With less than one month before the Akwa Ibom State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Abuja delivers its final verdict, there is no doubt that Akwa Ibom State is currently enveloped with uneasy calm, although, a government constituted by the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) is in place.
The election, held in April this year which produced Emmanuel Udom as the governor of the state was adjudged to be stormy and controversial. It was such that now depicts the governor as perching under a silhouette of victory, unsure of his ability to hang on peacefully for long. Never in history has the PDP been so uncomfortable in victory after an election like in Akwa Ibom State.
What is making the difference this time is the strength of the opposition; the All Progressives Congress (APC). Exuding an uncommon aggression, the APC is eager and voluble in convoluting the victory of the PDP. The party has been strident in letting the world know that election did not take place as expected in Akwa Ibom, but that the state, then presided over by Godswill Obot Akpabio, deployed all available machinery to rig and force victory in favour of his party.
In the petition before the tribunal, the APC had argued that to perfect rigging during the governorship election, high elements of violence, arson and intimidation were employed by the PDP government. It further argued that the essence was to repress voters from exercising their rights. The opposition party felt cheated and saw the need to take its case to the Election Petition Tribunal, armed with what it claimed are avalanche of evidence to support its allegations. From the outset, the sitting of the tribunal attracted the attention of keen watchers of political events in Akwa Ibom State. First, controversy had trailed the issue of the venue for the tribunal.
While the PDP preferred the tribunal to open hearing on the APC’s petition in Uyo, the state capital, the opposition trumpeted security challenges as reason a place like Abuja would have been more appropriate. The tribunal eventually resolved to make Abuja, a neutral ground, as venue for the sitting. With that Nigeria was set to witness the most epochal and nerve wreaking judicial process which may soon become a reference point in the history of election petitions in the country.
So far, the petitioner and APC governorship candidate in April 11 election, Umana Umana has concluded his case with very shocking revelation of how the PDP allegedly rigged the election. Over 30 witnesses have also given various accounts of several election irregularities. One of the high points of Umana’s case before the tribunal was a video evidence which catalogued mind blowing manipulations, snatching of ballot boxes, thump printing of ballot papers by persons suspected to be PDP members and non-availability of result sheets at several polling units.
The courtroom was held spell bound by clips of the video evidence which showed a set of INEC ad hoc staff (Youth Corp members) stamping ballot papers behind INEC office days after the election. Another clip of the video also showed a PDP Local Government Chairman presiding over a massive operation of ballot box stuffing, using thugs.
More shocking was also the clip which exposed a police truck and an Akwa Ibom State Corporation bus allegedly used to cart away election materials and intimidate voters who dispersed in fear. Another clip also showed bandits caught with election materials and interviewed by those who stopped them. More revelations were also contained in the video which also showed how the spurious marks were tallied and written on forms by purported agents of the PDP.
Another big shocker which the tribunal may find too interesting to ignore in reaching its final decision, is an expert’s revelation that non-human voted in the election. Testifying before the tribunal, a forensic expert, Abdullahi Dauda, revealed that out of the 140, 832 finger prints on ballot papers matched (scanned and analyzed) by his team, over 100,000 were non- human prints. Abdullahi noted that his team of experts that carried out the investigation also discovered about 13, 000 cases of multiple thumb printing.
The non-human prints could possibly have been more as another member of the forensic team, Sanusi, alleged that INEC did not allow them free access to the election materials. He also alleged that constant incursion by the Attorney General of the state was another issue his team had to contend with.
The thrust of the petitioner’s case clings on the assertion that elections did not take place in several parts of Akwa Ibom State. To prove this, over 30 witnesses from different local government areas recounted before the tribunal how results were announced for several polling units despite the fact that no election took place in such units. For instance, a former Deputy Speaker, Hon. Uwem Udoma, told the tribunal that election did not take place in the 125 polling units in Abak local government.
Also in Nsit Atai area of the state, one Chief Peter-King Atarah testified that there were no election materials in all the polling units in the area. Results were however announced by INEC for the area. The situation was also the same for Eastern Obollo, Nsit Ibom, Obot Akana and several other areas as revealed by witnesses. In one of the exhibits tendered before the tribunal, it was also shown that in Etim Ekpo area of the state, out of the total number of 45,922 accredited to vote, 45,965 voted. This shows some of the allegations of senseless manipulation of figures.
A National Youth Service Corp member, Chidinma Nwogbo, who was posted to the state and served as a presiding officer also narrated her ordeal in the hand of alleged PDP thugs during the election. Chidinma told the tribunal that she was stripped naked by thugs in Uyo while the election materials under her care were taken away.
To the shock of many who have been monitoring the tribunal proceedings, the PDP and its governorship candidate, Udom Emmanuel, has done very little to counter the allegations of rigging and other electoral malpractices. With the array of witnesses called by the petitioner to prove his case, many had expected an equally matching number of witnesses on the side of PDP and Governor Udom Emmanuel. Earlier this month, the respondent and his team of senior lawyers just called few witnesses and closed his defence.
As the tribunal gradually winds down to judgement day, one thing is certain: Members of the tribunal will make their final pronouncement base on the strength of the case presented before them. The Akwa Ibom people deserve justice and truth about what transpired on 11 April and they look up to members of the tribunal for that hope.