By Emma Amaize and Harris-Okon Emmanuel
THE “sins” of the Resident Electoral Commissioner, REC, Akwa Ibom State, Barrister Mike Igini, is that he rebuffed the plot of very powerful politicians to buy him over and activate their Plan B, which is to infiltrate ad-hoc staff of Commission for the February 23 and March 9 elections.
Sunday Vanguard reliably learned that having caused them total disaster in the Presidential and National Assembly elections, the forces did not want him to be around for yesterday’s Governorship and House of Assembly elections in the state, unfortunately, a High Court sitting in Abuja also threw out a last-minute scheme to force INEC to redeploy him to another state.
Abuja High Court Judge, Justice O. A. Musa, who refused the application by a claimant, Mr. Stanley Okpara, through his counsel, C. F. Odiniru, ordered: “Parties should maintain the status quo as of today. To this end the 1st defendant either by themselves or chairman shall not take any step to either remove the 2nd defendant as the REC at his current station pending the hearing of the motion on notice”.
Before the two-time Governor of Akwa Ibom State and former Senate Minority Leader, Obong Godswill Akpabio, defected to the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, last year, power brokers in the hierarchy of the party had settled that he would be the arrowhead of the battle plan to take over South-South from the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
Given his pedigree and reputation as the “Uncommon Governor,” APC strategists considered that with federal might, he would start the mission from his own state by running Governor Emmanuel Udom, whom he installed, out of Government House, Uyo.
Former governor of Delta state, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, who also dumped PDP to join APC, is to coordinate the capture of the state from Governor Ifeanyi Okowa and his PDP assemble. The two former governors have lawmaking as their passion. While Akpabio is already in the senate and wanted to return, Uduaghan was to make a fresh entry.
The authorities have no scruple with the capacity of Transport Minister, Rt Hon Chibuike Amaechi’s capacity to handle “troublesome” Governor Nyemson Wike in Rivers state, while former governor of Bayelsa state, Chief Timipre Sylva, made it clear that all he required was the say-so and wherewithal to meet head-on with Governor Seriake Dickson and whoever stands against APC in the state.
Warsaw shall see war…
It was while basking in the expected unspoken role of “federal might” that Akpabio, shortly after defection, made the infamous utterance likening the 2019 election in the state to the 1940 invasion of Poland by Adolf Hitler’s Germany.
He predicted that his new party would be victorious in the war. His words, “I will say that in the Ikot-Ekpene arena, when I stepped out, this is my first function after that, Warsaw saw war and war saw Warsaw. We cannot talk politics in the church, but in 2019, Warsaw shall see war and war shall see Warsaw. The return will be victory, may God grant us all victory.”
Everybody in APC, including President Muhammadu Buhari believed Akpabio, in fact, the National Chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, loved the war tenor of the battle plan.
What Akpabio and APC never foresaw was an official of the electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, posing a hindrance to the conquest.
If you call it an anathema, you are not far from the correct description, for that is what Mike Igini, who serves as the Resident Electoral Commissioner, REC, in Akwa Ibom State, has turned to, for Akpabio and APC in the state.
Why APC strategists failed to run due diligence check on Igini and his antecedents is somewhat shocking, for the REC is one known to play straight to the rules and does not bend the rules. It was a promise he made to himself and friends before accepting the portfolio.
Since he accepted the job of REC in INEC, Igini is one trusted commissioner that even the messenger and typist in INEC knows would never compromise his office. And for this they love him.
Yet, one of the first blunders the political intriguers made was seeking to compromise him. They were stunned he rejected the overtures repeatedly and subsequently, when Igini declined to acquiesce, they plotted to infiltrate the ad-hoc staff for the election, which he manifestly rebuffed.
Could it be an error of judgment?
President Muhammadu Buhari, who has made anti-corruption his command, was unbelievably unacquainted with the real issues at stake in Akwa Ibom, when he declared, Monday, on a visit to the state after the February 23 elections, to mop up support for his party, that the votes of Akwa Ibom people was stolen during the Presidential and National Assembly elections.
Buhari, represented by the Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, said during a town hall meeting in Uyo, that the party would reclaim the stolen mandate of the people, March 9
He decried the circumstances under which Sen. Godswill Akpabio lost his re-election into the Senate in spite of his popularity across the state, insinuating that INEC robbed him and the party of victory.
“What happened on the 23rd of February was robbery. The votes of the people were stolen, but we are not deterred. The president sent me to thank you today. We are going to make sure that everything that was stolen on the February 23 would be restored.
“It is not possible that Sen. Godwill Akpabio lost. We are in no doubt that Senator Akpabio is the elected senator of Akwa Ibom North West Senatorial District, I and Adams Oshiomhole, the National Chairman of the party have been in the opposition for long and we cannot be defeated anymore
“Every one of you should go out to vote on Saturday and defend your votes, we cannot be cheated; not only you but tell your neighbours to vote for Obong Nsima Ekere and all APC candidates.
“Wait for your votes to be counted. It is the duty of the Federal Government to provide security and we will do that. We will recover every one of our votes,” Osinbajo said.
In one of his guarded remarks to the unfolding intrigues, Igini, the man at the centre of the storm, said, “I know that political groups seek asymmetrical political advantage, which is their right to do, but it is the job of INEC to ensure a symmetrical playing field for political competition.”
Igini’s sins, by APC
The APC has accused him of favoritism, but the activist, torn between the Devil and the deep blue sea means different things to different people.
The party alleged that he held nocturnal meetings with PDP stalwarts within and outside the state to perfect plans to rig the polls in favour of the ruling party, PDP.
What has unexpectedly deepened the mistrust between Igini and APC was the outcome of the last Presidential and National Assembly elections in which the PDP won all the available positions, further deepening the mistrust against him by the opposition.
The APC maintained that the REC never gave the party a level playing field and that he masterminded the systematic rigging, which saw the party not winning a single position even in the areas it considers as its sphere of influence with large follower ship.
They also point to other states, especially Bayelsa and Delta States in the South-South geopolitical in which APC has handful of elective positions in its kitty.
For instance, INEC cancelled votes in several units regarded as the stronghold of Godswill Akpabio.
The APC pointed at alleged discrepancies in the results of some local government areas presented during the last polls.
There were allegations that the state government doctored the lists of ad-hoc staff and included names of people, who have sympathy for the party, while some are card- carrying members of the party in connivance with the REC.
An APC leader in the state, said, The main reason for calling for his removal is that the party would never get justice from him being the umpire and as they say if justice is not perceived to be done, it is as good as justice denied.”
Akpabio stops INEC from issuing certificate until …
Akpabio, who lost the Akwa Ibom North West Senatorial district election, went to an Abuja High Court after the election, when he obtained an order restraining INEC from issuing a certificate of return to a former deputy governor of the state, Chris Ekpenyong, who INEC declared winner of the election.
The result announced by the returning officer, Peter Oban, a professor, showed that Mr Akpabio scored 83,158 votes, while Mr Ekpenyong scored 118,215 votes.
Before the announcement of the election result, Mr Akpabio had petitioned INEC, alleging that the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), Mike Igini, was “considering reversing the announced cancellation of result from Obot Akara”.
Mr Akpabio’s opponent, Mr Ekpenyong of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), is from Obot Akara
“It is the law that once a pronouncement on a result has been made, only a court of law can reverse such decision. An attempt to reverse same is total illegality,” Mr Akpabio said in the petition, dated February 23, and signed by his brother, Ibanga Akpabio, who was the APC senatorial agent in the election.
The Abuja court, last Friday, gave the ex parte order restraining INEC from issuing a certificate of return to Mr Ekpenyong, following an application brought before it by Mr Akpabio. INEC is the respondent in the matter.
“Leave is hereby granted to the applicant to apply for judicial review of the issuance of a writ of mandamus, prohibition, injunction, and other declaratory reliefs against the respondent.
“Leave so granted shall operate as stay of further action by the respondent and particularly further action in respect of issuance of certificate of return to any candidate in respect of the seat of the senator representing Akwa Ibom North-West Senatorial District on the account of the election held on the 23 February, 2019,” the court stated in the order.
“Additionally, I direct that parties shall first address me on jurisdiction on the next adjourned date,” Justice Valentine Ashi added.
February 23 Field Report
A national newspaper report on day of the election indicated that when it became clear that Ekpeyong might carry the day, military and police personnel allegedly arrested INEC officials and ad hoc staff, denying Igini access to them.
According to the report, “The INEC REC in Akwa Ibom, Mike Igini, is under significant pressure to allow police and security agencies to help APC rig the senatorial election in the North West senatorial district where Senator Akpabio currently represents.”
“They arrested several INEC officials and members of the NYSC who served as ad hoc staff in the LGAs and the REC is unsure of who is protecting the ballots in multiple locations there.
“The REC has not been allowed to speak to his arrested staff. At all 10 local government areas, there is major security presence, especially outside the local government secretariat and INEC offices where ballot materials are believed to be held at the moment.
“Those INEC presiding officers (POs), supervisory presiding officers (SPOs) and other officials, including the ad hoc staff that are refusing to allow anyone to enter the premises where ballots are kept are fighting for their lives”, our source said.
“It is suspected that the police and other security agents are providing cover so that the ballots can be sufficiently manipulated to make up the difference by the time they make it to the Senate-level collation in Ikot Ekpene.
“As things stand, only 2 of the 10 LGAs that make up the senatorial district have submitted their ballot materials to the senatorial districts INEC collation centre. The other eight are currently said to be surrounded by police and military,” the newspaper reported.
INEC position on the cancellation of some results in Akpabio suspected strongholds was that it annulled elections in the units that there were irregularities.
Fate beckons on Igini
Igini is not the national chairman of INEC, but his accusers might have shot him to reckoning with the present accusations leveled against him. He had since denied the charges, including the one that he boasted at different forum that APC would never win the state as long as he is in charge.
His admirers see him as a man, who will not compromise given his rich precursors in the conduct of elections in the various states he has superintended over electoral exercises in the past. When he comes out clean in his present travail, those who wanted to destroy him would unwittingly be the ones used to propel him to greater fame.