Shortly after it declared the Anambra State governorship election inconclusive Monday, triggering protests from parties and their candidates, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) told those aggrieved with the outcome of the election to go to court.
It said it could not cancel election results as being canvassed by some political parties, after the chief returning officer had declared them.
The commission at about 6 am Monday had declined to announce the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) candidate, Chief William Obiano, winner of the gubernatorial election despite winning the majority votes of 174,710.
Mr. Tony Nwoye of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) polled 94,956 while his All Progressives Congress (APC), Senator Chris Ngige, had 92,300.
The Returning Officer, Prof James Epoke, who is also Vice-Chancellor, University of Calabar (UNICAL), said the election did not produce a winner because the total number of cancelled votes was more than the difference between the number of votes cast for the winner and the runner-up in the election.
The difference in the figures between the first two candidates, which is 79,754, is less than the cancelled votes of 113,113.
He explained that a supplementary election would be conducted in 210 polling units covering 16 local government areas of the state, where the election was cancelled, at a date to be fixed by the electoral umpire.
But INEC's verdict did not go down well with the APC, which rejected the idea of a supplementary election and demanded a total cancellation of the grossly tainted and widely manipulated election.
But APC's stance drew the criticism of PDP, which accused the opposition party of being a bad loser for attempting to discredit the conduct of the election.
APGA, on the other hand, expressed no worry over the declaration of the election as inconclusive, saying the decision to hold a supplementary election will merely delay the declaration of the party as winner of the poll.
Holding firm to its position, APC demanded an immediate investigation of the flawed election to determine the extent to which the exercise was sabotaged and compromised.
It said nothing short of an outright cancellation of the election and the organisation of a fresh poll, under the supervision of a credible resident electoral commissioner, would be acceptable to it.
In a statement in Lagos yesterday by its interim National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the party also called on INEC to explain how the election was sabotaged by its officials, with a view to weeding out its errant members of staff to save Nigeria from future embarrassment.
It said: “First, the electoral commission proposed make-up election in only 65 polling units in Obosi before scaling things up to a supplementary election ‘in those areas where election was cancelled’. “But we say, without equivocating, that a total cancellation of the election and the organisation of a fresh poll, under the supervision of a credible resident electoral commissioner will be acceptable to our party. “Prof. Jega must also tell Nigerians why 16 electoral commissioners, who migrated to Anambra days before the election ostensibly to supervise things, could not ensure the success of an election in a single state, when even a polling unit behind the INEC office in Awka did not get voting materials till after 9 am on the election day.”
APC accused the PDP of being an accessory to the electoral malfeasance in Anambra, basing its stand on the statement credited to the party that the election was free and fair.
In response to the criticisms against the election, INEC has asked those dissatisfied with the conduct of the election to go to court.
It also said the date for the supplementary election would be released after studying the report from electoral officials.
Chief Press Secretary to the INEC Chairman, Mr. Idowu Kayode, said: “You know that once a returning officer announces the result of any election, any objection to that election by any aggrieved person should be channelled to the courts or the election tribunal.
“This is the position of the law. There is no way that INEC as a commission can cancel the outcome of the Anambra State governorship election because the returning officer has announced the results. The best option for any political party or any candidate that is aggrieved is to take his or her grievances to the court or the election tribunal as the case may be.
“Once a returning officer has announced the results of any election as in this case, INEC cannot go back and cancel what has been announced. No, this is not done. We expect anyone aggrieved to go to the court to seek redress.”
On when the commission will fix the date for the supplementary election, he said it would depend on when the electoral officials submit their report.
According to him, “The issue of supplementary election is a policy decision of the Election Management Board (EMB). When the officials come back from the election duty in Anambra State, they will submit their report and the commission will study the report before coming out with the date for the supplementary election.”
In its reaction, PDP accused the APC of plans to discredit the Anambra electoral process, through blackmail and propaganda.
Rising from a meeting of its National Working Committee (NWC) yesterday in Abuja, the PDP said APC attempted to import thugs and non-indigenes to rig the election, adding that APC governors donated to Ngige with a view to allegedly rig the election in his favour.
PDP National Publicity Secretary, Chief Olisa Metuh, described APC as a bad loser, stressing that the party was bent on creating anarchy and doubt over the Anambra election because its candidate lost.
“It is a strategy of the APC that whenever they win elections, they will praise INEC; whenever they lose any election, they will try by all means to discredit the system. When APC won the governorship election in Edo, it was all kudos to INEC, but when they lost in Anambra and in Delta, it was all complaints to discredit the system,” Metuh added.
On its part, APGA urged its supporters in the state to remain calm just as it described the planned supplementary election as a delayed victory for the party because its outcome will widen the party's lead and eventually lead to the declaration of Obiano as winner.
The party's National Chairman, Chief Victor Umeh, however blamed APC supporters for the cancelled election in Idemili North Local Government Area, adding that APGA had nothing to gain by disrupting the election.
He said: “I welcome the decision by the INEC to hold supplementary election. I consider the reason cogent. There is no miracle anybody can perform that will dislodge APGA. We won in 16 local governments and scored 25 percent in 18 LGAs. Nwoye and Ngige cannot get up to 10 local governments.”
But the state LP Chairman, Mr. Sam Oraegbunam, shared a different view, saying INEC should have cancelled the entire election and conducted a fresh one because the weekend’s exercise was marred by fraud and irregularities.
According to him, the election was not free, neither would the conduct of a supplementary election give credibility to an election that was thoroughly flawed.
Earlier yesterday while declaring the election results, the chief returning officer said a total of 451,000 voters were accredited out of which 429,549 voted.
Of the total votes cast, 413,005 were valid and 16,544 invalid. Epoke said the total number of cancelled votes was 113,113, emanating from 210 polling units spread over 14 local government areas in the state.
The difference between the cancelled votes, he explained, was more than the difference between the number of votes cast for the winner and those of the first runner-up.
According to him, the rules guiding the election stipulates that in the event of the votes from the cancelled polling units being higher than the difference between the leading candidate and the runner-up, no winner would be returned.
APGA won in 16 out of the 21 local government areas and got 25 percent of the votes cast in 18 council areas.
PDP won in two local government areas, namely: Oyi and Dunukofia while APC won in Idemili North and Idemili South Local Government Areas. LP won only in Nnewi North Local Government Area.
Meanwhile, a member of the PDP Board of Trustees (BoT), Chief Chris Uba, has described as highly credible the governorship election held in his native Anambra State.
Uba, at a news conference in Awka, expressed surprise that Ngige, Nwoye and Ubah disparaged the election as not being credible when it was the best election ever conducted in the state.
According to him, Obiano, won outright in 16 local government areas and got 25 percent of votes cast in 18 council areas, INEC should have declared him the winner and avoided the supplementary election.
On its part, the Conference of Nigeria Political Parties (CNNP) called on Jega to resign from his position over the poor conduct of the governorship election.
Its National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Osita Okechukwu, told reporters in Awka yesterday that the call was predicated on the fact that Jega bungled the election, a pointer that he could also bungle the 2015 general election.
He said over 506,000 votes should have been cancelled instead of the 113,113 votes that were cancelled and for which the supplementary election is being held.
Also, he Civil Society Election Situation Room indicted INEC for the poor conduct of the election.
It said in a report that INEC’s admission of lapses in the election put a question mark on its preparedness to conduct future elections.
It expressed concern that the problems and lapses identified in the governorship election were systemic in nature, and may not be sufficiently addressed before the announced supplementary election.
It called on INEC to outline what plans it has put in place to improve on logistics to restore waning voters’ confidence in the supplementary election when it holds.