Ahead of the next election cycle in 2023, a seeming dangerous crisis of confidence has started to emerge in Nigeria. There are worrisome pointers that favoured political parties can be declared election winners without fielding electoral candidates. Secondly, is like returning officers are now free to openly campaign for the anointed party.
Nigeria’s electoral umpire, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), declared the All Progressives Congress (APC), President Muhammadu Buhari’s party, winner of the December 5, Okigwe Senatorial District bye-election in Imo State.
While it was not considered as a ‘serious’ matter, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) literally shocked Nigerians by its alarm of a glaring partisanship of the Returning Officer in the Bakura Constituency bye-election in Zamfara State, Prof. Ibrahim Magatawa.
PDP National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, in a statement said Magatawa openly declared that the Saturday re-run election already won by the PDP is to enable the APC to gain “upper hand over the PDP”.
As usual, PDP promptly demanded an immediate removal of Magatawa as his embarrassing pronouncement tended to betray a plot to use the re-run in 14 polling units where election was cancelled under unclear circumstances, to rob it of its victory in the Bakura State Constituency bye-election.
‘’Our party and Nigerians were shocked when, in declaring the election inconclusive, given that the total number of registered voters in the 14 polling units is 11,439 higher than the 2,181 difference between the 18,645 votes scored by the PDP and 16,464 votes garnered by the APC, Prof. Magatawa openly suggested that the rerun will give the APC upper hand over the PDP’’, the opposition party said.
In Magatawa’s words “if the APC is to, may gain advantage if there is another election in these units where election is cancelled, that they may get upper hand over the PDP and as a result, we have declared this result inconclusive”.
If not contained immediately, Magatawa’s statement tends to expose the partisanship of INEC officials ahead of the 2023 polls. This emerging political development is capable of igniting a dangerous crisis of confidence, and points to a creepy plot to allocate fictitious votes to APC once the game plan sails through with the re-run polls being obviously used to test the strategy.
For PDP, Magatawa’s comments raised apprehension that elections in the 14 units were cancelled to achieve a sinister design to rob it of its electoral victory.
PDP declined to go into issues of weighty allegations of plots by APC to use huge financial inducements, in addition to compromised security operatives to manipulate election to its favour. ‘’We however call on INEC to stop using individuals like Prof. Magawata in our elections. He has shown to be a biased umpire who could not even hide his abominable enterprise’’, PDP said.
The party demanded that INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, directly took over the conduct of processes in the Bakura State Constituency bye-election, where it was in clear victory. That demand did not seem to carry the day.
However, in Imo State, announcing the result, the Returning Officer, Hakeem Adikum, said APC polled a total of 36, 811 votes, while PDP came second with 31,903 votes. News Agency of Nigera (NAN) reports that INEC did not return a candidate from APC.
Adikum said APC won in five out of six Local Government Areas in the senatorial district while the PDP came second having won only in Obowo Local Government Area. He then declared local government areas won by APC as Okigwe, Onuimo, Isiala Mbano, Ehime Mbano, and Ihitte Uboma.
“I hereby return the All Progressive Congress as the winner of the bye-election held in Imo North on Saturday, December 5”, he said. INEC also on Sunday declared the candidate of PDP, Dr Stephen Odey, winner of Saturday’s Cross River North Senatorial bye-election.
The Collation Officer for the bye-election, Prof. Ameh Akoh of Alex Ekwueme Federal University, Ikwo, Ebonyi, who announced the result, said Odey scored 129,207 votes to defeat eight other candidates, pointing out that the candidate of APC, Joe Agi (SAN) scored 19,165 votes to emerge second while the candidate of the African Democratic Congress, Gregory Agam, came third with 388 votes.
“I, Prof. Ameh Akoh of the Alex Ekwueme Federal University, Ikwo, Ebonyi State, hereby declare that Dr Stephen Odey of the PDP having scored the highest number of valid votes is hereby declared winner of the Cross River North senatorial by-election.
“The PDP candidate is hereby declared winner in line with electoral guidelines”, he said.
The senatorial bye-election however, followed the death of Senator Rose Oko. PDP’s candidate, Mrs Maria Akwaji, also won the Obudu State Constituency seat in the House of Assembly. She obtained a total of 32,166 votes to defeat her closest rival, Mr Abor Adaji, of APC who scored 3,546 votes.
Prof. Ezeoha announced the result after collation from different polling units. Akwaji is the wife of the late Goodwin Akwaji who died in July in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. By the result, she takes over the seat of her husband as member representing Obudu State Constituency.
While INEC pointed out that nine political parties contested in the senatorial bye-election and six in the Assembly bye-election, PDP agent, Thomas Aruku, says the party’s victory is well deserved.
“I see the victory as well deserved because among all the political parties in this election, it was the PDP that criss-crossed the 54 electoral wards. So, to me, we are just reaping the fruit of our labour,” he said.
INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) in Imo, Prof. Francis Ezeonu, said that the commission was unable to return a candidate from the APC as winner, explaining that this was as a result of what he described as “several Court orders” for and against the two major contenders, Frank Ibezim and Ifeanyi Araraume, a former senator.
He said that two Court judgments had surfaced on Friday, one from the Court of Appeal, Owerri, and another from the Federal High Court, Abuja.
It will be recalled that the Court of Appeal faulted the judgment of the Federal High Court, Owerri, which had nullified the candidacy of Ibezim and declared him candidate while sacking Araraume barely 24 hours to the election.
The Federal High Court, Abuja had on the other hand declared Araraume as candidate of the party, on the grounds that Ibezim presented fake certificates to the APC and INEC.
Before these emerging pointers, Governor Hope Uzodinma of Imo State had alluded to the plan of his party to use starvation as a weapon of electoral war against the PDP. He urged actors in PDP to join the ruling APC or remain ‘hungry’.
He was speaking in Abuja in reaction to the defection of his Ebonyi State counterpart, David Umahi, who dumped PDP for APC. After meeting with President Buhari, Uzodinma said Umahi “quickly understood that joining the ruling party will take his state out of hunger”.
“Once you believe in Nigeria and you have a pan-Nigeria attitude, of course, you will go for a national party. There is no gainsaying that if you are not with the national party, and you choose to be in opposition, of course, you will continue to fast until God answers your prayers.
“But we that are in the ruling, of course, what it will take us to solve certain problems may be different from what it will take somebody who is not very close to the source of authority to solve his own problems.”
For Premium Times, by implication, the governor possibly meant the federal government, controlled by the ruling APC is favourably disposed to states it controls hence deploys more funds to settle their challenges to the detriment of others, adding, it also gives credence to arguments that partisan politics in Nigeria lacks ideology but is underlined by monetary and political patronage hence the ease with which politicians switch parties.
Uzodinma said the APC is a national party and hoped that others would join the party. “There is no way you can compare what your people will get in an opposition party to what they will get from the ruling party. APC is the ruling party which has access to the federal government. Our gospel has always been how to unite Nigeria, how to encourage national unity, national integration, and national cohesion.
“It will be more cost effective to have my people, the people of South-East see reason and join APC, the national party. I’m very optimistic that gradually, we will get there. It’s a matter of convincing our people, which we are doing”, the governor said, adding, “the APC is the best political party with the best political manifesto, programmes and government in power.
“What we are doing in the South-east as a party is carrying the message of the party. Before this time, some of us beloved that we should have marketed the ideologies and policies better than the past leadership did. What we are trying to do is to explain to our people the need to see that this Nigerian project belongs to all of us and if you jump out of the train, don’t accuse anybody of pushing you out of the train.”
Uzodinma became Imo governor last year following a controversial judgment of the Supreme Court. Premium Times reported how the Supreme Court nullified the election of Emeka Ihedioha of PDP, who was the former governor of Imo State and then declared Uzodinma as the new governor in January.
The apex court declared Uzodinma of APC as the winner of the March 9, 2019 governorship election in the state. In the judgment of the seven-member panel, read by Justice Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, the apex court agreed that results in 388 polling units were unlawfully excluded during the collation of the final governorship election result in Imo State.
Justice Kekere-Ekun said with the results from the 388 polling units added, Uzodinma polled a majority of the lawful votes and ought to have been declared the winner of the election by INEC.
Meanwhile, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, has congratulated APC for its victory in the various by-elections conducted nationwide, saying the victories in some states have once again reaffirmed the popularity as well as the vote of confidence the people have in the party and its candidates.
The Speaker specifically congratulated the Lagos State APC and its victorious candidates for the Lagos East Senatorial district and that of Kosofe State Constituency II, Tokunbo Abiru and Obafemi Saheed respectively.
In a statement by his Spokesman, Lanre Lasisi, Gbajabiamila equally congratulated Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos for leading the party to victory in the state, noting that APC remains the party to beat across the country, saying it would remain so.
Gbajabiamila is urging APC candidates that emerged victorious to be magnanimous in victory as that is the hallmark of APC as a party, and called on Nigerians to continue to support the APC as it is the only party that seeks to make the lives of the citizens better despite global challenges.