▪ PDP, APC trade tackles over allegations of rigging, violence

By Abasifreke Effiong

The chances of the All Progressives Congress in the January 25th rerun election in Essien Udim,Akwa Ibom state, for the Senate, House of Representatives and House of Assembly are getting slimmer following the confusion created by Senator Godswill Akpabio’s withdrawal from the race, and the insistence by INEC that the All Progressives Congress (APC) cannot substitute a candidate ahead of the rerun.

A stakeholder of the party has also said that the party is somewhat “nonchalant” about the rerun.

The APC about a fortnight ago said it has substituted Senator Godswill Akpabio with Obongemem Ekperikpe Ekpo, following Akpabio’s withdrawal from the race. But INEC says Senator Akpabio, who was the candidate of the APC for the Akwa Ibom North West senatorial election, one of the positions which a rerun was ordered, cannot be substituted.

INEC’s position has worried members of the APC. Some of them told The Dune that the confusion created by the situation has dullen the party’s preparedness for the election which is holding on Saturday 25th January.

The Court of Appeal sitting in Calabar, Cross River state ordered a rerun in Essien Udim local government area for Akwa Ibom North West senatorial election, Ikot Ekpene/Obot Akara/Essien Udim federal constituency, and Essien Udim state constituency elections following appeals on the elections’ petitions filed by candidates of the All Progressives Congress.

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Akpabio, who was the senatorial candidate of the APC for Akwa Ibom North West election, now Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, in a letter to the National chairman of the APC, Adams Oshiomhole, shortly after the Appeal Court in Calabar ordered a rerun, said he decided to withdraw from the contest to focus on the huge responsibilities the President has vested on him courtesy of his office as the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs.

Akwa Ibom rerun : 'APC is nonchalant about election' Senator Godswill Akpabio

However, the APC says it has filed, Obongemem Ekperikpe Ekpo, as substitute for the senate election, but the Independent National Electoral Commission in Akwa Ibom state on Friday 17th January 2019, while responding to questions on Akpabio’s withdrawal said there was no substitution of any candidate who contested in the 2019 general elections in the state.

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INEC in a letter signed by Odaro Aisien, Head of Department, Voter Education and Publicity reads, “the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Akwa Ibom State, has of late, been inundated with enquiries as to whether political parties can substitute candidates in the upcoming rerun elections in Essien Udim LGA, scheduled for 25th January, 2020.”

“The Commission wishes to restate that there will be no substitution or withdrawal of candidates who contested the 2019 general elections in this court-ordered rerun elections in Essien Udim local government area”.

On Saturday 18th January, Chief Press Secretary to Akpabio, Mr. Anietie Ekong, in a statement, reiterated the minister’s withdrawal from the race and his support to the Ekperikpe Ekpo, whom the APC says has been chosen as substitute.

“Senator Akpabio has restated that he would not be a candidate in the election because of higher national responsibilities as the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs.”

“He however declared his full support for a former member of the House of Representatives, Hon Ekperikpe Ekpo whom his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) had picked as his replacement, having emerged as the runner up in the primaries, and urged his supporters and the people of Essien Udim to massively vote for him.”

“The APC had through the National Chairman, Comrade Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole and the then Acting National Secretary, Hon Victor T. Giadom in compliance with the requirement for 45 days notice to be given for the substitution of candidates, written to the Chairman of INEC, to submit the name of Hon Ekpo as a replacement for Senator Akpabio in the election. This was acknowledged by INEC.”

“Senator Akpabio however aligns himself with the position of his party, the APC as expressed by the State Chairman, Hon Ini Okopido in a recent press statement that “As we prepare for the re-run elections in Essien Udim LGA, we are cautious and mindful of a rerun election superintended by Mike Igini. We have no faith in Igini’s impartiality as an unbiased and independent umpire. Igini is a compromised official and avowed enemy of APC. We are distraught and doubtful of a change of posture and therefore cautious to go into a fresh election while Igini remains the State REC. Only a foolish survivor would ask the same hired assassin to extract the bullet from his body”, the statement reads.

While the APC is still wrapped in that confusion, members of the party in Essien Udim say the confusion will be a huge turn down for the party in the rerun.

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Some stakeholders of the APC in Essien Udim said Akpabio’s withdrawal and the poor management of communication on his withdrawal between the leadership and members of the party in Essien Udim will jeopardise the chances of the party in the rerun.

One of the stakeholders of the party who spoke to The Dune on Tuesday 21st January, on condition of anonymity said the APC was somewhat nonchalant about the rerun.

“It would have been better if Akpabio was still in the race; his withdrawal from the rerun and how the party managed it was very bad. You know, there was and still no proper communication to members of the party on what should be done. That is why I can tell you that members of the party are not approaching the rerun with such energy and interest as they should have.”

“Have you seen so much campaign by my party as done by the other party? As far as I’m concerned my party is nonchalant about the rerun; maybe it is because of this fear that the election will not be free and fair because of Igini (Akwa Ibom INEC REC). But I still think that if my party had communicated effectively, we would have prepared more, at least for the two other positions, that is House of Reps and House of Assembly.”

▪ PDP, APC allege plot of rigging and violence

As INEC and security agencies intensify preparations for the rerun, the National leadership of the PDP has raised alarm over an alleged plot by APC to rig the rerun.
The PDP in a statement on Thursday 23rd January, signed by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, alleged that the APC was planning to unleash violence on people during the rerun.

The party says “it already have intelligence on how a serving minister on President Muhammadu Buhari’s cabinet has allegedly compromised a Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of Police to deploy policemen to invade the local government, unleash unbridle violence and manipulate the electoral process in favour of the APC.”

“As part of the strategy, the DIG reportedly promised to deploy a more senior police Commissioner than the one in Akwa Ibom State to take charge of the command of policemen posted for the election in the local government area and that when that senior police commissioner comes even the State Police Commissioner will be under his command.”

“We are concerned about the plot to deploy huge number of policemen into a local government and put them under the control of such an officer as a DIG is extremely suspect, as past experiences across the nation had shown that such deployments to violent confrontations, killings, maiming and massive intimidations of voters that only aid election riggers and other anti democratic forces to compromise electoral processes.”

“Our party is worried because there is no way the people of Essien Udim Local Government as well as Akwa Ibom State in general, will sit by, fold their hands and watch compromised security agents invading their communities to rig elections for any desperate politician, without a corresponding resistance.

“Any attempt by the APC to invade the local government to rig this election will indeed attract dire consequences.

Akwa Ibom rerun: APC is nonchalant about election National Publicity Secretary, PDP, Kola Ologbondiyan

The PDP therefore calls on the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, to avert an imminent crisis by immediately reining in his Deputy Inspector General from going ahead with this ignoble mission as the police will be held responsible for any death or mayhem arising from this rerun election in Akwa Ibom State.”, part of the statement reads.

However, the Akwa Ibom state chairman, APC National Youth Caucus, Otuekong Iniobong John, has accused the PDP of “raising a false alarm to divert attention from their heinous plans.”

John accused Igini of deploying his cousin who is serving as Electoral Officer in Anambra state as Electoral Officer in Essien Udim ahead of the rerun.

“If there is any political party that has concluded plans and is bent on rigging the rerun elections in collaboration with the partisan INEC REC, Mike Igini, it is PDP. Why has Igini abandoned all the 31EOs in the state and brought his cousin from Delta State, Mr Vincent Ogene, an EO in Anambra state, to serve as EO in Essien Udim local government for the purpose of the rerun elections?.He did well for PDP in the 2019 elections in Anambra state.”

“Why has Igini brought back Mr Okereke, a retired Director of Operations of the Commission, to take part in the rerun election?.He was the man that Igini used to manipulate the process for the PDP in the 2019 elections. He is brought back to finish the unfinished business.”

“Everything about the rerun elections is being skewed by the partisan INEC REC to favour PDP. There is practically no way our party can have a fair contest in any elections conducted by the Commission under his (Igini) watch.” The statement read.

Akwa Ibom rerun: 'APC is nonchalant about election' Akwa Ibom state chairman, APC National Youth Caucus, Otuekong Iniobong John

▪ Preparations for the rerun

The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, had issued guidelines for the rerun earlier last week.

Akwa Ibom rerun: 'APC is nonchalant about election' INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner for Akwa Ibom State, Barr. Mike Igini, State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Imohimi Edgal and other security chiefs arrives Central Bank, Uyo for the inspection of electoral materials for Saturday’s rerun election in Essien Udim Local Government Area of the State.

The guidelines read out by the Resident Electoral Commissioner, REC, in Akwa Ibom state, Barr. Mike Igini while addressing journalists in Uyo, said the rerun will take place in all the polling units in Essien Udim for the Senate and House of Representatives election, and in 137 polling units for the House of Assembly election.

“We will have election in all the 159 polling units for the senate. We will also have election in the 159 polling units for the House of Representatives election.”

“For the House of Assembly, we will have election in 137 polling units. In line with what we have done with the two layers of court on the election, there will be no ballots in 22 units for the House of Assembly because in the 22 polling units the Form EC8A of the those units are available.”

Igini said the commission has provided documents to stakeholders to guide them on the polling units where the rerun will take place in the House of Assembly rerun.
Essien Udim local government area where the rerun will be held has 105,555 registered voters but 95,987 only have collected their Permanent Voters Cards.

INEC and security agencies led by the Commissioner of Police in Akwa Ibom state, CP Imohimi Edgal, on Tuesday 21st January, met with stakeholders for a multi-stakeholders briefing and inspection of election materials which was delivered to the state at the Central Bank of Nigeria, Akwa Ibom state branch.

At the meeting, the CP encouraged voters in Essien Udim to call police hotlines if they suspect any act the my lead to violence.

“If you suspect any act that may encourage violence in the forthcoming election. Call the following numbers for swift response by the security Agents”. The numbers are, 08039213071, 08189243935, 08028916010, 09053872322.