The headquarters of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Abuja, has confirmed that the All Progressives Congress (APC) primary which produced Akanimo Udofia as a governorship candidate was not monitored by the commission’s officials.
Both primaries were held around midnight on May 26 and June 9, respectively.
It, therefore, means the APC may not have a governorship candidate in Akwa Ibom State for the 2023 general elections, and that Mr Akpabio is not recognised by INEC as a candidate, as previously reported by this newspaper.
INEC spokesperson in Abuja, Festus Okoye, said there is no distinction between INEC at the national headquarters and those at the different states in the country.
“There’s only one INEC that operates through its state offices at the state level,” Mr Okoye told PREMIUM TIMES, Monday.
“When a political party wants to organise a primary, what the political party does is that it gives INEC that mandatory 21 days’ notice of its intention to organise the party primary.
“Then it gives INEC the venue and the date of the primary. The commission will constitute a monitoring team for that particular state headed by the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC),” Mr Okoye added.
How INEC monitors primaries
Mr Okoye explained how INEC monitors party primaries.
“There is supposed to be a team from the Election and Party Monitoring (EPM) Department from the headquarters that will go to the state, but the team will report to the REC who will head them because he is the most senior officer.
Only a team monitors party primaries, he said.
“There’s only one team from the commission. We don’t make any distinction between the team from the headquarters and the team from the state,” Mr Okoye said.
“For instance, in a governorship primary, we send an assistant director or deputy director or even a director from the INEC headquarters. The director will report to the REC who is the most senior officer in that particular state and the REC will lead the team that will go and monitor the governorship primary or senatorial primary of a particular political party.”
Mr Okoye’s position validates a report filed by the REC in Akwa Ibom, Mike Igini, on the matter.
The clarification became necessary following the misinformation on social media that the INEC headquarters had deployed officials from Abuja to monitor the contentious primaries, and that the INEC authorities distanced themselves from Mr Igini.
Unhappy with the dramatic turn of events, some of the APC supporters in Akwa Ibom, especially those who belong to the faction that is loyal to Mr Akpabio, have been attacking Mr Igini’s credibility.
“Igini works for INEC and he is not the chairman of INEC and he is not INEC,” Chris Ekong, one of the APC governorship aspirants in Akwa Ibom, reportedly told reporters in Uyo on Wednesday.
Mr Ekong, who is a professor of economics at the University of Uyo, was commissioner for youths and sport when Mr Akpabio was the governor of Akwa Ibom.
“What I want to tell Akwa Ibom people is to forget that negative propaganda. Akwa Ibom APC has a governorship candidate, and he is Akan Udofia and by next week he will be given the flag and when he collects the flag we will bring it here,” Mr Ekong said.
The Akwa Ibom REC, Mr Igini, in the report he sent to the INEC headquarters, explained what occurred between the election commission and the Akwa Ibom APC on the day of the party governorship primary.
“We wish to report that the APC governorship primary scheduled to hold on Thursday, May 26, 2022, at the Sheergrace Arena, Nsikak Eduok Avenue, Uyo, Akwa Ibom State did not hold at all,” Mr Igini said in a letter to INEC headquarters in Abuja dated May 27.
According to the report, the commission’s monitoring team led by Mr Igini, together with the Commissioner of Police in Akwa Ibom, Andrew Amiengheme, arrived at the venue of the primary for the third time at 6:45 p.m., seeing no one inside the hall.
The heads of the two federal agencies were informed that the APC election committee members were held up by an angry group of APC members along a major road in Uyo.
The operatives of the State Security Services (SSS) later rescued the APC election officials that night and took them to their (SSS) facility in the city.
This newspaper, last month, reported how supporters of the two APC factions in Akwa Ibom fought over the control of voting materials meant for the conduct of party primaries in the state.
The Chairman of the Election Committee, Tunde Ajibulu, had told Mr Igini on the phone that he was unable to leave the SSS office because he was traumatised and could not go ahead with the primary.
Mr Ajibulu reportedly told Mr Igini that Sheergrace Arena was not the venue given to him by the party’s national office in Abuja to conduct the governorship primary and concluded that “all activities be postponed until he gets back at the Commission.
Mr Igini at that point briefed the reporters who were present at the venue. He left the venue at about 10:30 p.m. that day.
The APC faction that is backed by Mr Akpabio later held the primary of the party around midnight at a different venue, where Mr Udofia, a man who was less than a month old in the party, was declared winner of the exercise.
Origin of the crisis
The Akwa Ibom APC crisis could be attributed to Stephen Ntukekpo, a man backed by Mr Akpabio, who used forged results of the APC congress in the state to obtain a court judgement which sacked Austin Ekanem, the man who was validly elected as the chairman of the APC in Akwa Ibom.
Mr Ekanem has appealed the court judgement.
When PREMIUM TIMES asked Mr Ntukekpo about the forged result of the APC congress, he said: “I wasn’t the author, I didn’t manufacture, I didn’t produce in any form the so-called result sheet of the congress”.
“I was only an aspirant like any other person,” he added.