By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA—Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, yesterday, said only 293, 072 voters were electronically accredited for the governorship election in Rivers State on April 11, 2015.
The Commission made the disclosure at the resumed hearing on the petition before the Rivers State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Abuja, by the All Progressives Congress, APC, and its governorship candidate in the state, Dr. Dakuku Peterside.
Testifying as the PW-49, an Assistant Director in the ICT Department of INEC in Abuja, Mrs. Abimbola Oladunjoye, told the tribunal that the figure represented the total number of electorate captured by the Card Reader Machines used for the poll.
Oladunjoye, who is in charge of the Commission’s database, however, admitted that some electorate in the state could have been accredited manually, especially in areas where the Card Reader Machines failed.
She told the Justice Mohammed Ambrosa-led tribunal that information concerning the number of accredited voters for the election was transferred from the Card Reader Machines to a central server created by INEC.
According to her, the Commission stopped uploading data from the machines to its server, six months after the election held.
She said in some instances, the unavailability of network inhibited the upload of data from the Card Reader Machines.
“If the card reader is damaged before there was an attempt to upload data, it cannot be uploaded to the server. It is also important for me to emphasise that the card reader was designed to capture only electronic accreditation,” the witness stated.
Asked if she could state with certainty that the figure was a true reflection of the total number of electorate that participated in the Rivers governorship poll, the witness said: “My lords, I really do not have any document from the ICT department of INEC in Rivers to the effect that all the data were uploaded before the six weeks cut off date elapsed.”
Nevertheless, the tribunal, yesterday, admitted and marked the report from INEC as exhibit A-9.
Earlier, the Nigeria Police Force told the tribunal that the governorship election in Rivers State was marred by violence and widespread rigging.
Sequel to a subpoena issued on the Inspector General of Police, IGP, Solomon Arase, by the tribunal, three police officers, appeared and testified as witnesses for the petitioners.
In his testimony, one of the police officers, (the PW-48), Mr. Garba Michael , told the court that his team arrested over 70 persons thumb-printing ballot papers at the Secretariat of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, at Sime in Tai Local Government Area of Rivers State.
He said: “I was detailed to move materials from INEC office to Korokoro. I was sitting down at INEC office when my squadron commander at about 12:45p.m. got a distress call from Sime area. I was immediately asked to move there with my team. At the PDP secretariat, we met people with election materials and arrested them. I called my squadron commander and told him about the development. He came down with a lorry and we evacuated the people and materials to our base in Tai Local Government Area.
“We arrested over 70 people including security men. Others were Youth Corps members serving as ad-hoc INEC staff and PDP agents. What we recovered on the scene included Card Readers, thumb-printed ballot papers, inks and pad, vests, electoral boxes and result sheets. I took some snap-shots with my phone and transferred it to a flash drive.”
Attempt by the witness to tender the photographs was opposed by counsels to INEC, Governor Nyesom Wike and the PDP, all respondents to the petition.
The respondents relied on sections 98, 102 and106 of the Evidence Act and challenged the admissibility of the pictures in evidence.
Though counsel to the petitioners, Chief Akinlolu Olujimi, SAN, argued that all the photographs were originally pleaded at paragraph 812 of the petition, the tribunal declined to admit the exhibits into evidence.
In its ruling, the tribunal held that proper foundation was not laid by the petitioners to warrant the admissibility of the photographs.
In his own testimony, the PW-50, a Deputy Superintendent of Police, Yusuf Buba, from 56 Police Mobile Force Squadron Ogoni, claimed he witnessed massive thumb-printing of ballot papers at a football pitch situated inside a police station.
He told the tribunal that an Assistant Commissioner of Police and the Electoral Officer in-charge of Kana Local Government Area in the state, masterminded the electoral malpractice.
He said: “I was a unit commander and was posted on election duty to Kana Local government. I led 63 other officers. We were detailed to take charge of INEC office with a view to securing INEC materials stored in the office and providing security for INEC staff there. At 1900 hours, ACP Kenneth Akubue came to INEC office and took the Electoral Officer, EO, to an unknown destination. The EO remained there till after midnight. Later a bus carrying unknown persons came into the INEC premises and I was alerted.
“I immediately went to where the vehicle parked and I asked them to explain the reason for their being there. None of them could give me a satisfactory and cogent answer, so I asked them to leave. As they were leaving, I asked my men to raise a barrier blocking the entrance to INEC premises. Things remained like that till 0700hours on April 11, when the EO resurfaced. There and then we started asking her questions about where she went to because she left her fellow INEC staff in that office. Her answer was that she observed that her life was in danger and she was left with no option than to follow the Area Commander.
“Being the commander in charge of that place, I told her to go and start issuing materials to her staff after addressing them, and she complied. At about 0900 hours, sporadic gunshots erupted from Zaakpon axis. I quickly gave a swift order to my men to dash down, and we all dashed down, observing where the shots were coming from. Some men, unknown to me where sighted making calls, as soon as they finished the call, the shooting ceased. We got information that the people perpetuating the act were boys of Solo from Yege.
“At about 10a.m., the Area Commander came and destroyed the barrier we created and allowed political thugs to get access to the INEC premises. Under the watch of the Area Commander, the thugs started carting away electoral materials. We could not control the place again because it was very rowdy. I quickly gave a situation report through my GSM to my squadron leader, CSP Valentine Oluse.
“At Boni Area Command, I met people thumb-printing in a football field. I immediately disembarked and went to the Area commander’s office where I met the EO seated in his office. I reported to him about what I saw and he said I should mind my business. I was left with no option than to leave his office and continue my patrol. We visited various other places like Gwara, Okpoku, Banga, Daaba, Kor, Lubara, Uiikara, Sogo and what I noticed was that there was no election taking place in all those places.
“I called my Squadron commander and gave him the SitRep and he asked me to keep watching. We returned to INEC office after our patrol. There, I was told that the materials released in the early morning were all snatched at gun-point. When I asked about the police- men on duty, I was told that all of them took to their heels.”
He told the tribunal that his team was overwhelmed by thugs, saying, “we were only 63 men but they were thousands.”
Asked under cross-examination if he wrote a report of all the things his team observed during the election, the witness replied in the negative.
PW-51, DSP Ezebuiro Chisom, Mopol 48, PMF, Ahoda, told the court that no accreditation or election held in the area.
He told the tribunal that a leader of a cult group identified as ‘The Icelanders,’ one Martins Mana, who, he said, was arrested by soldiers with an AK-47, was quickly released.
The witness said despite the restriction on movement, he said people freely moved about in cars, speedboats and bicycles on the election day.
Meantime, Governor Wike, through his lawyer, Mr. Emmanuel Ukala, SAN, yesterday, alleged that the police officers were induced by the APC to feed the tribunal with lies.
Ukala insisted that all the police officers were lodged by the APC at a guest room at Area 1 district in Abuja.
At the time of filing this report, the tribunal was still listening to other witnesses produced by the petitioners.
Going by an earlier decision of the tribunal, the APC is expected to close its case tomorrow, even as the respondents have six days each to open their defence.