BY GABRIEL ENOGHOLASE, BENIN
Chief DAN Orbih is the chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Edo State. In this interview with Saturday Vanguard, he spoke on the recently conducted governorship election in the state and how the process was allegedly rigged.
What is your take on the just concluded governorship election in Edo state?
From available information, the election was won by the PDP, but INEC announced the result in favour of the APC candidate. I must confess that the Edo governorship election was a major test case for INEC. It was not just about Edo people, but democracy in Nigeria. It was an opportunity for INEC to show and demonstrate that they have the capacity to conduct free and fair election. They obviously failed that test woefully.
Why do you say so?
You will recall that before the election, the State Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Chris Nehikhare, at a press conference, informed Nigerians that reports reaching PDP showed that results of the election were already written by INEC under the influence of one national commissioner. He named other officers of INEC, who were privy to the unholy arrangement. It may interest you to know that the publicity given to that press briefing was far reaching, but till date, there was no statement from INEC denying the fact that the result of the election was pre-determined and already written. The only person who came out with something was one lady, who said she didn’t get the money that was alleged to have been shared.
Do you have evidence to back your claims on rigging?
We have observed that the results that were issued by the presiding officers from the various units across the state were not the same as those announced at the collation centre. Details of our findings will be made known at the electoral tribunal.
You will recall that in the election, which was initially fixed for 10th of September, INEC chairman met with all the principal officers and assured Edo electorate of their preparedness to conduct the election. In fact, at the stakeholders meeting, words got to us that the election had been postponed. At the time we got this information, the chairman of INEC, was neither consulted nor taken into confidence at arriving at that decision.
Somebody should tell the INEC chairman that by the provision of our constitution, the commission is an independent body that must take decision and take responsibilities for them. Other people took that decision and forced it on INEC and INEC took it hook, line and sinker. The INEC chairman gave up and succumbed to the pressure of the power that be. So, I was not surprised that out of shame, he could not come to Edo State for the September 28 election.
But did the security agencies not stop the rigging?
There was general redeployment of Commissioners of Police before the election. The governor went to Abuja and came back to say that the Police Commissioner would not be transferred. Indeed, the man was asked to stay back in Edo. As we progressed toward the election, it appeared that the Police Commissioner (Chris Ezike) was not ready to risk his profession for a pot of porridge.
He (governor) now said that the man must go. He was transferred, and another Commissioner of Police was posted to Edo. In a matter of days, following the fallout of my statement that if it was true that 8,000 armed militants had invaded Edo State as Oshiomhole claimed, it was an indictment on the police command and other security operatives.
In his reaction to my statement, the Commissioner of Police, in all sincerity, said there was no such invasion by militants. Off course, that was at variance with earlier claims that there was security threat in Edo State which they used to postpone the election. That to the governor was not a good signal. Again, he went to Abuja to say that the Commissioner of Police, who claimed to be a Christian and would not lie, should be posted out of Edo State and should be sent to the church to practice his faith. Surprisingly, the man was transferred barely 48 hours after.
On the request of the governor, the current Commissioner of Police was brought in. While this drama was playing out, prominent leaders and members of the PDP became victims of intimidation and arrest and harassment and violent attacks from the APC. At the end of the day, many of our members and supporters ended up in hospitals, wounded. Reports were made, but no effort was made to bring those responsible to justice.
What about the performance of the police and other security operatives on the Election Day?
We have documented evidence, pictures and videos of police officers thumb printing ballot papers and putting ballot papers into the ballot boxes. There are also pictures of INEC officials and corps members doing the same thing. These pictures were taken by PDP agents, who were driven away from the polling units. From a distance, they were able to capture the pictures of policemen and INEC officials putting ballot papers into the boxes.
Are they supposed to do these things under our law? We also have evidence of money being openly distributed to voters by the APC people in the full glare of the police. That is an electoral offence. So, what exactly was the role of the police? Were they there to aid and facilitate the process of subverting the will of the people?
But PDP was also reported to have given money?
I want to categorically state here that the PDP did not have any money to give to voters. We are not in government at any level. We had no support from the federal, nor the state nor local government. What we did that shocked the APC, and its leadership was that we were able to run one of the most effective campaigns ever embarked upon by any political party in the history of Edo State.
We were able to campaign on issues. All these were further reinforced by the current economic hardship the people are passing through. The APC people are still finding it difficult to believe that we were able to mobilize so much support without the type of resources they brought to Edo to lure voters.
We have documented evidence of areas, where PDP won overwhelmingly but those results were cancelled. In one of such, the returning officer shamelessly announced a staggering figure of over 30,000 disallowed votes for no just cause, PDP votes. He announced that votes he rejected were over 30,000 votes. The drama at the collation center was such that the key actors behaved as if they were at a home video location. There was this case of Etsako East returning officer, who came to present results without result sheets.
He claimed that the screen of the computer he used to enter the results got broken. Hence he had no result sheets and resorted to using figures from his head. Following the embarrassment, because it was shown live, somebody stood up and handed him a piece of paper, which he read out figures from. To my surprise, those figures were recorded as the actual result from that local government. Such was the unfortunate display of inefficiency on the part of the INEC.
Do you think it is proper to display the parties they voted for?
I have stated it that the process was highly flawed. In most of the places won by the APC, the box was placed in such a way that what ought to be a secret ballot became an open ballot such that there was no way voters could cast their votes without showing to those who gave them money to vote for them. They were there monitoring them. Some of those who tried to outsmart them were beaten up, and the monies retrieved from them.
So, you are now left with the judiciary to redress the situation. Do you have faith in the judiciary to get justice?
Under our Constitution and the law, when this type of thing happens, the place to go is the election tribunal. We are going to follow that process logically until justice is done. To show you how unpopular the award of votes by INEC was, there have been demonstrations on the streets on a daily basis. I want to use this opportunity to congratulate the PDP candidate, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, for his maturity.
I have no doubt that if not for his timely broadcast appealingly to people not to take laws into their hands, we would have had a serious issue on our hands. I also want to appreciate the good people of Edo State, who despite the intimidation, harassment and financial inducement, still voted for the PDP because they believe there was the need to have a real change in Edo State.