As the Election Petition Tribunal in Akwa Ibom State enters the final stage, the All Progressive Congress (APC), Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) have engaged themselves in trading claims and counter-claims in an apparent bid to sway the tribunal and public opinion, as they throw everything into the ring to come out victorious. Notably among the cases attracting so much attention and mudslinging are the ones by Senator Godswill Akpabio of APC instituted against Senator Chris Ekpenyong, PDP and INEC. Then there is another by the governorship candidate of APC, Obong Nsima Ekere against Governor Udom Emmanuel, PDP and INEC.
Also, accusations and counter accusation from all sides have thickened as the matters progress.In a statement signed by its state’s Publicity Secretary, Nkereuwem Enyongekere , APC said, “We have received credible intelligence and classified information that the PDP and other respondents in the ongoing Governorship Election Petition trial are making desperate attempts to tamper with the avalanche of the exhibits and documented evidence tendered by our great party, APC, and its governorship Candidate, Ekere, at the tribunal. The PDP and Governor Udom Emmanuel, we understand, have been embarrassed and flummoxed by these exhibits which show clearly what we have been saying even before the elections: that the PDP and INEC were working together to perpetrate one of the worst electoral frauds in the state. Our evidence and the exhibits have shown clearly that there was no accreditation at most of the polling units during the Governorship Election. This is why INEC allowed PDP supporters to engage in multiple voting using unclaimed PVCs.
“It is therefore no surprise that given their proclivity for fraudulent practices, the respondents in the case may want to extend their stock in trade to the court premises. It was in anticipation of these nefarious and fraudulent tendencies on their part that necessitated our earlier call for the tribunal to sit in Abuja. But our suggestion was vehemently opposed by the PDP. We now know why.
“We are calling on our security agencies to be on the lookout for these unscrupulous politicians who have no restraint in executing any unconscionable action to achieve their evil purposes. The tribunal secretariat staffers are hereby warned not to be induced into criminal activities by the promise of huge financial payments, a familiar practice of the PDP. To be forewarned is to be forearmed”.
Two weeks ago there were publications in some national dailies alleging that the Returning Officer for Essien Udim in the 2019 National Assembly Elections, Dr. William Olosunde, had cancelled Akpabio’s vote at the instance of the INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner, Mr. Mike Igini. That Olosunde had said the results which had already been collated at the local government and senatorial district offices of INEC which showed that Akpabio had won convincingly were cancelled on the orders of Igini in his office in Uyo. But Olosunde at the tribunal debunked the allegation, saying it was the absence of results from the polling units that caused the cancellation of Akpabio’s votes and the results.
Just last week, an audio and video in the social media was said to have been released by Akpabio’s team and the APC alleging a conversation between Olosunde and a lady. In the alleged audio conversation, Olosunde was heard to have said that the original 61,000 votes allocated to Akpabio were done without card reader and not evidenced on the register of voters because when the card reader was checked or queried by him and that the only valid legal accredited votes contained were 5,000 but INEC had said, “our record shows that the officer so claimed in the video was not posted to that ward he claimed he worked”.
The former Vice President of Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Ikeja Branch, Mr. Monday Ubani, was reported to have allegedly boasted that he would use his connections with some renowned lawyers and judges in Abuja to secure Akpabio’s triumph in the ongoing tribunal against his opponent, Sen. Ekpenyong and incite the public against Igini.
While rising in defense of Igini and INEC, the Convener Countryfirst Movement, Mr. Chris Mustapha Nwaokobia Jnr, said the attempt of the legal team of Senator Akpabio to blackmail and rubbish the person of Igini “will not stand, for truth will always prevail over falsehood”.
He said, “The truth about the integrity of Citizen Mike Igini is profound. As INEC REC Mike Igini has remained a non-conformist and a believer in due process; his records in Cross River and Edo States are halcyon; so, the media and legal teams of Akpabio should be told to focus on the case in court and spare us the social media theatrics and effort to blackmail and rubbish the person of Mike Igini. No, the blackmail won’t stand; it won’t. We know Mike Igini.
“I’m compelled to challenge my friend and brother, Barrister Monday Onyekachi Ubani, to prevail on his colleagues in the Akpabio legal, and media team to face the matters before the court, as the doctored tape on social media alleging that Mike Igini ordered the Electoral Officer (EO) who superintended over the Senatorial contest between Akpabio and Ekpeyong ditto to cancel some votes that were pro-Akpabio is not only spurious, but demonic, and is not before the court. The tape presently on social media was clearly manufactured and procured with the impish and impious motive to destroy one of our own, and present him in bad light. But the evil motive will, shall and must fail. Mike Igini is the untainted gift of the civil society to INEC. The records are there, and no conspiracy of falsehood will prevail over truth.
“Since the INEC’s EO who superintended the Senatorial election in dispute has unequivocally said in and out of court that at no point was he asked by Mike Igini to cancel any result or figures. I implore Monday Ubani and the entire Akpabio legal and media team to withdraw the false, spurious and wicked tape seeking to demean one of our own. Everyone has the right to keep the friends and clients of their choice; Monday Ubani has chosen to do so with Akpabio, but I’m unable to believe that he will do so at the detriment of one of our own. I also doubt that he will support efforts to rubbish one of the leading lights of the civil society. However, Monday Ubani’s rebuttal of the allegation that he has chosen to rubbish Mike Igini for Akpabio to win the case in court appears weak, and he knows that.
“At this point in our nation’s history, we must support and defend the few visible lights of truth, decency and decorum we have, and repudiate every tendency to rubbish the brightest for lucre. We must reevaluate our collective values and etch profound mores on our collective canvass. I cannot therefore watch unaddressed the calculated effort to rubbish one of the best of the progressive left. No, I can’t. Akpabio and his team should face the matter in court and spare us their dance macabre and shenanigans. For light will constantly overcome darkness, and truth will continuously prevail over falsehood. Leave Mike Igini alone, the darts won’t stick”.
According to a political analyst in the state, Dr. Bassey Edet, “This is the smear campaign to dent the image of lgini. If Akpabio knows that this doctored and edited audio conversation has massive evidential value to his case why did his legal team not tender it to the tribunal like the cooked, discredited one he brought showing Akpabio on long sleeve walking to a voting centre, but under cross examination to show accreditation, he was wearing short sleeve? Why is this audiotape that “indicts” lgini found useful only on social media and not at the tribunal to prove his case where he has closed his case?
“A society, a country and government that will not encourage, promote and protect men and women of honesty and integrity but allows corrupt people who plan to bomb official vehicle of an electoral commissioner to walk free and still continue to carry out smear campaign against such a man of proven integrity is an unviable country that does not deserve the loyalty of citizens”.
Equally commenting is another political activist in the state, Mr. Imaikop Udosen, who said, “I didn’t expect anything less because Ubani has lost public trust, relevance and significance. But crying will not save his face and Nigerian should note his antics as new deceitful tactics.
“It’s a shocker and it beats my imagination to hear that even those that should be the custodians of truth, these self-styled activists have transmogrified themselves to oracles of falsehood, lies and deceit. They have been dignified as inventors of evil and deceit. It shows how decayed our society and those who on a daily basis deceive Nigerians that they are defending their interests on radio and television”.
Udosen said it was deceitful for anyone to say anything negative against Igini because “this is a man who made it possible for all the Akwa lbom people to see ballot papers for the first time after 1999, who our people see as our liberator from the manipulators of our state and their devious group all these years”.
However, INEC has put a lie to APC and its chieftains’ claims, saying it never robbed Senator Akpabio and APC of victory in the February 23 and March 9 general elections. Rather, the commission said the APC and its faithful are busy fabricating stories to sway the tribunal and the public.
INEC, in a reaction captioned, “Media Campaign Against Igini as a Strategy for Winning at the Tribunal”, dated July 29 and signed by its Public Affairs Officer, Mr. Don Etukudo, said, “Conscious of its status as an umpire, INEC is only interested in the justice of the matters before the tribunal and it’s only there to explain how it conducted the elections in the state.
“In spite of this resolve not to join issues with anyone, the commission wishes to note that the Akwa Ibom State chapter of the APC and Senator Akpabio had since identified Igini as the man they must demonise if they are to win their cases at the tribunal. Just as they saw his removal from the state as the only way they could win the 2019 elections, their current thinking seems to be that if Igini is abused, maligned, vilified and scandalised enough, the tribunal will award them their ‘their mandate’, no matter the strength or weakness of their petitions. So media mercenaries are hired to pick snippets from tribunal proceedings, twist and convulse the narrative to portray Igini as a villain and plant the retches online and pliable media houses.
“First, it was that INEC was withholding election materials ordered to be released to them by the tribunal. Now it is that Igini instructed the Collation Officer to cancel their votes in Essien Udim. Media spaces are bought, spurious audio and video recordings are procured, doctored and splashed on social media to promote these falsehood.
“Perhaps, they need to be assured that no one in the commission is by any means fazed by their shenanigans. The commission has a clear conscience, convinced that it did its best to give the Akwa Ibom people the opportunity to elect their leaders according to the law. If they are capable of reasoning, we would advise that rather than dissipate their energies in whining and waging a futile media campaign against Igini, they should invest their exertions at the tribunal where they can reclaim ‘their mandate.”