Adamawa: When the Umpire Goes Rogue

By Olusegun Adeniyi

Residents of Yola woke up last Sunday morning to the announcement of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, Aisha Binani as ‘winner’ of the Adamawa State gubernatorial election. It didn’t matter to the errant Resident Electoral Commission (REC), Hudu Yunusa Ari, that the results were still being collated as of the time he made his pronouncement. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was quick to suspend Ari and reported him to the Inspector General of Police for possible prosecution and the president for further disciplinary action. The commission has also concluded the results tabulation and announced the incumbent Governor Ahmadu Fintiri of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as the real winner of the election. 

As unfortunate as the Adamawa debacle may seem, this is not the first time we have witnessed the sordid scenario of electoral officials going rogue. That nobody has ever been punished for it perhaps explains why the problem has festered in a nation where citizens have come to accept that there are no consequences for bad behaviour. During the 2019 presidential and national assembly elections, INEC sacked one of its collation officers, (name withheld) assigned to Bokkos Local Government Area of Plateau State. The professor of physics at the University of Jos had attempted to abscond without declaring the results but was apprehended by some youths who forced him back to the collation centre. “We had to remove him because he was drunk and could not perform the assignment,” the then Head, Voter Education, of INEC in Plateau, Mr. Osaretin Imahiyereobo, told the media. “We are waiting for him to come to Jos and explain why he behaved the way he did,’’ he added. By the time the professor was forced back, he could only give a cock and bull story of why he needed to visit a friend. I am not aware that he has responded to the allegation of being drunk and is probably still at the university. 

Perhaps the most controversial electoral fiasco to date remains the ‘resignation’ in 2009 of the then Ekiti REC, Mrs Olusola Ayoka Adebayo during the conduct of a court-ordered supplementary gubernatorial election in the state. In the letter, dated 28th April 2009 addressed to the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua (who only read about it in the media), Mrs. Adebayo caused a crisis by absconding from duty during collation of results. “Unfortunately, the circumstances changed in the middle of the process; therefore, my conscience as a Christian cannot allow me to further participate in the process” she wrote in the letter she gave the media. I detailed that episode in my book, ‘Power, Politics and Death: A front-row account of Nigeria under the late President Yar’Adua’, because I was caught in the crossfire of the dirty intrigues. 

The challenge of course must be located in the desperation of our politicians who will do anything for power. During the 2019 general election, the returning officer for Imo West Senatorial District said he had been detained at the collation centre for days while announcing the results. “My name is Ibeabuchi Izuchukwu Innocent, a professor at the Federal University of Technology Owerri (FUTO), the returning officer for Imo West (Orlu) senatorial zone. I have been held hostage here for days so I’m trying to ease off and take my life home back to my children and for the sake of that I am calling these results under duress,” the returning officer said, as he announced the name of then outgoing Governor, Rochas Okorocha of the ruling APC as winner. For securing electoral victory under duress, INEC withheld Okorocha’s certificate of return. He approached the Federal High Court which ruled that the commission had no such powers before he received his certificate of return. But to forestall such brazen acts of brigandage in future elections, a new enactment (Section 65 of Electoral Act, 2022) now empowers INEC to review results. That clause may have saved the day in the Adamawa debacle. 

Meanwhile, an issue often ignored is that RECs are appointed by the president and given the little that I know from another life, they are primarily nominees of connected people, including those in the ruling party. And because of that, many of the RECs see themselves as untouchable. I don’t know how the suspended Adamawa REC got his job, but Ari is a lawyer and retired permanent secretary from the Bauchi State civil service who has also attended the Executive Course at the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS). He was one of the 19 RECs sworn-in last November. 

Like some of the new RECs, I understand that Ari came with a mindset, probably aided and abetted by those who nominated him for the job. The same people may also have given him assurances of protection from any transgression in his assignment. Since the supplementary process began, Ari, according to INEC sources, has failed to respond to any official correspondence from the commission’s headquarters in Abuja. That Ari had support in what he was doing could be seen from the way the withdrawn Commissioner of Police for Election Security, Mohammed Barde, aided a brazen violation of the law. One of the security personnel who assisted Ari was also seen on television wearing a face mask, ostensibly to disguise his identity.  

Even when a total of 15 political parties contested the Adamawa State gubernatorial election, Ari made it appear as if it was between only the APC and PDP. And last Sunday, he offered no details about accredited observers or breakdown of results before pronouncing his choice of next governor for Adamawa State. Although Ari was invited to appear at the INEC headquarters in Abuja on Monday, I confirmed last night that he was yet to show up, perhaps afraid the commission would order his immediate arrest. But everything appears to have been well choreographed. Accompanied by security officials, Ari swiftly flew out of Yola in a private jet the moment he pronounced Binani as ‘governor-elect’ last Sunday morning (I have the video evidence). Who paid for the jet? That the purported winner gave an “acceptance speech” immediately after the declaration by the suspended REC is very telling. 

The swift suspension of the results collation by INEC saved Adamawa State from descending into violence. However, the REC must be held to account for his action. As Reuben Abati argued in his column, ‘Supplementary elections and the debacle in Adamawa’ on Tuesday, Ari is liable for prosecution given specific penalties dealing with electoral offences in the Electoral Act, 2022. Section 120(4) which prescribes imprisonment for a term of three years applies to Ari: “Any person who announces or publishes an election result knowing same to be false or which is at variance with the signed certificate of return commits an offence and is liable on conviction or imprisonment for a term of 36 months.” Since a signed certificate of return will now be issued to Fintiri by INEC, Ari has infringed on this provision by his fraudulent declaration of Binani as winner.   

INEC has taken decisive steps by concluding the process as provided by law and reporting Ari to the IGP for investigation and possible prosecution, and to the president for further action which should be instant termination of his appointment. The commission has also withdrawn the delegated powers that RECs exercise under the Third Schedule, Part I, 15(h) to the constitution and warned Ari to stay away from its Yola office. In any case, it would be suicidal for him to even contemplate going back to the state after such misadventure. Ari has thus effectively ended his career in INEC. 

Now to Binani. On Tuesday, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) released a report on the decline of female participation in politics and decision-making in Nigeria. No woman has ever been appointed as secretary to the government of the federation despite constituting almost half of the country’s population. No woman has been elected president, vice president or governor. “Female ministers appointed in 2018 were six and in 2019, only seven were among the 43 appointed ministers,” according to the NBS report which examined female representations within the three arms of government. “The years 2018 and 2019 have the same figure of seven women and 72 men as principal officers (in the National Assembly). Only nine women out of 106 members of the House of Representatives occupied principal positions in 2019.” 

Given such lopsidedness in the distribution of political opportunities, it was no surprise that many Nigerians were rooting for Binani to win the gubernatorial election in Adamawa State. But not in the manner she elected to do it. I have been told by some of her friends that Binani is suffering from a vicious campaign of calumny from Fintiri and his supporters. That may well be true. I have also read Binani’s rebuttal to the allegation that she bribed the REC and other INEC officials. In the absence of any proof to the contrary we should believe her. But there is only one way to interpret her part in this sordid drama: She has only inverted the positive cliché that “what a man can do, a woman can do even better” into something negative: “what a man can do, a woman can do even worse”.  

The male dominated politics of Nigeria has been about desperation for power at all costs. By shopping for an order ex-parte in Abuja to restrain INEC from concluding the electoral process in Adamawa, Binani has shown that the do-or-die mentality among our politicians is in their DNA, irrespective of gender. That’s why we must commend the judiciary for not abetting the brazen illegality. If Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court, Abuja had granted Binani’s request, Adamawa would have been boiling today. But the man who should be held accountable is the suspended REC.

Since we live in a country where officials tend to believe their actions are beyond public scrutiny, I will not be surprised if Ari gets away with his infractions on the Adamawa election. But it would be a tragedy if he does. If a lawyer and retired permanent secretary who goes about with the mni lapel could engage in such a blatant attempt to manipulate an election, where lies the hope of the country? Security agencies must find out what motivated Ari to act in the way he did and seek out his accomplishes. 

As I stated earlier, the Adamawa gubernatorial fiasco reminds meof a similar crisis during the 2009 court-ordered supplementary poll to conclude the Ekiti State gubernatorial election between then incumbent Governor Segun Oni of the then ruling PDP and Dr Kayode Fayemi of the opposition Action Congress (AC). For the benefit of interested readers, I have excerpted that section of my book below because there are interesting parallels to draw. 

Overall, if there is anything that has come out quite clearly from the misconduct of the suspended Adamawa REC, it is that in Nigeria today, both the codes of morality and the boundary between right and wrong have simply disappeared for many public officials. That is what should worry all of us.

Memory of the Ekiti Guber Poll and REC Fiasco 

…With the foregoing controversy as a backdrop, the April 2009 gubernatorial re-run elections in Ekiti State where the PDP and AC had equal members in the House of Assembly was bound to be seen as a real test of government’s political will and ability to reform Nigeria’s electoral system. The tribunal ruling had left the AC leading by about 10,000 votes after results from five local governments had been cancelled. This gap led to the belief in the media and civil society that the only way the outcome could be in favour of the temporarily ousted PDP Governor Olusegun Oni was if the polls were manipulated. 

As he did in every other state where there were re-run gubernatorial elections, the president was in Ekiti to flag off the PDP campaign for Oni. But in the process, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Dimeji Bankole, broke into a Yoruba song that seemed to suggest the federal government would deploy troops to prosecute the election. “We will use soldiers (for this election), the other time we used MOPOL (mobile policemen), we will use soldiers,” Bankole sang to a thunderous applause from the PDP supporters at the rally in Igede-Ekiti.

Once the Speaker’s allusion to troops’ deployment had been made, I knew there would be a media backlash and not surprisingly, it was the headline news throughout that day and the next. Incidentally, other speakers at the campaign also made veiled threats about the deployment of troops. Launching an attack against former Lagos State Governor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, believed to be the backer of Dr Kayode Fayemi, (AC candidate for the rerun polls), Osun State governor, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola, said the PDP would deploy every resource available to it for the Ekiti election to ensure that Oni emerged victorious. “We will use the resources at our disposal to ensure that he overcomes. Whatever support he needs, we will give to him. We shall be victorious. We will win the election by all means possible.”
It was not unexpected that the AC would dwell on the faux pas in Bankole’s song about deploying troops. The Director of Communications for the Kayode Fayemi Campaign Organisation, Mr. Yemi Adaramodu, set the tone for this: “We wish to remind the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole, that Ekiti people have never been known to succumb to the threat of armed soldiers. The ruling clique tried their luck in the act of intimidation with soldiers and police in the past and got their fingers burnt. It is still the same people that inhabit the space called Ekiti today and they are more than ready to defend their votes.” 

The party also advised the president to refrain from deploying troops which in their reckoning was for the ulterior motive to rig the election for his party. When we got back to Abuja, I was convinced the presidency had to wade in. I outlined the implications of bringing the military into partisan politics to the president and he assured me that troops would not be deployed. He had already met with the Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Mike Okiro, and directed him to increase the strength of the police in Ekiti State with additional squads from five neighbouring states, he told me. Since the election was going to be held only in a fraction of Ekiti state, the president had been assured that the police could offer adequate security. I therefore told the media that troops would not be deployed in the conduct of Ekiti election, but that security would be adequate to take care of any eventuality. This, of course, outraged many people within the PDP and some security chiefs sympathetic to the ruling party who had already labeled me “a closet AC member”. The same charge was leveled against the Minister of State for Finance, Mr Remi Babalola after openly expressing his concerns about the management of the Ekiti election crisis. 

The truth of the matter was that I was neither an AC sympathizer nor opposed to the re-election of Governor Oni. What I considered paramount was the danger inherent in unwittingly dragging the military into the conduct of election in just a section of one state. I knew the president was opposed to deployment of troops, yet I had been reliably informed that there was already a plot to send soldiers to Ekiti on the eve of the election. When this illegal order was eventually carried out, I rushed to the ADC in the presence of whom the president had directed that soldiers were not to be seen on the streets of Ekiti on the day of election. He had to speak with the Chief of Army Staff (Lt General Abdulrahman Dambazau) who was then abroad and had also not been kept abreast of the situation. Counter orders were then issued, and the troops were withdrawn immediately. 

But the AC had already released a statement that essentially highlighted the party’s disappointment on the reported presence of troops in Ekiti State, which it noted was inconsistent with the earlier assurance by the president that he would not deploy soldiers to the state. The party added that such development had called to question the credibility and integrity of the president. Knowing that the president had not ordered any deployment of troops, this was not something I could take lightly. I made another statement that troops had not been – and would not be – deployed for the Ekiti elections. Curiously, the Director of Army Public Relations, Brigadier-General Chris Olukolade, had told the media that the Army headquarters was aware of the presence of soldiers in Ekiti State. “Their going there should not be politicised. It is not about elections. Their being there is purely for security reasons.” 

While some within government queried my motives, the basis for my intervention was basically because I knew the instruction did not emanate from the president who as commander in chief was the only person who could authorise deployment of troops. I also knew those behind the entire plot, and I suspected they were not doing so for altruistic reasons. Owing to the malicious campaign internally launched against me, I had to seek audience with Governor Oni to reassure him I was not covertly working against him, and that I was only doing my job. We met in Abuja, and he expressed appreciation that I would explain my role as he had been told tales about me. Oni no doubt is a very decent man, but the forces involved in Ekiti election really did not care much about him. All the cold calculations were based on PDP ‘stopping Tinubu in the South-west’ and not about the governor securing back his mandate. While I had no problem with PDP attempting to win the South-west, I couldn’t possibly stand aloof if the tactics being adopted would call to question the integrity of the president. 

Following the stalemate that dogged the election, these same people would put the whole blame on me with the argument that the election was mismanaged because of my announcement that troops would not be deployed. Without deference to my position as Spokesman to the President, I was directed to report to SSS headquarters for interrogation on my role in the Ekiti saga. When I received the letter the first emotion that I felt was rage. I called the CSO to inform him about the letter and the fact that I was going to ignore it, warning that if any attempt was made to arrest me, I would resign but not quietly. He came to my office to withdraw the letter which he said I should ignore while pleading with me not to inform the president. On reflection later, I decided I would honour the SSS invitation but at a time of my choice. I went on a Saturday and spent about two hours with the panel investigating the fall-out of the Ekiti election. Of course, I was not surprised that the question the investigators wanted me to answer was who gave me authority to announce that soldiers would not be deployed. My response was quite simple: they could go and find out from the president! 

I happen to have known most of my interrogators, some since my days as a journalist. Air Vice Marshall Moses Akinola Akinsanmi, who left the villa a few months before as Commander of the Presidential Fleet was also in the panel, so the session itself was very friendly as I used the opportunity to also extract information about the Ekiti debacle and what they considered the problem. I realized that my role became crucial because there were allegations that Tinubu had imported some Niger Delta militants and a lot of arms into Ekiti State and that only soldiers could enforce peace in the election. Even while I was not aware of this at the time, I still felt that politicizing deployment of troops could bring incalculable damage to the image of a president who had promised electoral reform. Besides, I could not have envisaged that the police would find it difficult to monitor elections in just a few wards within five local governments in a small state!  

The election itself had featured a major drama which began when the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), Mrs. Ayoka Adebayo, disappeared midway into collating the results and afterwards a letter of resignation purportedly written by her appeared in the media. She was believed to have rejected some of the results from Ido Osi Local Government Area, the home base of Governor Segun Oni, and was allegedly inclined to cancel election in tensed Oye-Ekiti because of violence. To rationalize the unfolding event, INEC chairman, Prof. Maurice Iwu said he had been informed “that as a result of the pressure of the exercise, the REC broke down and took ill, the commission had no choice but to postpone the remaining election.” 

With this situation, it was not lost on critical observers that a government that pledged electoral reform in the country was finding it difficult to conduct transparent election in a fraction of a small state. That displeased the president. But all the briefs he was getting on the botched polls dwelt on the activities of Tinubu who was labeled the brains behind the whole controversy. Media reports were however different; but it didn’t seem to matter as the perception within government also was that Tinubu had the media on his side. With the situation, I advised the president that the wise thing to do would be to reject Mrs Adebayo’s resignation and that she be allowed to conclude the process. Since the insinuation was that there was pressure on her to declare a false result, what was needed, I reasoned, was for the security agencies to embolden her to do the right thing.

In the course of the impasse, the president summoned a security meeting and Iwu was invited to brief them. Before this meeting commenced, I had prepared for the worst because I knew that some people would still press the charge that I was to blame for the fiasco. So, when the ADC rushed to my office I was surprised when he said: “oga (the president) said he wants another copy of the letter from that your Harvard friend you enclosed for him this morning.”  This gave me some comfort. Early that morning, I had received a mail from my friend, Waziri Adio, who was then a Mason Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School, and had found his advice very instructive. I printed the mail and put it in the newspaper reports for the president with a note that he should read it. This was the letter he was asking me to reprint for him, which I did. 

Waziri had written: “Dear Sege, I must apologise for bothering you on this but after wrestling with this Ekiti State saga for a few days, I decided I should share my concerns with you even if you can’t do anything about them. I know the situation in Ekiti is complicated. Even from afar, I can see that neither party is completely innocent and that the struggle is beyond the interest of Ekiti people. I can see the struggle for/against dominance in Yorubaland; I can see dress-rehearsals for 2011; I can see clash of big and fragile egos.  

“For all these reasons and more, Ekiti State has become a battleground and may well become a tipping point for something quite ominous, if we allow the situation to degenerate. But I also see opportunities written all over this: to show that the talk of electoral reform is sincere; to demonstrate that votes will count in future elections; to underscore that rule of law is not a mere convenient rhetoric. More than at any other time, this is the time to show real leadership. Let the votes be counted and the winner duly declared. Who will listen to you when you talk about electoral reforms and decent elections when we needlessly bungle elections in just one state? This is not a time for dilly-dallying. It is the time for clear, forthright, and open instructions.  

“If PDP is losing (I say if), this is the time to be strategic in conceding a battle to win the war. If this is the case, let the president instruct INEC to do the right thing, and call Oni to concede and compensate him. If PDP is not losing, then let this whole process be clear and transparent. It is a tough call. But that is what leadership is all about. If well handled, I see a huge opportunity for this administration and Mr. President, as the attendant goodwill can then be spinned positively.” 

How the president used the letter at the meeting I had no idea, but the conclusion at the end was that Mrs. Adebayo should be persuaded to conclude the election. Eventually she did by announcing Oni as the winner, but the whole process had been sullied already while the image of government bore an embarrassing taint. The result itself did not endure for long as Fayemi ultimately won at the Court of Appeal but by then the president had left the scene. 

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