By Hilary Eni Njoku
Prof Attahiru Jega, INEC Chairman
Failure is not a plague from the gods or a kind of curse from outer space, it is a design of Lilliputians who in their supercilious minds hold self above ALL; and conduct public affairs for private advantage. Happenings in INEC Owerri are indications that the next election has been programmed to fail. Elections don’t just fail, preceding actions determine an election. When we ignore events that are indices of failure, predicting the next election becomes a fool’s game!
Integrity, honesty and transparency, are critical virtues, any Electoral Management Body and its personnel, must bring to bear on their official actions and behavior, so as to create and sustain public confidence in the electoral process.
It is against this backdrop, that the happenings in the Imo State office of the Independent National Electoral Commission, under the leadership of (the octogenarian) Prof Selina Oko and her administrative secretary, Engr Moses Udoh, come under discourse here, as those happenings, are at cross purposes with the yearnings of Nigerians, for sanity and credibility in the electoral process.
This is more so, as Jega, on his appointment as INEC Chair, was celebrated as “Mr. Integrity”, with the public expectation, that he would not condone acts of dishonesty, on the part of election administrators, at whatever level of the Commission, especially, in their dealings with the stakeholders and the public.
It was in line with this expectation, that the attention of the INEC Chairman, was drawn (on several occasions), to the acts of dishonesty and betrayal of public trust, that serially take place, in the Imo State office of INEC. However, surprisingly and sadly too, what was received on each of those occasions, was dead silence from the Abuja end. Moreover, the beat goes on. Now, the specifics:
Imo remains the only state, where the ad-hoc staff, that worked in the cancelled April 2nd, 2011 NASS election, have not been paid their honoraria and other allowances, till date. And those of them, that went to ask the REC, were told that the money Abuja sent for that purpose was short, and that (Abuja) had been written, to send the balance.
But having waited for months, without being called to come for their money, on the 16th Jan 2012, Jega was formally complained to, concerning the issue. Silence. No response.
Again, on the 19th of March, 2012) Jega was written on the same issue (among other scams), silence. No response.
The other cases of graft, which Abuja was intimated on, include the following: (i) deduction of
N250,000,00 from the N lm advanced to each of the electoral officers in the 27 L.G.As of the state, for the procurement of some items, for the 2011 voters’ registration exercise:
(ii) payment of
N99,000.00, to each of the RACOS (Registration Area Collation Officers), in the 305 Registration Areas of the state, instead of N 120,000.00 each, as provided by Abuja,
(iii) payment of
N55,000.00, instead of N65,000.00 each, to ARO (i) and ARO (ii) ,in the 3523 Registration Centres in the state, (iv) non-payment (for more than 3years), of the monthly imprest of N20,000.00, to each of the 27 E.O.s in the state and the six Heads of department, at the state headquarters, for the running of their offices, as routinely released by Abuja.
However, it was obviously due to the seriousness of the foregoing cases of scam, that the Jega-led INEC, in March, 2012, sent a team of investigators to Owerri, to verify the authenticity (or otherwise) of these sleazy deals. But till today, nothing has been heard about the team and its report. It has been deafening silence, from Abuja. And the scam goes on.
But if Abuja were sincere, the investigating team, would have made their work very simple, by just asking the staff of the Commission in the state, how much they were paid (or not paid), because, they equally worked as ad-hoc staff, in both the voter’s registration exercise and the cancelled NASS election. Fela would call it “Government Magic”. And towards the end of last year, the ad-hoc staff approached a law firm in Owerri, which wrote Jega, demanding the payment of the election duty allowances, to its clients. Deafening silence. And in suit No.FHC/OW/CS/33/2013, the lawyer, filed a court action, to compel INEC to pay the said poll allowances.
Now, the whole world knows, that the May 6th Supplementary Election, was held in four local government areas in the state -Mbaitoli, Ngor Okpala, Ohaji/Egbema, Oguta and Orji ward (in Owerri North), following the violence in these areas in the April 26th election. And again, this Supplementary Election, in the eleven wards of Oguta, in which men and materials were deployed, could not hold because of the same reasons of violence.
The retired DIG, Ivy Okoronkwo, was there. Dr Ishmael Igbani, INEC National Commissioner, was present. Barr. Ikiowak, the Rivers State REC (deployed as Supplementary Election REC), was there. In fact, it was the INEC staff from Rivers State, that were deployed to the whole eleven wards in Oguta, for that election.
But INEC in the state, was to shock the nation later, when it appeared in court with results from seven, out of eleven wards in Oguta, claiming that the ‘mystery’ results were got from the botched April 26th, 2011, Gov/House of Assembly election.
Electoral Abracadabra!!! And the funny thing is that these stranger-than-fiction results, were certified by the administrative secretary, Engr Moses Udoh, in favour of the plaintiff, that sued the Commission in court. And based on ‘evidence’ before it, the court ordered INEC to go and conduct the H/A election, in the remaining four wards of the L.G.A. The rest is history. But the Jega-led INEC, remained silent as it did not ask Owerri, how it came about the April 26, 2011 results, it certified and tendered in court, especially, when the same state office, had earlier listed the whole Oguta, in its report to Abuja, as one of the L.G.A.s, where the April 26th election did not hold.
And INEC headquarters, Abuja, could not ask a simple question: had the Supplementary Election been successful in Oguta, would Owerri have come up with these strange results, it claimed, it got from the unsuccessful April 26 2011 election, in the area?
And when the authenticity of the “results” was further challenged in court, the Administrative Secretary (sweating profusely in the witness box), could not explain how he came about the phantasm results, he certified, to the consternation of the audience in court.
And of course, the court nullified the whole thing, as nothing, but a bundle of forgery. And Abuja remained tongue-tied as the beat goes on in Imo.
Now, since the Jega-led INEC, sees no evil and punishes none, in the several complaints of acts of dishonesty and betrayal of public trust, that go on in its Imo State office, a case was made to the Public Complaints Commission in the state, particularly with regards to the monthly imprest issue.
The PCC, carried out investigation and found, that the electoral officers, do not actually get imprest (for years) leading to adverse attitude to work by the workers in the L.G.As, as their offices are ill maintained
In reaction, the REC told the PCC that Jega does not give her money (every month) to give to EOs that she has told them that any person, who makes out-of-pocket expenses, should apply for refund. But the question is, if monthly imprest is given EOs in other states, why is Imo different? INEC Imo State remains the only place where staff get salary one week after their colleagues in other states have.
In anger, the REC summoned the EOs for a meeting, where she accused them of being the brain behind the petition to the PCC. The EOs were thoroughly tongue lashed and told that the Management would make a document, which the EOs would sign, that they were not being owed any allowance. And any person, who refused to sign, would be treated as fighting the Management, and that person, would be reported to Jega. And the EOs signed. Ite Missa est! – (And mass ends).
Now, INEC staff Conditions of Service, clearly provides, that employment of staff on grade levels 01-06, in the STATES/FCT, is for the indigenes of the area. But while in other states, this provision is adhered to, in Imo, the REC and the admin secretary, ensure that Imo people are completely shut out, as all the 30 junior staff, engaged by them in the state, none is from Imo. And several formal complaints made to Abuja in this regard, elicited no response. What type of injustice is this?
The concluding question is: if Prof Jega were to come from Imo state, would he keep silent, when he gets complaints that his people are being denied their (official) entitlements, which their counterparts in other states, get?