As the general elections approach, All Progressives Congress in Akwa Ibom State has accused the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, of taking sides with the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state.
The state APC chairman, Mr. Ini Okopido, who made the allegation in a statement issued Wednesday, shortly after a peace accord signing ceremony in Uyo, accused the election umpire of turning the ceremony to a state government event, charging the body to be impartial in its conduct.
However, INEC in the state has dismissed as untrue the allegation of partisanship leveled against the commission by APC in the state.
Speaking with Straightnews reporter on telephone Wednesday evening, Mr. Don Etukudo, the Public Affairs Officer of the commission in the state, explained that the event organised by INEC was under the auspices of Inter-Agency Consultative Committee headed by the State Police Commissioner, and denied that INEC had a hand in barring the APC governorship candidate from entering the hall.
Etukudo said “We sent letters of invitation to all political parties. How could we bar someone we invited to attend the event from coming in? The APC candidate was not there. The event was inside the hall and that was where we were.”
“The APC Governorship candidate came two hours after the event had started. He wanted to pass through the front gate into the hall, but the security men at the gate told him to go through the back to avoid his supporters causing commotion to disrupt the event that had gone far. In anger, he left. Not long, the state APC Chairman walked out and left the venue of the event,” he pointed out.
On allegation that the event was turned to a state government function, Etukudo denied it as erroneously contrived by APC. “Mr. Raphael Edem, the governor’s aide, who at a point anchored the event, introduced the governor and some important persons in the governor’s convoy. Edem only took few minutes to do that before handing the microphone over to INEC’s Master of Ceremonies, Mr. Samuel Williamson.”
While stating that 37 out of the 45 governorship candidate across parties in the state were present to sign the peace accord, the PRO said that Ekere could still walk into INEC Headquarters, Uyo to sign the peace accord at his convenience.
“Our boss, Mike Igini, the state resident INEC Commissioner is a man of honour and good reputation. He is an impartial umpire. He has a pedigree having conducted several successful elections in other states and places. Virtually on all occasions, he has harping on the need for fair and credible elections. He cannot renege on his promise,” Etukudo added.
Earlier, Okopido in the statement had regretted that the INEC event which was attended by leaders of political parties, top government officials, religious leaders, traditional rulers, youth and women groups.
“I was present inside the hall and I saw clearly that the whole ceremony was turned into a state government event. The Master of Ceremonies was Mr. Raphael Edem, the governor’s Special Assistant on Public Affairs, and yet this was supposed to be an INEC event for all governorship candidates.
“The entrance was manned by the government’s protocol and security officials, in addition to his notorious uniformed thugs. It must be emphasised that Mr. Udom Emmanuel attended the event as a Governorship Candidate of the PDP and not as Governor. We, therefore, do not understand why government officials and thugs were allowed, if not encouraged, by INEC to harass another candidate,” Okopido averred in the statement.
He alleged that the state government’s protocol and security officials with backing from INEC, barred the state APC governorship candidate, Mr. Nsima Ekere, from gaining access into the hall of the event.
“We wish to bring to the attention of the general public, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the police and the civil society the unfortunate development at the Ibom Hall, Uyo, Akwa Ibom State this morning when our Governorship Candidate, Obong Nsima Ekere, arrived for the signing of the scheduled Peace Accord.
“On arrival at the entrance of the venue, Obong Ekere was stopped from entering the hall by the protocol and security officials and thugs of the State Governor, Mr Udom Emmanuel, who had arrived earlier,” he stated.
“Obong Ekere’s entreaties to be let in to participate in the ceremony, including his explanations that he first had to attend a previously scheduled prayer summit for peaceful elections at the Methodist Church Nigeria, Itiam Etoi, Uyo, were turned down by the government officials. Our candidate had to turn back.
“This incident is most unfortunate and demonstrates once again our position that INEC in Akwa Ibom State should show impartiality to all candidates and maintain neutrality in its conduct. We completely object to officials of the PDP State Government moderating and taking charge of security at an INEC function to which all political parties were invited as equals,” Okopido lamented.