- Opposition parties reject results, question INEC’s transparency
- Ruling party uncovers plot to cause constitutional crisis
- Obasanjo writes Buhari, wants process cancelled
- Contest fair, losers should accept defeat – Itsey Sagay
BY TIMOTHY AGBOR, BENEDICT NWACHUKWU, MAYOWA SAMUEL AND BRIGHT JACOB
Tempers flared on Monday in Abuja during the counting of Nigeria’s hotly contested presidential election when representatives from the parties of the two main opposition candidates walked out in anger from the center where state-by-state results were being announced.
With 11 of Nigeria’s 36 states having reported as of Monday evening, the candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress, Bola Tinubu, was leading with 46 per cent of the 6.7 million counted votes so far.
He was followed by the People’s Democratic Party’s candidate, Atiku Abubakar, who had 29 per cent.
Peter Obi of the Labour Party had 20 per cent.
In order to win, the candidate who leads the popular vote must also win at least a quarter of the votes in two-thirds of the states and the capital, Abuja.
By 5pm on Monday, the Independent National Electoral Commission had uploaded results from just 66,167 polling units, out of a total of 178,846, its website showed.
“We take full responsibility for the problems and regret the distress that they have caused the candidates, political parties and the electorate,” the commission said in a statement.
However, tempers rose during the counting exercise where representatives of all the parties awaited the results.
The PDP and LP claimed there were disparities between the results announced by the election commission and what their representatives learned at the polling stations.
“We are Nigerians and must defend our rights,” said Dino Melaye, a representative of the PDP.
The Electoral Act 2022 allows party representatives or agents to raise concerns about results while they are being announced by INEC.
Nevertheless, the Chairman of INEC, Mahmood Yakubu, dismissed claims of irregularities and said the results were authenticated by electoral officials.
Also, representatives of the APC accused the opposition parties of inciting violence and called on security forces to restrain them.
“If they don’t, a situation may well arise that none of us want, whereby people actually act on this incitement and begin to kill other people,” said Femi Fani-Kayode, a former minister and a member of the APC Presidential Campaign Council.
“And if that happens, I assure you it will be very difficult to restrain those on our own side not to retaliate,” he added.
The APC pointed to Obi’s victory in Lagos State as proof that the vote was free and fair.
Obi had scored 582,454 votes against Tinubu’s 572,606 in Lagos.
On Monday, the African Union Observer Mission said voting had been delayed in more than 80 per cent of polling units mainly because of logistics challenges caused by Nigeria’s currency swap programme.
The redesign of the Nigerian bank note, the naira, caused cash shortages, nationwide, and voters and poll workers had difficulties getting to polling stations on Saturday.
Voters in some states had to wait until late in the evening to cast ballots, while in other states, the election continued on Sunday.
Observers from the missions of the African Union and the West African regional bloc known as ECOWAS said the election was generally “encouraging” except for isolated cases of violence that disrupted voting in some states.
A preliminary report on Monday by two international election observer groups from the US also returned a negative verdict about the integrity of the exercise.
The International Republican Institute (IRI) and National Democratic Institute (NDI) Joint Election Observation Mission (IEOM), led by Joyce Banda, former President of Malawi, noted that despite the reforms to the Electoral Act 2022, “the election fell well short of Nigerian citizens’ reasonable expectations,” while the electoral commission lacked transparency.
Banda said after the polls, challenges with the electronic transfer of results and their upload to a public portal in a timely manner, undermined citizens’ confidence at a crucial moment of the process.
“Inadequate communication and lack of transparency by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) about their cause and extent created confusion and eroded voters’ trust in the process.
“The combined effect of these problems disenfranchised Nigerian voters in many areas, although the scope and scale is currently unknown,” the ex-President added.
OBASANJO RAISES ALARM
Also, former President Olusegun Obasanjo has said danger is lurking around the corner over the alleged compromise of the ongoing election process.
He, therefore, called for the cancellation of the process to allow the right thing to be done.
Obasanjo, in an open letter on Monday, appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari to prevail on the INEC boss, Yakubu, to stop the process and rectify the allegations raised against it from many quarters.
“Until last Saturday night, February 25, 2023, the good and noble plan and preparation for the elections seemed to be going well. For the Independent National Electoral Commission, a lot of money was spent to introduce Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS), and the server for immediate transmission of results from polling units. It is no secret that INEC officials, at operational levels, have been allegedly compromised to make what should have worked not to work and to revert to manual transmission of results which is manipulated and the results doctored.
“The Chairman of INEC may claim ignorance but he cannot fold his hands and do nothing when he knows that the election process has been corrupted and most of the results that are brought outside BVAS and server are not a true reflection of the will of Nigerians who have made their individual choice. At this stage, we do not need wittingly or unwittingly to set this country on fire with the greed, irresponsibility and unpatriotic acts of those who allegedly gave money to INEC officials for perversion and those who collected the blood money,” he warned.
Also on Monday, the Osun State chapter of the APC alleged that the process was badly rigged against it, hence all the National Assembly positions were won by the ruling party in the state, the PDP. It threatened to go to court to seek redress.
Speaking to The Point on Monday night, Afenifere leader, Ayo Adebanjo said, “The time this BVAS is giving us problems is very suspicious. Even though we won in Lagos, we understand that we even have more votes but for violence and disruptions. It’s a pity that the INEC chairman is disappointing many of us who thought he had started well.
“I don’t know why he is ending it this way. Look at the point that Melaye is giving. What is the problem with the transmission of results from the polling unit? By not adhering to that, they’ll not tamper with it at the collation center, and that is their problem. That’s the problem we are talking about, that’s the problem INEC chairman should answer. What Dino Melaye is saying is, don’t announce further results, let’s go and reconcile the figures they have with the ones uploaded. Why is he refusing to do that? And then, you ask them to go to court. It’s unfortunate.”
“Finishing the collation is dangerous. He is pushing us to the court. By the time you finish the counting, you announce, it becomes official, that’s what Melaye said. I don’t know why what Melaye is asking for is a problem for the chairman, if there’s no ulterior motive,” Adebanjo added.
Elder statesman and former Nigeria’s Ambassador to Philippines, Yemi Farounbi, also echoed the disappointment of Nigerians by INEC.
He argued that once the image of the whole election process had been smeared, the pillar on which the whole democratic process stands would have been seriously dented.
He stated, “The 2022 Electoral Act gave Nigerians great hope that the 2023 elections would perhaps be the best we have ever had. The hope was also based on repeated and continuing assurances given by INEC that it would comply with the provisions of the Law. Nigerians were encouraged by the fact that sometimes in the process of making the Law, INEC identified with the people, particularly in the use of electronic transfer of results.
“To the dismay of the people and dissatisfaction of observers, they find that INEC has failed in the three major areas that had excited the people earlier.
“First they found the use of BVAS, which is basic to a perfect accreditation process, was seamless in many areas. They were shocked to find that the use of the BVAS was a nightmare elsewhere. In such areas, accreditation was suspect, illegal use of others’ PVC was possible and over voting occurred in certain instances.
“Second, the electoral process envisaged the electronic transfer of results to the INEC portal. There are now doubts; whether this has been done. Third, INEC failed to open the portal into which the results were to be electronically transferred so that voters could cross-check the data INEC was using at collation centres with the reality at the polling units. The absence of this portal has raised serious doubt about the transparency of the electoral process.”
APC HITS BACK
However, the ruling APC wasted no time in hitting back.
The Tinubu/Shettima Presidential Campaign Council alleged that the oppositions PDP and LP were currently “shopping for a court order” to stop the announcement of the presidential election results.
APC further alleged that the walk-out staged by agents of some of the opposition political parties during the ongoing announcement of presidential election results at the National Collation Centre was “precursor to executing the plan” to stop the exercise.
The Director of Public Affairs and Chief Spokesperson, Tinubu/Shettima Presidential Campaign Council, Festus Keyamo, SAN, made the allegation on Monday evening in a statement.
Keyamo, who is the Minister of State for Labour and Productivity, noted that the grand plan by the aggrieved political parties was to throw the country into a constitutional crisis.
“We have it on good authority that the People’s Democratic Party and the Labour Party have perfected plans to finally scuttle our democracy and throw the country into constitutional crises by surreptitiously obtaining ex parte court orders stopping the announcement of the Presidential Election results which they fear have gone against them,” he alleged.
He added, “The walk-out they staged today at the National Collation Center is just a precursor to executing the plan. Nigerians would recall that the June 12, 1993 debacle that brought Nigeria to its knees and caused our country international isolation was precipitated by a court injunction stopping the announcement of presidential election results. The court order was obtained by a certain Association for Better Nigeria headed then by one Chief Authur Nzeribe.
“This is exactly what Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and Mr. Peter Obi want to foist on this nation again because of their inordinate ambitions. This is not surprising because both candidates were nowhere to be seen when ASIWAJU was fighting for the democracy we all enjoy today.”
Legal luminary, Itsey Sagay, who also spoke to our correspondent, said, “The elections should not be cancelled, and there’s no credibility crisis rocking it. Those who cannot accept a loss…I think they should learn to accept that they have lost an election.”
“When you go into an election, somebody must win, and somebody must lose. The whole process that has been going on now, as far as I am concerned, is normal,” Sagay declared.
Continuing, the Senior Advocate of Nigeria said on the uploading of results before they were announced at the Collation Centre, “all the collations have been done. The results were announced at the various polling units.”
“Then from the Polling Units, they were taken to the ward levels, from there to the Local Governments, and now to the federal level. I don’t think anything can be more transparent than that because every party can determine the outcome (of the elections themselves).
“They can determine those who voted and who were voted for by simply adding up various result sheets that their agents collected at the polling units. Put everything together, and you’ll get your result,” he said.
Sagay added that he didn’t agree with the arguments presented by the aggrieved parties about the INEC server.
According to him, a server could fail but not the “hardcopy”.
“The hardcopy, the paper cannot fail. Even Americans rely on that when the electronic system is unreliable. Honestly, I don’t see the grouse of those who are complaining,” he concluded.
Emmanuel Onwubiko, the National Coordinator of the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria also tagged the elections as fraudulent.
Onwubiko said, “The present 2023 general election is the worst case scenario of brazen disregard and outright violation of the Guidelines and or Rules and Regulations of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on the conduct of general elections across the country.
“Festus Okoye, INEC Commissioner for Information and Voter Education, during an interview with Channels Television confirmed that BVAS is a device introduced by INEC which allows for accreditation of voters through biometrics capturing, uploading of polling results and other functions just as stakeholders have described BVAS as an upgrade of the smartcard reader, which was used in the 2019 elections, and a game changer in the country’s electoral process.”
HURIWA while citing the Ebonyi Senatorial election noted that there was no doubt that as a result of the collusion and connivance, the result of the senatorial district election does not reflect the genuine outcome of the accreditation exercise in the elections because election observer on ground confirmed to HURIWA that they discovered that in most of the polling units located within 12 Local Government Areas, the INEC officials allegedly connived with APC to reduce PDP’s votes.