Atiku’s questions: Iwu lied under oath

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PUNCH

Thursday, 31 Jan 2008

Atiku’s questions: Iwu lied under oath

Seth Akintoye, Festus Akanbi, Musikilu Mojeed and Olalekan Adetayo

Some ballot papers used for the April 21, 2007 presidential election were printed in South Africa, findings by THE PUNCH have revealed.

This contradicts the claim of the Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission, Prof. Maurice Iwu, that the printing were solely handled by the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Company at a cost of N7.7bn.

Iwu’s claim was contained in his affidavit in response to the 27 questions raised by the presidential candidate of the Action Congress, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, on the conduct of the poll.

Three questions raised by Abubakar that are directly on the ballot papers and responded to by Iwu, are:

Did you award a fresh contract for printing of ballot papers for the presidential election, less than five days to the date of election?

INEC first awarded contracts for the April 14 and 21, 2007 general elections to the NSPMC. Following the judgment of the Supreme Court on the 16th day of April, 2007, a fresh contract was awarded to the same organisation for the printing of the ballot papers for the Presidential election on the 17th day of April, 2007. The letter of award is here shown to me and marked exhibit MII.

If, yes, did you not award the said contract to a company in South Africa after the company originally contracted declined on the grounds that the delivery deadline was unrealistic if the ballot must carry serial numbers, and in booklet forms with counterfeits?

As indicated in the answer to question 1 above, the commission did not award any such contract and no such discussion with any company in South Africa ever occurred.

If you deny that the contract was re-awarded to a different company less than five days to the election for reasons stated in question No. 2, what was the reason for re-awarding the printing contract less than 5 days to the date of the presidential election?

There was no re-award of the contract as alleged. The contract to the NSPMC arose as aforesaid from the need to comply with the judgment of the Supreme Court delivered on the 16th day of April, 2007.

But investigations by our correspondents showed that Iwu had admitted on pages 30 and 31 of the Official Report of the Election which he presented in October 2007, that additional ballot papers were printed in South Africa.

He said in the report that the ballot papers were freighted to the country on April 20, 2007, the eve of the presidential election.

The INEC boss also said in the report that former President Olusegun Obasanjo approved additional money to print the fresh ballot papers for the election when the Supreme Court ordered that Abubakar should participate in the poll.

According to him, Obasanjo provided a presidential jet for some INEC officials to travel to South Africa to negotiate for the immediate printing of the ballot papers.

The report quoted Iwu as having said that Obasanjo also provided institutional support, including security agencies, for the distribution of the ballot papers on the eve of the election.

The report reads in part, ”The ruling of the courts especially that of the Supreme Court which was delivered on April 16,2007, five days to the election put enormous strain on the logistic resources of the Commission(INEC).

”Additional ballot papers had to be printed for the presidential election. This proved to be a daunting task, given the proximity to the polls date.

”However, the commission prevailed in printing and freighting the ballot papers to Nigeria on Friday, April 20, 2007, i.e the eve of the election. In fact, the last cargo that brought ballot papers touched down at Lagos Airport at 10pm, 20 April 2007, the eve of the election.

”The commission was not alone in the determination to hold the elections as scheduled. The former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, gave the commission every support in this connection.

“At very short notice, the(ex) President approved additional money to print fresh set of ballot papers for the presidential elections when the Supreme Court gave its ruling few days to election day.

”He followed this up by providing presidential jet for relevant officials of the commission to travel to South Africa to negotiate for the immediate printing of the ballot papers.

”He also put at the disposal of the commission institutional support, including security agencies, especially the Nigerian Air Force and the Navy, to ensure distribution of the ballot papers on the eve of the elections.”

On page 5 of the report, the INEC chairman said, ”A major and unprecedented political crisis, in which a ruling party split with an incumbent vice-president contesting for the presidency under another party platform, threw up not only a heavy political dust but also serious constitutional questions.

”The legal tussle that emanated from this unprecedented development was not resolved till five days to the presidential election.

”The commission was compelled to print a new set of ballot papers for the presidential election, which arrived in Nigeria only hours to the commencement of poll and had to be distributed to the more than 120,000 polling units located in 8,800 wards of the country, some of them located in extremely difficult terrains.”

On pages 47 and 48, Iwu said, ”The imperative of having Abubakar on the presidential ballot presented the commission and the conduct of the election with logistics nightmare capable of derailing the schedule of the election.

”The direct import of the Supreme Court judgment was that the commission had to print 65 million fresh presidential election ballot papers within four days.”

Some newspapers had quoted Iwu in their April 22, 2007 editions as saying, ”On Tuesday afternoon, we commissioned a company to print the ballot papers and on Thursday night, they finished them and we flew them into the country yesterday (Friday).

”I think when we do something that is praiseworthy; we should be given the kudos as a country. We did well and all segments of the Nigerian society rose to the occasion.”

Iwu could not be reached for comments on Wednesday. His Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Andy Ezeani, told one of our correspondents that he could not speak on the matter since it was already in court.

But some politicians and pro-democracy activists who spoke with our correspondents gave the INEC chairman knocks for the perceived inconsistencies in his statements.

Some of the politicians and activists are National Publicity Secretary of the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties, Mr. Osita Okechukwu; the spokesman of the AC, Alhaji Lai Muhammed; the National Chairman of the Democratic Peoples Alliance, Chief Olu Falae; the President of Campaign for Democracy, Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin; the Convener, United Action for Democracy, Mr. Abiodun Aremu; and the President, Voters‘ Assembly, Mr. Moshood Erubami.

Okechukwu, who said Nigerians no longer had confidence in Iwu, wondered if he thought he was addressing nursery school children.

Muhammed said Iwu‘s latest position corroborated the party‘s position that he was inconsistent and should not be allowed to continue as the helmsman of the commission.

To Falae, the chairman needs to explain to the National Assembly because “we are aware that some consignments of ballot papers were still lying in South Africa even after elections.”

Okei-Odumakin said the latest development confirmed her fear that Nigeria‘s destiny could no longer be entrusted in Iwu‘s hands and that it was not safe to rely on him for by-elections.

She said, ”The latest statement is just a cover-up. The truth will be revealed one day. We do not need a soothsayer to tell us that Iwu is lying. Nemesis will soon catch up with all of them.”

In his own comment, Aremu said, ”It was a public knowledge as stated by Iwu that ballot papers were printed in South Africa. This, they claimed, contributed to the late arrival of electoral materials in some states.

”I think election petition tribunals should go beyond who wins election. The judiciary should begin to prosecute electoral officers for their criminal involvement in election rigging.”

Erubami said he was not surprised that Iwu was making a U-turn on the issue, saying it was in his character to do so.”

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