What happened on Saturday, April 11, 2015, in Abia State in the name of election was a broad-day robbery, a charade, perpetrated by Governor Theodore Orji and his political thugs. I have never seen anything of that magnitude all my life.
When I drew the attention of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and security agencies to what transpired on March 28, 2015 during the Presidential/National Assembly elections little did any other person know what lay ahead was more serious. But for me I knew that the governor was desperate to achieve his devious aim of foisting himself on the unwilling people of Abia State whom he has misruled and chastised for 8 whole years.
I am certain that only a few persons knew that Governor T.A. Orji and his son had perfected plans to brazenly rig the April 11 elections on a large scale.
What people saw on television was a glimpse of a larger fraud, committed by the governor and his son, in collaboration with corrupt INEC officials. Innocent voters were intimidated, harassed and beaten up in most cases. From Umunneochi to Arochukwu, Umuahia to Ossioma Ngwa, Obingwa to Aba, and Ugwunagbo to Ukwa the story was the same: reckless display of power, carting away and stuffing of ballot boxes, open bribery of gullible electoral officers and the voters, distribution of fake ballot papers and result sheets to polling stations, etc.
The worst part of it all was that the governor and his son recruited thugs and armed them with dangerous weapons such as machetes, guns, and cudgels, to unleash mayhem on the state. The governor knew that under normal atmosphere he would not be able to win any election in Abia State. So, he must rig to survive.
The thugs moved about in unbranded buses unmolested, unchecked. In short, they had a field day. And it got to a point that people stated wondering if there were no more security agents in Abia State. Only the security agents themselves could explain their indifference.
The flagrant display of raw power and cash was the worst I had seen in my entire life. Underage boys were also involved in the show of shame of April 11. Another shocker was that their select men went about with wads of crisp naira notes, which they willingly handed over to any voter that was ready to be compromised. They openly canvassed votes and paid anybody willing to play ball. It was that bad.
In areas where the governor sensed he would not be able to achieve his nefarious aim he instigated crises, which led to elections not holding in such places. The case of Osisioma was very peculiar. There was no election whatsoever there, but results were turned in for his candidates.
The prelude to the charade of April 11 began with the appointment of new Transition Committee Chairmen to man the local government councils in the state. The purpose for selecting them was to use them to rig elections. It has to be noted at this point that Abia State under Governor T.A. Orji is yet to conduct elections into the local government councils.
So, each transition committee chairman was mandated to personally devise means of rigging the elections at all costs. To achieve the objective the Transition Committee chairmen used part of their monthly allocation given to them by the governor’s son (who superintends over the affairs of the local government councils in the state) to recruit thugs, procure dangerous weapons and other logistics for the evil assignment. They do all these without thinking about thousands of local government workers who have not been paid in the state in the past 8 months.
Each chairman was mandated to deliver his council, no matter the costs and risks. They were told in an unmistakable language that they must deliver or face the music.
And so, they barred their fangs on March 28 elections when they unleashed terror on the people of the state. It was like a scene from a sci-fi movie. Those local government chairmen that were not able to deliver their councils were summarily dismissed. They included the TC chairmen for Aba North, Aba South, Umuahia North and Umuahia South. They were promptly replaced with new helmsmen.
In tandem with the mandate given to them by the governor (led by his son) the council chairmen went berserk, killing and maiming innocent citizens. The brutality and open bribery of voters that took place in Abia State on April 11 were unprecedented in the history of the state. The governor’s foot-soldiers and other cohorts went about throwing money at voters and openly inducing them and INEC ad hoc staff, with the police and other paramilitary agents looking on helplessly.
I have never stopped wondering why Governor Orji and his acolytes believe so much in circumventing due process in every election. Must he rig to ‘win’ elections? There is nobody who witnessed the show of shame that took place on March 28 and April 11 that was not outraged and scandalized.
We have abundant evidence of the governor’s boys going about bribing voters. There was a case of a female electoral officer who got an alert for N10m on her phone. Amazed by the discovery she alerted the police who traced the source of the money to the governor’s son. Imagine how many other electoral officers had been so compromised in a similar manner. Yet nobody has called the governor or his son to question.
In some local government councils, there was virtually no election. Results were written in the houses of some prominent people. The same situation obtained in Osisioma, Ugwunagbo and Isiala Ngwa Local Government Councils. When the fake results reached INEC collation centres they were promptly rejected and cancelled by the returning officer. Everybody was shocked to the marrow when the governor, in company with some top government officials and party loyalists, stormed INEC Headquarters in Umuahia where results were being compiled to attempt to force the electoral officer to accept the results earlier cancelled, quoting orders from above. This led to the current logjam we have experienced in the announcement of results.
The action of the governor was in total contravention of the Electoral Act and should be treated as such. If I may ask: who gave the orders that cancelled results should be readmitted and for what purpose? What transpired between the governor and the electoral officer on that visit? Abians would like to know. Whoever gave the orders (if the allegation was true) that the rejected results be readmitted committed a grievous offence against the law of this land and an affront on the collective psyche of the people of Abia State.
As far as I am concerned, nobody should take Abia people for granted any longer. The people voted en masse for candidates of their choice and their votes must be allowed to count.
I was a victim of the March 28 brouhaha in Abia State. In the Abia North Senatorial District, where I contested for a slot in the Senate, the governor and his agents displayed the same brazen show of power by hijacking the election results and taking the same to Umuahia to be announced by a director in INEC, contrary to the Electoral Act 2014 as Amended. The Electoral Officer for Abia North Senatorial District, a professor, refused to endorse the result because it was fake and manipulated. Up till date, the man is still running for his dear live. Results collated from each polling unit in the district showed that I overwhelmingly won the election.
Since the miscarriage of justice was done against me we, as peace-loving people, have maintained studied silence hoping the relevant authorities would do the needful. The more patience we exercise the more they expropriate what belongs to us. For how long will the people be shoddily treated by the governor and his garrulous son before commonsense prevails?
I knew what I did to douse the tension that arose as a result of what transpired on March 28 in my Senatorial Zone. Angry mobs had built up to march to burn down INEC offices and then proceed to the Government House, Umuahia. But I had to dissuade them from towing that line as it was primitive, undemocratic and defeatist.
Nevertheless, there is a limit to what the people can tolerate. Probably, what emboldens the governor to engage in all these atrocities is that he always gets away with them. Abians have resolved never again to tolerate his excesses.
Some people do not believe me when I say Governor T.A. Orji is wicked and selfish. He knows only about himself – nobody else matters. He demonstrated his selfishness in the just concluded Presidential/National Assembly elections when the votes he allotted to himself were marginally higher than what he allotted to the President. For him, he cares no hoot whether the President won or not. What was paramount to him was that he should become Senator to find a safe haven to hide himself from the justice that awaits him.
A pall of grief and melancholy has enveloped our state since Sunday when the news of the open robbery of the people’s mandate filtered to town. Our people are sad and agitated. And there is no limit to how much they can endure.
Governor Orji has shown a flagrant obstinacy and insensitivity to the sensibilities of Abia people and should be called to order. His plot to enthrone himself senator and his son speaker in order to continue the looting of our common patrimony must not stand.
The corruption that has taken place in Abia State since Governor Orji assumed office is mindboggling. There is no accountability let alone honesty in the governance structure of the state. The governor runs the state like his private estate. Think about this: the governor’s son has been in charge of the allocations to the 17 local government councils in the state in the past 8 years that no election has been conducted into the councils. The last council election was the one superintended by my administration in 2004. The governor has not deemed it auspicious to conduct another ever since, because he uses the funds accruing to the councils for his personal aggrandizement.
Where did he get all the money he is throwing about, if not from the government till? His greed knows no bounds and his insensitivity bottomless. Think about the sufferings of our civil servants, pensioners, and even the general citizenry, who have not been paid for several months, you will weep for Abia State. Yet the governor is building a fortress in Umuahia and buying up every available house anywhere it exists.
I have written here many times that one of the ways elections are rigged in Nigeria is through the local government council offices. It is there that the rigging is cooked, garnished and served. The local government council chairmen, especially the Transition ones, are the major culprits of election manipulation in Abia State, if not the whole federation. To arrest this ugly situation INEC should move collation centres to schools to be manned by soldiers. This will cut off the undue advantage conferred on the council chairmen to compromise elections.
Another issue that worries me is the notoriety the Southeast and South-South have assumed in election rigging in recent times. The situation gets worse by the day. When will the people of the two geopolitical zones put their acts together and carve a new image for themselves?
What happened in Abian State on March 28 and April 11 should not be allowed to repeat in future elections. When rules are made they ought to be obeyed and implemented. Why should vehicles and people move about freely on an election day when it is outlawed? Nobody would believe there was a no-movement order in Abai State on April 11 as nobody called the errant persons to order.
The way things are going Abia State is headed for the precipice. Our people are tired of Governor Orji and his retinue of praise-singers and hagiographers. They disturb our peace, steal our money and our votes, kill and maim us. Instead of arresting them for their crimes they are offered cover by the authorities to continue with their nefarious activities.
There is a limit to what the people can tolerate. The nonsense going on in our state should stop. We are equal stakeholders in the Abia Project. Therefore our lives and properties must be protected.
I would like to make the governor understand that evil has an expiry date and that all the atrocities he has committed against the good people of Abia State will not go unpunished. In due course he will pay for his sins.
■The second and concluding part of Memo to President-elect, Muhammadu Buhari will be published next week.