By Olayinka Ajayi
The Akwa Ibom State candidate of the Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party, ANRP, in the 2019 governorship contest, Mr. Iboro Otu insists that the polls were heralded by vote-buying and laments what he described as a conspiracy to reject his petition at the tribunal.
How he rates the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, and the police in the election
That is the reason I am asking for a rerun. I believe the police did not have enough resources in the last election. In every polling unit, we had one police man against thousands of people. In a unit where they had a little bit of fracas, the police couldn’t do anything. If we have a rerun, more policemen will be available.
The sophistication of the vote-buying process was beyond INEC. Sometimes the monies were paid in different places. INEC will not come to your house or to the football field. Of course, in many places, votes were bought and sold in the open. In other places, there were destruction of polling units and voting materials. We had places where voting did not take place at all. In majority of the areas where vote-buying took place, it was so sophisticated and when you look at the pictures and the videos that we have, you will see some of them.
In Oron, there was a place that a commissioner had a gig overnight. They ate and drank until the day of the election and they moved the people right from that place to the polling unit. There were different paying processes. People going to vote were told when you thumbprint, hold your ballot paper up across your chest so that the agent can see who you voted for. Which is what I wanted to show at the tribunal. I have loads of data.
In some instances, the voters were given tickets with numbers so that when you vote, you can then go to a primary school to get money. They had so many ways. If these guys use all these scientific methods for progress, we will not be struggling with backwardness. We need to stop this thing before they institutionalize the process.
His complaint concerning the conduct of the 2019 governorship contest in Akwa Ibom State
A few weeks into the race, a lot of things happened; the normal political intimidation, which I was prepared for. I come from a political family, even though I am not a politician. I could understand. But then it started getting off key. There were people coming to buy off team members of my support team. Others, in the name of stepping down were paid off. I expected that because 17 political parties, some of them major parties like Accord and Labour Party stepped down and endorsed my candidacy, it was very novel in African and Nigerian politics.
The regular situation is that major parties like the All Progressives Congress, APC, or the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, get smaller parties to step down for them, but having a very young party like the ANRP, which is barely one year old, benefit from such an intimidating move was not expected.
One week to the election, it was a known case that four major players were in the governorship race in Akwa Ibom State, the APC candidate, Nsima Ekere; the PDP had the incumbent Governor Udom Emmanuel; the Young Democratic Party was represented by Ezekiel Nya-Etok and I was the candidate of the ANRP. The election came and went but what happened was very disastrous. We realised that in many of the polling units in Akwa Ibom State, there was proliferation of vote-buying. People were intimidated. Those who would not sell their votes were stopped from voting and some of us that did vote there were so much void votes.
We were so discouraged and I started comparing notes with Architect Nya-Etok and we realized that the same thing happened. He even had a sadder story to tell. We agreed to hold a press conference to air our grievances. I said I will be going to court. He said he will support me in the process. We agreed to approach the International Criminal Court, as well, because vote-buying comes under political repression, which is a crime against humanity.
We prepared our case. It is normally 21 days to file from the date of the announcement of result. My lawyer was with the APC lawyer who had gone to submit the petition of the APC governorship candidate at the same time. They met and they talked. The APC submitted, but when we came back to submit, we were told that our petition was late.
The Secretary/Registrar of the tribunal said this. I did not go with my lawyer. I could not believe this. He went with the Deputy Chairman of the party. The man insisted that we were late and he could not take the petition. He told the man that you are not allowed by law to reject a petition, it is a court that has that power, even if our petition comes in like two months after. It is the court that will determine if our petition is late or not; so, allow it to go in and let the court strike it out.
There was a lot of fanfare, he came in with so many policeman dancing around the whole place. When I heard the story, I knew something was wrong. The next day, I followed my lawyer to the tribunal. This time around, I had the press, so they could bear witness. We called the man and it was a recorded conversation. He repeated the same thing that he will not take our petition. Our lawyer said again that he had no right to refuse our petition. He shouted us out. We briefed the press there.
The video is on Youtube same day. You can’t backdate a Youtube video. The thing now is where does this guy get his power? He is not the problem. There are forces at the tribunal that are doing all these. What is wrong with that process? I want to get my petition in. As a politician, I know the calculation. The political calculation is that somebody somewhere does not want my petition to go in because of the value I have. That petition can cause a lot of issues. It is easier and cheaper for them to stop it from entering.
The worst that can happen is that the man will be sacked. They will say, ‘we have sacked him but we can’t take your petition because it is late.’ I don’t want anybody to be sacked, I want my petition to be taken in. I want Akwa Ibom people and Nigerians to see what happens when you challenge the status quo. The reality is that there are the guys over there and there are ‘us’ the people. When you try to get over there to know what is happening, they stop you by all means.
We have done so many things. We have done what the law allows us to do. We have written to the President of the Court of Appeal. We have written reminders and even gone there to see her in person in Abuja. I was in her office for hours but could not see her. I was not allowed to. We have written to the National Judiciary Council (NJC). We have written to the Chief Justice of the Nigeria.
We have written to the President, the Vice President, the Senate President, the Speaker of the House of the Representatives; so that all arms of government will know what is happening. So far, we have not got any response.