By Lancelot Obiaku
The Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) has left many in shock following its recent startling revelations about the 2023 general elections. The group raised the alarm that politicians within the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) are perfecting secret plans to remove the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Prof Mahmood Yakubu through the court and nullify the use of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) in next year’s general election.
Spokesperson of the coalition, Ikenga Ugochinyere, at a press conference on Wednesday, alleged orchestrated plan to compromise the INEC’s register of voters to upload fictitious names. Ugochinyere said CUPP has credible intelligence that in some ruling APC-controlled states, “computer-generated photos and faces, passport photographs, calendars and almanacs, photo albums from both within and outside Nigeria,” were used to register fictitious names during the last continuous voters’ registration (CVR) exercise. “They went as far as Jamaica, New Zealand and Brazil to pick photos and names,” he said.
For those in Imo State, the story was received with deeper shock after CUPP alleged that Omuma, a community in Oru East Local Government Area of Imo State where Governor Hope Uzodimma hails from, that had barely 6,500 registered voters in 2014, now has over 46,000 registered voters with 46 polling units in the compromised INEC register. According to Ugochinyere, faces that are quite old are seen with dates of birth: 1993, 1995, 2000, 2002, while new registrants are with dates of birth such as 1900, 1902, 1912, 1913, 1931, etc, which are names believed to have been extracted from a death register in New Zealand. He also said that names with pictures of both the young and old bear the same dates of birth. In Omuma, he said, over 15,000 foreign names were enlisted.
Amid the palpable shock at the alleged criminal manipulation of the INEC register, an argument ensued on social media in which few persons who are favourably disposed to the Uzodimma administration have tended to condone the aberration on the premise that Aboh Mbaise, the local government of Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, a former Governor of Imo State, whose victory Uzodimma took away through the Supreme Court, returned a huge amount of votes in Ihedioha’s favour in 2019. But the two cases are not the same. Aboh Mbaise is a local government area and has a number of registered voters that make 60, 000 votes which it posted in 2019 plausible, especially as it is normal for the candidate’s own people to root strongly for him without compromise. Some people will also contend that there was also the card reader and INEC returning officers to certify the results from the area.
However, Omuma is a community, an electoral ward at best. As a result, it appears improbable that the number of registered voters in the town would rise from under 8000 to 46,000 in just one registration window in which Oru East LGA where Omuma belongs witnessed heightened insecurity. Who are the tens of thousands who registered under such a tense atmosphere? How about the alleged discrepancies in the name, gender, photographs and dates of birth revealed by the CUPP? If the revelations are anything to go by, everyone would agree that the manipulation in the Governor’s community and the other APC-controlled States is unprecedentedly criminal and abhorrent.
Still, a number of people in Imo State are not taken aback by the development in the Governor’s community and LGA. These people are among those who have traced the electoral history of the former Senator to be convinced that he is hardly a customer of fair and credible electoral processes. They understand that it is this record of alleged manipulation with impunity that the use of BVAS will aim to stop. For them, it is a question of no surprise that Gov. Uzodimma was accused by CUPP of being one of those allegedly advancing a clandestine plot to remove the INEC Chairman if he insists on a free and fair election and the use of the new technology.
Many citizens of the State have reconciled the alarm by CUPP with the Governor’s leadership style which is ridden with an I-don’t-care attitude and utterances to understand why he is not concerned about his deep disconnection with the people he is governing. The conclusion they can draw is that the Governor trusts his strategy to return for a second term which is not people-driven and not through a fair process. In all these, the Ugochinyere Imo-led CUPP must be commended for the courage and sacrifice to dig deep and speak out on such alleged plans that are outrightly inimical to efforts at strengthening Nigeria’s electoral system. This has put Imo people in particular on red alert.
Lancelot Obiaku is an Owerri-based journalist and public affairs commentator.