Opposition parties and non-governmental organisations on Sunday took a swipe at the Adamawa State Resident Electoral Commissioner, Hudu Yunusa-Ari, for usurping the duties of the state governorship election returning officer.
The Independent National Electoral Commission had at 1 am on Sunday shifted the announcement of the state supplementary election results to 11 am after results from 11 out of 20 local government areas where reruns were held had been declared.
But before 11 am, the REC at 9 am came to the state INEC office in Yola, where the results were being collated and announced the All Progressives Congress candidate, Senator Aishatu Dahiru, popularly known as Binani as the winner of the governorship election.
Prior to her declaration, Binani was trailing behind Governor Ahmadu Fintiri of the Peoples Democratic Party, who had established a margin of lead of 31,249 votes.
Before the supplementary poll, Fintiri polled 421, 524 votes ahead of Binani who got 390, 275 votes.
However, Fintiri could not be declared the winner of the March 18 governorship election by the state by the state returning officer, Professor Mohammed Mele, of the Department of English and Linguistics, University of Maiduguri, because the margin of lead did not exceed the number of cancelled votes in 69 polling units.
The results from the 10 councils as collated as of the time of filing this report showed Governor Fintiri adding to his lead of 31,249 with wins in Demsa, Lamurde, Jada, Ganye, Song, Maiha, Hong and Shelleng while Binani won only in Yola North and Yola South.
The REC’s action sparked anger across the country as the PDP and its presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, called for the immediate arrest of Yunusa-Ari
The PUNCH also learnt that the errant REC may face 36 months imprisonment on conviction.
The declaration of Binani which was annulled by the Independent National Electoral Commission generated tension across Adamawa State on Sunday.
But INEC in its statement nullifying Ari’s action asked Nigerians to disregard the pronouncement at the collation centre.
It said it summoned the REC and other officials, who usurped the duties of the returning officer to Abuja.
The PUNCH learnt that the REC would appear before a committee of the commission led by the National Chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, on Monday.
Asked to state when the REC would appear before the panel, a source close to the national chairman, “Immediately. He’s on the way. He will appear before the commission by Monday. He was summoned to the headquarters today and he will appear tomorrow.”
But the National Commissioner and Chairman of the Information and Voter Education Committee, INEC, Festus Okoye, who signed the statement on Sunday, noted that the declaration by the REC was null and void as the action of the REC was “usurpation of the power of the returning officer.”
The commission has also invited Yunusa-Ari to Abuja over his action where he is expected to be quizzed over his conduct.
The statement read, “The attention of the Independent National Electoral Commission has been drawn to the purported declaration of a winner in the Adamawa State Governorship election by the Resident Electoral Commissioner, Mr Hudu Yunusa-Ari.
“The action of the REC is a usurpation of the power of the Returning Officer and therefore null, void and of no effect. Consequently, the collation of the result of the supplementary election held yesterday 15th April 2023 is suspended forthwith.
“The REC for Adamawa State and all other officials involved in the process are hereby directed to report immediately to INEC headquarters in Abuja.
“Meanwhile, the Commission is deeply disturbed by the harassment of our two National Commissioners deployed to the State to ensure a peaceful and credible supplementary election.
“We urge the security agencies to provide them with the necessary security and ensure that nothing untoward befalls them. The two National Commissioners, the Returning Officer and other staff of the Commission must be allowed to perform their duties without let or hindrance.
“The Commission will not condone any act of lawlessness or brigandage targeted at our officials or the process.”
Addressing journalists in Abuja on Sunday, the PDP spokesman, Debo Ologunagba, asked INEC to declare Fintiri the winner of the election “because the results so far showed that he won clean and clear.”
Speaking on the action of the REC, he said, “It is even more absurd that the Adamawa State REC did not only usurp the powers of the Returning Officer but attempted to declare a winner without figures in reckless violation of the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), the Electoral Act, 2022, the Independent National Electoral Commission Guidelines as well as the sensibility of the people of Adamawa State.”
Continuing, Ologunagba called on the leadership of INEC to immediately direct the returning officer to conclude the collation, announce the results from the polling units and declare Fintiri as the winner, having scored the majority of lawful votes cast.
He further noted that the results already collated across the 69 polling units where the supplementary elections were held and which are currently reflected on the INEC Result Viewing portal, showed that the governor clearly won the election.
According to the PDP, “Anything short of this will not be accepted by our party and the people of Adamawa State.”
Appraising the Adamawa REC’s conduct, a former Director, Voter Education and Publicity at INEC, Oluwole Osaze-Uzzi, noted that Yunusa-Ari ought to face a sort of ‘inquisition.’
Osaze-Uzzi stated that however, INEC cannot discipline a REC, noting that only the President acting on the resolution by the two-thirds majority of the Senate can remove the REC.
He said, “Ordinarily for doing what he did, the REC ought to face some kind of inquisition.
“Under the Constitution, his duty is limited to delegated assignments or duties – what the Commission delegates or assigns to him so the Commission may decide not to delegate or assign any duty to him in the meantime. But only the President can remove him.
“But to remove him, the President can only act on an address by an address by a two-thirds majority of the Senate in accordance with section 6(3) of the Act.
“However, INEC can undertake an inquiry into what happened and I am sure they will do that. But in terms of discipline or removal, it is the President that can do that.
“Also, it is to be noted that any person who announces or publishes an election result knowing the same to be false commits an offence and is liable to imprisonment for 36 months under section 120(4) of the Electoral Act, 2022.
“And under section 6(2) of the Act, the REC is answerable to the Commission.”
Also, a former INEC Director, Nick Dazang said, “By virtue of the regulations and guidelines for the conduct of the 2023 general elections, all returning and collation officers are appointees of the INEC Chairman.
“By declaring a purported winner when the process was ongoing, the REC, Adamawa usurped powers not delegated to him. He also acted unprofessionally.
“Since the chairman, by law cannot remove the REC, we expect that he should recommend, based on this unbecoming and unprofessional behaviour, that he be removed or directed to resign.
“Similar sanctions should apply to other recs who have carried themselves in like manner.”
Expressing anger over the development in Adamawa, the PDP standard bearer, equally raised the alarm over what he called a plot to provoke violence and undermine democracy in his home state.
Atiku, in a press release signed by his Media Adviser, Paul Ibe, said the initial decision of the Adamawa REC to declare Binani as the winner of the election was a pointer to how miserable the commission had fared in the conduct of the 2023 general election.
His statement partly read, “Here in Adamawa, we are witnesses to a novel practice in election management where a Resident Electoral Commissioner announced the loser of an election as a winner. It is not in doubt that INEC has approached the Adamawa State election with a preset agenda of declaring the APC at all costs.
“We have seen how INEC conducted the February 25 and March 18 elections against the run of play and challenged cheated candidates to go to the court, knowing full well the agenda that they are up to. It must be put on record that the people of Adamawa State will not allow themselves to be cheated three times in a row.
“Recall that this was the same Resident Electoral Commissioner who pressured the returning officer to manipulate the results of the contentious Fufore Local Government Area in the March 18 governorship election. The people of Adamawa shall not allow this injustice to pass without being challenged.”
Similarly, the PDP Board of Trustees has called on the INEC to redeem its image by immediately declaring Fintiri the governor.
The statement read, “Nigerians watched in dismay the display of disregard to the rule of law by the Resident Electoral Commissioner for Adamawa State, in the person of Mr Hudu Ari.
“Accompanied by security officials, and without following due process contained in the INEC guidelines and the Electoral Act, the REC took it upon himself to assume responsibility for declaring results and hurriedly declared a winner in the Adamawa supplementary elections as results collation was still ongoing for 10 local government areas.”
In his comment, the Chief Spokesman of the Obi-Datti Presidential Campaign Council, Yunusa Tanko, described the REC declaration of Binani as the winner when the counting of votes has not been completed as an embarrassment to the nation.
This is even as he stated that the development has vindicated the position of the Labour Party and its presidential candidate, Peter Obi, that the electoral umpire had been compromised.
Reacting to the declaration by the state REC, Governor Fintiri appealed for calm, noting that the illegal announcement of the APC candidate as the election winner has put the integrity of the electoral body to test.
The governor also urged the citizens to remain peaceful in the face of provocation by merchants of anarchy and await the next directive from the commission “ believing that they do know that the integrity of the Commission is on a test.”
The governor pointed out that since the beginning of the election process “the same gang who attempted the electoral heist that ensured the governorship poll result was rendered inconclusive have not relented in stretching the collective patience of citizens of the state to its limit.”
He said, “Just when we were waiting for the resumption of the collation, the REC this morning took up a task he is not constitutionally empowered to do by making an illegal announcement of the outcome of the election without result.
“This action is no doubt provocative, but in this situation, I appeal for calm as always. I assure you that as your leader, I will ensure that nobody thwarts your democratic rights.”
He however maintained that while citizens of the state who are committed to democratic ethos conduct themselves in a peaceful fashion the right thing for the commission to do is to ensure the conclusion of the collation exercise.
According to the governor, INEC having distanced itself from the action of the REC, must act knowing that its integrity is at stake.
“The independent National Electoral Commission has demonstrated its umpire status by first distancing itself from the act of the REC and assured that the right thing will be done.”
Sani advises INEC
Reacting to the drama at the Adamawa collation centre, a former lawmaker representing Kaduna Central Senatorial District, Senator Shehu Sani described the incident as a “civilian equivalent of a coup.”
However, Sani hailed the prompt intervention of the INEC just as he commended the commission’s chairman noting that the Adamawa REC was out to truncate democracy.
According to the rights activist, it was obvious that the Adamawa REC was out to truncate democracy in the state and by extension Nigeria if his action was allowed unchecked.
Sani, however, noted it was not enough to summon only the REC and let go of other perpetrators, adding that “the REC and the security men, who perpetrated the acts must be prosecuted.”
He added, “The declaration by Adamawa REC is an equivalent of a civilian coup.
“The action of the REC stands condemnable. Our democracy can’t survive if we condone a such brazen act of criminality and brigandage.”
A human rights activist and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mike Ozekhome described the declaration of Senator Binani as an abomination.
He said that according to the Electoral Act, it is only the INEC returning officer that has the power to declare a winner in an election.
The Centre for Democracy and Development asked the INEC to “sanction all erring officials who carried out the illegal declaration of Aisha Binani as the winner of the Adamawa governorship poll.”
Speaking with The PUNCH, the APC Director of Publicity, Bala Ibrahim, stated that the speed with which INEC nullified the declaration and opened an investigation was enough indicated that the commission remains an unbiased umpire.
But the state APC, in a statement by its acting Chairman, Samaila Tadawus and Assistant Secretary, Raji Suleiman, insisted on Binani’s victory. It said Binani’s victory was not surprising.