By Amos Igbebe
The overwhelming evidences emanating from the Delta Election Petitions Tribunal sitting in Asaba, the Delta State capital, are indicative that a possible re-run may be the last option for the choice of who takes over the soul of Delta, one of the most politically volatile state in the oil rich Niger Delta region of Nigeria. The election which was conducted on April 11, 2015 and produced former Senator Ifeanyi Okowa of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) as winner is being challenged by the candidates of the All Progressive Congress APC, Olorogun O’tega Emerhor and Labour Party, Chief Great Ovedje Ogboru.
Ordinarily, Otega, whose party now rules at the Presidency, cannot lay claim to victory at the polls, even Great Ogboru who won in four local government areas going by the results released by the Independent National Electoral Commission, and has been a champion in the tribunal war since the days of the immediate past Governor, Emmanuel Uduaghan. Their contention, as it seems, is that Okowa, supported by Uduaghan, rigged his way into victory, hence he cannot be declared winner of an allegedly rigged election. Evidences being released at the tribunal are suggestive that Okowa manipulated the votes, settled a lot of grounds, increased the figures of voters more than accredited persons, consequently, he won with outrageous votes.
The contention of Otega and Ogboru therefore is that the tribunal should invalidate the election and then call for a re-run. In the election which was conducted throughout the nation on April 11, Okowa was said to have polled 724, 680 votes, Ogboru of Labour Party polled 130,028 votes while O’tega of APC scored 67,825 votes. Ogboru won in four local government areas while Okowa won in 21 local governments leaving APC with none. But contrary to figures which gave Okowa victory, facts emanating from INEC headquarters in Abuja indicate that prior to shutting down the central server as at April 29, only 709,000 persons were reported accredited and at the expiration of the shutting down of data upload, the final tally stood at 715,393 accredited voters in the state.
But reports say Delta INEC office put the figure of accredited voters above 900,000, exceeding the actual accredited number as revealed by the report obtained from the central server at INEC Abuja headquarters. Otega and Ogboru are therefore contending that there was a compromise at the collation centres in connivance with INEC officials at the Delta office. They are now arguing that if total accredited voters from the INEC is 715, 393 and Okowa alone scored 724,680, exceeding number of voters accredited by INEC, where then comes the 130,082 and 67,825 persons that voted for the Labour Party and the APC candidates?
At the tribunal which now sits on daily basis in Asaba, with Justice Nasiru Gunmi as Chairman, there are always fireworks as the Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) hired by Okowa, Ogboru and Otega and heavily paid to prosecute their cases argue both in favour and against issues raised by the three parties. But evidences pouring in from those invited by the tribunal to testify are hair raising as they all point to the fact that the election was maliciously rigged to favour the PDP candidate.
Two INEC officials, an Assistant Director in the ICT Department from Abuja headquarters and Chief Planning Officer, Delta State office, were directed to give testimony on the conduct of the April 11 election, following the request by the All Progressives Congress and its candidate, Emerhor Otega. Apart from the accreditation report which is one undeniable evidence, other documents tendered by the INEC officials at the commencement of hearing, included manual for election officials 2015; INEC’s April 2, 2015 press statement making accreditation through use of card readers only mandatory for the governorship elections; and guidelines and regulations for the conduct of 2015 general elections.
They told the tribunal that “the card readers recorded no sustained failure during the governorship election in Delta State and that as the accreditation was in progress, the central server was recording the number of persons from the various states. This appears to be unknown or ignored by the parties in contention as the election progressed in the state. In Nigeria’s technology driven 2015 elections, INEC central server generated real time data from card readers across polling units. This was to detect malpractices, especially inflation of figures. Although Okowa’s legal team objected to the admissibility of the documents presented by the INEC officials, their objection was overruled by the tribunal.
The objection caused a mild drama at the tribunal as the witness’ testimony was strongly in favour of the opposing candidates. The Abuja official was subpoenaed by the court to confirm the credibility of the Card Readers as used Unit by Unit during the governorship elections in the state. This was to show, verify and authenticate the record of how the election was conducted and the result generated from the polling units.
But lead counsel to Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, Mr. Alex Iziyon (SAN), the counsel to the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Timothy Kehinde as well as counsel to INEC, had argued that the witness, who happens to be an Assistant Director of INEC, Mrs. Abimbola Oludunjoye, cannot tender any document because it was neither certified nor contained in the petitioner’s grouse. However, their objections were overruled as their plea fell on deaf ears.
The INEC staff who claimed to have put up 16 years in the commission and stood by her testimony on oath, told the tribunal that the server for the uploading of information from the Card Readers was shut down after six weeks of the conduct of the election. According to her, the commission’s headquarters communicated to all the Heads of Departments across the country before it was shut down.
When she was confronted with the question that the Card Readers may contain incorrect information or tampered with by the field workers before it was uploaded, Mrs. Oladunjoye said; “the information in the Card Reader cannot be tampered with”. Besides the INEC staff who testified at the tribunal, all arguments so far raised at the tribunal have never been in favour of the sitting governor, Ifeanyi Okowa. The sitting, which rotates between Ogboru and O’tega taking their turns to present their cases, runs from 9.am through to 6 pm on daily basis with adjournments in between days on few occasions.
The struggle is getting tense on daily basis as the PDP battles to retain its power hold on the state. A source close to the State PDP Chairman, Edwin Uzor, confirmed that PDP structures across the state have been put on red alert in early preparations for possible re-run election. The fear gripping the PDP is not unconnected with the confirmation of INEC staff that 709,000 voters were accredited for the April 11 governorship election in the state.
What this means is that if only Okowa’s votes exceed the 709,000 voters captured, it appears that Deltans did not vote for the other candidates that participated in the election. The PDP source further hinted that this development has crashed the hope of the PDP legal team who are currently battling to strangulate the trial process through crafted legal technicalities that appear not working as planned. PDP is parading three high flyer Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) with a view to intimidating the opposing candidates to pull out of the tribunal.
Unlike previous tribunals where justices were biased and ruled under the influence of Abuja powers, the Justice Nasiru Gunmi led tribunal has been fair in his dealing with all the parties involved in the tribunal. One thing that may turn the table against Okowa is that he has no one at the Abuja power house who could press any button for him, unlike the days of Uduaghan and Ogboru where PDP was controlling the presidency and the state. Then, it was wide knowledge that the influence of former President Goodluck Jonathan had overpowering effect on the outcome of the tribunal that tried the case between Ogboru and Uduaghan. But the ongoing tribunal has Okowa and his friends in Delta alone as the presidency and the judiciary are now under the control of the All Progressive Congress (APC).
As it is now, Deltans are in high spirit waiting for the outcome of the tribunal in the coming weeks. On daily basis, the crowd that gather at the tribunal in support of their prefer candidates is always intimidating. Some leave the venue with broad smiles with anticipation of victory, others leave with bowed head as fear grips some hearts over the possible outcome of the tribunal. Going round Asaba, the state capital, many are already anticipating an outcome that will lead to a re-run, while a few are of the opinion that it might favour the sitting governor, Ifeanyi Okowa as it has always been. Some have also said even if the election is conducted many times in Delta, Okowa will emerge governor as he has all the strongmen in the state.
But others are of the view that going by some programmes already put in place by the governor and some pains he has caused some persons, especially the civil servants he has sacked which he refused to call back and other government officials he has relieved of their appointments, the free health scheme which he is converting to compulsory contributory health insurance scheme, the alleged introduction of school fees to public schools beginning from next academic session, Deltans may turn their hearts away from him. While a few are of the opinion that with the appointments he has made so far and the ongoing youth empowerment program, he has touched many lives which could work in his favour if the tribunal eventually calls for a re-run. While the argument continues among Deltans and the legal fireworks reign in the tribunal, time and event will tell who rules Delta as the wind of change blows across the nation.
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