By Obo Effanga
I refer to an analysis in the THISDAY Newspaper of Wednesday, April 24 with the title, ‘There’s political Axe to Grind in Rivers’, written by Nseobong Okon-Ekong. While I recognise the right of the writer to air his opinions on public issues, I expected him to be bound by the high ethical standards of journalism that “comments are free but facts are sacred”. If he did, he would not have made some categorical statements and repeated some of the false statements that politicians and others with partisan interests have expressed recklessly in the last few weeks.
Without even taking steps to inquire from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the writer states that Effanga (the Resident Electoral Commissioner in Rivers State) “did not at all touch on the allegation that he went against the provision of the electoral act by recruiting card carrying members of the PDP as collation officers and even after he announced they will be changed, he still accepted the results from their assigned LGAs.”
If only Mr Okon-Ekong had done his professional duty as a journalist to hear from the Commission, he would not have made the above uninformed and false statement. The fact remains that collation officers for the election were selected from a long list of academics drawn up nationally by INEC Headquarters in collaboration with authorities of federal universities and other federal tertiary educational institutions and sent to each state office.
INEC in Rivers State selected collation officers based on the approved guidelines. However, on the morning of the date for the governorship and state house of assembly elections (March 9), we received a petition alleging that four of the officials listed as collation officers in Rivers State had partisan interests or affiliations. Without any investigation as to the veracity of the claims, INEC in Rivers State immediately replaced the four officials with other persons from the pool of academics. It is pertinent to note that at the time the changes were effected, the four officials complained of had not yet been mobilised and deployed to the field. This is because local government collation officers typically have no work to do until voting has ended and the votes counted at the polling units and collated at the ward levels.
It is apparent that a section of the public bent on disparaging the work of the Commission had already woven a false narrative of the involvement of the so-called ‘card-carrying’ members of a political party in the process and couldn’t reverse themselves on that narrative, even when the Commission had taken steps to avoid the situation. It is this same worn out and false narrative that Mr Okon-Ekong unfortunately held on to in his recent analysis.
It is curious that the writer put so much value on an allegation by the so-called “Coalition of Governorship Candidates and Party Chairmen” that they were denied certified true copies (CTC) of the election results. We thought that the writer could have at least inquired from INEC, the procedure for the issuance of the CTC of documents. For the avoidance of doubts, the CTC is usually issued after an application made by individual candidates and political parties and this process has been on-going. This leads to the production of copies and signing off on them on the payment of appropriate fees.
The writer further exhibited his prejudice when he claimed, without any facts that “INEC removed the APC candidate’s names from their list even before they were required to do so. They obeyed orders they were not party to and ignored the ones they were party to in anticipation of a Supreme Court order that would finally nail APC.” It is obvious that the writer needs a bit of education on the Nigerian legal system, particularly the hierarchy of courts and the effects of court orders and judgments directed at any person and institution. To be sure, at no point did INEC act whimsically but always within the provisions of the constitution, extant laws, regulations and orders of courts.
A further misinformed statement of Mr. Okon-Ekong in his apparently hatchet-job editorial commentary is the claim that the certificates of return issued to the winners of the elections in Rivers State were dated March 14. Journalists worth their salt should learn how not to believe every statement thrown up by politicians and pushed to them. They should learn to independently verify what they put out with their names.
The fact remains that the Governorship and State House of Assembly Elections were held on Saturday March 9. Certificates of return for each of the positions contested for were only written, signed and dated after a declaration of a winner has been made. These certificates are produced by the Commission’s Headquarters. In no circumstance was any certificate of return dated earlier than the declaration of winner.
For instance, while the certificates issued to the governor and deputy governor elect was dated April 4, 2019, the date the declaration was made, those of some state house of assembly members-elect were dated March 14, the declaration having been made soon after the election on March 9. For the same reason, the certificates of return for the four state constituencies where election was not concluded until after the supplementary election on March 13 were dated April 15.
For us in INEC Rivers State, we see no axe to grind based on our conduct in the recent elections. We believe other stakeholders, such as the media which Okon-Ekong represents; being objective will not create imaginary axes for grinding.
*Effanga is the INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner in Rivers State.
EDITOR’S NOTE: We have provided Mr. Effanga his ‘right of reply’. However, his response does not provide new insight into the subject, therefore, we stand by our story.