…insists election was successful, violence free

By Ikechukwu Nnochiri

ABUJA—The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, yesterday, told the Rivers State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Abuja, that the Nigerian Army lied when it testified that the election that produced Governor Nyesom Wike, was marred by violence.

The commission alleged that the Army authorities, in a bid to discredit the outcome of the  April 11  governorship election it conducted in Rivers State, sent soldiers that gave false evidence before the Justice Ambrosa Suleiman-led panel.

Rivers governorship polls_ Who will you
Dakuku Peterside and Gov Nyesom Wike

It will be recalled that sequel to an application by the All Progressives Congress, APC, and its governorship candidate in Rivers State, Dr. Dakuku Peterside, the tribunal subpoenaed the Chief of Army Staff, Lt-General T. Y. Buratai, to produce some of the soldiers that were deployed in the state during the election, to appear and testify before the court.

The soldiers, in their separate testimonies, told the tribunal that the election was marred by violence and sporadic gun shots by thugs, a situation they said scared voters away.

Four of the Army officers who are all captains,  Garba Sani, who was in charge of Tai Local Government Area; Abubakar Mohammed, from Bonny Camp, Lagos; Fred Bala from Maiduguri, and Captain Isa Almakura, told the tribunal that they led different troops that were deployed in Rivers State during the election.

They testified that armed thugs attacked INEC officials at different local government areas in the state and carted away election materials, stating that no election took place at Tai LGA.

Specifically, Capt. Almakura, who covered Ikwerre LGA alongside 30 other soldiers, told the tribunal that at a time, his team got confused by the “bombardment of phone calls” from INEC ad-hoc staff who, he said, were shouting for help and rescue from thugs that invaded their polling units.

“On our arrival at polling units in Osuala, Onuerelu, Omerelu and Alu, we found the INEC ad hoc staff, mainly corps members, mercilessly beaten up by the thugs”, he added.

However, at the resumed hearing on the petition yesterday, INEC, through its lead counsel, Dr. Onyechi Ikpeazu, SAN, produced eight witnesses from the said LGAs who faulted the evidence by the Nigerian Army.

The INEC witnesses who were all presiding officers that conducted the election, told the tribunal that contrary to the testimony by the Army officers, the election was peaceful, successful and devoid of violence.

While tendering as evidence, result sheets from the different areas they manned, the witnesses told the court that they resorted to the use of manual accreditation of voters after the Card Reader Machines failed.

The witnesses equally adduced the incidence forms that were filled by electorate whose voters’ cards the card reader machines could not recognise.

The INEC witnesses said they personally submitted the result sheets at the collation centre.

The PW-12, Onyije Ifeanyi, a former corps member, told the court that he was the presiding officer in charge of Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni LGA.

He said: “My lords, I took the result to the collation centre myself where I had to wait for my turn because there were other presiding officers that also came to submit theirs. It is not true that there was violence in the area I covered. There was no incident of invasion by armed men. The election was peacefully conducted and everything went successfully.”

Ifeanyi testified that a total of 114 voters were accredited with the card reader machines, saying that his unit recorded 39 cases of failed accreditation.

In his testimony, the PW-13, Tubonini Mcbala, who was the presiding officer at Unit 8, ward 1 at Degema LGA, while insisting that the election was peaceful, told the tribunal that the poll was also monitored by agents of the APC.

While being cross-examined by counsel to the petitioners, Chief Akinolu Olujimi, SAN, the witness said: “My Lords, there was no incident of shooting or thugs carting away election materials.”

Any Army that came before this tribunal to testify that there was violence is telling lies.  As the presiding officer, I was there from the beginning of the election to the end. There was no soldier at the polling unit, the only security agents we saw were police and civil defence and there were all without arms”, the witness added.
He told the court that though the unit had a total of 360 accredited voters,  whereas   300 of them actually voted, only 298 valid votes were counted.
Out of the total, the witnesses maintained that only 83 voters were accredited with the card reader   machine.
Others that testified yesterday included the PW-14, Mohammed Yusuf who was in charge of Unit 12, Ward-1 at Opobo/Nkoro LGA , the PW-15, Maxwell Loveday who presided over election at Unit 6, Ward-9 at Adoni LGA and PW-16, Ogunkoya Olumide Adewale, who was in charge of Unit 5, Ward-4 at Pukuma in Degema LGA of Rivers State.
The witnesses separately testified that the election was peaceful, though the PW-15, told the tribunal that he had challenge while uploading data from the card reader machines.
“We had challenge with the network. We kept trying to upload data from the card reader machine to the serve until it went off. Aside that my lords, the election went without hitch and the card readers worked perfectly well”, be added.
Meanwhile, INEC which has so far called 16 witnesses before the tribunal, will today close its defence.
The tribunal had earlier given all the defendants to the petition, INEC, governor Wike and the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, six days each to persuade it on why the election should not be nullified and a fresh poll ordered.

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