The March 18 2023 guber election in Enugu State took three days to be declared due to alleged non-use of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System and over voting in Nkanu East LGA. The state returning officer, Prof Maduebibisi Iwe, VC, University of Agriculture, Umudike, and also head of Scripture Union, Nigeria, was about to announce the results when Labour Party’s agent for the LGA, Eugene Edeoga, Ph.D, said the accreditation and voting were manually done.
Iwe henceforth suspended the exercise, and referred the matter to INEC headquarters in Abuja, where the results were reviewed and reduced from 30, 350 to 16, 956, implying indeed that the result would have been declared if it were not timely observed.
The declared results show that PDP’s Peter Mbah polled 165, 895 to defeat LP’s candidate, Chijioke Edeoga, who scored 157, 552 votes. Opinions have arisen that the election was marred by irregularities.
The Ingredients of the Electoral Act 2022
Barr TC Odo, a constitutional lawyer, said, “The rule says that accreditation and voting must be done with BVAS, meaning no BVAS, no voting, and no incident form. If otherwise, the presiding officer should be held responsible.
If BVAS malfunctioned, the attention of the registration area technical staff (RATECHS) is called upon either to maintain or replace the BVAS. If the measures become impossible, the election is postponed to the next day.
“Posting of ECA 8 (1) which is the result sheets of polling units should be done immediately after the collation. Party agents are to sign them, issue their respective copies, and then a copy is pasted on the wall for public views. The result will then be transmitted to the IREV portal. If the network is poor, the exercise is shifted to the LGA collation centre. The uploading should be completed and submitted and in real time.”
The Aftermath of Enugu Polls
Some political parties that participated in the polls have rejected the outcome, and fine-tuning means of going to court.
The Action Alliance state chairman, Mr. Ogbonna Festus Okafor, said, “The process is flawed. We also find it curious that despite over-voting in many polling units, INEC went ahead to announce Peter Mbah as a winner without reviewing the date in its IREV and BVAS. We had asked the returning officer to explain how the commission got the over 16, 000 votes allocated to Peter Mbah from Nkanu East, but it never offered that explanation.”
LP’s spokesman in the state, Onuora Odo, alleged that, “The results of Nkanu East showed monumental disparities between the number of registered voters and the total number of votes, but the obviously compromised INEC decided to disregard the provision of the Electoral Act and went ahead to declare the conspicuously padded results.”
LP’s guber candidate in the state, Chijioke Edeoga, claims that, “Nkanu East has produced two different results. The result that my agent has, which is available, is far different from the result which was taken to INEC headquarters and is now a subject of controversy.”
However, a stalwart of the PDP in the state, Barr Nwabueze Ugwu, said, “The work of INEC is to collate results and declare, and not to interrogate such results. That aspect belongs to the judiciary, and that is why we have the tribunal. It is there that the use of BVAS will be determined. It is the same thing INEC chairman did in declaring Tinubu the winner and telling the aggrieved to go to court.”
The People in the Arena
Sabinus Oscar Eze served as the collation officer for Owo Ward. Eze, a professor at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, stated that, “It was observed that only polling units 008, 009, 010, and 011 used BVAS machines for accreditation of voters while seven polling units (001-007) did not use BVAS machines. All my efforts to get the results from Owo Ward cancelled generated tension. The total number of registered voters in Owo Ward was 6, 129. How the number translated to 30, 000 votes from Nkanu East LGA is not known to Owo Ward collation officer. Note that all the result sheets from all the eleven polling units in Owo have only one political party with votes and other parties scored zero.
“All these were brought to the attention of the LGA collation officer who also doubles as the retuning officer. I categorically made it clear to him that he should not collate the results for Owo Ward, especially where BVAS machines could not work. He claimed he would not adopt my advice because his life would be in danger thereafter. I decided to do a letter of complaint to the REC through the LGA collation officer/returning officer. Unbelievably, he refused to accept it, insisting unless the EO endorsed it. The EO, on the other hand, declined to endorse the letter.”
Mr Nnaemeka Ogbene served as the collation officer for Nkanu East LGA. He lectures at the Computer Science Department of UNN. He said, “There are different levels of collation; mine is just to do the LGA collation and report to the state returning officer. When ward collation officers finished their collation, they were bringing them to me one after the other. There was this particular one from one of the wards, which was the last one.
“The collation officer for that ward brought his results, and actually informed me that BVAS machines were not used because at some point, BVAS started malfunctioning. I asked him if he filled any form in that regard. He said he had written a letter, but the letter did not get to me. The letter was sent to the electoral officer of that LGA. The collation officer collated the results, and gave them to me. I copied what contained in the sheet into my own. I waited to get the letter which will serve as a backup, but I never did.
“Initially when he finished the collation, he dropped that letter on my desk and he later came back and collected it. I was now calling him to get me a copy of that letter, and he never responded to the calls. I got information that he later came with the returning officer of the LGA who never gave me any copy of the letter. In that letter, he mentioned units that the machines didn’t work, and the number of registered voters affected.
“If you check the results I have in my sheet, and what the collation officers have, they are the same. I didn’t change any figure. The number of registered voters is about 82, 000, and those accredited were 6, 129.”
One of the ad-hoc staff, who was interviewed undercover, said, “When we left for the LGA, we met the SPO. She called us aside, and told us to deliver PDP candidate. When the election started, there was intimidation. We had to call soldiers on phone. When they came, everywhere was calm. When they left, everything started again. In my polling unit, LP won. When we got to the council headquarters, it was an open field. We waited for the SPO to arrive. Some LP agents came there. They were told to leave because this is PDP area. Around 12 midnight, we were still waiting for the SPO. Then a group of men came, and asked us to move to a particular building. When we entered there, they collected our phones. They say we should start casting votes for a particular party. We started from 2am until around 2:30am. We were more than 45 people. We didn’t use BVAS. We uploaded everything offline.”
INEC’s Review Fraught With Errors
An ICT expert privy to how INEC reduced the votes generated from Nkanu East to almost half said, “The review is fraught with errors. It ought to involve affected presiding officers, ward collation officers, supervisors, security agents and the RATECHS. The BVAS machines used in the affected areas ought to be examined at the state level, not Abuja because Abuja had no facts to rely on. They might have relied on the backend to get their results in Abuja. If the BVAS spoilt as alleged, they won’t be able to see the backend accreditation. If you say there was no network, how did they export what they relied on in Abuja?
“INEC, Abuja, relied only on the backend, and saw the number of the accredited voters in the entire Nkanu East LGA, and then allotted the majority to PDP. The opposition should interrogate those accredited per polling units and also demand their Verification Identity Numbers (VIN) to know if they actually voted. They should seek certified true copies of all accreditation done at those polling units.”
BVAS’ Failure and Ensuing Voter Apathy
Bar Emeka Ugwu is an Enugu based lawyer. He said, “The introduction of BVAS is one of the smartest things that INEC did. There are different functions of BVAS. One of them is to transmit or transfer the results. That is not the problem of the machine itself, it is about the people that handle it. We believe that some of the INEC officials lacked sincerity of purpose. It could be deliberate or they were intimidated so that false information was fed the BVAS machines by the people that handled them.”
Paulinus Idoko says the BVAS manipulation ‘is the antithesis of the election we banked on its credibility’. In his words, “The person that declared the result said it himself. He said he was a man under authority, and that he has been directed to say what he said; that this result was given to him from Abuja. He washed his hands off the authenticity of what he declared. What I am saying was on national TV. It is a sham result as far as I am concerned. So, BVAS is not the way forward because of what has happened.”
Chinedu Maduike said, “It is unfortunate that BVAS was manipulated. It shows we know the right thing but we can’t do it. How on earth can you imagine that our votes did not eventually count? I doubt if I will vote again. It was a waste of time. The election of Feb 25 substantially was a success. The rigging was central. But those of March 18 were flawed because politicians learnt how to rig the election from what Mahmoud Yakubu of INEC did. His asking the aggrieved to go to court and failing to transmit results electronically is like stealing one’s property in broad-day light and asking the victim to go to court. Voter apathy will be at its climax henceforth.”
Barr Inibehe Effiong says INEC’s failure to adhere to the electronic transmission of votes provided by the Electoral Act and in the guidelines issued by INEC is a violation of its provision. In his words, “The INEC chairman has compromised and made it clear that he has no credibility and reputation to organise credible elections by first failing to offer a cogent explanation for the blatant non-compliance with the law with regards to the electronic transmission of votes. This has repudiated what should have ordinarily been a credible election process. This makes the entire election process questionable. In fact, this election lacks credibility and should be nullified.”
Judiciary as Last Hope
Ebere Ozioko, a political science student, says she lacks confidence in the court. According to her, if those that perpetrated the electoral fraud are sworn in, they will use their good offices and public funds to bribe their way in court. The law would have made the electoral litigation completed before eventual winners are sworn in.”
Barr Emeka Ugwu has a different opinion. In his words, “We have confidence that the panel of judges to handle election matters in the state will be men of integrity. We believe that they will withstand the pressures which the opposition will mount on them. But like we say in law, justice must be seen to have been done. We hope that they will restore our stolen mandate.”
This report was republished with support from Civic Media Lab.