Thursday, June 8, 2017 2:23 pm
By Michael Jegede
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) penultimate week released a statement accusing the Governor of Kogi State, Alhaji Yahaya Bello of registering a second time in the ongoing Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) exercise, an action that violates the provisions of Nigeria’s electoral law.
Section 12(2) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) stipulates that “A person shall not register in more than one registration center or register more than once in the same registration center.” Section 12(3) further provides that any person who acts contrary to subsection (2) “commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding N100, 000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year or both.”
INEC’s National Commissioner and Chairman, Voters Education Committee, Solomon Soyebi, in the statement he issued, said: “It has come to the attention of INEC that Kogi State Governor Yahaya Bello registered as a voter for the second time on Tuesday May 23, at Government House in Lokoja. His first registration was on January 30, 2011, in Wuse Zone 4, Abuja. The governor’s double registration, and doing so outside lNEC’s designated centres, are both illegal.” Soyebi stated that the electoral body cannot prosecute Bello while in office due to the immunity granted him by the Constitution. He added that disciplinary action would be taken against the INEC staff involved in the perpetration of the illegal registration.
The governor, however, denied INEC’s claim saying “I travelled on the 19th (May) to Dubai for a brief break and I saw the press release and I was taken aback that I did double registration on 23rd (May). Probably it is my ghost that has done the double registration. I think INEC has earned itself a very high reputation and I think and I am very confident that the leadership of INEC will not allow some elements in the commission to drag its name through the mud. Surely that allegation was a falsehood. I did not do double registration of permanent voters card.”
Between Governor Bello and INEC, who do we believe? Was the governor truly out of the country at the time the electoral body claimed he did double registration? If indeed he was in Dubai at the time the said second registration was done, then the governor may not be wrong to say probably his ghost did it? Because it is not possible for him to be in Dubai and at the same time carry out voter registration in Government House Lokoja, Kogi State, Nigeria.
What about the picture showing the governor registering in his office with the INEC official? Could it be a photoshopped picture? Are there certain elements in INEC being used by the political opponents of the governor to knock him off his pedestal as insinuated by some of his allies? Or, could it be that INEC quoted a wrong date on which the purported act of double registration was committed in its statement?
How does one explain the fact that the governor’s rebuttal did not agree with the earlier defense shamelessly put up by some of his political appointees to justify the obviously indefensible act of illegality? Not even his media spokesman, Kingsley Fanwo mentioned that the governor was not in town on the day INEC claimed he did a second registration in his reactions. Were they not aware that their boss (the governor) was not in the country on the said date? That is a big minus for them! Because I think their defence for the governor should have been anchored on his absence in the country, as against the baseless and untenable argument that what their principal did was not wrong, because INEC was yet to effect the transfer of his voter’s card which he had since applied for.
In his immediate reaction to INEC’s allegation, for instance, Fanwo, the Director General of Media and Publicity to the governor had said: “As a star witness during the tribunals, the Chief of Staff to the governor, Hon. Edward David Onoja told the panel of judges that the governor was a registered voter, but not in Kogi State. The governor’s efforts to transfer the card from Abuja to Kogi State has not been successful, hence the need to seize this golden opportunity to get registered in Kogi State. There was nothing wrong with registering in the governor’s office because it belongs to all Kogites. Government House is People’s House.”
While reacting to the call for the governor’s resignation by some members of his party, All Progressives Congress (APC), Fanwo also said: “the issue was straightforward enough as the Governor welcomes the decision of INEC to cancel the latter registration… The Governor will not resign. We have listened to INEC and we respect their decisions. Now is time for the Commission to fast-track the transfer of the PVC of the Governor to Kogi State from Abuja.” What do these statements issued by the head of Bello’s media office suggest? And where was the governor when these releases were being dished out by his spokesman?
Despite the denial, INEC stood by its earlier statement which indicted the governor. The Chairman of the electoral body, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, said: “We have already issued a statement on the incident and there is nothing more to add at the moment. Our Kogi office is investigating the role of our staff in the matter. The commission is awaiting the outcome of the investigation for further action.”
Also, after Bello’s counter-statement against INEC’s claim, a report by a national newspaper quoted a source in the commission disclosing that the governor’s name has been deleted from the list of those registered on May 23. According to the unnamed source, “It is however curious that the investigation has assumed a new dimension. The commission has the photograph of the registration of the governor but his name is not on the list of the CVR for that day in question. The name has disappeared.”
Does INEC’s insistence of standing by its pronouncement that the said unlawful registration was carried out on May 23 not give some credence to Bello’s claim that he never engaged in such an act? Since the governor was not in the country on the date in question, he could not have registered on that day and the issue of his name disappearing from the list cannot arise. His name can never be on the list of those registered on May 23. Except, his ghost did the registration like he said.
To my mind, for now it not safe to conclude on who is saying the truth between Kogi Governor and INEC on this matter. However, the onus lies on the electoral body, as the accuser, to come up with adequately convincing proof of their allegation against the governor. The commission cannot continue to insist that Governor Yahaya Bello did double registration on a day he was not in the country.
Michael Jegede, a journalist writes from Abuja