The Abia State National Assembly Election Petition Tribunal, sitting in Umuahia, was told Thursday how the Peoples Democratic Party allegedly manipulated the Abia North Senatorial election in favour of Senator Mao Ohuabunwa.
The facts came to light when two witnesses in the consolidated petitions challenging the outcome of the Abia North senatorial poll, Ihekweaba Chukwugoziem and David Ogba Onuoha-Bourdex, entered the witness box.
Testifying during the start of hearing into his petition, the principal witness and petitioner, Mr. Onuoha-Bourdex, disclosed that he won the election by scoring majority of the lawful votes.
He said out of error, the Independent National Electoral Commission returned Mao Ohuabunwa as winner based on fictitious results.
He alleged that out of desperation and exasperation, the PDP and its candidate decided to hurriedly inflate results of some polling units at the ward collating centres to upturn the result.
Giving instances of the large-scale irregularities that took place at the collation centre, Mr. Onuoha-Bourdex alleged that based on the inflated results, even dead persons were brought back to life to vote in the Abia North senatorial election on March 28, 2015.
He stated: “If you look at the voters register, you will find that even dead people voted. They were supposed to have woken up, voted and then went back to their graves.”
He alleged that in certain polling units, the first respondent inflated votes on the result sheet by prefixing the figure before the original votes recorded for him from the votes tally.
“For instance in Arochukwu local government area, at Ovukwu polling unit 002 where the first respondent scored 56, the figure was inflated on the mutilated Form EC8B to read 156; in 003 instead of 42 votes it scored, 142 was recorded and in 004 where it scored 24 votes the result was inflated to 124,” he disclosed.
The chief witness revealed the pattern of inflation was followed in Ohaeke, Ohafor 11, Arochukwu 11, Eleowa/Ihechiowa, Ututu, Isu, Arochukwu 111 and Ikwun Ihechiowa.
In Ohafia LGA, which has 11 Wards, and where INEC credited the first respondent, Mao Ohuabunwa, with 13,756 votes, the entire LGA two wards of Ndi Elu and Ndi Agbor in Nkporo, where elections did not hold, produced 7,538 votes and were recorded in favour of Mr. Ohuabunwa.
While urging the tribunal to restore his mandate and declare him the rightful winner of the Abia North senatorial election, the APGA candidate maintained that it was wrong for INEC to have declared Mr.Ohuabunwa the winner since, according to him, the PDP candidate did not score the highest number of lawful votes cast.
He said Mr. Mao lost even in his own ward and that he, the APGA candidate, won in all the three wards in Arochukwu kingdom.
He rebuffed the suggestions of counsels to the first respondent and INEC, Donald Dee-Wigwe (SAN), and Livy Uzoukwu (SAN), respectively that his depositions were false.
Mr. Onuoha-Bourdex reiterated that the senatorial election was manipulated to favour the PDP candidate.
“I won the election,” he said. “If the votes were properly computed, I scored 37,115 lawful votes while the respondent who was declared winner got 28,800 votes. The figures were sourced from the collated votes from the polling units in possession of my polling agents across the five local governments that constitute the Abia North senatorial zone.”
In answer to a question by counsel to the first respondent that he was not entitled to the reliefs he was seeking, the petitioner countered that he was the rightful winner of the election and should be so declared.
He said he relied confidently on the reports submitted to INEC by the collation officers as tendered and admitted by the tribunal.
When it was time for the returning officer for the Abia North Senatorial election, Mr. Chukwugoziem, to testify, a mild drama ensued as counsels for the first respondent rejected his cross examination on the grounds that he was a subpoenaed witness and that his witness statement should have been served on the respondent before his testimony and that as such he should only tender the report of the INEC Committee alongside his affidavit of facts.
The Counsel to the petitioner, Chris Uche (SAN), after a long argument, conceded that the INEC returning officer could submit the documents. He said although he was not among the petitioner’s witnesses, he could be recalled at a later date in the course of the trial.
However, in his affidavit of facts, the returning officer deposed that he was an Associate Professor in Computer Engineering at the Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike, adding that he was appointed the Returning Officer for the Abia North Senatorial election by INEC.
He noted that after the election on March 28, 2015, results from the five local government areas that made up the senatorial district were slow in coming adding that after waiting till Sunday evening for the results from Arochukwu, Bende, Umunochi and Isuikwuato to come in in vain, the atmosphere in Ohafia local government council headquarters, which was designated the headquarters of the senatorial district, became heavily charged.
“Hoodlums and thugs came threatening to take over the office and to burn down the place and kill the Electoral Officers including myself if the results were not produced,” he said.
He said at that point he communicated the situation to the REC and requested for security.
He noted that at last when the results came from the five local government areas, irregularities were discovered in many of them.
Mr. Chukwugoziem added that the same irregularities were noticed and recorded by the security agents at a conference room in the INEC headquarters at Umuahia.
While pointing out that result of the election held on March 28, 2015 could only be made public on April 1, 2015, the RO explained that based on the discrepancies noted in most of the results, a committee was set up by the REC.
“Upon the committee’s sitting, several irregularities were discovered in the results and the results shown not to have emanated from the field of election,” he said. “This was observed and recorded by the security agencies. That up and until April 1, 2015, the anomalies and irregularities were still being unearthed and so none of the candidates could be returned as winner of the election as the committee had not concluded the exercise and collation of the results not yet done.
“That I have not collated the results and have not declared any of the candidates as winner of the election in view of the issues that are yet to be resolved.”
Absolving himself from the use of wrong data to return a candidate of the election, the RO indicated in his report to the Abia State REC on the election in Abia North Senatorial district that: “As a law-abiding citizen and the person entrusted with the responsibility of making the return in line with the law, it has become difficult for me to contain with signing the produced document which did not emanate from me as the returning officer since there are issues with data contained there as observed by the committee members including security agents.”
He disclosed that several threats were made to him, his friends and relations.
“The evasive persuasion to announce a pre-arranged result which was not in tandem with the law, could not go down well with me as well as my conscience, further convinced me that something was really wrong,” he said.
The committee on the verification of election results in the two contentious local government areas, Arochukwu and Ohafia, in its report, said it discovered that in Arochukwu local government area, 51 Polling Units had their results either mutilated or inflated in favor of PDP while 15 PUs had no results.
It said a total of 66 PUs were found to be deficient in the form EC8B(I).
The report was endorsed by the following INEC officials: Charles Mbanaja, (Admin Secretary); Gilbert Okolie, (HOD Operations); Barrister Sunday Nwigboke, (Head, Legal Service Unit) and Edwin Enabor, (HOD, Voter Education and Publicity).
It noted that while considering the complaints by the APGA candidate, Mr. Onuoha-Bourdex, it discovered that in Ohafia only one PU had a mutilated and altered result while in Arochukwu 57 PUs had their results either mutilated or inflated in favor of PDP even as seven PUs had no results recorded.
“A total of 64 PUs was found to be deficient in the EC8B (I),” he said.
Owing to the interest generated by the Abia North Senatorial election, the entire premises of the new High Court in Umuahia was filled with people.
The counsel to the petitioner, Chris Uche, (SAN) told reporters after the sitting, “We are happy with the progress made today, because results from the polling agents were tendered and received by the tribunal. The petitioner took the witness box and performed creditably.”
In his own contribution, counsel to the first respondent, Mr Dee-Wigwe (SAN) said the petitioner wants to pull his client out of the senate, stressing that his questions were to ensure that he does not
Abia State Secretary of APGA, Onukwubili Sunday, commended the tribunal for their mature approach saying that the justices gave room for both parties to operate.
He regretted that the respondents in the petition were bent on confusing the court.
He said by trying to oppose the returning officer from rendering a narration of how the rigging took place, the respondents gave the impression that they did not want the whole truth to be revealed.
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