EBONYI: THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES

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David Umahi

Saturday comment2

Abia Onyike argues that the results of the governorship election did not reflect the wish of the people

The governorship elections held on 9th March, 2019, in Ebonyi State has come and gone but the anxieties and tension generated therefrom continue to reverberate across the entire landscape. Even though the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced the incumbent governor, Chief David Umahi the winner with about 393,000 votes as against the 91,000 allocated to the APC candidate, Sen. Soni Ogbuoji, the state was instantly thrown into mourning and despair. The land of Ebonyi looked like a graveyard as an atmosphere of gloom pervaded the air. Instead of the normal celebrations which accompany the announcement of election results, Ebonyians wore long faces. Citizens discussed in small groups, beer-parlours, market places, motor parks and along the streets about how the elections were manipulated. Ebonyians were not only worried, they were enveloped by morbid fear as to what will happen to them again in the next four years under  Gov. Umahi’s  lawless government.

On 12th March, 2019, Sen. Ogbuoji rejected the results of the election, describing it as a sham. He equally gave indication of his desire to challenge the results of the election at the Elections Petition Tribunal.

A prominent Ebonyi citizen and APC Chieftain, Dr. Paul Okorie has called for a probe into the activities of the INEC in the just concluded elections in the state. Dr. Okorie accused the electoral body of performing below expectation in the conduct of the general elections. He alleged that INEC colluded with the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to rig elections in the state.

In their own press briefing which was published in the Vanguard Newspapers of 18th March, 2019, the APC House of Assembly candidates in Ebonyi State in the elections, led by Jude Okpor, stated that: “There were massive irregularities characterized by multiple voting as PDP thugs and jobbers used stockpiled PVCs which were released to them by INEC officials prior to the election.  In most cases,  the use  of card readers was abandoned while manual accreditation was used,  which resulted in multiple thumb-printing of un-used ballot papers in favour of PDP, leading to the invalidation of valid votes of APC candidates’’. They described Governor Umahi as “a desperate governor, who had earlier promised to grind and crush any opposition element standing on his way to his re-election bid….’’ Several cases of intimidation, assault, abduction of APC members and arrests of their House of Assembly candidates were masterminded by the PDP government in all the 24 state constituencies in the state. The situation during the elections was like a civil war scenario as “security agents and PDP thugs in connivance with INEC officials were used to hijack sensitive materials to unknown places where results were written in favour  of PDP’’, in several cases at gun-point.

During the campaign proper, it was manifestly clear that Gov. Umahi’s electoralfortunes were dwindling on a daily basis. He had several groups to contend with. He lost the favour of the working class in the state based on his maltreatment of civil servants. Traders and artisans who were suffocated by his excessive tax regime vowed to vote him out. Retirees whom he described as ‘deadwoods’ and confiscated their gratuities since 2015 campaigned against his re-election.Okada/Keke riders and other transporters joined Ogbuoji’s campaign team. Umahi was rejected by teachers, academics, professionals, students, youths, women groups and technicians for his anti-people policies. His last-minute efforts to beg these groups at the Akanu Ibiam International Conference Centre (ICC) failed woefully. It was in realisation of this unfavourable situation that led to Umahi’s deadly desperation. Billions of naira was spent in vote buying and to allegedly compromise officials of the electoral management body. Unimaginable atrocities were enacted to stage an unprecedented electoral robbery. People were abducted, kidnapped, killed maimed and tortured by hired bandits just as houses and communities were burnt down. These atrocities have been documented in print and electronic media.

It is a positive development now that Sen. Ogbuoji and other aggrieved candidates have filed their petitions at the Elections Petitions Tribunal, in order to seek legal redress to the ahistorical electoral crimes committed against Ebonyi people.  Ogbuoji’s style of politics is never one of do-or-die. He believes in politics of peaceful engagement. The orchestrated campaign of calumny sponsored by the PDP government that he was bought over by Gov. Umahi will soon be evaporated. Many of his supporters who were disappointed at the turn of events and were tempted to buy into the false propaganda will soon be re-assured that Ogbuoji never and will never compromise the mandate of the people. Ogbuoji’s political pedigree remains noble and great. The only difference is that he did not want to manifest the same degree of desperation demonstrated by Umahi. By so doing, he saved Ebonyi State from sliding into a bloody violence. In no distant time, Sen. Ogbuoji would commence visitations to his supporters to make sure that those who risked their lives to fight for democratic restoration in Ebonyi are not brushed aside or neglected. Those who upturned the electoral will of Ebonyi people will soon realise that they have merely obtained a pyrrhic victory. Those who live a life of make-belief merely thrive in fantasy which they verbalise in fallacies and fancies.

As things stand now, Gov. Umahi himself may have known he never won any election – perhaps the Election Petitions Tribunal will prove us right or wrong, in no distant time. Since he was declared winner in the stage-managed elections, he has never celebrated. Rather he has reportedly embarked on a vicious cycle of witch-hunting- to fish out those who may have betrayed him during the elections, amongst his appointees, supporters and henchmen. He openly blames them for the loss of the elections in their polling units and wards, allegedly using the actual result sheets which INEC did not announce. Political appointees in the state are to forgo two months of their salaries as punishment for their poor showing in the elections. He recently lambasted STAs and TAs for allowing the APC to win in 336 polling units in some parts of the state where they were fully in-charge.

I cannot end this piece without saluting the vibrant forces of our great party-the APC and its dynamic leadership in Ebonyi State. There have been allegations and counter allegations of internal sabotage, betrayal and treachery, which they claimed contributed to the loss of the elections. My own attitude to the whole saga is that we need peace, unity, solidarity and tranquility to face the challenges ahead. Let our individual consciences be our judge. After elections, the best strategy is to embark on internal reconciliation as opposed to altercations. Ebonyians who demonstrated their undiluted support to the party during the elections need some form of succour and hope which internal wranglings cannot provide.

Ebonyians should go about their normal businesses as we await the outcome of the petitions at the Election Petitions Tribunal. If the tribunal nullifies the elections, based on compelling forensic evidence of electoral malfeasance, then Ebonyians will rejoice and reclaim their mandate. The victory of falsehood over truth can only be temporary.

 Onyike, a former SA to Ebonyi State governor, wrote from Abakaliki