What transpired in the days and weeks leading to and specifically on March 9, 2019 during the Governorship Elections in Akwa Ibom State is becoming lucid. In that carefully executed electoral heist, Governor Udom Emmanuel of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was declared winner with 519, 712 votes to defeat his closest rival Mr. Nsima Ekere of the All Progressives Congress (APC) who polled 171, 978 votes.
Mr. Nsima Ekere and the APC in Akwa Ibom State are challenging the outcome of that election described in some quarters as largely flawed. The INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) in the State, Mr. Mike Igini is believed to have labored relentlessly to tip the scale in PDP’s favour and has not disguised his commitment to frustrate the APC at the Tribunal.
At the resumed hearing of the petition in Uyo, Counsel to Mr. Ekere and APC, Jibrin S. Okutepa, SAN tendered volumes of documents which were obtained in the course of inspection of materials in possession of INEC. The Tribunal had on April 15, 2019 granted the Petitioners’ request to conduct an inspection of all materials used by INEC in the conduct of the March 9, 2019 Governorship elections in the State.
The journey to this point has not been rosy. It has been full of thistles and landmines. The order of inspection of April 15, 2019 was never obeyed by INEC. In fact, on May 2, 2019, after series of attempts and meetings and delay tactics, the Petitioners once again approached the Tribunal to compel INEC to grant access to the materials. In a brief but stern remark, the Tribunal Chairman stated that he would not hesitate to invoke section 77 of the Electoral Act, 2010 which prescribed a penalty of 2 million against any staff of INEC who failed to comply with an order for inspection.
INEC under Mr. Mike Igini had mounted a spirited opposition to allowing the APC and its Governorship Candidate access to materials in its possession by deploying crude and underhand tactics to delay and outright frustrate inspection efforts. Mr. Igini was not alone. He worked in cahoots and enjoyed the tacit support and romance of erstwhile Attorney General & Commissioner for Justice Mr. Uwemedimo Nwoko (who is notorious for the ignominious roles he played in previous successive exercises at INEC).
These documents are being tendered against Mr. Igini’s wish. The application to have this documents tendered faced the stiffest opposition from Udom, PDP and INEC (1st, 2nd and 3rd Respondents respectively). In separate counter affidavits filed in opposition to the tendering of the reports which contained the documents, INEC in particular surprisingly opposed the Petitioners application to tender its own documents!
In a concise Ruling while granting the application, Justice A.M. Yakubu maintained that the an order of inspection had a corollary effect; that is, that the Petitioners will make use of the documents obtained from the inspection. He maintained that refusal of the Petitioners’ application will tantamount to negating the order of the Tribunal made on April 15, 2019. It could not be understood why INEC would oppose the tendering of documents obtained from its custody?
A peek into the mountain of documents so far tendered show that almost all the pages of the Forms EC8A (unit result sheets) were mutilated by erasures and counter inscriptions. Mr. J.S. Okutepa, SAN informed the Tribunal that many of the result sheets could not be found in the bundle of documents for the respective local government areas. Onlookers have viewed this as suggestive of meddling.
The APC had repeatedly raised alarm over reports of rewriting results and ticking of voters’ registers to tally with already declared results. On May 17, 2019, Mr. Ejike Nwankwo a staff of INEC working in the ICT department was also apprehended with several sets of card reader machines and handed over to the Police. Mr. Igini had then explained that the staff was using the machines for demonstration purposes and training of adhoc staff and took ill, thus his inability to return the machines.
Igini has in his loquaciousness never failed to ascribe sanctimony to himself. He prides himself as “son of man”. He was reported to have said the APC were at the Tribunal to “make noise, attract sympathy and look for appointment from President Buhari”. He was cocksure his stewardship for the PDP at the last polls was unimpeachable.
He was pompous and sure. So he elected to issue documents to the APC inspection team at prohibitive costs and in piecemeal according to his pleasure and pace. Now the documents are here. In gigantic bags they’ve been ferried into the hall of justice.
Sight of the formidable paper mountain of evidence would scare anyone. Counsel to Governor Udom Emmanuel Mr. Uko Udom, SAN seemed the worst hit as he could not comport himself and blurted out referring to the exhibits as “monster”! If indeed, he is speaking the mind of his client then the confusion in political circles in the State is no surprise.
As they say in law, the documents speak for themselves. It remains to see whether Mr. Igini’s documents will speak for or against its beneficiaries.