It was a cool Sunday morning, the time was 11am, some Individuals were either lazing around in their homes or probably ruminating over the powerful sermons delivered by the spiritual heads of their respective denominations that morning, while a devilish few were planning mayhem . The destination of the hoodlums on that fateful day, precisely on the 2nd of August 2015 was the offices of Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, office in Obingwa local government, which they set ablaze reportedly in order to destroy electoral materials, which were used in the 2015 general elections. Just like a scene playing out of a movie script, the arsonists who were allegedly armed to the teeth stormed the INEC situated at Mgboko and forced their way into the electoral umpire office and ignited the fire which razed down the entire building including the store and electoral officer’s office.
They immediately took to their heels in search for safety as thick smoke emanated from the burning INEC office. When The UNION visited the council headquarters at the time of the incident to see the extent of the wreckage, one of the resident of the area who sought anonymity said. “We came back from church and saw a thick smoke around the INEC office. Before we could know what to do, security men had cordoned off the area. The fire nearly spread to the Education and Social Development buildings before it was extinguished.”
On arriving at the scene of the inferno, later in the evening of same day, the Abia State Governor , Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu condemned the act and charged the law enforcement agencies in the State to fish out the perpetrators of the crime and bring them to book. Ikpeazu who described the arsonists as enemies of the state also called on the Police and the Army to beef up security in all INEC formations in the state to forestall occurrence of such incidents. However by the next day , the incident transmuted into a political dimension as the leading Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the opposition All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) engaged themselves in a war of words, accusing each other of masterminding the ugly occurrence that befell the State. In a press statement made available to The UNION at the party’s secretariat in Umuahia, the APGA state chairman Rev. Augustine Ehiemere expressed shock and utmost disappointment over the dastardly act carried out by the political hoodlums, who he said , his party suspected to be working for the, “PDP and Abia State government.”
The statement read in part, “ we are embarrassed that this criminal act of desperation is coming just few days after the Governorship Election tribunal sitting in Umuahia ruled in favour of APGA and directed that materials used in Obingwa and two other Local government areas be brought to the tribunal for inspection as earlier requested by APGA. It is therefore very clear that the enemies of Abia who earlier failed woefully in their bid to stop APGA’s Governorship Petition from entering trial stage have now increased their anti-democratic acts of violence as the last resort to achieving the impossible.”
He accused the PDP of masterminding a similar act during the just concluded general election when the INEC office was also set ablaze in Isialangwa South LGA after they discovered that the APGA House of Assembly candidate, Mr Levi Atulegwu in the area was cruising to victory against the PDP candidate which he alleged led to the suspension of the election. According to him, “ it is indeed not a thing of surprise to APGA that the agents of the PDP and the Abia state government who are notorious in acts of violence and anti brigandage have finally executed this criminal act having initially prevented APGA lawyers and forensic experts from inspecting those materials in Obingwa which they feared would expose their electoral crimes and sink them permanently.
He called on the federal Government, INEC and other security agencies to pay special attention to Abia State and take decisive measures to ensure that justice is not raped by the enemies of the State . “As we condemn this latest infamy of futility from the enemies of Abia, we call on the Federal Government, INEC, and the necessary Security Agencies to pay special attention to Abia State and take very decisive measures to ensure that justice is not raped, and that the enemies of democracy will not ignorantly and carelessly bring avoidable anarchy to our state through these numerous provocative acts of cruelty and criminality. But in a swift reaction on the same day, the state chairman of the PDP, Senator Emma Nwaka accused the opposition APGA for been responsible for the fire outbreak at the INEC office.
Nwaka who addressed journalists at the party secretariat on Finbars road , Umuahia noted that Obingwa has been the party’s strong hold since the return of democracy in 1999 , arguing that there was no reason for his party to burn the INEC office in the council since they did not lose any election in the area. “We are not happy. If you order a fresh election in Obingwa, we would do better any day because that is the Governor’s base. Don’t forget there was no rerun in Obingwa.”
The party stalwart who wondered why APGA members in the state have taken over the job of the police in investigating the cause of the inferno, further accused them of burning the INEC office at Isialangwa South local council area in a bid to prevent the PDP candidate who won the House of Assembly election in the area from getting his certificate of return which he later got. According to him, APGA members are not happy that the tribunal ruled in the favour of PDP lawyers who had argued for a joint inspection of electoral materials used in the embattled LGAS, thus they resorted to burning down INEC’s offices in those areas.
Also speaking in interview with The UNION, the PDP party boss insisted thus , “What has happened in Obingwa is just intended to embarrass the governor of the state because that is where he comes from. Since the inception of this republic, PDP has always chosen our deputy governor from there. We know the number of votes we get there and have never lost an election in that council . So we have a track record and now we gave them the governorship seat and you think we will lose there? Why should we want to burn down the INEC office there? In this electronic age , there is no information at Obingwa that you will not have at Abuja, so it doesn’t make sense.
The whole essence is just to embarrass us but they have not succeeded, “ he added. Within the subsequent week, the war of words continued between the political gladiators as APGA through its chairman, Ehiemere issued another press statement to journalists where they claimed to have uncovered another dangerous plot by the ruling PDP to arrange and parade some suspected criminals who would appear before news men and claim to be APGA members responsible for the burning down of the INEC office in Obingwa.
The statement disclosed that from all indications, “the claim is another PDP’s anti democratic and anti human strategy aimed at misleading unsuspecting members of the public in a bid to divert the attention of angry Abians and cover that unforgiveable crime done in Obingwa. “APGA is appalled that the PDP and it’s agents rather than show remorse, apologize to Abians for their numerous crimes, and turn a new leaf, have remained committed in dishing out falsehood and blackmail against APGA and Dr. Alex Otti through their State leadership and the Government Media team who have continued to carelessly ridicule and present Abia state as a fiefdom of renegades through their cheap lies.”
It urged Abians to ignore the latest plot of pettiness by the (PDP) and go about their normal businesses, while it implored the police and other law enforcement agents to swing into action and ensure that all those involved in that criminal conspiracy are apprehended and brought to justice immediately. Just when it seemed that Abians had pushed the blaze to the back of their minds in their quest to earn a decent daily bread , the Abia state government, last week raised an alarm over a plot to burn down the INEC headquarters in Umuahia. In a statement issued to The UNION on Sunday August 16 , the chief press secretary to the governor, Godwin Adindu stated that the government , “has confirmed a clandestine plan by anti-demo cratic forces and anarchists to attack and burn down the INEC headquarter and offices in Umuahia to create the impression that Abia State is unsafe and that there is atmosphere of insecurity in the state.
According to him, this plot is being hatched as a justification and reason to coerce the electoral tribunal sitting in Umuahia to relocate to Abuja.It is the same enemies of the people that burnt down the INEC office at Mgboko, headquarters of Obingwa Local Council that are hatching the wicked plot. The statement further warned individuals involved in anti-people and anti-democratic activities to desist from it as the security forces have reportedly, “been notified and mandated to deal ruthlessly with anyone caught in the crime.”
In reaction to the alarm from the government side , APGA responded stating that the recent statement issued by the ruling party, that it had uncovered plans by ‘’political enemies’’ to burn down the headquarters of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Umuahia APGA is ominous and symptomatic of a plot by the government to cause mischief and mayhem in the state with an intention to blame a perceived enemy. Ehiemere in a release made available to The UNION said the alarm was a ploy to deceive the undiscerning members of the public ahead of government’s alleged plan to burn down INEC facility in the state to cover the evidences therein that were against the government as they allegedly succesfully did at Obingwa INEC office.
Furthermore, the APGA party chief, pointed out that the PDP led government has an obligation to apprehend the would -be suspects and prosecute them, insisting that the administration prematurely raised the alert in order to absolve itself of blame after it had masterly executed the plot so that it can turn around again to point fingers in another direction. “APGA has no reason to destroy evidence at INEC office, which it requires to prove its case at the tribunal and we have implicit confidence in the governorship election petition tribunal to deliver judgement in favour of our governorship candidate, Dr Alex Otti. We urge security agencies to reinforce security around the INEC building in Umuahia for a 24 hour surveillance to avert the impending attack as preempted by the state government.
APGA is cock- sure of victory at the tribunal irrespective of whether it continues and concludes it’s sitting in Umuahia, Abuja or any part of Nigeria ,” the statement concluded. Meanwhile, the security agencies in the state have not being able to fish out the perpetrators of the arson as the Abia State Police Public Relations Officer, DSP Ezekiel Onyeke, who confirmed the incident, said that the cause of the fire was yet to be ascertained , just as the disgruntled elements have not being apprehended for destroying public property thereby constituting a big drawback to the effort of government in providing dividends of democracy to Abians .
Be it as it may, it has become a case of one-week one trouble since APGA dragged the ruling PDP in the state to the election petition tribunal in Umuahia to contest the electoral results from Obingwa local council and some other areas citing certain irregularities in the course of the governorship polls. While the legal battle for the control of the Abia government house is raging in the court room, the two parties have also taken their tussle for power to the media as they trade words weekly on one issue or the other ranging from the burning down of the INEC office in Isialangwa South, the Obingwa conflagration and down to the alleged assassination attempt on the APGA gubernatorial candidate, Dr Otti in his guest house in Abuja. In the words of a political pundit who pleaded anonymity, “ if the PDP and APGA are not arguing over a 200 million Dollar ADB loan, they are bickering about a 30 billion Naira loan granted to Ikpeazu’s administration by the Abia House.” They have even previously bandied words over an alleged attempt to persuade Otti to withdraw his case at the tribunal. I wonder what else is in the offing from them in the coming weeks as the
-The razing of INEC office in Abia by suspected arsonists has heightened the face-off between the ruling PDP and opposition APGA, threatening the public peace in the state, reports Emenike Ubani in Umuahia