Abia Polls: INEC And The Credibility Challenge – By Anthony Ezenwoke




Just like the other states of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the gubernatorial election and state House of Assembly elections held in Abia State on the 11th of April, 2015. However, while the results of the other states have since been declared, that of Abia and two other states are yet to been declared as the elections have been declared inconclusive by INEC.


The 2015 elections have been generally acclaimed to be free and fair with minimal violence recorded. Expectedly, the chairman of the commission, Prof Attahiru Jega has been receiving accolades for a job well done. But this back slapping appears not to factor in the sore point that the process in Abia state clearly is.  While applauding the distinguished professor, no one has bothered to call for a closer look at the drama playing out in God’s own state.


Something is clearly wrong in Abia state. The officials in Abia state and the procedure they have adopted warrants close scrutiny. While the election of members for the State House of Assembly has been concluded and winners declared, the gubernatorial election has been declared inconclusive. A supplementary election has been scheduled in designated polling units across nine local government areas of the state. Of course no winner would be announced until after the supplementary polls. The ostensible reason is that about 179,224 registered voters could not vote in the affected polling units. This number is higher than the 83,053 votes with which the PDP candidate is in clear lead. Thus giving a ‘second chance’ for the affected voters could determine the outcome of the entire exercise. It sounds reasonable enough. But a closer and critical look instantly throws up a welter of perplexing questions: what really happened at those polling units? How were they selected? Are they likely to favour any particular candidate? From what has so far transpired, do we have an umpire that enjoys the confidence of the generality of the citizens of Abia state? Perhaps only the commission is in a position to answer most of the poser s as the facts are certainly not in the public domain but we can attempt to answer the last one by a look at the conduct of the commission in Abia state as represented by its chief officers.


Long after results from the various local government areas ought to have been at the State Collation Centre, Umuahia, no results were announced by the commission, neither were there any announcements or communications of any sort to the expectant citizenry. People were left to speculate on the outcome of the just concluded exercise. All sorts of rumours filtered out and circulated. Then things came to a head of sorts when the commission announced cancellation of the results in three local governments namely: Obingwa, Osisioma Ngwa and Isiala Ngwa North.  The Candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) polled the highest number of votes from the affected local governments- one of them, Obingwa, is his local government of origin. The others are populated by people of Ngwa extraction like the candidate. The result of the calculated purported cancellation was too obvious; the candidate would be deprived of his commanding lead of over 83053 votes. Instantly, tension rose in the state. Panic ran through the ranks of the leading PDP. Youths of Ukwa/ Ngwa extraction recognized it for what it was: robbery, they started mobilizing for a showdown at Umuahia. In fact, a large detachment of  Ukwa/Ngwa youths were prevented from entering Umuahia by the timely reaction of the security agents who apparently anticipated the move and thus quickly cordoned off all routes to the capital city from the Ukwa/Ngwa axis.


On the other hand, there was wild jubilation amongst the ranks o f the All Progressive Grand Alliance. Several gun cannons were fired in celebration. The truth was obvious to all parties. This was not fair. It was a scheme designed to deprive one candidate and confer an unfair advantage on another. The governor and other prominent citizens took the position that the electoral body should confirm the extent of its powers under the Act. In an apparent admission that it acted ultra vires , the commission reversed itself. But the drama was not over yet. The results were not announced and no winner was declared. The wait continued. Two days after the reversal the wait continued and the commission went mute again. It was after the two days that the commission found another reason for not announcing the results and declaring a winner. The result of elections in some polling units had been cancelled due to violence and non compliance with the Electoral Act. On this pretext, there would be rerun election in the said units.  How the commission arrived at this strange conclusion is left to conjecture.


Curiously, elections for the state House of Assembly were not affected by this “violence”. The results have since been announced and the winners declared. Yet both elections took place on the simultaneously; same voters, same polling units, same circumstances, same time. After accreditation on the day of voting, a voter was given two ballot papers: one for the house of assembly and the other for the gubernatorial. Yet the commission insists that one was good enough while the other was marred by violence! How this conclusion was arrived at by the commission is left to conjecture. But one thing is certain. The generality of Abia citizens have lost confidence in the competence of the characters running the elections in the state to conduct free, fair and credible elections. The media – social, electronic, and print is awash with worrisome and embarrassing stories relating the relationship between Dr Alex Otti, the candidate of the All Progressive Grand Alliance and the major actors. It is on record that the University of Nigeria, where the Returning Officer, Prof. Benjamin Ozumba is the current Vice Chancellor, is said to have conferred an honorary doctorate degree on the APGA candidate, Dr. Alex Otti in the not too distant past.


Coincidentally, Prof. Attahiru Jegga was also conferred at the same occasion. Then there is the worrisome bit about the Resident Electoral Commissioner allegedly being a relative of the same candidate who is reported to have boasted that he used his influence to secure the transfer of the REC from Imo to Abia State.


The haste with which the commission arrived at the decisions that will clearly favour the APGA candidate tends to lend credence to the fact that the umpire is certainly biased. In Isiala Ngwa South LGA, after elections had been concluded and results from all the wards in the state constituency collated at the commission’s office at the council headquarters, Omoba ,  the result was announced and Chikwendu Kalu of the PDP declared winner. The Constituency Returning Officer announced that a Certificate of Return will be issued to the winner on a later date to be communicated to him. This was on the 11th of April, 2015. No certificate of return was issued, neither was a date for the issuance of same communicated to the winner.


On the 15th of April, the winner was alerted to an announcement on the Broadcasting Corporation of Abia State (BCA) radio to the effect that a rerun of the House of Assembly election had been rescheduled in specified polling units in the state constituency. It took a strongly worded petition from counsel to the winner which was accompanied by a Video CD recording of the announcement of the results and declaration of the winner for the commission to reverse the strange decision. Somewhere in between the drama, the INEC office in Isiala Ngwa South Local Government was totally razed by fire. The extent of the fire strongly suggests that dynamites were employed.


In the gubernatorial poll that has been quite conveniently declared inconclusive, official figures show that out of the 1,217,632 registered voters, 470,900 voters were accredited for the election. 439,454 votes were cast with 430,561 valid votes and 8,893 rejected votes. This leaves only 31,246 accredited votes unaccounted for. Given the earlier stated lead of the PDP candidate by over 83,053 votes, it is difficult to imagine how the commission arrived at the inglorious decision that the number   of votes involved could influence the outcome of the polls one way or the other. Even assuming the whole votes were allotted to the candidate of preference, the stark reality is that 31000 votes cannot cancel 83000 votes.


In any event, the crux of the matter right now is the legality or other wise of the decisions and actions of the commission with regard to the gubernatorial elections in Abia State. To determine the   correct position, recourse must be had to the extant relevant laws, in this case the Constitution of Nigeria and the Electoral Act. Section 179 (2) of the Constitution is unambiguous, it provides thus:

“A candidate for an election to the office of Governor of a State shall be deemed to have been duly elected where, there being two or more candidates-

(a)    He has the highest number of votes cast at the election; and

(b)   He has not less than one-quarter of all the votes cast in each of at least two-thirds of all the local government areas in the state.


Also the Electoral Act provides that “In an election to the office of the President or Governor whether or not contested and in any contested election to any other elective office, the result shall be ascertained by counting the votes cast for each candidate and subject to the provisions of sections 133,134 and 179 of the Constitution, the candidate that receives the highest number of votes shall be declared elected by the appropriate Returning Officer.”


It is Section 53 of the Electoral Act that confers on the commission the power to declare election in a polling unit or constituency a nullity and this is in the event of over voting.  Subsection 2 of the section is worded thus:


“Where the votes cast at an election in any constituency or polling unit exceeds the number of registered voters in that constituency or polling unit, the election for that constituency or polling unit shall be declared null and void by the commission and another election shall be conducted at a date to be fixed by the commission where the result of the polling unit may affect the overall result in the constituency”  (underlining mine)

Section 26 of the Act also provides for postponement of election in the following words


(1)    “Where a date has been appointed for the holding of an election, and there is reason to believe that a serious breach of the peace is likely to occur if the election is proceeded with on that date or it is impossible to conduct the election as a result of natural disasters or other emergencies, the Commission may postpone the election and shall in respect of the area, or areas concerned, appoint another date for the holding of the postponed election, provided that such reason for the postponement is cogent and verifiable”


Interestingly both Sections 26 and 53 of the Act make similar provisions in their sub section (4) thus:


26 (4) “Notwithstanding the provision of subsection (3) of this section, the Commission may, if satisfied that the result of the election will not be affected by voting in the area or areas in respect of which substituted dates have been appointed, direct  that a return of the election be made.”


53 (4) “Notwithstanding the provision of subsections (2) and (3) of this section, the Commission may, if satisfied that the result of the election will not substantially be affected by voting in the area where the election is cancelled, direct  that a return of the election be made.”


For purposes of clarity it is important to state here that subsection (3) of both sections provides that there would be no return of the elections until another poll is taken in the affected areas.


In view of the reasons proffered by INEC for ordering a supplementary governorship poll in specified polling units, it is pertinent to consider and determine the number of votes affected and whether that number can in fact substantially affect the result of the election. The problem here is to determine the criteria for arriving at the number of affected votes. Is it the total number of accredited voters or the total number of registered voters? The commission conveniently prefers the later formula.   That the Commission should choose to adopt this construction is rather strange and throws up some posers for instance; what percentage of registered voters participated in the elections? Is there any where in the Commission are   records that witnessed 100 percent voting by the registered voters? In a rather bizarre logic, the Commission places the total number of registered voters in the affected areas, ie 179,224 votes against the number with which the PDP candidate is leading with ie 83,053 votes. With respect, this is standing logic on its head because 83,053 votes is a fraction of the number of voters accredited for the election and not the total number of registered voters that could have voted for the candidate. 179,224 voters could vote in the affected areas but that is only if they are accredited for the purpose which is clearly not the case here.


In any event the total number of registered voters in Abia State is 1,217,632, so if the Commission wishes to calculate based on the number of registered voters in the affected areas, then the number has to be placed side by side with the total number of registered voters in Abia State. The question therefore becomes whether the number in the affected areas can affect the outcome where the total number of registered voters in the state participated; that is 179,224 against 1,217,632? The answer seems pretty obvious.


On the other hand, basing the calculation on the number of voters actually willing to participate in the polls appears more consonant with reason and common sense as well as justice and fair play. The reason is that all voters who were willing to exercise their franchise were accredited. The procedure adopted during the elections was that accreditation of voters started as early as 8am and ended by 1pm while voting started by 1:30pm. There is no report that there were circumstances preventing voters from being accredited. Thus any issues had to do with accredited voters being able to vote or not.


The Electoral Act itself foresees that not every registered voter will necessarily vote. Section 62(1) of the Act provides thus: “ At the prescribed hour, for the close of poll, the Presiding Officer shall declare the poll            closed and no more person(s) shall be admitted into the polling unit and only those already inside the     polling unit shall be allowed to vote” .


It is clear that the voters to be taken into account are only those who met the criteria for casting their vote but was unable to do so for recognized reasons. The criterion in this case is accreditation. The number of accredited voters whose votes were not accounted for is known- 31,246 (out of this number, it is possible that some of them went home after accreditation and chose not to return to the inconvenience of a queue.  Could this number have substantially affected the outcome? The reality is simple enough. We need no electronic calculator to do the arithmetic: 31,246 simply cannot cancel 83,053.


The end result is that the Commission has no reason in law and logic to withhold or keep withholding announcing the results and declaring the winner o f the gubernatorial polls in Abia State


As for the well respected chairman  of the Commission, Prof. Attahiru Jega, the gist now widely circulating that his co- honoree was able to influence the drafting of his relative to Abia State to oversee an election that  he is also contesting has the potential for raising unnecessary question marks on his credentials for credibility. Thus, there is a great need for his intervention to save Abia state from further absurdity.

Anthony Ezenwoko is a Port Harcourt based legal practitioner



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