The Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum (SMBLF) has lent its voice to calls for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to suspend the national collation of presidential election results over the failure of INEC officials to upload election results from polling units.
The forum’s position followed allegations made by the PDP, Labour Party and others including former President Olusegun Obasanjo that INEC’s failure to upload election results from polling units casts doubts on the credibility of results being put forward to the National Collation Centre.
SMBLF, which had earlier endorsed the presidential candidate of the LP, Peter Obi, called on the Nigerian youth not to despair, but to stand in defence of their votes.
The forum said in its statement on Monday, “We, the Members of the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum (SMBLF) have over the years, and especially in the run-up to the 2023 Presidential election in Nigeria, insisted on an inclusive Nigeria that embraces all ethnic, religious, linguistic, gender and demographic groups and especially the youths of the country. Our vision of a Nigerian Federation is firmly anchored on the cardinal democratic principles of the rule of law, equality, equity, fairness and justice. It was in recognition of these principles that we adopted Mr. Peter Obi and his running mate, Mr. Ahmed Datti of the Labour Party as embodiments of these very lofty aspirations.
“The hopes for a new Nigeria have been so eloquently expressed not only in the continuous voter registration process which saw the largest numbers of youth registration but also the largest voter turn-out in the history of elections in the country. We commend the Nigerian people especially the youths for their uncommon demonstration of patriotism. The zeal to salvage their country Nigeria through a peaceful, democratic election is unsurpassed. They showed exceptional courage against all odds in order to exercise their civic responsibility. They endured long hours stretching into the wee hours of the morning in the queue, to vote and to ensure their votes are not only counted but also matter. They withstood voter intimidation, suppression and violence to exercise their constitutional rights. We salute the young woman who in spite of severe injuries she sustained to her face returned very gallantly to vote for the candidate of her choice.
“We feel very constrained, in spite of the commendable progress in the evolutionary process in the consolidation of our democracy, to note with concern the egregious and unacceptable conduct of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in the conduct, transmission and collation of the various results of the election across the nation.
“The conduct of INEC on voter inclusivity, security, punctuality, logistics deployments, integrity and compliance to Electoral Act on electronic transmission of results has unfortunately created very serious mistrust between the electorate and INEC casting very serious doubts not only to their status as fair and unbiased umpire but very importantly on the credibility of the results that they are collating and announcing even without uploading most of the Polling Unit Result Sheets to their server as required by law. Apart from the fact that none of the 176,846 Polling Unit Results was electronically transmitted online real-time, evidence abound of faint Result Sheets uploaded, completely illegible.
“Video evidence of INEC Officials caught falsifying election results at local collation centres and voters attacked and locked out from voting on grounds of their tribe, religion or party affiliation are numerous in public domain, including destruction of ballots by hoodlums and senior Govt officials while security men watched without acting; under-age voting, among many infractions that would suggest ill-preparation and/or collusion. There were senior partisan Govt officials interference at INEC Collation Centres to influence results, which could not have been possible had the results been transmitted electronically at the polling units as expected; and all available evidence points to one “favored political party getting away with murder”, thereby denying others ‘level playing field’.
“We find the Press Statement which the Independent National Electoral Commission issued on Sunday, 26 February, 2023, riddled with gaps which are incongruous with good judgement and reason. It is indeed jejune to argue that the reason for the gaps is because the servers which were used for off-season state elections were not reconfigured to meet the needs and requirement of the national elections. At the heart of the technological innovation which INEC so proudly proclaimed was the use of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) to accredit voters and uploading of the results from the various Polling Units (PU) to the central Server. It is very doubtful that the failure of the BVAS to upload only the presidential results to the server is a system glitch, as INEC would want us to believe. The unfortunate effect is not only the deep mistrust of the independence and unbiased status of INEC but it has by the very singular misstep cast very serious doubts on its ability to deliver to the country, a free, fair and credible election.
“We cannot allow our dreams of a new Nigeria where leaders and its institution of governance are accountable to the people to die of administrative oversight and incompetence. We call on the Nigerian people and the youths who have endured all forms of intimidation and threats to their lives for the sustenance of democracy in the country to demand that votes must count and call on INEC to show incontrovertible evidence that all the votes uploaded to their server and those held by all the party agents tally. We urge the Nigerian people and especially youths to stand in unison to defend the sanctity of their mandate. They must not let their mandate, future and country be taken away from them on account of a convoluted technical sophistry.
“We unequivocally request INEC to immediately discontinue the national provocation called “National Collation of Presidential Result” and retrace her steps back to where the ‘breach of process’ started; which is the real-time transmission of results at the polling units. Nigerians are ready to return to their Polling units to complete the process by certifying that the same results which copy is with every party Agent is uploaded and collated. Alternatively, all political parties can sit with INEC to reconcile the results and upload them accordingly before any national collation and announcements. The present attempt to ‘collate and announce unreconciled results’ – which are products of suspicious process breach will be tantamount to electoral manipulation, a recipe for chaos and destabilization. Furthermore, adequate security and logistics must be deployed for all the remaining Polling Unit elections, especially for all those areas where non-indigenes were threatened and disenfranchised.
“We sincerely thank the teams of International Monitors and Observers, for their presence in our Country at these very important and historic elections. We call on the International Community which they represent to hold INEC accountable for the egregious breaches of the Electoral Law 2022 and any outcomes of the 2023 Presidential Elections in Nigeria. We equally urge the international community to engage and put pressure on the Federal Government of Nigeria to protect the mandate of the Nigerian people which was willingly expressed through a democratic electoral process on Saturday, 25 February, 2023. And to ensure full compliance and rectification of any deviation from the electoral process flow.
“We remain unequivocally committed to a Nigerian Federation where justice, equity, fairness and equality is enthroned and where no man no matter his ethnicity, religion or party affiliation is oppressed.”
The statement was signed by Edwin Clarke, leader of Pandef; Ayo Adabanjo, leader of Afenifere; Bitrus Pogu, leader of Middle Belt Forum; and Simon Okeke, representing Ohanaeze Ndigbo.
Others are Chukwuemeka Ezeife, chairman of Igbo Elders Consultative Forum; Babachir Lawal, former Secretary to the Government of the Federation; and Okey Emutchay, Secretary General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo.