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Controversial result in Nasarawa: Ombugadu Counsel writes INEC to review guber poll

Civil society groups urge INEC to explain ‘step aside’ order on Abia REC

Since after the March 18th, 2023 governorship and House of Assembly elections, the political atmosphere in Nasarawa State has not been the same. Many observers have described the election as one of the most clandestine polls ever conducted in Nigeria.

They believed that the introduction and use of technology in the 2023 election have done more harm than good, considering the number of issues that marred the exercises from the delivery of election materials to the transmission of election results and announcement of final results of contenders.

The Bimodal Voters’ Accreditation System (BVAS) was supposed to improve the system and reduce electoral malpractices, but it turned out that a lot is still needed to be done with the use of BVAS to truly guarantee credible and fair elections in the future.

However, that 2023 election left more issues to be settled does not negate the fact that the BVAS is one of the best innovations so far introduced in the country by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

Just as INEC upgraded and introduced the use of BVAS, so also politicians, upscaled their rigging pattern and ask whoever is not comfortable to go to court.
It was observed that in some places, the figures in the election result sheets do not tally with the figures at the INEC’s IReV portal, and where the ruling APC does not have the advantage of the people’s mandate, election results are outrightly cancelled on the ground of over-voting or crisis.

Given the loopholes that characterised the 2023 election, it is important to say that INEC needs to be independent enough to determine who becomes what, through the wishes of the people at the poll, void of intimidation, inducement and/or sentiment of sorts.

Much as the challenges experienced in the elections are not peculiar to Nasarawa State, it is indeed surprising to see how INEC, through the various returning officers at all collation levels shortchanged the people, abandoning the Electoral Act to do the bidding of desperate politicians.

It is a known fact that since the governorship election in Nasarawa State, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, which actively participated in the election is reacting differently to the outcome of the exercise. This is an indication that something may have been suspected to have wrong.

Firstly, the outcome of the presidential and National Assembly elections was a big blow to members of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) and other registered political parties, who thought that the Labour Party Presidential candidate, Peter Obi and his running mate, Yusuf Datti were huge jokers and non-starters, and cannot make any wave in the Nigerian political circle.

But LP won a state christened politically as a home of APC and the political laboratory of President Muhammadu Buhari.
This was considered an insult by the entrenched political establishment in the state.

Surprisingly, even some of those in the APC, PDP and other parties were said to have secretly worked and voted for the Labour Party at the presidential election.
The Labour Party gained wider acceptability in the state because it came as a neutral party.

It is in light of the above that the people of Nasarawa State massively gave their mandate to Peter Obi of the Labour Party, believed to be the right candidate to address Nigeria’s many problems. It was not so obvious that many ardent “Batified”, “Kwankwosiya” and “Atikulated” followers did not see it coming, that Obi-Datti will win Nasarawa State.

It should be noted that since the present democratic dispensation in 1999, where elections are conducted for the presidential seat, no political party has ever won the secondary election in the state, other than PDP. This is the first time the narration changed in favour of the Labour Party,

Shortly after the presidential election, the atmosphere unnecessarily became tensed as some politicians began to fan the embers of discord amongst the people for their selfish interest.

A first-class traditional ruler in the state was first heard saying that they were for APC and would do everything to deliver the state for APC, and that, whoever wins other than APC will be rigged to favour the APC candidates. Governor Abdullahi Sule and his deputy, Emmanuel Akabe, were flanked by the traditional ruler in his palace, during APC’s campaign tour, when the statement was made.

Also, there were other people, including government officials and religious leaders, who openly challenged Christians for voting Obi-Datti in the state. They also threatened that the governorship election was a jihad that every Muslim must fight to ensure the victory of the APC at the polls. It was forecast in one of the viral videos that in the subsequent elections, they will fly a Muslim-Muslim ticket in a multiethnic and multi-religion state and nothing will happen.

They seem to forget that the votes given to the LP presidential candidate was a collective choice of the people, who are tired of the Nigeria’s situation and needed someone different to lead the affairs of the country. It was gathered that even members of the APC, who did not believe in the candidature of their party, unapologetically voted LP presidential candidate.

Indeed, it was not only Christians that voted for the LP, both Muslim Ummah, Christians and traditionalists that form members of the PDP, NNPP, and APC among others, not minding the Muslim-Muslim ticket of the APC, went all out during the presidential election and irrevocably voted the candidate of their choice. Their choice on the February 25 Presidential election was not on sentiment.

For the Christian community, the postponement of the governorship election was an opportunity to intensify campaigns and mobilisation against such incisive comments, capable of disrupting the existing peace in the state. The Christian body in the state, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) did call for calmness and urged its members and Christ followers to choose candidates of their choice.

In Nasawara State, there are basically three religious worshipers, namely Christianity, Islam and traditionalists, and each family that constitutes the ethnic nationalities in the state, are found worshipers of the three aforementioned religions.

In spite of the voter apathy experienced in the governorship and House of Assembly elections in the state, the voters were not deterred to vote their choice, and going by election results uploaded in the INEC IReV portal, it is only left to the court to fairly determine who the winner of the March 18th governorship election in the state is.

There are majorly four candidates of various political parties that contested for the 2023 governorship seat and among the four, only one is a Christian. They are Abdullahi Sule of the APC, Abdullahi Yakubu Maidoya of the NNPP, Mustapha Abubakar of the SDP and David Emmanuel Ombugadu of the PDP.

Even though the leadership of the PDP is yet to make any statement on its next move, it was gathered that the party might eventually go to court after crossing the T’s and doting the I’s of its claimed victory at the polls.

But one week after the election, the concerned women group of the PDP, led by the women leader, Stella Ari Okposhi, had been on the street demanding for justice. The women who were drawn from across the 13 local government areas of the state, had particularly called on INEC to review the discrepancies in the March 18th governorship election within seven days of the election, as stipulated by the 2022 Electoral Act.

The women, who turned out in large numbers, were seen marching from the state Secretariat of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the INEC office in Lafia, with placards and leaves, while some others are naked rolling on the ground and floating their breasts to express their dissatisfaction over the development. The PDP women in Lafia, Akwanga, Masaka, Nyanya simultaneously joined the rally in their various domains.

They peacefully demonstrated to the state INEC. As of the time of filing this report Saturday, they had marched for five days.
The placards they carry have various inscriptions such as, “INEC give us our mandate,” “INEC rape of democracy”, “INEC betrayed the people of Nasarawa”, “Electoral fraud will not stand”, “INEC should respect people’s wish”, “INEC should stop being biased”, “INEC correct yourself”, “Yes Ombugu, No Sule” “Stop the conspiracy against our people,” among others.

The women however, presented letter of protest to the state Resident Electoral Commissioner, Uthman Adejigba in his office in Lafia for action.

Okposhi said that they were planning to take action and to push further for justice and equity, should the REC fail to respond to their request at the end of the seventh day as required by the Electoral Act.

She also said that their protest was normal in a democratic setting, as there was no violent, destruction or threat issued to anyone.

“We went peacefully from our party office to the INEC office to ask the INEC REC to tell us and to announce the governorship election

“The reason we went to the REC is that two wards of Gayam and Ciroma cannot determine the election of 13 local governments, because these two wards are under Lafia as a local government.

“And it is in this two wards that the election of the governorship and House of Assembly was conducted simultaneously.

“But at the end, that of the governorship, the INEC officer claimed that they have announced it, which to us, is a fraudulent act .

“Since they did not announce that of the House of Assembly, which is just a constituency election, but announced the governorship, which consists of 13 local governments, within the shortest period.

“While the House of Assembly election is still pending for two to three days now, they are saying the election for the Lafia central is inconclusive.

“If the election of Lafia central, which consists of Gayam and Ciroma wards is inconclusive, then automatically that of the governorship is being rigged.

“Because, if they cannot get exact number to announce the House of Assembly election, and Gayam and Ciroma are part of Lafia government, which the election was conducted from the polling units with the same BVAS and accreditation, with that of the governorship, the only difference was the result sheets, then they cannot announce the right thing, then there is problem.

“Where did they get the figure to announce that of the governorship and they cannot get the correct figure to announce that of the House of Assembly, which they are saying is inconclusive?

“That is the reason we are protesting. To us as women in Nasarawa State, we believe that the so-called announcement of the governorship election is fraudulent.

“They have rigged the election, if not, the figure that did not determine the House of Assembly election, should equally apply to the figure that should not be announced for the governorship election.

“That is why we feel, the INEC has not played their part. They have taken sides.

“When we went to the INEC office the first day, we only saw the INEC PRO, we told him we wanted to see the INEC Commissioner. On the second day, we repeated the same protest to INEC and luckily we met him (REC). We explained our feeling to him and we told him that if justice is not served, then he should know that, they want to put Nasarawa into a situation that is only God that will take control of it.”

She said, as peace makers, “we are asking for justice in the March 18th governorship election.

“We also told him that whoever tries to deny what God has destined for someone, that person’s destiny can never be fulfilled. God will also punish and tarnish that person’s image.

“We also told him that we are waiting for him to know that whatever they gathered, whatever is the plan or sentiments, they should know that Nasarawa State is greater than the INEC or an individual.”

She said, their protest was not to fight anybody, but to enable INEC justify the true mandate of the people.

“If they did not, we will still go back in protest. As women of Nasarawa State, we ask the INEC to recheck the discrepancies in the election result of the governorship within 7 days so that the reality and the truth will prevail.

“And the seven days start from the date the election was conducted and if he did not response positively to us, we will still go back to him for justice and equity, because as an Independent National Electoral Commission, it is their duty and we want them to be independent and never to allow themselves to be bought over or dance to the tune of anybody.

“We don’t want any favour from them, we want a level playing ground so that everybody will test his popularity, and the people of Nasarawa State have done so.

“Where we protest, and justice is not prevailed and the right thing is not done, that is where we will further push for justice.

“But for now, we are waiting for the seventh day for the REC to respond to our letter and demand, and if he did not respond, that is where he will see the response of the women and the action that will be taken,” Stella Okposhi said.

In a letter with the reference number MJN/CO/22/03/23, dated 22n March, 2023 and signed by Michael Jonathan Numa, SAN, the Managing Partner of an Abuja law firm, addressed the INEC chairman seeking justice for David Emmanuel Ombugadu in the 2023 governorship election.

According to the letter requesting for immediate review of the decision of the returning officer, Professor Ishaya the Nasarawa State gubernatorial election held on the 18th underwent to section 65(1) of the electoral act, 2022, and a demand for the immediate declaration of David Emmanuel Ombugadu as the winner of the election.

The letter reads in part, “We are counsel to RT. HON. DR. DAVID EMMANUEL OMBUGADU; the Gubernatorial Candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (P ) for the elections held on 18t March 2023 and declared on the 20th arch, 2023 hereinafter referred to as our client on whose express instructions we seek this review.

“We respectfully commend the Independent National Electoral Commission (the Commission) to the provisions of Section 65(1) of the Electoral Act, 2022 which cloths the Commn with the requisite power to view the decision of the Returning Officer in appropriate cases.

“We contend that the factual matrix of the compladumbrated below constitutes an appropriate case within the context of the Electoral Act, 2022 to seek and obtain a such pre-judicial review to avert the injustice meted on our client. It is our instruction to put in context and state as follows;

“That on the 18th day of March, 2023 the election of Governorship in Nasarawa State was duly conducted in all the polling units in the State where elections could be held and the results were duly entered into the prescribed forms EC8As in the presence of all party agents who participated in the actions.

“This polling unit (PU) results were accordingly transmitted t the ward collation centre where they were collated into the scribed forms EC8B at ward levels comprising the entire state from ward to ward.

“At the constituency level where the results from forms EC8Bs are to be collated into forms EC8C for onward recording into form EC8D, the process was slowed down deliberately b some Constituency/Local Government Collation Officers allowed the ward Collation Officers of some wards t alter their entry on the forms EC8Bs of some wards already collated to gerrymander the polls by inflating the figures even beyond the record of accredited voters, all in a bid to favour their preferred candidate.

“Particularly, after the collation of Polling Unit results comprising the Gayam and Chiroma wards, the total number o accredited voters in the Gayam ward is 13,825 while that o the Chiroma ward is 21,125 and the total of valid votes cast in the Gayam and Chiroma wards is 13,525 and 20,542, respectively, as it can be seen clearly from the BVAS report he Forms EC8A respectively uploaded on the INEC IRe portal.

“We humbly wish to note that all the duplicate copies from the respective Polling Units were duly issued to all the party agents and security personnel present at the PUs and the same results were already uploaded to the INEC portal by the presiding officers which show the total of registered voters, total accredited voters, total valid votes, total invalid votes and total votes cast in all polling units in the state which includes Gayam and Chiroma electoral wards.

“Surprisingly, in a deliberate move to sabotage the declaration of the known outcome of the governorship election held peacefully, some local government collation officers and the State Returning Officer instead of ensuring proper collation o the results using the available data went ahead to collate inflated, and altered results figures in forms EC8B and EC8C and declared the election in favour of APC gubernatorial candidate thereby, truncating the obvious victory of our clients as the winner of the said election.

“In the Chiroma registration area where polling units result figures were manipulated and altered during the entry in form EC8B and collation at the Lafia Local Government collation centre against the procedure of entering result figures contrary to Section 70 of the Electoral Acts, the actual recording and total score as collated for APC and PDP from each of the polling unit comprising of the registration area as transmitted to INEC IReV portal and duplicates issued to party agents.

“Meanwhile, the total scores for APC following alteration in form EC8B alongside the scores of other political parties have an inflated total of 50,944 while that of PDP was drastically reduced to 851.

“Similarly, in the Gayam registration area where polling units result figures were also manipulated and altered on the form EC8B and collation at the Lafia Local Government collation centre against the step-by-step procedure of entering of poll contrary to Section 70 of the Electoral Acts, the actual recording and total scores as collated for APC and PDP for each of the polling unit comprising of the registration area a transmitted to IReV portal and duplicate issued to party agents.

Read also: Nasarawa Guber poll: PDP group demand Justice, as protest enters day-2

“Meanwhile, the total scores for APC after the alterations in form EC8B alongside the scores of other political parties have an inflated total of 29,857 while that of PDP was reduced to 1,448 from 2520 as uploaded on the IReV. Instead of 10,198 for APC and 3067 PDP as actual scores in the election.

“In Ashige electoral ward/registration area where polling unit result figures were properly collated from forms EC8A comprising 36 polling units collated, announced and entered into form EC8B at the registration area, the local government collation officer arbitrarily refused to collate the entire ward result into form EC8C thereby, directing the cancellation of the entire ward result because our client was leading. This, the collation officer acted in total disregard to the protest and resistance by our client’s agent a the local government collation centre citing over voting in a particular Unit(s) not linked to the other polling units comprising the electoral ward. With due respect to the local government collation officer, he has no right whatsoever to direct the cancellation of the entire ward result due to over voting.

“We humbly wish to note that the cancelled Ashige ward result from form EC8B result shows that the total score of APC is 2349 while that of PDP is 4180.

“It is pertinent to state that elections are won and lost at the polling unit and the returning officer lacks the vires to discountenance the polling units’ results at the Local Government Collation level with or without FORM EC40(G) or cancellation report from the presiding officers.

“Furthermore, we noted that, in Awe LGA, the collated results from polling units is 23041 for the APC while for the PDP is 9185 meanwhile in the final collation in form EC8D the score of APC I inflated to 26966 while PDP is deflated to 8025. This, the collation officers at wards and Local Government Areas did by reducing the votes scored by other political parties while adding up the figures of the APC to cover up.

“We humbly wish to note that, while collation was ongoing at the Lafia LGA collation centre, the PDP agent raised alarm to both the LGA collation Officer and also the State Returning Officer on the openings on the ongoing alterations and manipulations of form EC8B and C both orally and in writing but all to no avail as the Returning Officer and the REC in their separate responses to our client’s agents’ observation say they cannot verify and or review the results during collation except by the Commission’s headquarters while insisting o the collation.

“We, therefore, most respectfully beseech the Commission to review the legal decision of the collation/returning officers in favour of the APC and its candidate and from available facts earlier set out accordingly we urge the commission to re-collate the entire affected polling unit result or in the alternative, recount the ballot papers (i necessary) in arriving at the correct decision which will clearly show that our client; Rt. Hon.Dr. David Emmanuel Ombugadu polled the majority of the valid votes cast and met the requirements of the law and should be declared and returned as the winner of the election.

“Based on the above submissions, w, therefore,e urge you, Mr Chairman, to use your good office to accordingly review and reverse the improper decision of the Returning Officer in declaring the election within 7 days in favour of our client as prescribed by law.”