A civil rights group, Concerned Nigerians has on Monday filed a petition to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to condemn the process that led to the emergence of the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Blyden Amajirionwu, as the winner of the Ngor Okpala House of Assembly bye-election which was held on Saturday.

The group in a letter titled, “Hope Uzodinma: A threat to Nigeria’s Democracy” and signed by its convener, Deji Adeyanju alleged that Imo State Governor, Hope Uzodima turned the election into a battleground and accused him of rigging the process in favour of the APC.

Recommending steps to INEC to prevent the recurrence of such electoral flaws, the group called for the immediate cancellation of the Ngor Okpala state constituency election and advised INEC to immediately sensitise on the salient provisions of the Electoral Act 2022, which particularly as it relates to its powers to review and cancel elections.

The letter reads in full: “We write this open letter to draw your attention to the imminent threat hovering around Nigeria’s electoral space, particularly the 2023 elections.

“You will recall that on February 26, 2022, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) conducted a bye-election into the Ngor Okpala state constituency election in Imo State. While this election was predicted to be seamless, particularly in view of the recently signed Electoral Act, 2022 and the introduction of BIVAS, we are, however, alarmed to note that the Governor of Imo State, Mr. Hope Uzodima turned the election into a battleground and blatantly rigged the process in favour of the All Progressive Congress Candidate.

“On the day of the election, Governor Hope Uzodima moved the full machinery of government from Owerri to Ngor Okpala where he presided over the blatant rigging. Information made available to us by innocent voters in Ngor Okpala revealed that Governor Hope Uzodima perfected this rigging by compromising the BIVAS machine. This action was successfully carried out after the Governor’s cronies stormed Ngor Okpala, abducted INEC ad hoc staff at gunpoint, commandeered the BIVAS machine, retrieved the total number of accredited voters, and proceeded to engage in massive thumb printing in order to bring the total number of voters in consonance with the total number of accredited voters.

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Thereafter, Gov Hope Uzodima’s cronies forced the abducted INEC ad hoc staff to upload the illegally obtained accreditation and final voting result, to paint a picture of legitimacy. This fraudulently obtained result was announced by the returning officer under the threat of immediate violence by Governor Hope Uzodima’s cronies.

“You will also recall that Governor Hope Uzodima has a history of presenting results at the collation centre and forcing returning officers to declare the said results, irrespective of how the results were obtained. It was in response to the foregoing that the recently passed Electoral Act gave INEC enormous powers to review election results and cancel the same where necessary. We are, however, deeply saddened to note that INEC refused to exercise these powers, even with obvious evidence that its ad hoc staff were kidnapped, but proceeded to declare the candidate of the APC as the winner of the election.

“The implication of the foregoing is that Governor Hope Uzodima has introduced a new precedent in electoral rigging. A very dangerous precedent! Taking cognisance of Nigerian politicians’ proclivity to embrace every negative electoral practices, we are visibly worried that we may have returned to the dark days of Maurice Iwu’s do or die elections, as a politician only need to get hold of the BIVAS machine and the INEC ad hoc staff to perfect his rigging. Thereafter, he proceeds to the collation centre to defend the rigged result by all means, including subsequent judicial sanction.

“Flowing from the above, we, therefore, urge you to take urgent steps to arrest this situation and ensure that it does not become a national precedent. The first step towards resolving this ugly trend is the immediate cancellation of the Ngor Okpala state constituency election. Additionally, INEC must immediately sensitise the politicians on the salient provisions of the Electoral Act 2022, particularly as it relates to its powers to review and cancel elections. Anything short of this will amount to approving the day light rigging perfected by Governor Hope Uzodima and his cronies in Ngor Okpala.

“We strongly urge you to protect your name and leave a legacy behind by implementing the letters of the Electoral Act, irrespective of whose ox is gored!”

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