Despite contrary evidence, the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, has denied that Peter Ogban, the university professor jailed for election fraud, rigged the election in favour of his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Mr Akpabio, the APC candidate in the Akwa Ibom North-West District 2019 election, was, however, defeated in the election by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate, Chris Ekpenyong, and his hope of returning to the Senate dashed.
A state High Court in Ikot Ekpene, Akwa Ibom State, on Thursday, found Mr Ogban, a professor of Soil Science at the University of Calabar, and a returning officer in the district election, guilty of “fraudulent manipulation of election results, publishing and announcing of false results” in two local government areas – Oruk Anam and Etim Ekpo.
He was sentenced to three years imprisonment, without the option of fine, in one of the charges, and asked to pay a fine of N100,000 in another of the charge.
The case, considered as a landmark in Nigeria’s election history, was prosecuted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
How the professor was nailed
Before his conviction and sentencing, Mr Ogban, in one of the court sessions, clearly told the court how the results of the district election were falsified in Oruk Anam and Etim Ekpo local government areas to give the APC an unfair advantage over its main rival, the PDP.
For instance, 5,000 fake votes were added to the APC’s score in Oruk Anam, in the election.
Mr Ogban, during cross examination by the prosecution counsel, admitted that the votes he entered for both APC and the PDP in the two local government areas were not taken from results collated at the constituency.
As his defence, he said the votes he entered were “read out” to him by the local government areas returning officers.
However, two INEC witnesses – John Enoidem and Itemobong Ekaidem – contradicted the professor’s claim.
The witnesses, who are university lecturers, were collation officers in the two local government areas. They told the court that what Mr Ogban entered as scores for APC and PDP were not what they presented to him.
The Guardian newspaper captured the court session where the two INEC witnesses were cross examined
“In their testimonies, they said the results they collated at the council level, which were presented to Ogban, differed from the results he finally declared.
“For the Oruk Anam Council result, Enoidem noted that while his result showed that the APC scored 10,534 votes and the PDP 25,123 votes, the accused declared that the APC polled 15,534, while PDP got 20,123 votes.
“He, thereby, reduced PDP’s votes by 5,000 and increased APC score by the same number of ballots. Ekaidem added that while the results for Etim Ekpo Council showed that APC scored 2,671 votes and PDP got 6,603, the result Ogban finally declared showed that APC scored 5,671 votes compared to PDP’s 3,306, amounting to a difference of 3,000 in favour of the former,” the paper reported.
Meanwhile, the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Mr Akpabio, said on Saturday that he has been vindicated by the court judgement against the professor.
He was reacting to a statement from the PDP which celebrated the judgement “a huge lesson for compromised individuals working to subvert the will of the people”.
“Contrarily, Akpabio was a victim of the fraudulent manipulation of the election of Akwa Ibom North-West Senatorial District.
“He is vindicated that the perpetrators of the electoral fraud are being brought to justice, at last the chickens are coming home to roost,” the minister’s spokesperson, Anietie Ekong, said in a statement in Abuja.
Mr Akpabio said the jailed professor “joined the INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner in Akwa Ibom State, Mike Igini, to deny him victory in the election”.
“In that election, Akpabio’s votes totaling about 61,329 scored at his home Local Government Area – Essien Udim, having been collated, were not announced by Ogban in accordance with the provisions of the Electoral Act.
“Rather, Ogban who served as the Senatorial District Returning Officer joined the Resident Electoral Commissioner in Uyo where the votes and scores of Akpabio were cancelled in various polling units and collation centers of various LGAs constituting Akwa Ibom North-West Senatorial District.
“This was including 61,329 votes of his home LGA,” Mr Ekong said.
“Mr Ogban was not working for Mr Akpabio who had challenged the election result at the tribunal”, Mr Ekong said.
“For the avoidance of doubt Ogban never announced Akpabio as the winner of any election, instead he cancelled his lawful votes and announced his opponent as the winner of the manipulated election.
“It is the height of mischief for anyone to say that a man who arbitrarily cancelled lawfully collated votes of the APC and announced PDP winner of the election was working for Akpabio.
“In due time, we believe all the conspirators will be brought to justice as Ogban, either through the judiciary or divine intervention.”
What we know about the election
The 2019 election was Mr Akpabio’s toughest political battle till date. He lost his bid to return to the Senate, failed to unseat his successor, Governor Udom Emmanuel whom he fell out with, failed to get the APC to win a single seat at the National Assembly, and could not also get President Muhammed Buhari to win in Akwa Ibom.
During the district election, Mr Akpabio’s challenger, Mr Ekpenyong of the PDP, was leading with a wide margin, until the APC began to scramble for “suspicious” votes which they could use to change the election course.
INEC, at some point, suspended the announcement of the election results in Essien Udim Local Government Area where Mr Akpabio hails from.
“If we accept the results from the local government area, Akpabio’s votes will overshoot that of Chris Ekpenyong,” an official of INEC told PREMIUM TIMES, at that time.
“There are issues in the results which we are yet to be resolved,” the official had said.
The elections in the area were marred by pockets of violence.
“I have records of presiding officers who were speaking to me in low tones because of where they were and what was going on. God gave the returning officer wisdom, and today he is alive,” the resident electoral commissioner Mr Igini had said, when he told journalists and representatives of political parties why the commission could not announce the results from Essien Udim.
INEC later conducted a rerun election in the area, as ordered by the Court of Appeal, Calabar.
But Mr Akpabio backed out of it, leaving the PDP to win easily, even though the election was still characterised by violence, including INEC officials being held hostage in Mr Akpabio’s ward.
My case an eye-opener, says jailed professor
Before he received his jail sentence, Mr Ogban, while begging the judge, Augustine Odokwo, to have mercy on him, said his case was an “eye-opener”.
“This is an eye-opener for anyone who participated in local, state or national activities to do so with dexterity and not take anything for granted to avoid an innocent person being embarrassed,” he said to the judge.
“I should be pardoned for the inability to do this which is why I am here today. I plead that you grant me 100 per cent mercy and allow me to go and continue with my responsibilities.
“If I lose my source of income, it means all of my dependents I have mentioned will suffer, especially the condition of my aged mother.”
Another professor faces trial for election fraud
Meanwhile, Ignatius Uduk, a professor of Human Kinetics in the Department of Physical and Health Education, University of Uyo, has also been charged for election fraud in Akwa Ibom State.
He is accused of “unlawful generation of election results in favour of PDP in Essien Udim State Constituency election in 2019 and lying under oath”.
Mr Uduk was remanded in custody in December after the court issued a warrant of arrest on him.
This is the first time INEC is prosecuting professors for electoral fraud.
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