almost killed. Her crime? She stopped thugs from carrying away ballot box in the polling booth she superintended in Uyo metropolis as Adhoc staff of INEC.
Somebody had to remove his jacket to cover her nakedness. This scene was replicated across the state. Or, what could be more damning and humiliating to know that a former governor of the state, Obong Victor Attah was not humoured by allowing him to even vote. His polling booth in Asutan Ekpe had no election materials supplied to it. He had to call media people to bear him witness. And, he was personally at the Tribunal to tell his story. Same goes for Chief Don Etiebet, a former presidential candidate in this country and a BOT member of the PDP. Even the governorship candidate of the APC, Umana Umana couldn’t vote in his own ward in Nsit Ubium. The big question is, if these known faces couldn’t vote, who else did?
The answer is that, the election you saw in Akwa Ibom, on television, was just for the camera. The 1,158,624 votes declared in the state for the governorship were just cooked figures. People sat somewhere and wrote it in connivance with the INEC in the state. And this clearly showed when the few witnesses called by counsels to Governor Udom Emmanuel, The PDP and Akwa Ibom INEC all gave contradictory account of what happened during the election. In fact, Defence Witnesses (DWs)26 and 27 by names Austin Nwana and Dominic Okenna, Electoral Officers for Nsit Ubium and Onna Local Government Areas of the state respectively, told disparaging tales on how the pools went. While the latter denied any knowledge of the directive signed by the INEC director of Legal Services, Mrs Augusta C. Ogakwu, making the use of card readers mandatory for the gubernatorial pools, and that in event of any malfunctioning, the pools should be extended to the following day, the former, on the prodding of Mr Solomon Umoh (SAN), one of the Counsels to the petitioners, admitted that he was aware of the directive and that the circular was even pasted in INEC notice board in Uyo. This was just a classic example of the cacophony of disparate voices that trailed the testimonies of the DWs in their attempt to manufacture a semblance of evidence to hoodwink the people that election took place in Akwa Ibom on the April 11, 2015 governorship polls.
That may also be the plausible reasons why the bulk of those who were listed to testify for the defence either feigned sickness or denied ever accepting to be witnesses. An example could be seen in the refusal of Emmanuel Enoidem, a serving official of the state government (then and now) who was listed as the state collation officer for the PDP who had to beat a hasty retreat when he, probably, was told that as a serving official in the state, he had no constitutional approval to collate electoral result for that administration. It went further to show why out of the more than 400 witnesses listed by Udom Emmanuel, and an application for another 9,000 witnesses ( granted by the tribunal), only 19 witnesses were willing to show up. For the PDP, only four witnesses came forth out of the long list they advertised while another four appeared for INEC out of 94 witnesses while the Petitioners presented 56 witnesses and wanted more days to bring more?. Can anybody then be in doubt why the defence lawyers closed their cases before the expiration of their allotted days, and were in the habit of giving frivolous excuses for not bringing forth their witnesses?
To say that the defence collapsed like a pack of card before the Tribunal is stating the obvious. Their effort to play up the unreliability of the card readers machines fell flat while their resort to the use of incident forms could not fly either. In fact, the incident forms which they so much trumpeted and even caused the Tribunal to issue a subpoena to bring them from Uyo was not even presented as Exhibit for the simple fact that it was not going to help their case, having realised belatedly that those cards were not signed by the Adhoc staff, mostly Youth Service personnel who could not be traced to do the hatchet job. This really infuriated the Tribunal Chairman, Sadiq Umar who ordered the seven bags to be removed from the Tribunal’s store.
By now, it is clear to the defence counsels comprising Mr Paul Usoro (SAN) for Udom Emmanuel, Tayo Adetibo (SAN) for PDP and Alex Ejesieme of INEC that the battle is as good as lost. It was also clear from the proceedings that the concocted figure of 1,158,624 could not be reconciled with the figures which the PDP and INEC allocated 996,071 to Udom Emmanuel and 89,313 to Umana Okon Umana of APC. The clincher, the card readers in the central pool of INEC in Abuja, recorded only 437, 128 as the accredited voters for the state. The INEC head of ICT collaborated this when he testified for the petitioners. This was further worsened by the distortions in the filling of form EC8A, EC8B and EC8C which are meant for results of votes collated from Units, Wards and local government areas of the state .
And as the first and crucial round of the Akwa Ibom Governorship Election ended, and the final addresses by both the petitioner and defence counsels awaited, it is left to be seen what issues would be canvassed to bring the whole melodrama to a close. As the Tribunal Chairman, Justice Sadiq Umar noted in his remarks before adjoining the case to October 8, 2015 for the adoption of written addresses, parties to the dispute were strongly advised to adhere strictly to the schedule in order to meet the constitutional provisions for determining the case.
Ultimately, every right thinking democrat is very satisfied with the turn of our electoral fortunes. I can bet that with the introduction of card readers and the unbiased handling of electoral cases so far, our democracy is beginning to take root. Nigerians , who believed that elections can only be won by the garrison approach, I am sure are beginning to have a rethink. It is obvious that impunity, the biggest bane of our democratic experience is gradually taking the back seat.
Ankak, a journalist and public affairs analyst, writes from Lagos