How not to perceive Abia election

Abia State Governor, Ikpeazu

Abia State Governor, Ikpeazu

THE line of argument in the essay, ‘Like Bayelsa, Like Abia’ though non sequitur, aligns with the position of APGA which they have canvassed ad nauseum. It is unsustainable, even coming when Jurists will soon consider the Appeal filed by Dr. Alex Otti against the dismissal of his election petition by the Governorship Election Petition Tribunal that sat in Umuahia. The Courtroom remains the venue for parties in a dispute to canvass their cases with facts and evidence in accordance with relevant Laws on the issue. However, there is need to present the true facts to the public.

The just concluded Governorship election in Bayelsa state has no similarity whatsoever with the elections conducted in Abia State in April 2015.     Whilst the election in Bayelsa State is yet to be concluded, that of Abia State was concluded on the April 25, 2015 and results declared. Whilst no winner has emerged in the on – going Governorship election in Bayelsa State, in Abia State, a winner has been declared in the person of Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), who has since resumed duty, performing the functions of his office. As reported by the media and the electoral body (INEC), the election in Southern – Ijaw Local Government Area of Bayelsa State was characterized by violence leading to loss of lives and property for which a Judicial panel of inquiry has been set up to ascertain the cause of the violence.

APGA lost the election both in the field and at the Governorship Election Tribunal to PDP. They have appealed the verdict of the Tribunal at the Court of Appeal. They have tried to create the impression that the attempted cancellation of election results from Obingwa, Osisioma and Isialangwa North Local Government Areas of Abia State by the State Election Returning Officer is similar to the cancellation of the electoral process in Ijaw South Local Government Area of Bayelsa State. In the latter case, the cancellation was supported by INEC, resulting in the Bayelsa State Governorship election being declared inconclusive. There is a huge difference in both situations which accounts for the untenability of the attempted cancellation in Abia State.

In Bayelsa State, there was wide spread reports of violence in Ijaw South Local Government Area of the State, ballot box snatching and even murder. Even security agents were helpless. Fourteen of the political parties which fielded candidates for the election were vocal in calling for a cancellation of the election in Ijaw South Local Government Area.

The scenario in Abia State was totally different. There was no report of mayhem in any of the Three (3) Local Government Areas whose results the State Returning Officer acting suo motu attempted to annul. In fact, at the point when the Returning Officer made his curious announcement, none of the Local Government Returning Officers for any of the Three (3) Local Government Areas in question had arrived at the State Collation Centre. What then is the basis of the annulment.

Our Electoral Law is comprehensive and 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 elections are marred by malpractices. Results once announced at the polling units cannot be annulled by INEC or any person acting on its behalf. Any person 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 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 provided 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 1999 Constitution following the collation of the results. For this conclusion, I place reliance on Section 69 of the Electoral Act 2010. Nowhere in our Laws is the Returning Officer at the Collation Center invested with the right 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 eye – witness account.

We agree that the Constitution of Nigeria empowers INEC to conduct elections into elective political offices, provided that INEC would only do so within the ambit of the Law. Whereas all those that were involved in the conduct of the election in Ijaw South are in agreement that the election was substantially flawed and marred by irregularities, the Returning Officer in the case of Abia State acted alone when he purportedly cancelled results he had not even seen or had power to cancel, talkless of having heard from the officers who conducted the process.

In conclusion, whereas election in Ijaw South was characterized by arson, wanton killing and destruction of property, in Obingwa, Osisioma and Isialangwa North Local Government Areas of Abia State, the story is different. The process was peaceful; there was no loss of life or mayhem of any sort. Those who conducted the election in the Three (3) Local Government Areas were escorted by security agents to deliver both the results and necessary election materials to the State Collation Centre. A fortiori, there is no basis for comparison between Ijaw South election and that of the Three (3) Local Government Areas of Abia State.

• Obia wrote from Aba, Abia State.

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