By Abbas Jimoh, Baba Martins & John C. Azu
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will conclude the collation of the Adamawa supplementary governorship election in Abuja, a top official of the commission told Daily Trust.
INEC on Sunday suspended the collation of the election following outrage that trailed the declaration by Prof. Yunusa Hudu Ari, the Resident Electoral Commission (REC) for Adamawa State.
The REC had declared the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Senator Aisha Dahiru, popularly called Binani, as winner of the election.
National Commissioner, Information and Voter Education Committee of INEC, Festus Okoye, who announced the suspension of the collation in a statement said the commission had summoned the REC and all involved to its headquarters in Abuja.
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“The attention of the commission has been drawn to a purported declaration of winner in the Adamawa governorship election by the REC, even when the process has clearly not been concluded.
“The action of the REC is a usurpation of the power of the returning officer. It is null, void and of no effect. Consequently, the collation of results of the supplementary election is hereby suspended,” the statement reads.
Following the development, Daily Trust gathered that the commission held an emergency management meeting on Sunday on the matter.
Although details of the meeting were still sketchy by press time, a top official of INEC told Daily Trust that while the results collation may be concluded at their headquarters in Abuja, the final declaration would definitely be done in Yola, the Adamawa State capital.
According to the source, who wouldn’t want to be named because he is not officially allowed to speak on the matter, the summoned officials would be expected to come to Abuja with the original results sheets and other relevant documents.
Another national commissioner of INEC who also spoke in confidence said the commission was appalled by what he called ‘the unilateral recklessness’ of the Adamawa REC.
“We are yet to come to terms with the motivation behind his action. In the first place, he (REC) has no power to announce results. Such powers are vested in the INEC chairman who can assign whoever he deems fit.
“We are going to hold an emergency meeting tomorrow (Monday) during which a decision will be taken on the governorship election,” he said.
The national commissioner also frowned at the treatment meted out to their colleague in Yola, saying: “It was despicable that a national commissioner will be stripped naked. Where are the security operatives; there are a lot of questions begging for answers.”
Electoral body decries attack on commissioners
Sequel to the declaration of Binani as winner by the Adamawa REC, a national commissioner of INEC, Professor Abdullahi Zuru, was stripped by unknown persons in Yola, the Adamawa State capital.
In a video that went viral, the national commissioner, apparently mistaken for the REC, was seen being interrogated by some men.
Also speaking on the matter in an interview with newsmen, Festus Okoye said the REC has no right whatsoever to make a declaration and a return especially as there were results of supplementary results that were ongoing.
Okoye, who also frowned at the assault on a national commissioner, said: “A national commissioner cannot be treated as if he or she is a common criminal. A former vice chancellor of Usmanu Dan Fodio University, a senior citizen was stripped naked and dragged. This commission would not allow that to stand.”
Binani of the APC and Governor Ahmadu Fintiri of the PDP are the two main contestants in the supplementary election.
In the result declared earlier on March 18, Fintiri polled 421,524 votes, while his main rival, Binani scored 390,275.
Fintiri was leading Binani with a margin of over 30,000 votes and was winning in 13 of Adamawa’s 21 local government areas while Binani won in the remaining eight.
But the state’s returning officer, Prof. Mohammed Mele, announced the cancellation in 69 polling units (PUs) in Fufore LGA, which affected no fewer than 37,016 potential voters.
The supplementary election was held in 20 local governments in the state and collation was done in 10 LGAs by the state returning officer before the REC made the declaration.
Daily Trust reports that tension heightened after officials of INEC and security agents, earlier barred journalists from accessing the collation centre.
Reporters who were already accredited during the presidential and governorship elections were turned back by policemen who said they were given orders from above not to allow any journalist access to the collation centre.
Atiku, CDD, Yiaga, others react
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar alleged that the INEC had a predetermined agenda to declare the governorship candidate of the APC, Aisha Binani, as the winner of the Adamawa election.
He also said there was a plot to undermine democracy and provoke violence in Adamawa by up-turning the will of the people.
Atiku in a statement by Paul Ibe, his media adviser, called on Nigerians to what he said was a game plan of trying to up-turn the democratic wishes of the people of Adamawa State in the governorship election.
Atiku said the initial decision of the resident electoral commissioner in the state to declare the APC candidate as the winner is a case study “to the shambolic nature of the 2023 elections in general.”
Also, the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) and Yiaga Africa, yesterday condemned the declaration of Senator Aishatu Dahiru as the winner of the Adamawa governorship election.
“The CDD strongly condemns the recent announcement by the resident electoral commissioner of Adamawa State, of a winner in yesterday’s governorship election.
“The laws and procedures guiding Nigeria’s elections are such that only the returning officer can make such a declaration, which makes this recent announcement null and void.
“We call on INEC to immediately exercise its powers by continuing the collation process that was scheduled to resume today, sanction all erring officials who carried out this illegal announcement and ensure that results are publicly available to all citizens,” the CDD said.
Yiaga Africa on its part said it received reports of an illegal declaration of results by the REC for Adamawa in violation of sections 64 and 65 Electoral Act 2022 & Part 3, INEC guidelines which vest the power to declare results solely on a returning officer appointed by INEC.
“We call on INEC to nullify the illegal declaration, suspend the REC for Adamawa State and take urgent actions to protect the integrity of the process,” Yiaga said in a statement.
A former senator representing Kaduna Central Senatorial District, Shehu Sani, said the controversial declaration of the candidate of the APC, Aisha Dahiru, as the winner of the governorship election of Adamawa State, amounts to a “civilian coup.”
In a statement he signed Sani, however, commended INEC for taking the bold step to suspend the collation of the election results.
He said it was not enough to summon the REC and other perpetrators but also advised that the REC and the security men involved must be prosecuted.
He said, “It was obvious that the REC was out to truncate democracy in the state and by extension Nigeria if his action was allowed unchecked.
“The declaration by Adamawa REC is an equivalent of a civilian coup which stands condemnable. Our democracy can’t survive if we condone such brazen acts of criminality and brigandage.”
Declaration illegal – Yadudu
Reacting, Prof Auwalu Yadudu (SAN) said it was a manifestly illegal act and an atrocious act of impunity.
He said, “He is not the authorized returning officer to make such a declaration.
“Even if he were, he cannot make any declaration while the open and transparent process of collation is not concluded.
“Regrettably, as resident electoral officer, he has messed up lNEC and brought the institution into disrepute. He ought to be prosecuted and punished accordingly.”