The governorship candidate of the Labour Party (LP) in Enugu State during the just concluded general elections, Chijioke Edeoga, a journalist, lawyer, and former member, House of Representatives, one time local government chairman and erstwhile Commissioner in the state opens up for the first time after the election in which he alleged he won but was rigged out. In this interview with KENNETH OFOMA, Edeoga gave his impression about the election and how the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) allegedly aided the PDP to deny him his deserved victory, which he said he will reclaim at the Election Petition Tribunal
Many people would want to know how you received the outcome of the governorship election in Enugu State in which you participated as the governorship candidate of the Labour Party (LP)?
Thank you so much. You know on the run up to the governorship election, we had the National Assembly and Presidential elections. In the presidential election the Labour Party performed very well. The LP Presidential candidate performed very well in Enugu State. I think we recorded more than 80 per cent success. Most of the votes cast in Enugu State were cast for LP. And the National Assembly elections which went on concurrently, out of the eight House of Representatives seats LP won seven clearly and convincingly; out of the two senatorial positions that were contested that day because one was postponed owing to the death of Oyibo Chukwu, LP won one convincingly, in fact, defeating the incumbent governor of Enugu state, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi with a margin of more than 50,000 votes.
So, before the governorship election it has been established clearly that LP had become the dominant party in Enugu State, torpedoing PDP and ending the 24 years rule of PDP in Enugu State. So on the run up to that governorship election which was postponed for reasons which we don’t know, INEC said they have to do some configurations; but it is becoming clear now that it is most likely that INEC was part of the arrangement to undermine the Labour Party and dissipate its energy. So we went into that elections with very high hopes knowing the amount of work we had done in Enugu State since August 4 when I became the flag bearer of Enugu State, knowing the goodwill that was following us and following the LP, knowing that for a long time there has been significant desire for change in Enugu State, plus the perceived wisdom Igbo people not to accept monotony, they see change as a veritable part of life. So for a very long time the decision to try another party, try another thing has been there in Enugu state and in fact all over Nigeria.
In the South East the anger against PDP was also accentuated by the decision of the PDP not to zone the presidency to the South-East, which most Nigerians felt was normal and logical and reasonable. so there was sufficient ground for people in Enugu State and most of the South-East to be angry with PDP.
So we went into that election of March 18 with very high hopes that we were going to win and of course we won. And when results were coming in 16 LGAs had come in out of 17 and LP was winning clearly with more than 11,000 votes, then the results came in after a very long delay, the last to come in from Nkanu East where the PDP governorship candidate is from and it is one of the LGAs that is closest to the secretariat where the results were being collated and for reasons which are now obvious, it was the last to come. The farthest LGAs like Uzo-Uwani, like Awgu and Aninri had also come in long ago, so they kept it last and then when the result came in we noticed that between INEC and PDP a whopping 30,000 votes was given to the Labour Party. And the Returning Officer, Prof Iwe was not minded to announce that because it was clearly out of sync with voters that were accredited, it was out of sync with the BVAS report. So notwithstanding the prodding from the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) in Enugu State, Dr. Chukwu that he should announce it, the man refused to announce it and the matter went to Abuja. So when the matter went to Abuja, many people I was informed, were rushing to Abuja to go and influence that matter one way or the other but I refused to do that, I felt that the matter was a straightforward matter, that the rules are clear. If there are areas of over voting, for instance units where there are over voting, those units should be cancelled, that’s what the law said. So I thought why ‘I am I bothering myself, the law will automatically apply.’ In Abuja they have patriots, you know, that the law will apply. Maybe I sense that my belief in the Nigerian system is still high or maybe a bit of naivety, but I just took it for granted that the law will automatically apply and I need not go to Abuja to beg anybody or canvass anything, that the matter speaks for itself. There was clearly over voting in Nkanu East, 15,000 people were captured by BVAS, by accreditation and it was not even an isolated act because it went on simultaneously with the senatorial election, with the House of Assembly election, and the governorship election. All these ones were consistent with 15,000 accreditation. So I felt that there is no need to go to Abuja; anybody who will interrogate the matter will just arrive at the correct decision which is to cancel the points of over voting and return. But eventually, two or three days after, the decision from Abuja was that about 15,000 or thereabout should be shelved from the total allocated to PDP and announced the 3,000 lead by PDP over LP. My reaction was not violent or anything, just a bit of disappointed, you know, my response, my reaction, my gut feeling was that of utter disappointment and utter betrayal even by persons which I leant were associated, who became part of the committee to review the Enugu election; just a sense of utter disappointment. I thought that at a certain level of national office one should become a patriot, one should become a model of integrity, a model of rule of law, a model of due process. So it’s just a definite sense of disappointment that people who ought to be patriots, who ought to think Nigeria, who ought to be working to save this country at each point I time betrayed the expectations, betrayed their high offices, and participated in an act which was clearly illegal, an act which was clearly not in accordance with common sense,. Because if you are going to decide a matter as high as governorship of a state an agent of that party should be there were the decisions were taken even if you don’t want to invite the governorship candidate, the flag bearer, agents of the parties should be part of that decision so that the basis for your decision should be known to everybody.
So up till now, there is no explanation as to why they reached that decision?
No, up till now; what I found out that happened is that they now called for a new result sheet and amended Nkanu East result sheet in a manner that removes 30,000 and made 60,000 as the base. They rewrote the result in Abuja and gave it to the Returning Officer to announce. So up till now there is no explanation not from INEC, not from voluble spokesman, Festus Okoye, he has not spoken about what really happened. How do they move down from 30,000 to 16,000?
It also appears that different rules were applied contrary to what happened in Kebbi, Adamawa states and other places where they declared a rerun because the margin of lead was smaller than the number of cancelled votes?
No in every other example they applied a different yardstick to Enugu. Even though it is what happened in Enugu that happened in Abia, they disregarded the areas of over-voting in Abia and declared for Abia. In Enugu they didn’t disregard the areas of over vote, they declared for PDP, and you know that INEC itself admitted that about 20,000 votes were cancelled where there were incidences of violence etc, it was recorded clearly by INEC that these are cancellations amounting to more than 20,000 votes. Even my younger brother, Dr. Eugene who was my agent, immediately sent a petition reminding INEC there are 20,000 votes, in your incident forms you admitted that there are places where elections did not hold, this amounted to more than 20,000. And this 20,000 when you put it alongside the 3,000 lead it shows you that if they follow the laid down procedures which they applied in other places. Even in Oji River (state constituency of Enugu State) where there was an over vote of only four votes in the House of Assembly elections, it was repeated. And the funny thing is that the over-vote of four votes in Oji River LGA was deliberately inserted by an INEC staff member. He did it in order to frustrate that election, so that one INEC called for a repeat. In Kebbi, Zamfara and Adamawa states, because of margin of victory vis-à-vis cancelled ballots there was a rerun; but in my own there was a rush, there was haste, an indecent haste, as you can see now, to award PDP victory which flies against what is on the ground. What is on the ground is that LP won clearly two senatorial seats in Enugu State against the three that are available, LP won seven House of Rep seats out of the eight that are available; LP won 14 House of Assembly seats out of the 24 that are available. So the award of victory to PDP which INEC did working in collaboration with INEC officers in Enugu and Abuja flies against what is evident on the ground as expressed through the number of victories that LP won, it flies against the face of manifest performance of the LP at that point in time. It flies against the logic of the sentiment which was mobilized against the PDP in the whole of Nigeria especially the South-East, the refusal to zone the presidency to South East, the sense that people wanted change even if it was for the sake of change, the sense that most people in Enugu stage feel strongly that PDP has underperformed and they wanted a new deal.
Now you have gone to the Election Tribunal to challenge the outcome of that governorship election. What are your grounds and what is your expectation?
The first item on our agenda is that PDP has no candidate, it’s now a national issue, it’s now known nationwide, worldwide that NYSC has disclaimed the NYSC discharge certificate that Mr. Peter Mbah the candidate of PDP submitted and all the processes has been followed, what was submitted to INEC is available now and all the certified document show that Mr. Peter Mbah in aide of his ambition to be governor, submitted a forged NYSC certificate to INEC. And then NYSC has seen it, it was brought to the attention of INEC by two forensic lawyers using the instrumentality of the Freedom of Information Act and NYSC has stated categorically that that document is not their own, that they are not the maker. So our first point is to say that PDP has no candidate because the Constitution is very clear as amended, that if you submit a forged document you are disqualified. So our first ground is that PDP did not even have any candidate. If the Tribunal accepts that and the court accepts that then all the votes that accrued to PDP were wasted votes. Number two is that we should be declared the winner. That’s our first ground. Second ground is what we chose to call mathematical errors. We have detected, we did a forensic analysis of the results, certified documents that we got from INEC and we found out that in many parts of the state especially in Udenu LGA that the results that were duly entered for PDP at the polling units, when they went up to the collation they switched them. So we have instances where the LP will score 80, PDP will score 14 and it is duly registered, duly signed and documents are available at the polling units’ when they went up to the point of collation, upstairs, they changed it.
And that original result is reflected on the IREV?
IREV has the victory of LP at the polling units but when they went to the point of collation where all the units will come together, all the wards will come together they now changed it. You will see that the victory of LP has now been switched to PDP and the loss of PDP has been transferred to LP, that thing came up to more than 2000 to 3000 votes that were so switched. So we called it a calculation error, we don’t want to say its crime, if you say its crime you have to prove beyond reasonable doubt, so we say its calculation error. We plotted it graphically; even the blind can see it. So it is done graphically and mathematically and evidence attached, so that is number two. Number three is that we also say that areas of violation of the Electoral Law in such a way that you put us in a bad state. I don’t want to elaborate on that but they are just three main points, so that’s it.
We have expectation that the judiciary which is the last resort of the common man, we have the expectation that God will touch their heart, this three people or whoever is going to sit on this matter, God will touch their heart to do justice in its real sense; because the truth is that the people of Enugu stage gave me their mandate against all odds. Against the ballot snatching, against inducement with money, this is a party that has weaponized poverty now they are sharing money. The plans by PDP against LP and against my governorship aspiration were multi faceted. In Enugu North senatorial zone the idea was to depress voter turnout, all sorts of strategies. Thugs were deployed from Kogi, Umuleri and Aguleri, all sorts, from Friday preceding the election, all over Nsukka, threatening mayhem, breaking heads, causing problems. So that one idea was to depress voters. Then they deployed money, because you know that time the governors were pressurizing President Buhari to open up the CBN, and I think there was a weakening of that resolve not to open the CBN, so money was available, money was made available in large numbers to PDP to Council chairmen all over the state, to major political appointees, all of them have enormous amount of money and they were buying people, then the women were sharing wrappers. And then there was ballot snatching. So in the face of all this harassment, vote buying, voter suppression, alteration of figures, you know, realignment of figures, victory became loss, loss became victory once PDP was favoured, the subtraction of values of electoral officers, you know, young people who were brought in were taught how to change figures. All these things were deployed against LP and Chijioke Edeoga but the will of the people, even churches became an instrument, became vulnerable in their desire to demarket Chijioke Edeoga but you know in all of these things the will of our people remained resolute and strong and determined that LP will triumph, that Chijioke Edeoga must be rewarded for the enormous work he has done to make sure that people of Enugu state realized that change is possible. So in spite of all those things we won. So I expect the justices, the God that touches the hearts of people to touch their hearts to realize that the people of Enugu really worked, that LP should be governor and that a new order should come through it.
What do you think may have informed this massive change or shat some people have termed political tsunami in Enugu State?
This change was long in coming. If the election was not stopped around 2011 midway PDC (People for Democratic Change) was at the verge of winning Enugu state. So at each point when there is free and fair election people will not vote overwhelmingly for one party, that’s for sure. If people are certain that their vote will count there is no way that they are going to vote, everyone voting one party, no, it’s not in agreement with the innate nature of Igbo people. So that continuing PDP victory is not in consonance with our people, it’s not in consonance with our fundamental make up. So there was something not right about it and people didn’t like it.
So immediately Buhari promised free and fair elections and in view of the Electoral Act he had signed, people knew, anybody who was sensitive and sensible and a student of South -ast voting history would know that change must come. So that is number one. Number two is that I have told you that Ibo nature, human nature does not accept monotony. We have several received wisdoms that encourage variety; they say that you don’t stay in one place to watch a masquerade, you move around so that you see that masquerade in all its perspectives. They say that if ‘Ogoli’ (young lady) marries two husbands, she will know the best.
They say that if you lie down, you turn on your left; you turn on your right. So Igbos have received wisdom that encourages change. So there is no way they would have tolerated this monotony of PDP being in power for good or for bad for 24 years. So the time was ripe for change. And the Electoral Law made it possible, and the PDP attitude to the South East especially with regard to rotational presidency, which people logically thought should come to the South-East, was an added factor. And the G-5 governors, all those shenanigans that went on substantially demarketed the PDP. And of course the fact of the presidency of Peter Obi, who was a beloved son of the South- East; his presidency gave a new impetus, a fresh impetus, a dynamism and acceptability, a momentum to LP that hitherto was not there.