Deltans looked forward to the governorship primary of the All Progressives Congress, APC, in the state with so much anxiety because the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, already had an incumbent, Ifeanyi Okowa, seeking reelection, with virtually no challenger within his party. As the primary election drew closer there were permutations and calculations by different persons and groups on the chances of each of the APC aspirants against the incumbent governor.
One thing was clear from the permutations, the only way the opposition could defeat the incumbent was to go into the election united, without bickering. So we all looked forward to a fair primary where every aspirant would get a chance to compete fairly. This was what most people in the party and those sympathetic to it wanted. I know this because I am one of those who interacted with many leaders and party members in the state, as well as those sympathetic to the APC from within the PDP.
Just about three weeks before the primary election, there were reports that the national chairman of the APC, Adams Oshiomhole, a former labour union leader and erstwhile governor of Edo State, had decided to support the bid of Chief Great Ogboru, one of the aspirants. Of course, he had the right to back whoever he wanted as long as he did not frontally try to meddle in or influence the outcome of the primary process. We were all keen to see how the aspirants would perform in the exercise as campaign and consultations across the 25 local governments of the state peaked even though the mode of election, guidelines and list of authentic accredited delegates for the election remained speculative.
With just about five days to D-day, two main aspirants had emerged as frontrunners – Rt. Honourable Victor Ochei, a businessman and former Speaker of the House of Assembly, who is from Delta North Senatorial District and Chief Great Ogboru, a businessman and politician from Delta Central Senatorial District.
The party would also announce that it would use indirect primary for the exercise but, still would not make public or avail the aspirants, observers and journalists the authentic list of delegates for the election and guidelines, even until the day of the primary.
Primary Election Day
The electoral panel arrived Asaba around 11.am and went into a meeting with stakeholders of the party and the four aspirants that had been cleared by the party to contest – Mr. Ochei, Mr. Ogboru, Professor Pat Utomi and Dr. Cairo Ojougboh. These were the aspirants that could afford the party’s pricy N22.5m (about $63, 000 USD) nomination forms.
I would gather from multiple credible sources at the meeting and then later publicly corroborated by Utomi, Ojougboh and Ochei that the aspirants complained to the chairman of the panel, retd. General Lawrence Onoja and his team that they had not been availed the list of delegates as well as guidelines on how the election would be conducted. Utomi sought for a rescheduling by at least one day so as to work with the list of delegates which the panel brought from Abuja, but that plea was rejected by the panel chairman even though Ibe Kachikwu, the Minister of State for Petroleum and some other stakeholders pressed for a similar rescheduling by at least one day.
In overruling the call for postponement, Onoja said though he had received the list of accredited delegates at 7.30pm the day before, he would press ahead with the election as directed from Abuja and urged those who felt shortchanged by his decision to seek redress in court.
I, like many observers and journalists including party members arrived the Federal College of Education (Technical) Asaba venue of the exercise early afternoon at about 2pm to meet a large crowd of probably around 6, 000 people outside the venue eager to gain access into the compound but for about two dozen police men who were struggling to manage the crowd. It was obvious to us that the police would find it difficult managing the crowd, which easily was a mix of authentic delegates with thugs, hirelings and troublemakers. I smelt trouble if the process extended into the night because there was no provision for floodlights at the gate and its surroundings.
A few minutes after we were allowed into the premises the police started firing multiple canisters of teargas at the restive crowd after some thugs became unruly and wanted to advance towards the gate. As chaotic as the scene outside was, another heated argument was ongoing on the inside over which delegates’ list to use for the election. Ochei, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, who was agent for Ogboru, Chief Ogboru, the chairman of the panel and the entire team were part of this argument. Apparently, between Omo-Agege, Ogboru and the panel there were three different sets of delegates’ list and thus this confusion. Ochei could be heard telling them that he was ready to run on any of the delegates’ list as long as the process of accreditation was transparent. Omo-Agege could be heard explaining that one of the names on the list the panel brought was different from the one in the copy he had. There were talks about one list having three stamps and the chairman’s (Oshiomhole’s) signature and another with two stamps and unsigned by Oshiomhole. These discrepancies were amusing, but shocking to all of us, as it was now obvious that something fishy had been plotted from Abuja but had gone wrong.
The Delta State Commissioner of Police coincidentally arrived the venue at this time and helped to find away around the multiple delegates’ list issue.
After about an hour of arguments, the parties agreed to settle for one of the lists (the one the panel brought from Abuja) and then accreditation started. Some of my colleagues who joined me to scrutinize a few pages of the delegates’ list supplied by the panel discovered that some of the names in the list were different from the one that was approved by the court as the authentic exco of the party in the state – the APC had two factions in the state.
We were not shocked at this development because we had heard from party members that the delegates’ list may be altered as part of the ploy to ensure that the favourite of the national chairman, Ogboru emerged.
I must note that only the two main aspirants were in the premises at this time – Ochei and Ogboru. Ojougboh would later arrive about just as it was getting dark. Utomi at this time had formally written a protest letter to the party saying he would not participate in a skewed primary.
With the thorough accreditation process demanded by Ochei being implemented, the process was going slowly, but smoothly as names of authentic delegates were being called. In two hours they had finished accrediting Aniocha North delegates, leaving us with 24 more local governments to go, but it was getting dark and fast.
Panel Chairman, Onoja had said he would only allow accreditation that night and then voting would begin in the morning. All parties had agreed to this.
However, midway into accreditation of Aniocha South delegates (second LGA to be accredited) thugs that somehow had gained entrance into the school, led by Ogboru made for the gate with flashlights singing and chanting solidarity songs. We could hear them screaming ‘Bomadi, Bomadi, Bomadi, which we later found out was a rally code for the hirelings outside. They viciously flung the gate open, allowing hundreds into the venue without accreditation.
The policemen would later regain control of the gate for about 30 minutes before more thugs returned this time without Ogboru to disrupt proceedings again. We could hear rounds of gunfire coming from within the school as the thugs advanced. This time, the police responded by firing over 100 rounds of teargas canisters aiming outside the gate and towards the advancing thugs. It was a chaotic scene and scary experience for me as I was close to the gate monitoring the accreditation process. I have covered multiple primary elections but never I have witnessed one as violent and chaotic as this one. My eyes hurt like hell, I pulled my white tee shirt over my face to help me breathe better but, it didn’t help. My eyes were peppery and tearing uncontrollably but I still managed to observe my surroundings for my safety. One of the policemen standing next to me assured me of my safety as long as I remained with them. Time now could be around midnight or so.
The accreditation had now been disrupted and it was not going to continue because the gate was now ajar and I could see and hear one obviously frustrated policeman who appeared to be in-charge at the gate shouting at everyone outside to enter and go and vote. ‘Una say una wan vote abi, oya una must vote, enter, because once we lock this gate again anybody wey near hear we go smoke am. Na ordinary primary election una dey do wey person no go see road,’ he said in broken English.
Thus, hundreds more filed into the venue of the exercise without accreditation. This for me cast doubt on the credibility of the entire process as clearly witnessed during the voting. Hirelings, thugs and agents of Ogboru with the tacit support of the panel and some policemen supervised one of the most fraudulent primaries in Delta State.
I left the school compound with some other journalists at about 3.am for our hotels because we were worried about our safety.
Some journalists and politicians that stayed back would later narrate how the hirelings and thugs infiltrated the canopies meant for various local government areas, intimidating and warning people to vote Ogboru in return for their safety. They said the ballot boxes were placed in front Ogboru and his agents as people voted (I was shown recordings from their phones). There was no secrecy in the ballot process. They said despite complaints from Ochei and Ojougboh that the ballot boxes should not be labeled according to local governments for fear of victimization and intimidation, the panel declined, so we had boxes with LGA names affixed on them.
The panel I was informed also rejected requests to move the ballot boxes away from Ogboru and his agents to give delegates the privacy required to cast their ballots secretly.
Frustrated that officials were hell-bent on progressing with the skewed election to announce Ogboru as winner, I was told Ochei and Ojougboh departed the venue in protest.
The two aspirants, Ochei and Ojougboh would later grant multiple media interviews rejecting the exercise and the result.
Since the election, the divide amongst aggrieved members has widened and I am reliably told that Ochei and Utomi have filed lawsuits seeking an outright cancellation of the primary and a redo.
*** Austyn Ogannah, a journalist, Publisher of TheWill and President of Online Publishers Association of Nigeria, OPAN, was in Asaba for the primary election.
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Opinion contained in this article is strictly the writer’s and not Political Stew’s.