ANALYSIS: Oguta poll controversy prelude of PDP, APC battle in 2015

Imo State Governor, Rochas Okorocha
Even before last Saturday’s rerun election in the Oguta Constituency of Imo state, many watchers of the nation’s nascent democracy and political development had predicted it would be the first major test of strength between the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and the yet-to-be registered All Progressives Congress, APC, a proposed merger of five opposition parties.
It was, therefore not strange when President Goodluck Jonathan, PDP leader, reacted angrily to the confusion emanating from the conduct of the poll in which a member of his party, Eugene Dibiagwu, and the candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, Walter Uzonwanne, were major contenders.
While playing host to a delegation of the Nigerian Senators Forum, NSF, last Tuesday, Mr Jonathan condemned the irregularities that allegedly characterized the election, saying that conduct of certain persons and groups involved in the election totally negated the spirit of one man, one vote which his administration is trying to entrench in Nigeria.
The President urged the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the nation’s security agencies to take immediate steps to bring all those who played any role in the violence and electoral irregularities that marred the election to justice.
 “Those who made it impossible for the rerun election in Oguta to be conclusive must be brought to book,” he said.
“We must make it clear that impunity in the perpetration of violence and irregularities during elections will no longer be tolerated. Sanctions, promptly imposed on guilty persons, will deter others from engaging in such acts in future.”
The president’s outburst sparked anger among opposition groups, notably those in the APC, the proposed merger of some opposition parties, namely the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, the Congress for Progressives Change, CPC, the All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, the Democratic Peoples Party, DPP, and a section of APGA, to which the Imo State Governor, Rochas Okorocha, belonged.
ACN, in a statement by its spokesman, Lai Mohammed, on Wednesday, accused Mr Jonathan of usurping the power of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, when he described the rerun as inconclusive.
Describing the president’s reaction as hysterical, the party said it was the role of INEC to determine the state of the election whether it was inconclusive or marred by violence and irregularities and not the President.
”To the best of our knowledge, it is either the candidates or the parties involved in an election that can take a legal recourse over any perceived irregularities. It therefore baffles us that the presidency has rushed to declare the election inconclusive and marred by rigging, and to call for the prosecution of those involved, simply because its preferred candidate lost.
The party said that information at its disposal suggested that INEC cancelled the results in eight of the 232 polling booths for one reason or the other,” arguing “That is less than 4% of the total number of booths, and it is definitely not enough to make an election ‘inconclusive’, as the presidency did by assuming the role of an umpire.”The ACN also accused the presidency of being selective in its quest for the prosecution of those who rigor engage in violence during elections, wondering where the presidency was when the last Ondo State gubernatorial election was marred by massive rigging and violence.

“Let’s be clear: It is not the business of the presidency to pronounce any election inconclusive or marred by violence. That is the business of INEC. The presidency is wrong in trying to pre-empt INEC, simply because the PDP candidate lost the election to the Okorocha faction of APGA.

“Would the presidency have raised the alarm if the victor had come from the Obi faction of APGA? Why didn’t the presidency speak up over the Ondo State Governorship election that was marred by massive violence and rigging? Is it because its favoured candidate won?”We are the undisputed advocate of free and fair elections, one man, one vote and of peaceful conduct of polls. But we will not support selective perception, as the presidency is now doing. There must be no sacred cows.

“Whoever perpetrates rigging or violence must be brought to justice, whether or not they belong to the ruling/favoured parties,” the party said.
The CNPP, a sympathizer of the APC project, also angered by the President’s remarks, demanded the immediate release of the result, which it claimed was won by the APGA candidate.
In a statement by its spokesman, Osita Okechukwu, the group asked INEC Chairman, Attahiru Jega to intervene and get the Resident Electoral Commissioner, Cynthia Oguike, and her team to release the result of the election.
“We are making this appeal based on the observation of our members who monitored the election,” it said.
“Our report shows that election was concluded in substantial compliance with the 2010 Electoral Act in 121 polling units out of 129 polling units.
“Accordingly we call INEC to declare Mr Walter Uzonwanne of the All Progressive Grand Alliance {APGA} the winner.”
CNPP warned that as the nation moves closer to the 2015 general elections, INEC should “guard its loin and make sure that its image is not tainted by person or group persons. Trust is the greatest asset INEC must passionately gun for; therefore everything possible must be done to engender this valuable asset.”
Soon after, the national leadership of the PDP joined the fray, berated Mr Okorocha, who had claimed victory for APGA, over “a persistent desperate attempt to truncate the wish of the people in the recent Imo State Assembly rerun election, describing his actions as shamelessly undemocratic.”The ruling party, in a statement by its acting spokesman on Wednesday, accused Mr Okorocha of deploying thugs to disrupt the election when it was clear that its candidate, Eugene Dibiagwu was in clear lead.

It stated that the blatant attempt by the governor and his party, the APGA to rig the election and the subsequent sustained bizarre efforts by them to unilaterally declare a fraudulent election result even after the INEC  had declared same inconclusive, was a window into the jaundiced  disposition of the opposition to free and fair elections.“The Imo State Governor, Chief Rochas Okorocha needs to urgently retrace his steps; advise himself and halt this rapid, rabid descent into barefaced dictatorship. Unfortunately and shamefully too, authoritarianism is fast nibbling away the hard won democracy in the  Eastern Heartland, with Okorocha furiously dancing naked to this macabre beats with his two ears shut.”

The statement added that it was only desperation that could force a sitting governor to run from pillar to post, ridiculing himself and his office with “cooked election results”.

“The governor’s attempt to browbeat the alertness of the people of Oguta and force INEC to shirk its responsibilities failed woefully. Understandably, INEC had in a statement today expressed huge ‘disappointment at the culture of thuggery, intolerance and unruly conduct’ of APGA at the elections.

The PDP also said the successive Oguta rerun election in which it  had  continued to show electoral superiority despite intimidation and various  acts of violence by the APGA-led Imo State government was a clear indication of the acceptance of the party in Imo state and Nigeria in general.

The ruling party advised the Imo Governor and the opposition to take a cue from  Mr Jonathan, whose principled stand on bequeathing a legacy of credible elections must be supported by all, adding that democracy could only gain firm footing in the country with the cooperation of leaders at all levels.

When it spoke, INEC position was not different from that of the President and his party. It explained on Wednesday that it cancelled the poll because it was inconclusive in eight polling units.

It listed the units and their wards as PU 001 in Ward 05 (Ndeloukwu/Umuowerre) – with 768 registered voters, PU 007 in Ward 03 (Izombe) – 939 registered voters, PU 009 in Ward 09 (Oru) – 708 registered voters, PU 010 (Ward 09) – 657 registered voters, PU 011 (Ward 09) – 407 registered voters, PU 012 (Ward 09) – 408 registered voters, PU 013 (Ward 09) – 667 registered voters and PU 003 in Ward 02 (Egwe/Egbuoma) – 212 registered voters.
 “The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has received reports showing that the election conducted in Oguta constituency of Imo State last Saturday, June 29, 2013, witnessed incidents of violence and unruly conduct by partisans, necessitating the cancellation of the election in eight (8) polling units. This cancellation made the election inconclusive,” INEC said in the statement by Kayode Idowu, media aide to the Commission’s Chairman.
“Field reports showed that even though security agents mobilised appreciably for the exercise, there were cases of violence as well as ballots and result sheets snatching by thugs, as a result of which the election was cancelled in the polling units.”
The Commission explained that the total population of registered voters in the polling units affected was over 4,000; whereas the difference between the leading candidate and the next in the collated results was 2,011 votes.
It also stated that “reports on the elections showed that officials of the Imo State Government and some members of the National Assembly across party lines moved around freely despite the restriction order – some of them with security escorts!
“Worse, some of these politicians aren’t even from Oguta constituency where the election held.”
Although the battle for the soul of the tiny Oguta Constituency has lingered since 2011, the current desperation by both the PDP and APGA and by extension, the parties in APC, to outsmart one another in the poll is not unconnected with the direction of political events in the country in the 2015 polls.
Mr. Mohammed alluded to this when he said ”The presidency should be prepared for more of the drubbing they received in Oguta, because henceforth, that is what will happen to the PDP in subsequent elections. It is a sign of things to come, hence the presidency is right to be jittery.”
Some PDP stalwarts have never hidden the fact that the emergence of APC on the political scene is a threat to its dominance even though others have pretended it is not so. The Chairman of the PDP Board of Trustees, BoT, Tony Anenih, while speaking at a forum in Asaba, noted that his party must sit up ahead of the general polls.
Not a few have considered the booby traps in APC’s quest to be recognized by INEC as a party as part of the ploy to dampen the spirit of the merger coordinators and leave the association in the cold. Regardless, the association has trudged on and may have decided to test its might using the Oguta poll.
Lingering election
The issue of who represents Oguta constituency in the state legislature has lingered since April 26, 2011, when the election was first conducted alongside that of the governorship.
Although, both elections were conclusive, the latter was subsequently conducted during which Rochas Okorocha of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, emerged victorious over Ikedi Ohakim of the PDP.
That year, in the first election, Mr Dibiagwu of PDP scored 11,536 votes to beat his closest rival, Walter Uzonwanne of  APGA who polled 3,366 votes.  The results emanated from seven out of the 11 wards in the constituency.
Despite scoring the highest number of votes among all the contestants, INEC failed to give Mr. Dibiagwu a certificate of returns, prompting him to approach the Federal High Court, Owerri seeking to be sworn in among other prayers.
The court subsequently affirmed that the results of the election in seven wards were duly collated, counted and declared by INEC.
Dissatisfied by the ruling, Mr Uzonwanne approached the Federal High Court in Abuja seeking Order of Mandamus where he joined INEC and the Imo State Resident Electoral Commission, Selina Oko, a professor, and asked that election be conducted afresh in all the 11 wards. INEC later upheld the election.
Curiously, the Commission later swore to an affidavit that election was only conducted in seven out of 11 wards in the constituency.
In the ensuing  confusion, the Commission convened a meeting of stakeholders on April 17, 2012 in Abuja where it was resolved that fresh elections be conducted into the 11 wards on May 5. Both the APGA and ANPP candidates boycotted the meeting.
The election was later pushed to August 8, which produced Mr Dibiagwu as winner with 15,338 votes to Mr Uzonwane’s 3,401. Henry Igbomezie of ACN scored 2,520, Clifford Okoronkwo of CPC 47, Ebere Amadi of DFPF 16, Loresha Nwosu of DPP 31, Daniel Stanley of NTP 18, and Obi Chris of SMDP 8, and Mr Onyebuchi, 152.
The August 8 election was sequel to an order by the Court of Appeal in Owerri which ordered a rerun in the four wards.
In February this year, the Imo State Election Petition Tribunal nullified the election and ordered a rerun within 21 days following a petition filed by the APGA candidate. INEC subsequently fixed the poll for last Saturday.

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