The Akwa Ibom chapter of the All Progressives Congress on Thursday alleged that the Resident Electoral Commissioner, Austen Okojie, has fled the state, apparently to frustrate its efforts to pursue its case at the state Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal.
The party’s legal counsel, Victor Iyanam, said Mr. Okojie has not been seen in the office since the tribunal granted the APC permission to conduct forensic examination of the election materials and documents used by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct the April 11 elections.
“It’s exactly eight days now since the APC got the order to conduct forensic examination of election materials at INEC,” Mr. Iyanam said. “Here we are today still waiting for the Resident Electoral Commissioner to show up. He has refused to comply. He has since bolted out of town and has continued to frustrate us.
“Every day we go there (INEC office) with our machines to scan the documents, but we would not have access to the materials we need to work with. Yet, it is absolutely important that we do what we have to do to finish packaging everything about our case at the tribunal.”
Mr. Iyanam said the Resident Electoral Commissioner has not given any reason for refusing to cooperate with the party by deliberately making himself unavailable in office in the last eight days.
“When you call him, he would feign sickness,” Mr. Iyanam lamented. “At other times, he would deny that the person answering the call was not the REC. It is clear he is acting a script. But, the question is: What is his interest in the matter? If he is not around, he should allow other officials handle the job. The office is not his personal property,”
Although Mr. Iyanam said the case would be coming up again on Saturday, May 23, 2015, he said the APC would be compelled to file contempt proceedings against him and commit him to prison.
He said, however, that the APC was increasingly finding it difficult to control its teeming supporters who are becoming frustrated and agitated by the Commissioner’s conduct and are itching to storm the INEC office to demand for speedy attention.
However, the Electoral Commissioner, who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES during a telephone interview from Abuja, dismissed allegations by the APC and its lawyer that he had fled the states as tissues of lies.
“This is absolute rubbish and extremely malicious,” Mr. Okojie said. “There is no problem whatsoever. At INEC, we have a register of attendance for all the people that come there.
“When they (APC) came in there, we opened a space for them. They were supposed to come with three persons, but I said they should increase the number to five, to speed up things. So, they have been bringing five persons.
“When they say I have not been around for eight days, is it their business where I go to or not? Did the tribunal say I have to be there or report to them while they do their scanning? My head of legal services and that of operations are always there with them. Must I be there before they do their job? I do not know what they want from me. As I speak to you now I am in the office.
He said the APC team was at the INEC office even last Saturday and Sunday, and worked with the legal officer assigned to work with them till 8 p.m.
He said the team has been coming.
The only point of disagreement, he said, was in the process both parties want to adopt in doing the job, pointing out that while the APC wanted to go straight to scan the documents, he was insisting on the documents being sorted out and counted before scanning.
He said the party had rejected the arrangement on the ground that it was cumbersome and time consuming, particularly as they claimed they had a scanning machine with the capacity to perform all three functions simultaneously.
At the end of the elections, observers and civil society groups that monitored the polls in the state had identified Akwa Ibom as one of the states with the worst cases of electoral fraud.
Shortly after the elections, the Civil Society Network Against Corruption had petitioned the Inspector General of Police, demanding the immediate arrest and investigation of Mr. Okojie, for masterminding the massive irregularities reported during the exercise.
The group challenged the credibility of elections in the state, noting the irreconcilable differences in the number of total votes cast and votes polled in the state by the winners and the numbers of authenticated accredited voters generated by INEC central server in Abuja.