Rivers Rerun: Police Investigation Panel Recovers N111m from INEC Officials

  •  INEC welcomes  report  Allegations shameful, defamatory, reckless, says Rivers govt

 Ernest Chinwo in Port Harcourt, Onyebuchi Ezigbo and Dele Ogbodo in Abuja

The Chairman of the panel set up by the Inspector General of Police (IG) to investigate the malpractices and violence that characterised the Rivers State rerun parliamentary elections last December, Deputy Commissioner of Police, Mr. Damian Okoro, yesterday revealed that N111 million was recovered from 23 officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), who took part in the elections.

Making the disclosure while submitting the outcome of panel’s findings to the IG, Mr. Ibrahim Idris, Okoro said 23 officials of INEC had been indicted for their involvement in the abnormalities and violence which marred election.

He said the six police officers who were indicted over the role they played during the elections had been dismissed.

The panel, which comprised 12 officers of the Nigeria Police Force and three from Department of State Services (DSS), was mandated to investigate the various infractions, incidents, and violence that marred the re-run elections in the state and any relevant matter.

According to the panel, lawlessness on the part of the voters, political influence and leadership failure were the major causes of the violence that characterised the election.

The chairman said: “The sum of N111,300,000 was recovered from 23 INEC  officials. Out of N360 million, N15 million was given to each of them while three senior officials got N20 million each.”

Okoro said the committee established cases of misconduct on the part of some INEC officials and law enforcement agents who allowed themselves to be compromised in their line of duties and therefore deserve to be disciplined.

According to him, the task given to the panel was quite challenging because of the tense political and security situation in the state especially the prevalence of violent crimes such as armed robbery, kidnapping, and politically-motivated killings, by militants and culture groups which enjoy the funding and protection of desperate politicians.

He said: “These lawless elements target not only the political opponents of their sponsors but also law enforcement agents, especially the police, mostly within the Ogba/Ndoni/Egbema Local Government Area which is the axis of evil of cultism.

“The violence that occurred in Rivers State before during and after the rerun election was a reflection of lawlessness and leadership failure of narrow -minded politicians and their gullible supporters.

“Oftentimes, politicians make inflammatory statements that incite their supporters into avoidable violence that results in the destruction of lives and properties and eruption of elections.

“We discovered that failure of leadership and followership rather than law enforcement was responsible for political upheaval in the state.”

The IG, in his remarks, said the governor of the state, Chief Nyesom Wike refused to cooperate, despite several invitations extended to him.

He said the report of and recommendation from the committee would be forwarded to the Attorney General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami.

Idris said: “The panel tackled what has been going on in this country where politicians have turned elections into a do or die affair and we have been failing in this country because we have allowed things to derail to the level it is now.

“I see no reason why a rerun election will lead to the beheading of our officers who were there to do their lawful duties. I believe that the report will go a long way to put an end to individuals seeing election as a do or die affair.

“We will take appropriate actions in conjunction with the law officer of the federation, the Attorney General of the Federation in order to put an end to most of the abuse and electoral violence in this country.”

On the officials and Police indicted, he said: “People that were arrested are going to be prosecuted because they are public officers. We are going to forward the report and our recommendation to the Attorney General of the Federation.”

He said the INEC officials confessed to have received the money from Rivers State government officials, stressing: “I can assure you that from here, the money will go into government treasury because these are recoveries on the basis of an investigation conducted.

“Six police officers were indicted and they have already been dismissed and I can assure you that they would also be charged to court.”

On Wike’s uncooperative attitude, he said the panel was not set up to witch hunt anyone.

He said: “It is a joint investigation and that means it is between the police and DSS and I think the whole of this country have confidence in both agencies to provide security for them and to deal with issues that are detrimental to peaceful coexistence of Nigerians in any part of this country.”

According to him, the investigation was open and very transparent, adding that “the police wrote to the governor, they went to meet him but in his own wisdom, he refused to cooperate. We believe that what determines outcome of this report is the transparency and the good will.”

 Reacting to the report, the commission said it would implement the outcome of the police report on electoral malpractice involving its staff by ensuring that all those found culpable are made to face sanctions.

The spokesman of the INEC Chairman, Rotimi Oyekanmi, who spoke with THISDAY yesterday while reacting to the display of huge sums money allegedly recovered from INEC officials,  said the commission welcomes the probe but would also want the police to fish out other accomplice in the  crime.

“Although, INEC is yet to formally receive a report from the police on its investigation into Rivers re-run elections, the revelation that money was allegedly recovered from INEC officials is a welcome development.

“This will help the commission in its current effort to clean up the system. Already, our internal panel is also continuing with its investigation on the same issue, and anybody found culpable will face appropriate sanctions.

“The INEC Chairman has reiterated that any INEC staff found doing the wrong thing will bear the consequences. We hope that the Police will also reveal all the other parties involved in the bribe saga.”

  However, the  Rivers State Government has described the allegations against it as shameful, defamatory and reckless.

 The state Commissioner for Information and Communication, Dr. Austin Tam-George, said in a statement that the police had descended to the lowest depth of criminality and blackmail.

The statement read: “The attention of the Rivers State Government has been drawn to the melodramatic images of heaps of cash, circulated in the media by the so-called police panel of inquiry into the re-run elections in Rivers State, on December 10, 2016.

“According to the police, the heaps of money were “evidence” of bribe allegedly given to officials of the INEC, by the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, during the rerun polls.

“We consider the allegations of the Police as shameful, defamatory and reckless in the extreme.

“Never in the annals of infamy have we seen a vital State security institution descend to the lowest depths of blackmail and criminality, as the Nigeria Police Force has done in this case.”

He recalled that the state government had a month ago alerted the world about a plot by the Nigeria Police to implicate Wike in a phoney bribe scandal.

 “Now, the police appears to be acting with shocking predictability, by making wild and completely groundless allegations against Wike,” he said.

He challenged the police to show proof that Wike financially induced any official of INEC.

“Does the police have bank records of the purported transactions between Wike and the Electoral Officers? We challenge the Nigeria Police to move quickly to prosecute and imprison the so-called Electoral Officers on the basis of this dubious investigation,” he stated.

 He added: “We strongly believe that the police panel is part of a bitter, politically-driven smear campaign launched by the federal government against Wike and the people of Rivers State.

“We also believe that the police is desperately seeking to divert attention from the disgraceful and criminal roles played by its officials, in the snatching and stuffing of ballot boxes during the December polls.

“Rivers State will not succumb to the juvenile antics of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and its security surrogates.”