By Okon Bassey
Three permanent staff members of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Akwa Ibom State have been sacked, while four others are under investigation for electoral malpractices in the 2019 general election.
The state Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), Mr. Mike Igini, revealed this yesterday while speaking with journalists in Uyo, the state capital, adding that two university professors have been dragged to court.
Igini said both the permanent and ad-hoc staff of the commission found culpable during the 2019 elections would be prosecuted.
He explained that two professors, who acted as collation/returning officers during the elections, and subverted the outcome of elections results have been arraigned.The INEC commissioner alleged that Prof. Peter Ogban, who served as Returning Officer (RO) in Akwa Ibom North West senatorial district changed the outcome of the election by reducing the score of a leading candidate by 5,000 votes, and increasing that of the losing candidate with the same votes.
He stated that Ogban, however, failed to alter the overall total valid votes cast, and was exposed by the information tracking system of the Electoral Operation Support Centre (EOSC).
According to him, another Professor, Ignatius Uduk, declared election results he did not collate, but collated by undisclosed individuals who only handed the results to him to announce.
Igini said Uduk admitted to the fraud in a hand-written statement he had signed, but refused to return to the commission for debriefing on the matter.
“In the 2019 elections, we commended those professors that worked with us for the good job,” adding that some of our staff members were engaged in electoral malpractice of the gravest nature. “These staff members have been dismissed from the commission.
“What you witnessed today in court is a follow up of those who are not our staff following our own internal investigation done here, and also a follow up on the request by the state office to the headquarters in Abuja.
“These academics were engaged because they were presumed to be individuals of high integrity who would not indulge in illegal act of deliberate electoral manipulation or falsification of election results during the process of collation.
“The commission was unequivocal that there would be severe consequences against any and all, no matter their status, who engage in acts capable of undermining the commission’s efforts to give meaning and purpose to the ballot as the best means of expression of the will of the people in a democracy.
“But Professor Uduk refused to honour all invitations extended to him to appear before the panel. Rather, he threatened legal action against the commission through a letter by his lawyer dated August 26, 2020. All efforts to reach him through the university authorities also failed as he appeared to be on the run.”
Meanwhile, Prof. Ogban, who was arraigned in High Court 2 in Ikot Ekpene under charge No HT/29c/2020, has pleaded not guilty to the crime.
Ogban was charged on a two-count charge of fraudulently manipulating scores in Etim Ekpo and Oruk Anam collation centres, and falsifying, publishing and announcing fake result in Etim Ekpo and Oruk Anam council areas during the state House of Assembly elections.
The Presiding Judge, Hon. Justice Augustine Odokwo, adjourned the case to December 15, 2020, for trial, and on the request of the counsel to the defendant, granted him bail with the sum of N300,000.
The defendant was expected to provide two passports each for himself and their surety, who should also provide an evidence of tax payment in fulfillment of the bail conditions.
Ogban is a Professor of Soil Science in the University of Uyo.