To checkmate future electoral malpractices in the conduct of general election in Akwa Ibom State, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), has gone tough in dealing with those that allegedly committed one form of fraud or the other in the 2019 national elections.
Three staff of the Commission in the state have been dismissed for misconduct while four others are under investigation. Also a university lecturer, Prof. Peter Ogban has been arraigned before an Ikot Ekpene High Court over election fraud in the 2019 general election in the state. While the another university don, Prof Ignatius Uduk has been dragged to court still for electoral sins.
The State Resident Electoral Commissioner, Mr. Mike Igini said six top officials of the commission were also barred from taking part in the election because of security information that they could undermine the conduct of the election.
Ogban, a Professor of Soil Science, University of Uyo, who was the Returning Officer at Ikot Ekpene was accused of trying to manipulate scores of two parties in the 2019 Akwa Ibom North West Senatorial District election.
Ogban was said to have “altered already-declared results at polling units and collated ward results in Form EC8B delivered to him by Ward Collation Officers.”
Igini explained that Ogban’s colleague, Professor Ignatius Uduk in the same university, ought to have been arraigned over election malpractice but that he was on the run as efforts to serve him court surmons were abortive.
“He changed the outcome of the election by reducing the score of a leading candidate by a huge five thousand (5,000) votes and increasing the losing candidate’s score by the same margin without altering the overall total valid votes cast to avoid detection.
“Unfortunately for him, there is no perfect crime as the early information trigger tracking system of the Electoral Operation Support Centre (EOSC), fully activated throughout the period of the election exposed him.
“Professor Ignatius Uduk, declared election results collated not by him, but by undisclosed individuals who only handed them to him to announce.
“He admitted to this fact in his own handwritten (not typed) statement that he earlier signed, even though he refused to come back to the Commission’s office for further debriefing to ascertain who delivered the prepared election results to him.
“However, in another deposition, this time in a type-written statement on oath, Prof Uduk, driven in a dark tinted vehicle to the Election Tribunal venue, surprisingly stood as a witness against the Commission, to defend the same election results he did not collate but were given to him by undisclosed persons,” Igini explained.
The INEC commissioner said the Professor would later be arraigned as all efforts to serve him court orders proved abortive.
“In the 2019 elections, two of these professors out of the many that worked with us credibly, we commended them for the good job, as well as some of our staff were engaged in electoral malpractice of the gravest nature. These staff have been dismissed from the commission.
“What you witnessed in court is a follow up of those who are not our staff following our own internal investigation done here, and also follow up on 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 acts of deliberate electoral manipulation or falsification of election results during the process of collation,” he said.
INEC. finally arraigned Professor Ignatius Uduk in court for allegedly declaring false election results.
Uduk was said to have declared and published false election results during the 2019 State House of Assembly elections when he served as collation/returning officer for Essien Udim State Constituency.
Uduk who had threatened court action against INEC when he was asked to face the election petition tribunal set up for that purpose, was issued a bench warrant before he appeared in court.
He was arraigned in State High Court 4, Uyo being presided over by Justice Archibong Archibong for allegedly declaring and publishing false election results during the 2019 State House of Assembly elections when he served as collation/returning officer at INEC office, Afaha Ikot Ebak in Essien Udim local government area.
Uduk was arraigned in suit no: HU/240c/2020, on three count charge bordering on abandonment of duties and generation of false scores on form EC BE (II) on March 10, 2019 at INEC office in Afaha Ikot Ebak during the State House of Assembly elections; announcement and publication of false election result; and lying on oath at the inception of the election petition tribunal.
Pleading not guilty to the charges; Counsel to the accused, Abasiodiong Ekpenyong said INEC came to the court unprepared eventhough they had issued a bench warrant for his client, adding that his client remains innocent to all charges until proven guilty.
“Today was for indefinite hearing. The prosecutors filled in their witness but before he began, the lead counsel indicated interest to substitute charges by way of amendment. He came unprepared and it was obvious when my Lord observed that his house was not in order.
“I literally had to help him put his house in order from my own house. They have now sought the vacation which was the earlier date for them to now prepare and we pray he comes back on the fixed date prepared.
“This was the same case the prosecution opted a bench warrant against the accused and was granted. The accused person remains innocent. He came to court early enough to defend himself.
“But like we all knew what was in the other card, they came unprepared, just like they would always come unprepared,” he stated.
Responding, Counsel to INEC, Kpoobari Sigalo denied that they were unprepared for the hearing.
He said that the charge filed against the accused needed to be amended and in the process, it was discovered that the written statement of the witness was missing.
“We came fully prepared, you can see our witness was in court, only that the written statement of the witness was not in the file. We thought that those things were intact, only for us to discover this morning that it was not.
“We actually filed our charge before the court but looking at the charges we discovered that there was need for minor amendment of the charge. In the process, we discovered that the written statement of the witness was not in the charge, so we have to go back and put our house together in preparation for the fixed date,” he stated.
Counsel to INEC led by Kpoobari Sigalo who had filed a counter affidavit however objected that the defendant be granted bail as he had proved to be evasive, adding that they want an accelerated hearing.
“Last time we were before this Honourable Court and the Court issued a bench warrant against the accused. I am very sure that it is because of the bench warrant that he (accused) filed application for bail.
“So today he actually came to court and took his plea and his counsel has asked for his bail. We are actually opposed to that bail application. When we filed our counter affidavit in opposition to the bail as we saw in Court that the matter has been adjourned to 14 December for ruling on that very application.
“The character of the accused person actually prompted us to object his application for bail. This is not the first matter we are prosecuting. The other one we did not oppose to the bail application because the accused person on his own volition came to court.
“Before the last general election the Commission said it very loud and clear that whosoever that contravenes the Electoral Act of the 1999 Constitution and other guidelines of the electoral process will be severely dealt with,” he stated.
Meanwhile, the Presiding Judge of the State High Court 4, Justice Archibong after listering to the argument of both parties granted bail in the sum of N500,000 to Professor Ignatius Uduk, with a surety in like sum.
Justice Archibong mandated the surety to present evidence of ownership of landed property, and a letter of identification from a prominent citizen of the state who works or does business within the state.
He stated that the surety must reside within the jurisdiction of the court and must present two recent passport photographs dully certified to be his true photograph.
He explained that though the accused presented cogent and sufficient materials to convince the court to grant him bail, the respondent (INEC), who opposed his bail application failed to present facts sufficient or any superior argument to convince the court on why the applicant should be denied bail.
“That being the case I hereby rule that the applicant is entitled to bail pending the determination of the charge against him.
“Consequently I order as follows; that the applicant be admitted to bail in the sum of N500,000 and a surety in the like sum.
“The above information is to be verified by the assistant director in charge of this court and confirmed by the prosecuting counsel before the applicant maybe released from custody upon fulfilment of the bail condition,” he stated, and ordered for an accelerated hearing.
Speaking, Counsel to INEC, Emmanuel Eze said, “The Court has granted the applicant bail with conditions attached to it. The Court has spoken and you don’t question court decision. If you are not satisfied you can go on appeal.
“If INEC says I go on and appeal, I will appeal. I am at the service of the commission. But if the Commission says no let’s continue with the trial which has been adjourned, we will come back and continue.”
Responding to whether he was satisfied with the bail conditions, Counsel to the accused, Abasiediong Ekpenyong said, “The conditions in my opinion are liberal, and just in the circumstance of the case. And the accused person is ready to defend himself.”