By Akanimo Sampson
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is bracing to prosecute some of the university teachers who allegedly aided electoral malpractices in Akwa Ibom State during the 2019 general elections.
This is coming as the United Kingdom is threatening stiffer penalties for individuals involved in similar crimes in this coming September 19 and October 10 governorship elections in Edo and Ondo states, respectively.
The UK threatens to, among other things, deny such persons access to their assets in Britain in addition to visa restrictions and possible prosecution under international law.
This is contained in a statement titled, ‘UK statement on the upcoming Edo and Ondo governorship elections,’ on its Twitter handle on Tuesday.
The British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Catriona Laing, in the statement, says she held meetings with the leaders of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) on the Saturday’s governorship elections in Edo State.
The statement reads, “the UK takes a strong stand against election-related violence and just as we did in the general election in 2019, we will continue to take action against individuals we identify as being responsible for violence during elections.
“This could include restrictions on their eligibility to travel to the UK, restrictions on access to UK-based assets or prosecution under international law.”
It promised to continue providing support for the polls and urged INEC, the police and other agencies involved in the electoral process to deliver free, fair and credible elections.
The electoral agency however, says the Collation and Returning Officers during the 2019 General elections allegedly manipulated and falsified election results.
It added that it dismissed three members of staff in its Akwa Ibom State office who were allegedly linked to the electoral malpractice.
The INEC Head of Department, Voter Education and Publicity, in Akwa Ibom State, Odaro Aisien, disclosed these in a statement on Tuesday.
“The lecturers who were engaged as Collation and Returning Officers during the 2019 general elections were reported to have manipulated and falsified election results aimed at producing outcomes contrary to the will of the people as expressed through the ballot.
“Following a formal request by the commission, the authorities of the affected institutions released the lecturers to appear before an investigative panel set up by INEC headquarters on August 12 and 26, 2020.
“The panel subsequently established a prima facie documentary evidence of deliberate criminal manipulation of election results against the Collation/Returning Officers. They will be arraigned in court accordingly.
“This should be a lesson and a clear message to all ad hoc staff, particularly those that would be engaged as Supervising/Presiding Officers and Collation/Returning Officers in future elections in this state as well as other places where the commission would be conducting elections in the days and months ahead.
“Similarly, the commission, in the exercise of its statutory powers to appoint, dismiss and exercise disciplinary control over its staff, has dismissed three members of staff of the commission in Akwa Ibom State office who were involved in misconduct during the elections”, he says.
The statement noted that prior to the 2019 general elections, the Resident Electoral Commissioner for Akwa Ibom State, Mike Igini, had repeatedly warned all INEC staff, both permanent and ad hoc, to shun acts likely to compromise the electoral process and undermine the efforts of the commission and the confidence of the electorate.
In the mean time, ahead of this Saturday’s governorship election, representatives of political parties participating in the election, yesterday, signed a peace accord in Benin to eschew violence during and after the election.
The ceremony was presided over by former Head of State and Chairman of the National Peace Committee, Abdulsalami Abubakar, and supported by Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah, also a member of the Committee and Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese.
From INEC record, 14 political parties registered to participate in the election, but candidates of only two parties, the APC and the PDP, were seen to have vigorously campaigned for the election.
In his speech, Abubakar said NPC was in Edo to support the electoral process not just the signing of the peace accord by all candidates but also to encourage them to accept the outcome of the election no matter the result, He thanked the Oba of Benin for the role he played when the tension was at its peak.
The former military leader urged all to use ‘the process of election in Edo as a test of future elections’, and reiterated President Muhammadu Buhari’s statement, saying “let every Nigerian be respected and be given an opportunity to cast his or her vote without intimidation or coercion and once that vote is cast, let us uphold that vote”.
He recalled that since 1999, democratic elections in Nigeria have been conducted with varying degrees of violence, saying that the tension and anxiety around elections necessitated the setting up of the National Peace Committee whose mandate is to support peaceful election processes and cultivate a culture of peace.
In his remark, the Benin monarch who was represented by Chief David Edebiri, the Esogban of Benin, thanked the convener of the meeting, especially Abubakar, for what they have been doing in recent times and particularly for coming to Benin at this time to assist in preaching peace and tranquility before, during and after the election.
He said the monarch also thanked everyone that is interested in the peace of Edo State, adding that the monarch has been doing his best to see that prediction of violence and bloodshed does not come to pass in next Saturday’s election.