The opposition parties on Thursday demanded the resignation of the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Mahmood Yakubu, on the basis of the European Union Election Observer Mission report which gave INEC low marks in its conduct of the general elections.
The Labour Party and the Peoples Democratic Party said the EU report on the election confirmed their positions that the 2023 polls were not transparent or credible, but the INEC and the All Progressives Congress dismissed Yakubu’s indictment by the parties.
The electoral agency had declared the APC standard bearer, Bola Tinubu, the winner of the presidential election but the verdict was challenged by the LP, PDP and other opposition parties.
Tinubu polled 8,794,726 votes to defeat the PDP standard bearer, Atiku Abubakar, and his LP counterpart, Peter Obi, who garnered 6,984,520 votes and 6,101,533 votes, respectively.
Atiku and Obi, however, rejected the results, with each claiming at separate press conferences that the election was fraught with violence and massive rigging.
Consequently, both candidates headed for the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal to seek redress.
Chief Observer, Barry Andrews, Member of the European Parliament, who presented the preliminary findings of the EU EOM report in Abuja on June 28, observed that shortcomings in law and electoral administration hindered the conduct of well-run and inclusive elections and damaged trust in INEC.
He also noted that a lack of transparency and operational failures reduced trust in the process and challenged the right to vote.
However, the EU report was roundly criticised by the Presidency and the APC even as some party faithful protested against the EU EOM’s stance.
But addressing a press conference in Abuja on Thursday, the Director-General of the Labour Party Presidential Campaign Council, Akin Osuntokun, called for the immediate dismissal and prosecution of the INEC chairman over the role he played in the 2023 presidential elections.
Osuntokun also demanded that a forensic financial investigation should be conducted on all the expenditure and donations received by INEC before, during and after the polls.
The campaign director made the demand at an international press conference held at the party’s campaign headquarters in Abuja.
He stated, “We also demand unequivocally, the immediate dismissal from office and prosecution of Prof Mahmoud Yakubu and the commencement of forensic financial investigation into the expenditure of budgeted disbursements and donors’ funds received by INEC.
“This is in addition to the N300 billion appropriated from the national purse as well as other funds and materials received from International donor agencies.’’
Commenting on the ongoing election petition, Osuntokun submitted that all the evidence supplied by both the PDP and LP confirmed their earlier suspicion that the election was marred by irregularities.
While calling for punitive measures to be meted on INEC National Commissioner and Chairman of the Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye and other top administrative and field staff over their alleged complicity, he also warned against any further intimidation of the European Union and other election observers over their reports on the poll.
Osuntokun stated, “The Labour Party and the Obi-Datti Presidential Campaign Organisation condemn vehemently the negative and jaundiced responses on the EU report and other election observers’ reports by the spokesperson of APC administration and other ill-informed persons, which are totally in discord with the mood of the nation at this time and which also present an embarrassing contrast to their selective celebration of the 2019 election reports from these same observer groups.
“It is now only logical, bolstered by the final observer group reports that the international community take immediate and appropriate punitive action against Prof Mahmoud Yakubu, Barrister Festus Okoye and other top administrative and field staff of INEC directly complicit in the desecration of these elections.
‘’We advise those who have deployed hired ‘protesters’ to the offices of the EU in respect of their election report, to desist from any further wastage of public funds as the objective of intimidation is without basis and has failed from the beginning because indeed, the irregularities in the election were so excessively glaring with bitter personal and reported experiences by the overwhelming majority of Nigerians.’’
Speaking further, the LP chieftain noted that the EU observer group report was in tandem with the reports of other international and domestic observers duly accredited by INEC and also in line with the public opinion and the experience of the majority of Nigerian citizens who participated in or observed the polls.
‘’At this juncture, there is no doubt that Nigerians and the International Community expect the judiciary, to critically examine the evidence, the law, and the processes of these flawed elections, in arriving at a legally correct, and overwhelmingly acknowledgeable verdict,’’ Osuntokun added.
Aligning itself with the LP, the PDP threw its weight behind the call for Yakubu’s suspension to the pave way for a forensic audit of the electoral body’s election expenses.
Speaking with The PUNCH, the Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the party, Ibrahim Abdullahi said the INEC boss should step aside for a more competent person to pilot the affairs of the agency.
He said, “Yes, he should step aside. We were the first to call for the sacking of the incompetent fellow for alleged corruption and legendary insincerity.”
In contrast with this stand, the All Progressives Grand Alliance faulted Osuntokun’s call, noting that INEC was not Nigeria’s problem.
APGA Deputy National Chairman, Uche Nwegbo, in a telephone conversation with our correspondent said his party would not be compelled to join issues with the LP.
“APGA has made its stand clear on the 2023 elections. There is no need joining issues with anyone calling for the INEC chairman to be suspended. The problem of Nigeria today is not INEC but a systemic one. We have maintained this position for a long time and that is still our position today,” he said.
In his reaction to the attack on his principal, the Chief Press Secretary to the INEC chairman, Rotimi Oyekanmi, advised the LP to desist from making ridiculous demands.
He said, “The latest and familiar call by the Labour Party for the dismissal and prosecution of INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu is misplaced. The reasons adduced by the party for making the demand are not only illogical, but also ridiculous.
“To be sure, election observers, both local and international, are accredited by INEC to observe elections under specific rules and regulations. Under these rules, they are required to submit their respective reports to the commission. Such reports may or may not include their recommendations.
“Therefore, it is not within the remit of any election observer whatsoever to indict INEC. They are to observe, make recommendations if they have any, but never to indict. In the same manner, it is also not within the Labour Party’s jurisdiction to demand for the dismissal and prosecution of the INEC chairman over the outcome of an election in which the party fielded candidates.’’
Oyekanmi added, “Interestingly, arising from the outcome of the same 2023 general election, the Labour Party has now produced one state governor, eight senators, 35 House of Representatives members and 38 members of the state Houses of Assembly.
“It is suprising and strange that a political party that is in court to challenge the outcome of the 2023 presidential election would still go about openly advocating the issues before the court at press conferences, which it knows is sub judice.
“The Labour Party is one of the 18 political parties registered and being regulated by INEC in Nigeria. The party will do well by restricting itself to activities permitted under the rules and regulations governing the conduct of political parties.”