Arrest, detention of REC, and the suspicion of electoral fraud in Abia

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Lawrence Nwimo, Awka

Controversy has continued to trail the arrest and detention of the Resident
Electoral Commissioner (REC) deployed in Abia State for the conduct of the 2023 general election.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Abia State is undoubtedly in the spotlight following a sequence of events that developed on a day citizens in the state trooped to exercise their obligation which is electing choice leaders to represent them at national level.

Since February 25, which was the day Presidential and National Assembly election held across the country, electorates in Abia have continued to question what played out that led to the removal of the resident electoral commissioner in the state saddled with the responsibility of overseeing the success of the 2023 polls in the state.

The outcome of the Presidential and National Assembly election in Abia left many things to be desired. The hopes of the masses were dashed by the frustrations that came with the voting process and other dramas that unfolded in the state shortly after the election.

Abia’s case reached a crescendo in the early hours of Sunday, February
26, when news spread in the state over the whereabouts of Professor Ikemefuna Uzochukwu, the resident electoral commissioner in the state.

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Sources reported that the Department of State Service (DSS) arrested the
INEC REC for absconding from his duty post. And that the Professor was picked up in his hotel room after some officials of the DSS reportedly broke the door of the room, having allegedly declined to open the door when he was asked to do so.

A scoop by this reporter revealed that the INEC REC had only retired to his hotel in the early hours of Sunday, February 26, probably to ease off the stress of the exercise that had deprived him of rest and sleep, when the men of the DSS stormed his hotel room and whisked him to their detention, alongside his assistant and two other police orderlies.

To fill the void left by the arrest, the Director of Admin in the state
was mandated by INEC in a letter dated 2nd March, 2023 to take over the entire election process and the collation of votes casts in the state.

Discreet investigations by the correspondent gathered that after his arrest, the REC was detained in the DSS custody for three days, denying him access to his laptop containing official files and other vital information even after his release.

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It was also gathered that the REC, upon his release, was stripped of his official security aides attached to him, leaving him vulnerable to attacks.

Sources said since his release, the REC has lived on medication, frequenting hospital for medical check-ups due to the trauma and unhealthy environment he was subjected to.

In what seemed like a planned deal, the INEC Abuja headquarter later issued a letter to the REC, banning him from accessing the Abia State INEC office, even without detailing the offenses committed that would deny him access to his office.

The development, however, left many feeling that the arrest and detention was a strategy deployed by powers that be to smuggle foreign results into the state collation center, leading to some undeserving candidates emerging winners in some of the elections in the state.

Dissatisfied with the election outcomes amidst perceptions that the election results were hugely compromised in the state, protesters stormed the INEC office, Umuahia, the Abia State capital, to register their grievances.  

The protesters under the aegis of the Coalition of Civil Society, South East chapter, accused INEC of colluding with anti-democratic elements to subvert the will of voters.

Rejecting the outcome of the polls, the coalition alleged that the original results that INEC staff failed to upload from the various polling units were later doctored at the collation centers.

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The group carried placards with various inscriptions such as: “This is electoral fraud,” “We can’t continue like this,” “Nigeria youths are disappointed,” “INEC chairman is a disappointment” and “Taxpayers’ money waste,” “INEC is here to thwart the result of the will of the masses,” They have not done well,” “INEC should sit up and ensure that they give us the will of the people so that there will not be broken down of the law.”

Barely 48 hours after the Coalition protest, women in Bende blocked the Uzuakoli/ Isuikwuato Road to protest what they called “criminal rigging” of the results of the February 25, presidential and national assembly elections.

The protesters mainly women and youths, accused INEC of colluding with anti-democratic forces to subvert the will of the people and announce doctored results.

The protesters claimed that what INEC announced as the outcome of the election was not a true reflection of their votes. They also called for the outright cancellation of the polls in the state.

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