Guber Elections: How thugs, INEC disenfranchised over 10, 000 Enugu voters
Ben Aroh investigates how electoral violence and the subsequent refusal of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to conduct a runoff as enshrined in the 2022 Electoral Act disenfranchised over 10, 000 voters during the March 18 2023 guber elections in Enugu State.
In Udenu LGA, some of the affected areas with the number of registered voters with their permanent voters’ cards (PVCs) are: Umugwu Village Square, Orba Ward I (001), 1, 152; Amaukwu 1 polling unit, Orba Ward 1 (007), 1, 069; Okpu Village Square of Orba Ward 2 (001), 1, 676; Nshama Village Hall of Obollo-Etiti Ward (007), 294; Uzoagu Village Hall of Obollo-Etiti (011), 288, and Agudele Village Hall of Obollo-Etiti Ward (020), 385.
In Nkanu West LGA, the same experience was recorded at Primary School Ogbeke, Agbani Ward (003), with 492 voters with their PVCs; and Amakpu Village Hall, Agbani Ward (007) with 903 registered voters with their PVCs.
In Nsukka LGA, the same disenfranchisement occurred at Amadim Village Square polling unit of Ogbozalla/Idi Ward (017), with 522 registered voters with PVCs; Obuiyi 2 Idi polling unit of Ogbozalla Ward (021) with 377 registered voters with PVCs, and at Itako Idi polling unit of Ogbozalla/Idi Ward (020) with 245 registered voters with PVCs.
In Igboeze South LGA, similar incidents were reported at the CPS, Iheaka 1 (003) with 1, 491 registered voters with PVCs; CPS Ovoko (Ajuona Ward 001), with 2, 378 registered voters with PVCs, and CPS Ovoko (Ajuona Ward 004) that has 1, 457 registered voters with PVCs.
INEC Duly Informed
Some of the electoral officials in the affected polling units claim that they reported the incidents to the appropriate authorities accordingly.
Wilfred Abigail Ifeyinwa was the assistant presiding officer attached to Obollo-Etiti 05, pu-004.
A report she wrote, entitled “Report on the attack and hijack of our materials during the Governorship and House of Assembly Elections” was addressed to the Electoral Officer, INEC Office, Udenu LGA.
She wrote, “I, Wilfred Abigail Ifeyinwa, assistant presiding officer attached to Obollo-Eke 05, pu-004, and my P.O. at about 02:45pm on 18-03-2023, after sorting and counting of votes, unknown gunmen attacked us and carted away our election materials and lodged us in an unknown location until this morning around 01: 34am before we were later released and we started coming back.”
A similar report was lodged by one Ugwu, Daniel Onyebuchi, presiding officer attached to Obollo-Etiti Ward 05, pu-020.
He wrote, “I, Ugwu, Daniel Onyebuchi, presiding officer attached to Obollo-Etiti Ward 05, pu-020, and Ogbu, Patience Chinyere as my APO I, at about 02:45pm, on 18-03-2023, after sorting and counting of votes, unknown gunmen attacked us and carted away our election materials and lodged us to an unknown location until about 01: 34am before we were released.”
THE WHISTLER interacted with some voters during the polls. Uchechukwu Eze said he registered at CPS Ovoko (Ajuona Ward 004).
According to him, “The voting went on peacefully. We were all satisfied that for the first time in our history, our votes would count. But alas! When the counting started, LP was having an edge. Suddenly, some thugs came and carried the ballot boxes after scaring us with gunshots. I don’t want to mention names, but I heard that a high-ranking public officer within this community masterminded it, just to deliver his ward to his party. My anger is that police operatives were timely alerted, but they refused to be proactive. So, I am not happy that this happened. I didn’t vote eventually after all my efforts to obtain my permanent voter’s card.”
At Lejja in Nsukka LGA, the same thing allegedly happened. Osita Odo said, “Where I voted was at polling unit 001. We had finished voting, and the sorting was being done when a thug who we all know came with his boys. We had about 600 persons that voted. That was it. The thugs burnt the whole materials and left. Till date, the culprits are moving freely. I doubt if I would vote again in this country, considering the deception INEC meted to us in terms of transparency.
“My take is that the attackers already knew the party that won in our unit. Because their party lost, the best they could do was to truncate the whole exercise. I felt bad how security operatives compromised the system. Their inaction exposed us to danger. It was only the military that salvaged the success of the election that day. But because they were not many, they would bring normalcy to a crisis area, and ask the police to sustain the peace. Once they leave, police will aid the rigging even more.”
How INEC Violated Its Own Rules
Our facts show that INEC officially cancelled the elections in the affected polling units, but never fulfilled the obligation of conducting a runoff.
Some cancelled units seen by this reporter included Obollo-Etiti pu 011 with an inscription ‘Cancelled, Violence’.
It was found that the state Labour Party wrote the INEC chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, in a letter dated 24th March, 2023, where it requested a runoff in the affected poling units.
The letter was signed by its state chairman, Barr Cosmas Agbo, and its state guber candidate, Barr Chijioke Edeoga, and the receipt was acknowledged by the national headquarters of INEC in Abuja.
In the letter, LP demanded a review and conduct of runoff elections in six LGAs, where allegedly over 21, 156 registered voters with PVCs were denied voting due to election violence.
LP contended that, “The elections were not held in several polling units for various reasons across the state, including destruction of polling materials as a result of thuggery and non-functioning of the BIVAS machines. These incidents were recorded by the responsible officials of the Commission in their incident books. These incident books/records were made available to the returning officers by the local government collation officers at the state collation centre.
“The Electoral Act 2022 and the Guidelines made pursuant thereto provide that in a situation as in this case, the election shall be declared inconclusive and no return shall be made until a runoff election is held to determine the true winner of the contest. We humbly request that the Commission abide by the provisions of the Electoral Act 2022, and the Guidelines made by the Commission by declaring that the Enugu State gubernatorial election as inconclusive and to conduct a runoff election to determine the winner.”
The public relations officer of INEC in the state, Mr Victor Okafor, told our correspondent that, “The guber election is a matter being heard at the tribunal, hence no comments on that. Wait for the verdict of the tribunal.”
Another source in the commission, who claimed he was not authorized to comment, told our correspondent that, “You can see that the matter moved to Abuja after the observation of over-voting by a LP agent. So, our Abuja office will be in a better position to determine how the scores were arrived at. You also know that the matter is already at the tribunal. So, let’s not preempt the court.”
A constitutional lawyer, Hyginus Ugwu, said the Electoral Act 2022 and the Guidelines are clear: “There should be a runoff when such occurs. The view of the law is that opposition could adopt to destroy votes from the strongholds of their opponents on the election day to give an edge to their parties. So, it will be assumed that adequate security would be provided during the runoff.
“The case of cancellation applies only when there is over-voting, which is not in this scenario you have sought my response. INEC erred by not re-conducting the polls in the affected areas. That also is among the prayers sought by the Labour Party in their petition. The commission adopted this stance in the guber contest in Kebi State which was declared inconclusive using similar reasons as in Enugu State.”
Impact of the Negligence
The race for the Enugu Government House was run by many political parties.
But foremost among them is the Labour Party’s governorship candidate, Barr Chijioke Edeoga, and the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Barr Peter Mbah.
Mbah was declared winner with a total number of 160, 895 while Edeoga scored 157, 552 votes.
Mathematically, the margin that Mbah used to have an edge over Edeoga is 3, 345 votes.
The number of voters disenfranchised by the electoral violence in the selected polling of the four LGAs under review is 12, 729, which its outcome would have changed the result either in favour or against the declared winner, Peter Mbah.
This report was published with support from Civic Media Lab.