April 11, 2017

Edo guber poll: Travesty of proxy voting

A DEFINITION of an election has it as a “formal decision-making process by which a population chooses an individual to hold public office”. But in a situation where the people’s will is subject to manipulation and distortion, the electoral process forces a decision on those who “voted”.

It is conventional wisdom that electoral reforms have, in the long run, for personal aggrandisement, been scuttled. In the race to introduce electoral systems that are fool-proof and people-friendly, the processes have been short-circuited by those who are primarily and constitutionally empowered to interprete and operate them. While new ways are being sought or experimented on to enrich the voting process and the all-important collation and announcement of the real results, regrettably we find the managers of the processes in unholy alliances with desperate politicians, to circumvent the ideal. In this regard, Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, has achieved a globally recognised notoriety. It obviously did not fall short of expectation in the last governorship election it conducted in Edo State.

The election in Edo State on September 28, 2016, was designed to achieve two primary aims viz (a) Giving the INEC a window to escape from the “apparent” banana peel of inconclusive elections and (b) to hold fast to the state, being the only All Progressives Congress, APC, state in the South South geo-political zone.  In  their usual tradition, the then governor of Edo State  and his foot-soldiers clung on to the desperate position of the INEC to be seen to perform after the bungles in Bayelsa, Rivers and Kogi States.

This time around they introduced new dimensions to election rigging and manipulation in Nigeria.  The poor distribution of the new Permanent Voters’ Cards and card readers before the election, coupled with the glaring inadequate supply of Incident Forms as a stop-gap measure, ensured that they were susceptible to being abused, misused and manipulated in favour of some set objective.  In effect, the Edo election was distorted to confer undue advantage on the APC, in many areas during and after the Wednesday, September 28, 2016 election.

One of the new-fangled areas exploited was the recourse to PROXY VOTING, which eliminated and transferred the preferences of a large number of people who were denied the use of their own franchise by hijacking electoral materials and INEC staff to a different constituency.

The case of a group of communities which came out to exercise that constitutional franchise to vote , albeit willingly, for a candidate of their choice but did not fulfill that purpose because the ballot materials allotted to  them was forcefully “colonised” by a group of e-fraudsters, and results declared, just like that, became viral as it was a novel method in the voting process!

Embedded in the 319,483 e-manipulated votes allocated by INEC to the APC and their candidate in the contentious election for the governorship of Edo State, is the votes that were not cast by the seven Itsekiri communities near Ologbo in the Ikpoba-Okha Local Government Area.

The Edo State Governorship Election held on Wednesday, September 28, 2016 rates as the most-vilified, most-derided and most-despised election since the very violent polls held in Somalia, some years ago. Participants and observers/monitors are united in the condemnation of the skewed poll, for its unusual colouration as free but not credible or fair.

Put side by side, the overflowing ingenuity displayed by the APC spin-doctors and the murderous devices of the Somalian warlords, the struggle for the bloody gold medal can go anywhere!

For these Ikpoba Okha people, the election did not hold technically, as none of them actually voted physically and personally.  The foot soldiers of the ruling party hijacked the ballot materials in the wee hours of that fateful Wednesday and voted by proxy for the inhabitants of the seven communities. This story is emblematic of the subtle and desperate trajectory of manipulations carried out by the APC in the 2627 polling units in the state, in very Mafiosi style.

Four days after the poll (Sunday, October 2, 2016), leaders of the seven riverine communities in Ward 10, Ikpoba Okha LGA, viz Ajaminogha, Ajoki, Kolokolo, Ajatiton, Ikara, Abiala One and Abiala Two, cried out to the world that they waited endlessly for the arrival of election materials and electoral officials on September 28, 2016, to no success, till the official voting period lapsed.  They were dumb-founded and in extreme state of shock to discover, on investigation, that fathom votes were recorded and sent to Ikpoba Okha local government collation centre, in a clear case of proxy voting by APC faithful who, in a new display of outsmarting the opposition, hijacked the materials at Ologbo and disenfranchised thousands of enthusiastic citizens of the seven mainly Itsekiri farmers and fishermen.  This case is reminiscent of what transpired in many borderline areas, especially those  ones that have riverine features and challenged terrain.

Dennis Otikperi, a community leader and Chairman of  the Itsekiri Solidarity Movement, told this reporter that “Itsekiris and Ijaws in these communities are here in the riverine communities of Ward 10, Ikpoba Okha LGA.  Most surprising, INEC still went ahead to announce the results of an election that was never conducted, in the first place.

I have written a petition and it has been acknowledged by the Electoral Officer.  We want the whole world to know this.  We heard that voting materials were stopped at a side of the river by the backyard of one of the accomplices (names withheld) and thumb-printed.

We sent our people there to find out and stop them.  Our people were, however chased away from the place by police and army who accompanied the people.” Otikperi further said “They could not record them because their phones were seized and thrown into the water.  We have seven communities in these places.  These communities have 15 units and we have over 10,000 votes here.  I just want the whole nation to know this”.

It is on record that the perpetrators of this unprecedented electoral heist did not take anything for granted in their bid to have a hitch-free operation in the seven communities.  Another community leader and a former militant commander, “General” Roland Ologbo, was successfully placed on an eight-hour “house arrest” in a hotel in Ologbo, so that the people’s votes will “COUNT” among those who actually voted in the Wednesday, September 28, 2016 election.  He noted, albeit, ruefully, “The APC people took the ballot papers and thumb-printed everything and said that we voted”.

Brian Jatto political analyst, wrote from Benin City, Edo State.