The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, on Thursday called on newly elected federal lawmakers to commence and conclude work on the review of the electoral legal framework early, ahead of the 2023 General Elections.
Presenting Certificates of Return to Senators-elect at the International Conference Centre, Abuja, Yakubu said: “There is a lot of work but very little time available. As a process governed by law, the success of election in Nigeria depends to a large extent on the electoral legal framework and most importantly, in ensuring adherence to the law.
“I want to assure you that we will continue to work with the National Assembly to review and strengthen our Electoral Law.
“But I want to appeal to the Senators-elect to please start work early and conclude work on the electoral framework in good time well ahead of the 2023 general elections.
“The tendency to delay electoral reform, particularly the review of the electoral framework, until it is too close to the elections, leaves the commission with little time to develop processes including regulations and guidelines, make required consultation with stakeholders, embark on effective voter education including sensitisation, train staff and organise deployment for the elections.
“I am glad that among the senators-elect are senators that we have worked very closely with and some of them have taken initiative or even sponsoring private member bills to advance the cause of electoral reform,” he said.
As expected, Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State, who was not at the presentation ceremony, is blowing hot, insisting that his certificate of return as a Senator-elect cannot be withheld by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Recall that the commission did not list the Governor among those to pick up certificates of return, though he was declared as winner of the Imo West Senatotial District election. In declaring Okorocha winner of the February 23 election, the returning officer, Prof. I. Ibeabuchi, said he was doing so under duress.
But Okorocha told a crowd of visiting youth supporters who came to the Government House, Owerri, : “I am not a violent person and those who know me know that. This is why we have peace in Imo State. The Returning Officer could not have done that under duress under the watchful eyes of the Police, DSS and party agents. I am not unmindful of the fact that those who are fighting me from Abuja are anxious to see me removed as a senator. I urge INEC to do the right thing immediately by releasing my certificate.
“Let me tell every Nigerian that I fought no one and no one should fight me. If anyone fights me, he will be the loser at the end of it all. My INEC Certificate cannot be touched or seized, doing so is belittling democracy in Nigeria. It is only the tribunal that has the right to say otherwise once a result is declared. INEC cannot seize my certificate by mere petition written by somebody in a case I was not given the opportunity to present my own side of the story.”
On the emergence of Emeka Ihedioha as his successor, Okorocha also kicked.
His words: “The REC had acted illegally by ignoring the provision of the Constitution that makes it mandatory for a candidate to have 25 per cent in two-thirds of the local governments in the state by announcing the PDP candidate, Emeka Ihedioha who only met the requirement in 9 Local Governments instead of 18 LGAs, which is two-thirds of 27 LGAs winner.”
“For the REC to have ignored the Constitutional provision for the announcement of the winner of the governorship election only explains his desperation to announce the PDP candidate winner.
“I say so because going by the actual calculation, the person that won this election is Ugwumba Uche Nwosu. Uche Nwosu won the election in a landslide. If you remove the manipulated results from Mbaise, Uche Nwosu won with over 50,000 votes. If you cannot declare him a winner because you have someone already, then they should go for a rerun because you cannot change the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria because you want to favour a candidate.
“In the course of this manipulation, we all observed that the REC decided not to use the collation officers from Federal University of Technology Owerri (FUTO), which he disbanded for reasons he gave that they have met with politicians. Again, he brought some people whom he introduced from the University of Agriculture, Umudike. They arrived just a night before the election date and we thought we have gotten the collation officers. Again, those ones were disbanded for the same reason that they have met with politicians. I wonder how this is possible having arrived the state after midnight on the eve of election day.
“Now the REC went to his own university in Awka to bring in collation officers. We believed him, not knowing that he brought people he has been training for a hatched job for some weeks now in Anambra State to come and carry out this injustice in Imo State.
“These men arrived with heavy security from Anambra and went straight to the various Local Governments. We never knew that these were relatives of the PDP candidate and from the same Local Government. These are relatives of the PDP candidate, who were already briefed on what to do. This explains the over voting witnessed in Mbaise. Out of the 270,000 votes that he scored, 50 per cent of it or over 130,000 all came from just three local governments of Mbaise.
“As far as I am concerned, we still maintain that REC has wrecked democracy in Imo State. Unfortunately for them, they were not smart enough to know that Section 179 requires you to have a spread at least in two-third of the local governments before you can be declared a winner. They ended up with only nine local governments instead of 18 required by law. The Returning Officer was advised by all the senior staff of INEC against declaring a winner without looking at the Constitution. This man in a hurry decided to announce the result against the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“This is wrong. In doing so, the Returning Officer didn’t even consider the results cancelled. Total votes cancelled in the different polling booths was enough to declare the election inconclusive as the difference between the PDP and AA would have called for a supplementary election. The speed with which he announced the result tells you that the man is part of the game. This again is unacceptable to all of us.
“It is obvious that this fight is targeted against me by some of those who have decided to fight me from Abuja. I am ready to take this fight as much as I can, but don’t transfer this aggression you have against me to anybody associated with me; that would not be acceptable. Allow the young man who won the election to be so declared.”
Early this week, Okorocha was not recognised as a senator-elect by the INEC as reflected in the list published on its website.
His name was conspicuously missing in Box 47, where his name ought to have been printed. Instead, INEC simply wrote: “Declaration made under duress’.
“Only members – elect as listed on the Commission’s website are invited to the ceremony”, the commission said.
The commission invited 63 elected APC Senators, 37 PDP Senators and one YPP Senator to the event.