The Bitter Truth About Urueoffong/Oruko Gov’ship/Assembly Polls
By Tony Esin
You would agree with me that writing an open-letter to people has steadily become a predominant fashion in Nigeria’s political culture of recent particularly during the build-up to the just concluded 2015 polls. As a person, except in rare cases, I do not fancy it, I do not see the medium (open letter) as a cogent way of passing information or making an appeal due to how people sometimes take advantage of their anonymity to the supposed recipient and the little or no proximity between them to unleash gratuitous diatribe on people. But in a few circumstances, I think the medium offers people an avenue to bare their minds on salient societal issues and draw public attention to them as appropriate.
I was compelled to write this after someone (who knew I monitored the polls in Urueoffong/Oruko) drew my attention to one heinous publication in one of the local newspapers, The Ink of Monday 13th April, 2015, with a banner headline, “APC Deputy Governorship Candidate Molests INEC RO – Says PDP” in which the PDP accused the APC of “snatching ballot papers and result sheets to fill their candidates’ names as winners,” among other allegations. I must state unequivocally that this write-up is not meant to defend the APC but it is the true account of what transpired in the area during the polls as I observed. The lead of the said report which comes fully on page 10 of the tabloid read: “Leaders of the Peoples Democratic Party in Urueoffong/Oruko say the Deputy Governorship candidate of the APC Engr Ben Ukpong last weekend during the Governorship and House of Assembly elections led armed thugs numbering over sixty two into all the units in Urueoffong/Oruko to disrupt voting process and absconded with election materials. The party observed that in all the units where the ruling party PDP led Engr Ukpong had to ensure that they disrupt the process and allowed their, APC’s will to stand (sic).”
According to the criminally-motivated report the polling units they (PDP) alleged were ‘attacked by the APC’ included: Village Hall Ikpe, Primary Schoool Ikpe in Ward 4, Secondary School Okossi, Primary School Okossi in Ward 5, Village Hall Udung Etta in Ward 7, Primary School Ubodung in Ward 10 and village Hall Udung Ukpor in Ward 10.
The concluding part of the report read: “Meanwhile, the PDP in Urueoffong/Oruko has called on INEC to cancel the election in the area as the results did not reflect the true position of what happened. Efforts to get Engr. Ben Ukpong to comment on the allegations leveled against him failed to yield results as he was not assessed as at the time of going to press.”
It is however disappointing that the Ink could not verify the allegation before publishing the story. They made attempt to reach Engr Ukpong but could not. So they would not have done otherwise than to send the report to print. The Ink to my knowledge is one of the few newspapers in Akwa Ibom State with reasonable command of editorial independence; to some extent they are good in critical reportage. So, one must blame the desperate politicians who sometimes outwit some unsuspecting media agents with their tricks, fabricating stories for them to report. These same people will bash the media men if they at a point report unfavorable issues about them. The onus is on the undisclosed PDP ‘complainants’ who refused to tell the truth which was that the APC was able to resist their (PDP’s) effort to maim and kill Urueoffong/Oruko people and whisk away the election materials violently like they successfully did in other places that PDP had a field day on the polls. It is a pity!
It does not just stop at the false newspaper report, there is a criminally-intended handwritten letter supposedly written and signed by Mr. Emmanuel Alphonsus Akpan and directed to the Head of INEC’s Department of Electoral Operation which they scanned and published as advertorial in the same newspaper in page 7. In the poorly written letter, the INEC officer called for the cancellation of the Governorship and State House of Assembly elections in Urueoffong/Oruko, stating that the APC Deputy Governorship Candidate, Engr. Ben Ukpong molested him while doing his official duties. See what your staff wrote at the last paragraph of the letter: “Please sir, such election results like these should be critically assess and my situation and state of my security should be properly addressed as they further threatening my life should I report this case to INEC (sic).” Is this not ridiculous my distinguished REC? This Emmanuel Akpan was the Returning Officer you assigned to Urueoffong/ Oruko; the same man who without any form of intimidation or compulsion collated, counted and announced an APC candidate, Asukwo Archibong as the due winner of the polls with 3753 against the candidate of the PDP, the Executive Chairman of Urueoffong/Oruko who polled 2812 votes. He did this in the presence of fiercely looking security operatives including the SSS as well as observers and pressmen. At what point did Engr. Ukpong molest him? How on earth could he have turned to make such allegation after having performed his assignment in the full glare of the world? This man is a criminal and should swiftly be arrested and interrogated for breaching the oath of responsible service he signed along with other INEC staff before engaging in the job (if at all the published letter truly emanated from him). He was not coerced by anybody to declare the result and nobody molested him as he claimed. This tells you how your men (some INEC officials) could be mischievous and diabolical!
Sir, you can recall there was a massive outcry by Akwa Ibom people, mainly the supporters of the APC that you should be redeployed from the state after the Presidential/National Assembly elections held on March 28, 2015 as a result of the pervasive irregularities that marred the exercise. I was one of the persons who were against this move.
The reason I was of the thought that you should remain as the Resident Electoral Commissioner of the state after the botched presidential polls was that you perhaps would be penitent and settle for more transparent polls during the Governorship/State Assembly elections following the intense disparagement you incurred from people who perceived your complicity in the March 28 elections. I thought you would not be that hardened and obstinate to repeat the same mistake after all the bashes you brought upon yourself. But the fact that the outcome of the Governorship/State Assembly elections in the state was even shoddier than the loathed Presidential/National Assembly’s that it lacked an iota of credibility, is a proof that you have done it even worse this time sir.
I therefore wish to employ this opportunity to brief you on the true nature of the April 11 elections in Urueoffong/Oruko Local Government Area. On the wee hours of the polls day (about 2 am), a suspected assassin was accosted along the Urueoffong/Oruko Council Secretariat Road by a group of youths who were said to be on surveillance after they got a tip off that strange people were around the area.
The arrested hoodlum who carried different sizes of machete and axes, and was later handed over to the police reportedly said he came from Ikot Umoessien in Essien Udim Local Government to assassinate the State House of Assembly Candidate of the APC, Mr. Asukwo Archibong on the directive of the Chairman of the Local Government Chairman and PDP candidate for the poll, Mr. Okon Tom Osung whom he allegedly said paid him and seven others to execute the plan.
The arrested assassin who was being detained at the Urueoffong/Oruko Divisional Police Station on the election day was conveyed in an AKTC branded bus together with seven others (then at large) when they were apprehended by the youths. It was gathered that when the bus was halted, a policeman said to be an orderly to the council chairman suddenly alighted and started firing arms in a bit to scare the armless youths away but they strived and grabbed the man who was identified as Sunday Atti. The policeman escaped after he made way for the driver to zoom off with the remaining seven suspects. I did not rely completely on the information by the youths but I made frantic effort to verify the report.
After I had made several unsuccessful efforts to reach the DPO of the area on phone to confirm the report, I had to visit the Divisional Police Headquarters located at the extreme of the Council Secretariat Road. There I met one female cop, Mary Dan outside the premises of the station interacting with some of the youths who brought the hoodlum to the station. She was interrogating them. I had thought she was in charge of the case; I introduced myself to her, telling her that I needed to confirm the story. She told me she was not the IPO. She rather took me inside the station to meet with one policeman she said was the IPO. I narrated the whole incident to the man as I was told and then asked him if it was true. He declined making comments on the matter on the excuse that the DPO would be the one to speak on it. I had to wait for over two hours before the DPO, CSP Sunday Effiong came back. I met him and again told him everything and demanded to hear his response but he also said he would not say anything. At that point I politely asked him if what I said was true or false, he then retorted: “young man, today is election day. You can see all of us are busy. We have done what we needed to do…” I later learnt that the case was transferred to the state police headquarters. I quitted at that.
After this I went to the INEC office situated right inside the Council Secretariat premises. The polling officers (ad hoc staff) were seen clustering around the office at about 7am checking where they were posted to. Surprisingly, nearly half of the ad hoc staff were bitterly grumbling that they could not find their names on the list pasted in front of the council auditorium. It was gathered that the Council Chairman brought in names of PDP members who were not even part of the INEC training to replace the genuine officials who were mainly Assistant Presiding Officers (APO 1, 11 & 111). Some of APOs, mainly students of federal tertiary institutions who wondered why they were suddenly changed, threatened to protest as they said they were yet to receive their remunerations for the Presidential/National Assembly elections.
The next thing was the distribution of materials at the INEC office which started at about 8am. The materials were shared on ward basis and 10 buses were on standby to convey the INEC ad hoc staff and security men with the materials to the various units in the 10 wards.
However, the accreditation in the various units commenced a bit later than what was obtained during the Presidential polls in the area. In Unit 2, Ward 4 Mbokpu Eyokan Primary School, the accreditation commenced at about 10 am. Such was the case in other units.
According to a PDP chieftain who spoke to me in confidence, what played out in the area was a ploy by the PDP to ensure they had the exact number of persons who accredited in the various units before proceeding to thumbprint the ballot papers to tally with the number. That is why the devised tactics to disrupt the voting exercise and cart away the card readers, ballot papers and result sheets immediately after the accreditation. In almost all the centres where there were troubles, it was soon after the accreditation. It was gathered that they had arranged with the ad hoc staff to cooperate with them in moving the materials away immediately after the accreditation.
Our distinguished REC, is it not an irony for one to hear that out of the 47 polling units in Urueoffong/Oruko where the polls took place, the seven units the PDP alleged the APC had rigged the election are the ones that they successfully disrupted voting and carted away materials? For instance, in unit 3, Ward 10 – Primary School Ubodung, one Amba, Esu Amba who was APO 111 was nearly lynched by aggrieved APC voters in the unit after they observed that the Presiding Officer and the police officer attached to the team were aiding one Mr. Emetui, a former PDP Ward Chairman to smash the ballot box and run away with the card reader, ballot papers and result sheets with thugs. The PO and other APOs managed to escape with the PDP miscreants. The police officer was arrested by immigration officers monitoring team led by one Ibrahim Ahmed, while the APO 111 who ran to a different direction was caught by the enraged APC voters. But not for the intervention of the APC Deputy Governorship Candidate, the young man would not go safely. Now the barefaced criminal RO you sent to the local government says it was Engr.
Ukpong who attacked him with 62 thugs! The said APO 111 who said he was not privy to their rigging plans had written a report to the Electoral Officer (EO) of the local government on the goings-on atx the unit. You may confirm that.
This was the exact situation in Okossi Unit 2 and 3 (Ward 5) also included in the PDP’s allegation. One Glory Uyeh who was the PO for Unit 2 (Secondary School Okossi) said “ the election process was very peaceful until the PDP people started problem and later snatched the card reader and ballot papers. So the voting could not continue anymore.”
At Unit 1, Ward 4 (Secondary School Mbokpu Eyokan), Mr. Edet Onobo, the PDP Ward 4 Chairman led a gang of thugs who started sporadic shooting near the polling unit, apparently to scare the voters away. However, the security personnel there were able to contain the disturbance timely and voting continued at the unit.
In Unit 2, Ward 10 (Village Hall, Udung Ukpor), my own unit, voting was about to commence when PDP hooligans dashed in and whisked away the card reader and ballot papers leaving all the polling officers behind. This would have been the story in all the 47 units in the local government if Urueoffong/Oruko people were not brave and docile enough to resist them.
At this juncture, I can unflinchingly tell you, there is just one reason why APC lost in the governorship poll in Akwa Ibom State – They were unable (or not willing) to exploit the INEC authorities, police and other security apparatus including armed thugs to kill, maim and divert ballot materials as it was done by the PDP. And the PDP would not have won the election if it was done as appropriate (one-man-one-vote system). The APC was only on a ‘defensive mechanism,’ hoping on the massive reception and support accorded them by over 80 percent of Akwa Ibom people during the campaign rallies. Unfortunately, Akwa Ibom people were disenfranchised. The APC won in both governorship and State House of Assembly polls in Urueoffong/Oruko because they were able to stop the PDP from perpetrating their diabolic acts. Therefore, it would be outrageous if you had yielded to the request by the PDP to upturn the victory of the APC in the local government area on whatever guise.
In conclusion, I pray you to appeal to the PDP to concede the defeat and avoid attempting to tarnish the hard-earned reputation of Engr. Ben Ukpong in Urueoffong/Oruko and Oro Nation. They have won the governorship as you did declare it. That should suffice for them. May peace and sanity return to Akwa Ibom State.
Anthony John Esin