•We’ve 3,000 male registrants with female gender, same pictures in different locations, 1901, 1912,

1914 as dates of birth

•We’re raising alarm to save Nigeria’s democracy

•INEC has promised to clean up register before final release

•Fears manipulation in 18 states

By Prisca Sam-Duru

It’s not certain anymore, when the ‘Eastern Heartland’, Imo State, will be free from crisis and controversies.

Ever since it survived the controversial verdict by former Chief Justice of the Federation, Tanko Mohammed, that gave Senator Hope Uzodinma the mandate as governor, the state has experienced shades of crises and controversies, many of which the state government said were politically motivated. 

For days now, there have been allegations and counter allegations revolving around the manipulation of the voters’ register which if found to be true, and then, not dealt with, would amount to dashing the masses’ hope for a peaceful, free and fair election come 2023. This is so because the latest electoral manipulation claims by some individuals point to the fact that the alleged infractions, if true, may spread beyond Imo State; Nigeria may be dealing with an impending national disaster if not checked.

Recall that on September 14, 2022, the umbrella body of some opposition political parties, Coalition of United Political Parties, CUPP, informed Nigerians about an alleged plot to tamper with the INEC voters register as well as a secret legal action instituted at the Federal High Court Owerri to stop the use of Bimodal Voter Accreditation System, BVAS, in 2023 general election. The plot according to the Coalition’s Spokesman, Ikenga Ugochinyere, had been concluded in some states to give undue advantage to the ruling APC in the next general election.  Also recall that while reacting to the alleged tampering of the voters register, INEC, was said to have maintained that since the end of the Continuous Voter Registration, CVR, exercise, there has been no fresh registrant either added or subtracted from the voters register. The electoral body through its National Commissioner in charge of information and chairman of Voter education, Festus Okocha, further assured the public that INEC is conducting a comprehensive Automated Biometric Identification System, ABIS, clean-up of the registration data by scrutinizing the records. 

No doubt, the magnitude of these allegations by CUPP should call for thorough investigation to get to the root of the issues raised. However, the Imo State Government asked that Ikenga Ugochinyere be arrested and questioned for claiming that voter registration in Omuma, the home Ward of Governor Hope Uzodimma of Imo State was inflated with fake names.

According to the Imo State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Hon. Declan Emelumba, the call was necessary as “ignoring the spurious and seditious outburst of Ugochinyere will amount to condoning criminality.” Emelumba called on the relevant security agencies to “immediately arrest the said Ugochinyere to find out from him how he obtained the voters register he has been parading before the public even when the Independent National Electoral Commission INEC is still at the stage of Automated Biometric Verification of Systems, which must be concluded before an official voters register can be released to the public.”

While stating that “INEC has issued an official statement on the above and has gone further to list the names of the States that entered fictitious registration of voters and Imo State is not on that list”, he expressed worry that “Ugochinyere must have either hacked INEC Saver and doctored documents there-from or forged the document he was brandishing”.

 ”This is criminal and it is important that he should be immediately arrested for questioning”, he added.   Emelumba however highlighted what he called “the tepid reference by Ugochinyere to a pending ‘secret court action’’ in a Federal High Court Owerri against the use of BVAS”, stating that “the porous allegations against the Governor was to insinuate that the ‘secret court action was filed by an agent of Government.”

He explains further: “Unfortunately, an investigation into the suit-claim revealed that the NBA stamp used in filing the suit belongs to a lawyer who is a very close associate of former Governor Emeka Ihedioha, the paymaster of Ugochinyere.  Therefore, there is no doubt as to where the whole concoction is coming from and why”.

Not wavering in his claims that there are infractions on the INEC voters register, or intimidated by the Imo State directive to get him arrested, Ugochinyere told Charles Aniagolu during Arise TV Prime Time, during the week, that the Coalition went public with the infractions discovered just to save the country’s democracy.

According to him, the whole episode began last week when “We got intelligence that there was the introduction of fake registrants into the Continuous Voters Registration exercise. We didn’t make it public but waited for the Commission, to fulfil the provisions of Section 10 of the Electoral Act that allows them to make publication of the supplementary list for people to raise claims and objections and, for us to authenticate the information we had.

“We petitioned the Commission, drawing their attention to the infraction that is criminal in nature. Our intelligence had it that the infractions were carried out in over 18 states. We saw the infractions in Amiri in Omuma which is Governor Hope Uzodinma’s village, and in Obioha, Isiekenesi, Nkwerre, Oguta and some other areas. We also got reports on Borno and Yobe”.

To prove his allegations are not false, he commended the INEC chairman, Prof Yakubu, who according to him, instead of attacking him for the discoveries, “accepted that there are some infractions but they’re dealing with them. And as a matter of fact, in Governor Hope Uzodinma’s village, they’ve already cleaned about 3,400″.

In defence of the Coalition’s move, he said, “We went to the public because the magnitude of what was done, portends great danger for our democracy and if the public is not aware, they may walk into the polling units innocently, only for us by 6 pm, from 36,000, 46,000, to start dropping from specific selected Wards out of the 8,200 Wards in the country. The public needs to be vigilante because the dark horses have not rested on their plan to return us to the dark days, even with the introduction of technology”.

As for the attack on his person, Ugochinyere said its normal in Nigeria for people to attack the messenger instead of interrogating the message. He wondered why people are not demanding explanations on how “people older than Queen Elizabeth, found themselves in thousands in the register, bearing the faces of teenage girls; how you have over 3,000 registrants that have male pictures and then have female gender; how we have people with the same pictures into 5 locations, and why we have 1901, 1912 and 1914”, as dates of birth.

Consequently, Ikenga Ugochinyere described the Imo State Government’s call for his arrest, “as diversionary and childish and doesn’t worth his reply because here is an issue that can be described as electoral treason”.

 ”We raised the alarm on how names that ought not to be in the register, have found their way into the supplementary register, in compliance with the provisions of the law. If they have read the law, they would have known that the documents we have, are valid documents that have been made public and, the Commission is not challenging the document but rather they’re saying that they are in the process of cleaning the record before the release of the final register”, he intoned.

 So far, the allegations have elicited calls for a third-party independent verification of the electoral register and some stakeholders in the state such as the former House of Representative member and former Secretary to the Imo State Government, Hon Uche Onyeagocha, are strongly in support of the idea.  Hon Onyeagocha who insisted that, “there’s need for a third party to come into the process of ratifying whatever might come out as the voters register for Nigeria”, revealed that “What was discovered in Imo state, particularly in Omuma ward, leaves one in doubt that this whole system has not been compromised”.

Onyeagocha who spoke during Arise TV interview stated that “There’s what INEC told us is an access code given to few individuals in their office for the purpose of entering and doing anything within the voter registration process. “That access has been broken into by some individuals who took advantage of it to get names that don’t exist in a particular ward called Omuma, get pictures that were not taken by INEC and loaded them in thousands in a particular ward. So, the big question is, who did this? Who had the access code that was broken into? Can we identify the individuals involved so that we can remove them from INEC and possibly prosecute them?

Since the Omuma Ward where the alleged falsifications were spotted is the electoral constituency of governor Hope Uzodinma, the Honourable believes someone is playing hanky-panky with the whole process. He, therefore, declared that “Cleaning the register, removing all these dubious names would at the end of the day not solve the problem. The people will still have the opportunity to do something worse than that in the future”.

Onyeagocha who is also the PDP Senatorial candidate for Imo further gives more insight into the entire scenario; “If you recall, by the end of August, Sen. Uzodinma boasted on TV that APC has done very well enough to win all the 36 states in the country. So, we became concerned and decided to investigate what was giving him confidence and that is how we checked the records of what’s going on in PVC registration in his ward, Omuma. Here, the registered voters increased from about nine thousand to over forty thousand now. The total number of votes beefed into the records is about 36,00 plus.

“If you go to INEC voters register for 2019 election, Oru East which is the local government of Sen Uzodinma, had a total number of 83,600 registered voters. All of a sudden, his ward alone, Omuma which is actually a rural part of Oru East, has 46,000 voters registered and then we started seeing names like Adesanya Nash, who was born in the year, 1900, as a registered voter in Central school Omuma Ward 2. We also have several other people who were born in 1901, 1903 and things like that. We saw that passport photographs that had nothing to do with INEC registration were introduced in the register”.

Continuing he said, “That is not enough, we had to dig deeper to find out what is the real plan. We went to Federal High Court Owerri where we found out that they had already arranged one Mr Nwankwere Chiwendu to bring an action in the same August 2022, to bring an action against the INEC asking for a declaration that it is illegal and unlawful for INEC to electronically transmit, feed or collate the results of the 2023 general elections, and an order of Court/injunction restraining INEC whether by themselves, their staff, officers or whosoever described, from using or deploying the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System or any other similar device equipment.

 ”So, you could see that the link is heavy; he boasted that they have done so well to win 36 states, they moved in to pad up the voters register in Omuma Ward- his own ward, and then, brought an action before the Federal High Court trying to stop the use of beavers and transmitting elections results electronically”. 

INEC, he said has not even denied the alleged compromise of the register rather promised to clean up and sort out wherever they identify such manipulations.

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