By Hon. Mohammed Kumaila
I wish to draw the attention of the general public to an unsettling development that took place on Wednesday 22nd and Thursday 23rd March, 2023 within the premises of the INEC office in Maiduguri, Borno state, where some Ad – Hoc staff of the Borno State Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) in collaboration with the Electoral officer in charge of Mafa Local Government, were caught thumbprinting and stuffing Ballot Boxes within the premises of the Maiduguri INEC office almost a month after the Presidential and National Assembly elections which held on 25th February, 2023, in order to tamper and distort evidence to be presented before the Election Petitions Tribunal.
As you may be aware, I contested for the office of Senator for Borno Central Senatorial District under the platform of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, which election took place on 25th February, 2023. Based on the outcome of the elections, I have filed a Petition before the Election Petitions Tribunal sitting in Maiduguri. We obtained a court order to inspect materials used for the elections, which includes the Ballot Boxes, used and unused ballot papers as well as obtain Certified True Copies of the result and collation sheets among others.
While our team of lawyers were undertaking the inspection of materials on 22nd March 2023, our inspectors discovered some INEC Ad Hoc Staff sorting out and rearranging and counting ballot papers and stuffing them in different Ballot Boxes in respect of Mafa, Kala Balge and Dikwa Local Governments. Our inspectors immediately raised alarm and accordingly reported the incident to the Borno State Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC). They drew the attention of the REC that the actions of the Ad-Hoc staff amount to tampering with evidence. The REC assured our team that the Ad Hoc Staff were only rearranging the documents that were dumped on them by the respective Local Government Electoral Officers who brought the materials from the local governments. Although we were not satisfied with the explanation, we gave them the benefit of the doubt and continued with the inspection.
To our surprise, by the next day, Thursday 23rd March, 2023, our inspectors this time around caught red handed two Ad-Hoc staff actually thumbprinting ballot papers and stuffing them into Ballot Boxes for Mafa Local Government right inside the premises of the INEC office in Maiduguri. Our Inspectors immediately arrested the two staff involved in the thumb printing and stuffing of Ballot Boxes and took them to the Bulumkutu Police Station together with the bundles of Ballot Papers that were thumb printed and the indelible ink they used. We were surprised that no official of the Maiduguri INEC office took interest to accompany our team to the police station in order to ensure the arrest of the Ad-Hoc staff and undertake investigation of any possible crimes.
The police officials took the statements of the complainant and the two Ad Hoc staff and arrested them. They also invited the Electoral Officer for Mafa Local government who brought the materials to the Maiduguri INEC office from Mafa Local Government to give a statement. Our team was informed by the police at Bulumkutu Police Station to come back the next day so that the case will be transferred to the Maiduguri Criminal Investigation Department (CID) for further investigation and prosecution.
We wish to draw the attention of the general public that the main reason the court gave the order for inspection is to determine whether the results as recorded on the result sheets and announced at the polling units are the same with the actual ballots that have been cast by voters. This will be achieved through counting of the ballot papers in each Ballot Box and accounting for the valid, invalid, rejected votes as well as the unused ballot papers. Therefore, any attempt by any official, permanent or Ad-Hoc to thumbprint or move ballot papers from one ballot box to another after the elections have been concluded amounts to tampering with evidence.
When our team arrived the police station the next day as requested for the case to be transferred to the CID, the DPO informed our team that the suspects have been released to the officials of the Maiduguri INEC office and the bundle of Ballot papers and the indelible ink (Exhibits) have been returned to the INEC office in Maiduguri. They opined that the case is not within their jurisdiction and that we should go to the police station at Mafa Local Government to complain, ostensibly forgetting that they had a day earlier informed our team that the case will be transferred to the Maiduguri CID department. The action of the DPO amounts to obstruction of justice and failure to carry out his lawful duty.
One issue that begs for an answer is who are the INEC officials that the suspects were released to and also collected the bundles of Ballot papers from the Police station and returned to the INEC office? Those INEC officials that collected the ballot papers from the police station and returned them back to the INEC office are as complicit as the Ad-Hoc staff that were caught thumbprinting the ballot papers. It is therefore obvious that the INEC officials and the DPO are involved in suppression, concealing and aiding of crime as well as tampering with evidence.
We have video evidence of the suspects when they were caught thumbprinting the ballot papers.
A similar situation occurred on Thursday 16th March, 2023 when the ANPP Governorship candidate caught some Ad-Hoc staff thumbprinting and stuffing ballot papers in respect of Limanti Ward of Maiduguri Metropolitan, right inside the Maiduguri Metropolitan INEC office. The incident was also captured on video and has been circulating in the social media in the last one week.
With these actions, it is apparent that the INEC officials that were involved in manipulating the results of the elections of 25th February 2023 are hell bent on tampering with evidence to ensure that the work of the Election Petitions Tribunal is frustrated.
We have petitioned the Inspector General of Police and the Director General, Department of State security Service (DSS) to immediately direct investigation into this matter with a view to apprehending the culprits and prosecute them in accordance with the law. Specifically, we have requested the IGP to direct the Borno State Commissioner of Police to:
- Immediately arrest the two Ad-Hoc Staff of INEC by names Madu (Male) and Rifkatu (female) that were caught thumbprinting and stuffing ballot boxes in respect of Mafa Local Government right inside the premises of INEC office in Maiduguri.
- Investigate the culpability of the INEC officials that caused the release of the suspects and also took back the ballot papers and indelible ink that were handed over to the police as exhibit.
- Arrest the Electoral Officer for Mafa Local government and the INEC officials that collected the bundles of Ballot Papers (Exhibit) and returned it to the INEC office, ostensibly to continue with their tampering of evidence, and
- investigate the actions of the DPO of Bulumkutu Police Station with a view to determine the level of his connivance to suppress investigation of crime.
- Invite the Electoral Officers for Dikwa, Kala Balge and Maiduguri Metropolitan Local Governments and investigate their actions to determine the level of interference with evidence in respect of electoral materials for their local governments.
We believe that there is collusion and conspiracy between the INEC office Maiduguri, the Ad-Hoc staff and the Electoral officer for Mafa Local Government to commit the offence of tampering with evidence and they found the DPO Bulumkutu Police station willing to help them cover their tracks. We also believe the same thing has happened in respect of Dikwa, Kala Balge and Maiduguri Metropolitan Local governments, all within Borno Central Senatorial District.
With the revelations we are seeing, only God knows how many local governments election materials have been tampered with after the elections.
Thank you and God bless you.
▪︎ BEING TEXT OF A PRESS CONFERENCE HELD ON 25TH MARCH, 2023 BY HON MOHAMMED KUMALIA, PDP SENATORIAL CANDIDATE FOR BORNO CENTRAL SENATORIAL DISTRICT IN RESPECT OF COMMISSION OF ELECTORAL OFFENCES BY INEC OFFICIALS AND COVER UP BY POLICE AUTHORITIES IN MAIDUGURI BORNO STATE.
NB: When contacted, Head of Department, Voter Education and Publicity, Mr. Abba Liberty, said the issue was beyond him.
His words: “I am not in a position to respond. I think you should contact the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC). I have restrictions to what I can respond to please. That is the nature of my work and that is my stand”.