By Dayo Benson, Political Editor & James Ezema
Mr. Josiah Uwazuruonye is the Anambra State Resident Electoral Commissioner. In this interview conducted immediately after the last Saturday governorship election, he spoke on the poll conduct and how politicians in connived with unscrupulous INEC officials to distort the votersâ€™ register used in the election and efforts made to correct same. Excerpts:
What is your assessment of the exercise? Did you receive any complaint?
Naturally, in any human involvement, you must receive complaints. People complained about problems they had and we were able to solve most of them.
But there was this recurring complaint of people not finding their names in the votersâ€™ register and they were denied voting in virtually all parts of the state. How would you react to this?
It cannot be in all parts of the state. Let me also give you a historical background of the problem. You see, one time the INEC office in Awka South was burnt down, probably during election. And that of the Onitsha North or so was also burnt down. It was not only the INEC office, all the materials, especially the votersâ€™ register and other materials. That fundamentally affected the affected the votersâ€™ register in those areas. And apart from that, what the politicians now did in Anambra State; they now had to connive with unscrupulous elements in INEC to now create imaginary polling units in Anambra State.
They also tried as much as possible to inflate number in their own choice polling units. So, this actually created fundamental problem for INEC. When it was discovered, INEC sent a crack team of ICT experts from the headquarters. The came, studied the situation and cleaned up the system. When this was done, they reproduced the CD ROMS of the report and sent to all the political parties. They downloaded the register and then started printing their own.
When I came on board barely a month or so ago, they made their observation and then complained about this problem. I then tried as much as possible to contact the ICT people to now go to their server to discover and then correct most of this production errors that were observed. As I was doing that, the political parties were coming, I was making explanation and telling them the processes that were on.
But, you see, in any human situation there is no way you will have a perfect situation; there have to be errors here and there which any human being should acknowledge because weâ€™re not God. We strive towards perfection but weâ€™re not perfect. That was the problem on ground. Having now done that, substantially, we had a votersâ€™ register we can say, from my won human angle, 80 percent perfect. That was the level we were before we went for the election.
All the people we saw today who had voterâ€™s card with pictures and could not exercise their franchise were affected by that anomaly?
No, no, no. Let me tell you, before the election, some of the politicians were printing fake votersâ€™ register and fake primary voterâ€™s cards, including the temporary voterâ€™s card we have, they now had to photocopy them into many places.
These were the problem they created for us. As they now tried that, they now want to blame INEC in what they did. As I always say as I tried to explain this to people, you donâ€™t create a crisis situation and you turn round to blame that crisis on some others.
It is wrong. That is the situation. They also had to include their manipulation in the computer that people in unit â€œAâ€, they now transferred them to unit â€œCâ€. People in units â€œBâ€ will have the catchment area of any of their political opponent, they will wipe out that one. In their own (catchment area), the will increase (the number of voters).
Donâ€™t you think that it is the responsibility of INEC to make sure that there is a votersâ€™ register that is up to date?
That is what Iâ€™m telling you. Let me give you a typical example. If you maintain an account in a bank and you have N50, 000, you just go to withdraw from the account and all of a sudden you now see N120, 000. Who put the additional N70, 000? As an honest person you will alert the bank, â€˜Look, Iâ€™m not the owner of the extra N70, 000′.
It is now the duty of the bank to now carry out an investigation to find how N70, 000 was added to and account which had a credit balance of N50, 000. That was exactly what INEC did in respect of this. If you now do that, you account cannot be an illegal account. It still remains your legally maintained account, the N70, 000 that was added will now be removed. In the case of one of the candidates, Ngige, it was corrected. He came here, I showed him and it was corrected.
Some of the voters came with their voterâ€™s cards, with their pictures to the polling units and they found out that the names on the register were not their own and it include Hausa names and we asked the presiding officer whyÂ he came with such votersâ€™ register and he said the registerÂ was provideÂ by INEC, how do you reconcile all these?
You see, that is the danger of fraud. The issue of having Hausa names (on the votersâ€™ register) is a manifestation of fraudulent acts these people (the politicians) perpetrated.
Fraud is an ill-wind that blows no person good. When they were doing this, they were thinking that they were cheating INEC and benefitting from it. But they have now seen the manifestation of that fraudulent conduct, that it has now affected them and they are now crying. That is the issue weâ€™re talking about.
Whenever you do something that is transparent; sleep transparency, wake up transparency, whatever you do, youâ€™ll see transparency radiating in all aspect of life. But a situation where you now think that fraud is now an index upon which you now live your life, you will also live to regret it because at any point in time you may be an immediate beneficiary of any fraudulent conduct but when it come with the negative aspect of it, you will live to regret it.
These are the things Iâ€™m now telling you they did. You know computer manipulation, you can clone any person through the computer, even in their rooms, they go into Internet, this is the negative aspect of computer. It is supposed to be a positive object but you can see what they are now using it to do.
You are saying they hack into your website?
No, Iâ€™m not telling you about hacking into our website. Iâ€™m talking about the connivance with fraudulent staff (of INEC). These staff have been dismissed while some of them are now under interdiction.
So, INEC staff are the ones responsible for the…?
(Cuts in) With the connivance of the politicians. So, whenever you see the figure (in the votersâ€™ register) going up, conduct your check, you will see that there must be a political bigwig there. He will now be there and open files to reduce the one (votersâ€™ register) in his opponentâ€™s, so, that his own will be high and that of his opponent will be low.
Did you record any incident at …?
You know, like snatching of ballot boxes, we also got the …
(Cuts in) Like the report of shooting?
I didnâ€™t hear that one.
Which areas did you get the report of ballot box snatching?
As they were bringing in the reports I was recording. I cannot give you that off hand.
But there was the one we saw in Agulu, three guys were arrested, other ran away with the ballot box?
We recorded that one. We were told.