Atiku: How I was rigged out

2011-01-29
THE SUN Newspaper

Long before the actual conduct of the PDP presidential primary on January 13, 2011, the Atiku Abubakar Campaign Organisation had raised several alarms concerning the apparent lack of openness and fairness in the entire primary process as well as the unwillingness of the leadership of the party to provide a level playing field to all aspirants.


On Wednesday, 22nd December, 2010, the Director-General of the Campaign, Senator Ben Obi, drew the attention of the Nigerian people to the orchestrated confusion and obfuscation regarding the format of
the presidential primary election and the non-composition of the Presidential Screening Committee. He said it was the duty of the PDP leadership to ensure that the process leading to the presidential primary and the actual conduct of it met the minimum standard of democratic ideals.
Two days later, on 24th December, 2010, Senator Obi wrote on behalf of Atiku Campaign Organisation to Dr Okwesilieze Nwodo, the national chairman of the party, requesting him to provide the comprehensive guidelines for the conduct of the presidential primary election.


“As the ruling party, the PDP must set the highest standard for internal democracy as the major step to achieving free and fair elections in 2011. The ability of the PDP leadership to be neutral and allow a level playing field will have a great bearing on the standard of elections that Nigeria has promised the world,” Obi wrote.
He said Nigeria could not afford to repeat the mistakes of the 2007 elections and that the PDP had a moral burden to lead the efforts to give Nigeria credible election. He called for “openness as a necessary condition for achieving transparency and trust among PDP stakeholders, including Atiku Abubakar, who has offered himself as a contender for the nation’s highest public office.” Senator Obi went on to remind the PDP leadership that unity in the party would depend on the feeling of reassurance by every member that he or she was entitled to equal and fair treatment.


The Director-General also requested a meeting between the party leadership and the Atiku Campaign Organisation so that it could be better informed about the party’s plans toward the conduct of the primary election and make necessary inputs on same.


Finally, the Atiku Campaign Organisation was invited to meet with the National Working Committee (NWC) of the party on 28th December, 2010 at the party’s national secretariat in Abuja. The meeting had to be shifted to 3rd January 2011 because of the tight schedule of the party leaders, and also to enable other campaign organisations to attend. The purpose of such a meeting between the leadership of the party and the various campaign organisations was to thrash out all matters relating to the conduct of the primary election to ensure a free, fair, credible, transparent and acceptable primary election.


The meeting never took place and the PDP leadership never offered any explanation why it could not hold. Senator Obi placed several calls to the PDP National Chairman, Okwesilieze Nwodo, and sent several SMS messages. Nwodo said he was still consulting and that he would get back to Obi at the end of his consultation. He never did.


It was interesting to note that the Jonathan camp was never bothered about these issues, which were fundamental to the success or failure of the primary election – an indication, perhaps, that it was working hand-in-hand with the national secretariat to subvert the will of the delegates to the primary. It became pretty obvious, therefore, that an unholy alliance had been formed between the PDP leadership and the presidency and it was determined to manipulate the process leading to the primary in favour of President Jonathan against the wishes of the generality of party members and delegates.


The signals from the party headquarters were troubling. The party leadership no longer pretended to be neutral. The Atiku camp could no longer find protection within a supposedly close PDP family working together and living under a common umbrella. The PDP political family could not reassure its members and supporters that it was neutral and fairly disposed to every aspirant.


For example, the composition of the National Convention Committee, which had the overall mandate of planning and executing the primary election programme, was not made public until 72 hours before the convention. Similarly, the identities of members of the screening committee were also not released until 72 hours before the screening of presidential aspirants on 11th January 2011. The PDP leadership mischievously kept the Atiku campaign in the dark on critical issues and processes up till the time the primary kicked off.


Specifically, the party refused to provide any official communication on the guidelines and ground rules that would govern the conduct of the primary election; about the time, location and method of screening of delegates; the issuance of passes to accredited officials; the security arrangements for such a major political undertaking; a published list of all delegates who would participate in the voting exercise; voting method and procedures; counting and announcement of results; and a thousand and one other details that should have been clearly set out weeks before the conduct of the election.


The ground rules governing the primary election ought to have been agreed upon and signed by all the parties involved, and such an agreement should not only be binding on all parties, but should also have been published and widely advertised in the print media. The agreement on the special convention ground rules would have been one major way to ensure that the primary election process was objective, impartial, fair, just and not programmed to produce a predetermined end. But the PDP leadership refused to be guided by these basic democratic norms.
Also, the list of delegates who would vote at the primary election ought to have been published and widely advertised in the print media, prior to the primary, so as to forestall the list either being tampered with or its integrity being substantially compromised. But the list of delegates was sighted for the first time by members of the Atiku campaign while voting was in progress. The list of delegates is crucial to the successful conduct of any primary election. It is as important as the list of Nigerian voters, which the INEC is required by law to publish before the conduct of the general election.


It was in the light of these lapses, uncertainty, unfairness, secrecy, non-disclosure of vital information and outright breaches of both the party’s guidelines for the conduct of the presidential primary election and the 2010 Electoral Act, that the Atiku campaign was compelled to warn the PDP leadership not to allow a repeat of the chaotic and undemocratic primaries conducted earlier in the states for state assembly, National Assembly and governorship candidates.


Most of these primaries were characterised by a high degree of uncertainty, confusion, violence, fraud and manipulation. In many instances, authentic delegates to the primary elections were disenfranchised, leading to mass defection of longtime party members to other political parties in order to realise their ambitions. Bitterness over the lack of transparency in the primaries, the Atiku Campaign warned, was capable of tearing the party apart if it was not quickly corrected.


The Atiku campaign also drew public attention to the unacceptable situation in some states, where delegates were barred from meeting Atiku Abubakar on the directive of the governors. Such states included Jigawa, Ebonyi, Abia, Kaduna and Akwa Ibom. It was clear that PDP state governors were under intense pressure from the presidency not to allow Atiku Abubakar to meet the delegates from their states. The PDP leadership refused to take a firm and decisive action against this undemocratic practice or primitive display of partisanship.


The Atiku campaign wondered why preparations for the conduct of the PDP presidential primary election appeared to be going on in extreme secrecy, thus making the entire process suspect and placing it under grave threat of manipulation by the powers that be. Less than 48 hours before the primary, the Atiku campaign was still completely in the dark about such crucial issues as the venue/location for the accreditation of delegates; the number of its officials who were entitled to special passes; the security arrangement for such a huge political undertaking; the nature and context of the voting method to be adopted; the number and arrangement of ballot boxes; the nature of ballot papers to be used, and if they had any special identification; mode of counting the ballot papers; and the announcement of results.


Although the Atiku campaign had demanded that accreditation of delegates and election officials be made open and transparent, the party leadership ignored this. The accreditation was handed over to state governors and ministers who handpicked those they trusted would vote for President Jonathan and left out suspected Atiku sympathisers from the convention.


Despite Atiku campaign’s vehement opposition to state by state voting and the labelling of ballot boxes according to states, the PDP went ahead to do just that. Giving the statement credited to Chief Tony Anenih, former BOT chairman, issuing threats to delegates: “they will be fished out and dealt with if they cast their vote for Atiku,” such voting pattern intimidated delegates and made them unable to vote according to their consciences.
When the composition of the Presidential Screening and Convention Committees was eventually made public, the Atiku Campaign Organisation raised critical issues with the lopsidedness of the membership of the two committees. The campaign listed at least eight of the members of the committees who were outright hostile to aspirant Atiku Abubakar:


Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State:
The governor has gone on record to express his virulent opposition to Atiku Abubakar. He recently denounced Atiku Abubakar as a “desperado” and called him other unprintable names. He had blocked all avenues for Akwa Ibom State delegates to meet with our aspirant. He even went as far as threatening any of them who dared to meet with Atiku Abubakar.


Governor Adebayo Alao-Akala of Oyo State:
The governor has never hidden his support for Jonathan; he is the chief mobiliser and financier of the Jonathan/Sambo campaign in Oyo State. He recently told a newspaper interviewer that he had bought 35 cars for the Jonathan/Sambo campaign and that if Jonathan does not win, Nigeria will break up.


Governor Theodore Orji of Abia State:
The governor is also the chief campaigner and financier of the president and his deputy in Abia State. His hostility towards our aspirant is such that Abia State delegates have been too scared to meet openly with our aspirant.


Governor Sule Lamido of Jigawa State:
His bitter and utterly uncouth utterances in recent times against Atiku Abubakar clearly exposed him as a rabid Atiku hater. He has intimidated and forced some of the Atiku campaign officials to resign their appointments.


Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba: He is the coordinator of the Jonathan/Sambo campaign in the Senate. It would also be recalled that Ndoma-Egba chaired the Senate Ad-hoc Committee on PTDF that was programmed to indict our aspirant in 2006 over the management of PTDF money.
The Secretary of the Convention Committee, Chief Ojo Maduekwe, has been an Obasanjo lackey and he also serves as the deputy coordinator of the Jonathan/Sambo campaign in the South East.
Dr. Nuhu Zagbayi serves as the North Central coordinator of the Jonathan/Sambo campaign.
Chief Sylvester Okonkwo, who is to act as the secretary of the Presidential Screening Panel, is a special assistant to Governor Godswill Akpabio. Chief Okonkwo has openly derided and insulted our aspirant.
It was, therefore, obvious that with a preponderance of anti-Atiku people in the two committees, Atiku could not expect a fair deal.


In a January 11th letter to the PDP national chairman, the Director-General of Atiku campaign, Senator Ben Obi, appealed to Nwodo’s sense of fairness and justice to review the list and expunge those whose neutrality could not be guaranteed. Senator Obi expressed the readiness of the Atiku campaign to withdraw the membership of one Bashir Ibrahim from the Convention Committee for the sake of neutrality. The National Chairman never responded to these complaints.
One other example of the absence of a level playing field throughout the period leading to the primary was the unprofessional use of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) and the Africa Independent Television (AIT) to persistently air defamatory advertorials against Atiku Abubakar. The Atiku campaign formally reported the two television stations to the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), the regulatory body. But the government-controlled NBC ignored our complaints, thus giving both the NTA and AIT free rein to broadcast lies, fabrications and unproven allegations against our principal.


In the case of AIT, all efforts made by the Atiku campaign to get its chairman, Raymond Dopkesi, to intervene proved abortive. Dokpesi, who was supposed to be a member of the consolidated Atiku campaign, said he was helpless, having surrendered his cash-strapped broadcast company to a rampaging Federal Government. The duplicity of Dokpesi’s AIT was, however, evident in the serial rejection of Atiku infomercials and attack advertisements against Jonathan/Sambo. On three occasions, Atiku campaign ready-to-air tapes and cash were returned by the management of AIT.


On hindsight, it has become obvious that the process leading to the conduct of the presidential primary election was programmed to yield a pre-determined outcome. Even if the Atiku campaign had executed its strategic programme optimally, the result would have been only marginally different. A grand conspiracy against Atiku Abubakar was constructed between the presidency, the party leadership and the bulk of the PDP state governors to produce only one result – the success of Jonathan at the primary election.
A report by Alhaji Halilu Bala Usman, Atiku’s polling agent, at the special convention, clearly showed that the party leadership and the presidency carefully planned and executed the monumental rigging of the presidential primary on January 13, 2011.
Alhaji Bala Usman, former deputy governor of old Plateau State, carefully documented his observations as follows:


The absence of the comprehensive delegate list aided the manipulation of the election process in favour of President Jonathan. It was also curious to observe that supplementary names were presented at the accreditation venue and purportedly endorsed by the respective states PDP chairmen. The lists of delegates used for the elections had, therefore, been doctored before the issuance of ballot papers, which resulted in over-voting and in some cases issues of unaccounted votes. For example, 16 Plateau State House of Assembly members who decamped to Labour Party with Deputy Governor Pauline Tallen were replaced with some other people by Governor Jonah Jang, and they were allowed to vote as delegates. A delegate from Anambra State was shocked that as a former governorship candidate, he could not recognise most of those who presented themselves as delegates from the state. He actually sent away 20 fake delegates from the state contingent. Vehement protest from Alhaji Shehu Gabam, the Deputy Director-General of Atiku Campaign for Mobilization, led to the disqualification of 26 persons who had showed up as Bauchi State delegates and were in fact, being processed to vote.


Delegates were also not accorded their independence to make their choices, as, in most cases, state governors led their delegations and directed the filling of the ballot papers by their appointed aides for President Jonathan. A close associate of Governor Akwe Doma of Nasarawa was seen filling the ballot papers for all the delegates from the state. Governor Sule Lamido of Jigawa State nearly came to blows with the former Action Congress chairman in Kaduna State, Alhaji Aliyu Yahaya, when he was challenged over his over-bearing attitude towards the delegates. Governor Lamido was ordering Jigawa State delegates to fill Jonathan’s name on the ballot papers.
In Osun State, Youth Minister Akinlabi stood at the entrance of the polling station coercing delegates to vote for Jonathan and he was seen live on television. In Adamawa State, a close associate of Governor Murtala Nyako instructed delegates to vote for Jonathan or risk being dealt with by the state government when they returned home. Similarly, Defence Minister Adetokunbo Kayode was very visible around the polling station for Ondo State, directing delegates to vote for Jonathan and threatening to punish those who voted for Atiku. A Katsina State commissioner was seen filling ballot papers for delegates in favour of Jonathan.
The election process was purportedly conducted based on the issued PDP electoral guidelines, which unfortunately established and gave the Electoral Panel absolute power to control the voting pattern that ended up to the disadvantage of Atiku campaign. The Strategy and Rapid Response Committee suspected and highlighted this issue prior to the convention.


“No special congresses were held anywhere in the country for the purpose of electing the 774 special delegates, who voted in the primary. Names of presidential functionaries, including ministers and advisers, as well as trusted aides of state governors were merely compiled and passed off as national delegates. These were the people who were used to do the dirty jobs during the primary election. They worked closely with state governors to whip delegates in line and in some cases they actually filled ballot papers for delegates.
Names of State Working Committee members, local government chairmen, etc were changed days to the primary election and known supporters of the president were allowed to vote in place of those disenfranchised statutory delegates.


Accreditation of delegates was done in secrecy at state liaison offices in Abuja. The Atiku campaign was deliberately denied access to these locations. In fact, state governors imprisoned delegates against their will at these locations throughout the night before the primary and bussed them to the venue of the convention the following day.


Delegate tags were deliberately designed without a mark of identification so that anybody could get a hold of it and vote as delegates. Delegate/official tags were being sold to the highest bidder by the national secretariat of the party. Atiku campaign sent a staff to purchase a tag at N3, 000 just to prove the veracity of the allegation. The staff bought a tag at the said price.
President Jonathan doled out seven thousand dollars to each of the delegates, thus using financial inducement to make them vote for him.


Atiku lost the primary election not to the best candidate but due to the manipulations of the delegate list and the entire voting process. Consequently, the polling agents (Bala Usman, Bashir Yusuf Ibrahim and Adinoyi Ojo Onukaba) did not sign the final result, notwithstanding the provisions of S.9 b & c of the Electoral Guidelines that gave the panel the absolute power to uphold and release the result with or without their endorsements.
While reaffirming the unwavering commitment and loyalty of Atiku Abubakar and his entire campaign team to the PDP and its noble objectives, we would like to state that the result of the presidential primary released by the PDP did not reflect the minds of the delegates at the recent Special National Convention.

 

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