BY BENEDICT NWACHUKWU, ABUJA
Last week, there was palpable anxiety within the polity with precisely nine days away from the official kick-off of campaigns in Nigeria. The Coalition of United Political Parties had alerted Nigerians and the world in general to what it described as “dangerous under-the-table activities” that could compromise the integrity of the 2023 general elections.
The opposition coalition raised the alarm over alleged illicit activities of some of INEC staff that have led to the stuffing of the Voter Register with fictitious names from across the globe as well as moves to use a secret court action to stop the use of the BVAS Bimodal Voter Accreditation System) in the coming elections. The coalition subsequently called for the sack of the alleged compromised INEC staff who might have had a hand in the fake voter registration to save the country and Commission from embarrassment.
Speaking at a world press conference, the spokesperson of the CUPP, Ikenga Imo Ugochinyere, said the vigilance team of the coalition following what it called “credible intelligence” discovered various underground plots to derail the 2023 polls, the compromised voter register, and the secret suit at the Owerri Federal High Court where it was filed since August 24, 2022.
“On the issue of the grand compromise of the Nigerian electoral register, the falsification and upload of fake registration, forgery and traceable offenses of rigging the 2023 general elections, we have secured the documents to back up claims that we have uncovered the well-orchestrated grand compromise of Electoral Register, falsification and upload of fake registration, move to nullify the use of Bimodal Voter Accreditation System machine, a complete takeover of INEC and removal of its National Chairman from office.
“We are aware that INEC is cleaning up the voter register and we commend the Commission for that. However, the matter we have unearthed goes beyond that. During the just-ended Continuous Voter Registration from our intelligence, some of the APC-controlled states had access to INEC Registration machines and conducted their own registration process. This time not with human beings, they used hundreds of thousands computer generated photos and faces, passport photographs, calendars, photo albums, and in fact any human face they could lay their hands on including outside the country and especially in Africa. They went as far as Jamaica, Australia, New Zealand and Japan to pick photographs and names,” CUPP alleged.
The opposition coalition also displayed extracts of the National Voters register which it claimed were part of at least 10 million fake registrations done by one of the political parties. It said the names were sourced from both within and outside Nigeria including some African countries such as Ghana, Cameroon, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Togo, Guinea, Gambia and countries outside Africa including Jamaica, Brazil and New Zealand. They also showed several registrations which were captured from passport photographs and other photos.
“Significant among the discoveries in the register is the fact that the majority of the foreign names were all born in 1983 despite whether their photographs showed they were old or young. Many people were also shown to have been born between 1900 and 1914 yet their photographs were those of young people. Equally, many male photos had their gender written as female and vice versa.”
According to the spokesperson, “These machines were to be located in various government houses or other designated places in the 22 states of the ruling APC that were involved. These were trained personnel who were able to use only one fingerprint to register hundreds of thousands of persons. They had access into the system and these fake registrations have all passed through successfully into the database.”
Using Imo State as a case study, the CUPP Spokesperson in what he tagged the ‘Omuma magic’ said, “We tagged it Omuma magic because this plot was cooked in Omuma, the Ward of the governor of Imo State in Oru East Local Government Area and sold to the nation. In 2014, Omuma Ward had barely 6500 registered voters. Recently despite the local government area being the hotbed of insurgency in the state that has led to the relocation and abandoning of their ancestral homes, the Ward now has 46,000 registered voters and 46 polling units. This is Ward alone, not local government.”
The CUPP further alleged that the Chairman of INEC, Mahmood Yakubu, was under pressure for the commission to announce a change to the Commission’s hard stand on the compulsory use of the BVAS machine for accreditation or get sacked as Chairman of the Commission.
Ikenga Ugochinyere said that the intelligence the CUPP intercepted which has led to the discovery of the suit filed seeking to nullify the BVAS and exposure of the massive compromise in the voters’ register cannot now be wrong that the third leg of the plot is to sack the National Chairman through a suspension as the plotters know they cannot get the required numbers from the National Assembly for an outright sack.
The group thereafter called on international partners, local and international observer groups, civil society, and the general public to help it and protect democracy as the success of any of these plots will erode the integrity and credibility of the electoral process and deny Nigerians the sovereign right to freely choose their leaders.
It did not take the Independent National Electoral Commission much time to react to the fears raised by CUPP. The electoral umpire noted that no new registrant has yet been added to the register of voters for the 2023 general elections and cautioned that though the Commission recognizes and respects the right of citizens either as groups or individuals to demand an explanation from public agencies, they have to tread with caution in order not to cause more harm than good.
INEC’s response came via the National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye.
He declared in a statement that “the attention of the Commission has been drawn to a report of a press conference addressed by the CUPP on the Register of Voters for the 2023 general elections. The Commission recognizes and respects the right of citizens, either as individuals and groups, to demand an explanation from public agencies, including INEC, and to hold them accountable.
“However, it is always important that caution is exercised so that such interventions do not unwittingly sow doubts in the public mind, thereby diminishing public confidence and trust in the electoral process.
“Nigerians would recall that on 31st July 2022, the Commission suspended the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) to commence supplemental activities that will culminate in the integration of new registrants into the final Register of Voters for the 2023 General Election.
“It is important to reiterate that no new registrant has yet been added to the Register of Voters for the 2023 General Election or will be included until these supplemental activities have been completed in line with the law,” Okoye explained.
In a reassuring and confidence-boosting manner, Okoye stated that “We appeal to the public to await the Commission’s display of the register for claims and objections to raise any concerns that they may have about the registration. We reiterate that our ABIS is robust and will detect practically all the ineligible records for removal.
“Nigerians should be reassured of the Commission’s commitment to the credibility of the electoral process in Nigeria. We appeal for your support while we painstakingly deal with the cleanup of the register and other processes that will guarantee that the general election in 2023 is free, fair, credible and inclusive.”
“It is important to reiterate that no new registrant has yet been added to the Register of Voters for the 2023 General Election or will be included until these supplemental activities have been completed in line with the law”
Reacting to the development, a chieftain of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, Onwuasonya Jones, condemned in totality any purported activity that would jeopardize the integrity of the general elections in 2023. He said Nigerians were looking forward to the election to rescue the country from further decay.
“Anyone who sponsors actions against the deployment of BVAS during the upcoming general elections in Nigeria is simply an enemy of democracy and anyone trying to sabotage the preparations for electronic accreditation and upload of results in the upcoming election should go down in history as a traitor against our fledgling democracy.
“There won’t be any explanation, if indeed it is true, how these fictitious names found their ways into our voter register because there is practically no way Jamaicans would come here to do biometric capturing. The INEC should also thoroughly audit its data-capturing infrastructure to ensure that it is not vulnerable to manipulation. If fake people could register, then fake people can vote, and most likely, multiple voting is a possibility.
“The alleged plan to stop the deployment of the BVAS is a confirmation that those behind such moves have accepted how unpopular they are with their people, and if such people have the slightest modicum of honour, they should resign from their current offices, instead of seeking backhand ways to rule the people against their will,” he said.
A civil rights advocacy group, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria, in its reaction by the National Coordinator, Emmanuel Onwubiko, warned that “the judiciary must not be used to compromise the 2023 general elections through politically motivated suits sponsored by persons of ill intentions who also double as enemies of democracy.”
It added that “Millions of enthusiastic young Nigerians who are now energised to participate actively in electing Nigeria’s next President may stage nation-wide mass protest against judicial impunity,” if the judiciary failed to steer clear of such alleged plot.
The group also said the electoral umpire must expunge questionable names from its voter register to disallow electoral fraud and dissuade politicians not to bank on dead and underage persons to inflate their votes during elections.
“The alert on the secret case in court trying to stop the use of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) in the coming general elections must be stopped forthwith. It is illegal and undemocratic and the court must not become a pawn in the hands of moneybags and election riggers.
“Beyond delisting 1,126,359 invalid records, INEC must wipe out double, multiple, and ineligible registrants from the voter register. Democracy must be defended at all cost and the ruling All Progressives Congress nor any political party at all must not be allowed to rig itself into power at the centre again in the 2023 elections.”
Meanwhile, the lawyer whose NBA Stamp was used to file the Suit against the use of BVAS at a Federal High Court, Owerri, O. J. Abazie, Esq. has issued a disclaimer washing off his hands on the case and condemning the act in strong terms.
His disclaimer reads: “My attention has just been drawn to a suit commenced via Originating Summons filed at the Federal High Court, Owerri Judicial Division in Suit No. HOW/OW/CS/144/2022 Between NWANKWERE MORALE CHINWEN V. INDEPENDENT NATIONAL ELECTORAL COMMISSION & 1 ANOR.
“I hereby state in categorical and unequivocal terms that the suit was filed without my consent. The signature on the process is not mine and my initials are O.J. Abazie, Esq. The office address on the process is also not mine.
“The person behind this unfortunate act is one Blessing Iwuajunwa, Esq, a colleague in Owerri who was the only person I have given my NBA stamp since this year and she told me that she needs the stamp to prepare a land instrument owing to the unavailability of her stamp.
“I hereby condemn such acts in unequivocal terms and shall take the necessary steps to address such unprofessional conduct. The public should therefore take note.”
The ruling APC described what happened as a common mistake and error that can occur in the voter’s register. A chieftain of the party, Ogu Bundu Nwadike, while exonerating the party of any complicity, accused the spokesperson of the CUPP of feasting on a non-issue to attract cheap political sympathy.
“Of course, it’s common knowledge that mistakes and errors occur in voter registers, for various human imperfections like typographical errors and mistakes.
“Such errors and mistakes are eventually corrected by INEC, whenever they occur and are brought to their attention by responsible citizens not crying wolf by a drowning politician and political party that has lost the recognition of the people.”