Did South Africa print April polls ballot papers? – Idowu Samuel [Tribune]

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TRIBUNE

February 5, 2008

Did South Africa print April polls ballot papers?

The questions former Vice President Atiku Abubakar asked Professor Maurice Iwu, Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) at the Presidential Election Tribunal may be important to the tribunal’s judgment, writes Ag. Group Politics Editor, Idowu Samuel.

In the past few weeks, Kenya has been reeling in political conflagration arising from the irregularities that seasoned its last general election. Crisis of an imaginable proportion had ensued between supporters of government and the electorate who have been expressing outrage against alleged manipulation of election results by the government.

So far, the death toll from Kenya’s political crisis has risen to more than 900. Yet, the crisis is not about subsiding, notwithstanding the peace negotiation between the government and the aggrieved parties. It is another way of saying that Kenya will continue to witness more homicide misfortunes until the country unanimously decides on what to do with its political future.

Nigeria had in the previous year held its own elections and amid complaints by a section of the country that the results were not a true reflection of the nature of the votes cast in specific regions of the country. Temper rose during and after the elections, mostly on the part of those licking their wounds on failed expectations, but such was never misdirected.

In the past years, the nature of electoral irregularities that critics of the government drew attention to would have launched Nigeria into a zone of unmitigated disaster. Nigeria would have ignited in flames, the end of which no one would have been able to predict.

Simply, what is happening in Kenya would have been a child’s play compared to what would have happened had the citizens decided to go on the offensive over the mix-ups in the last general election in the country.

Somehow, time and space, coupled with experience appear to be seeing Nigerians to a better political conduct. That the 2007 general election came and went almost without a whimper meant that the country has entered into a new phase in which maturity has started having the better part of the people. It seems like a new horizon has started breaking, leaving the judicial arm of government to take the greater portion of the credit.

During the last civilian regime, the judiciary proved to have rediscovered itself by offering correct interpretations of the constitution on germane and sensitive political matters. That was when the courts started delivering landmark judgments on political cases meant to reshape the structure and the future of politics in the country.

Before the last general election, the Federal Government felt that some candidates were not suitable to contest in the elections and had set the criteria. It passed the ball into the court of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for the exclusion of such candidates in the list of contestants. Those mostly concerned went to court. In the end, the court ruled that no other organ had the right to exclude candidates from elections other than it. That case was settled once and for all. Former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, was one of the candidates most concerned.

The ruling on candidates’ exclusion from elections by the Supreme Court few days to the presidential election meant a different thing to INEC. For the commission, if the names of Atiku and other candidates earlier excluded from the list of contestants must be included again, then fresh ballot papers must be printed for that purpose. The commission ensured spiritedly that it met the expectations of the court and the eager Nigerian electorate before the elections. More than eight months after the elections, the issue of printing of ballot papers has turned to be a weapon to be used by the former vice-president in engaging INEC in a battle, for him to prove that the victory of President Umaru Yar’Adua in the last presidential election was a fluke.

Indications to this emerged when Atiku went to court with a prayer that INEC chairman, Professor Maurice Iwu, should be docked to answer questions from him on the conduct of the election. The lower court initially refused to grant that request but the Supreme Court did. The compliance by Iwu to the decision of the apex court made the tussle between him and Atiku more interesting.

Atiku had prepared 27 questions for Iwu, all reflecting specific areas that he had in mind to use in trapping the INEC boss. The main issue he raised centered on printing of ballot papers by INEC. His question on this, being the first was direct:

“Did you award a fresh contract for printing of ballot papers for the presidential election less than five days to the date of election?” he queried. Iwu’s reply was brief. He said: “the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) first awarded contracts for the April 14, and 21, 2007 general election to the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Company. Following the judgment of the Supreme Court on April 16, 2007, a fresh contract was awarded to the same organisation for the printing of the ballot papers for the presidential elections on April 17, 2007.”

By his second question, Atiku attempted to find out the reason for INEC to print the ballot papers in South Africa, based on a perception that the printing of the ballot papers in South Africa was partly responsible for reported poor distribution of electoral materials across Nigeria during the last presidential election.

Iwu denied that INEC ever awarded the ballot paper printing to any South African firm, stating that the question of re-awarding the printing of ballot papers to another company other than the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Company never arose.

To prove his case, Iwu attached documents on the award of contract for printing of ballot papers to his written answers. He told Atiku that INEC awarded the first contract on January 4, 2007 at a cost of N6, 580,200,000.00 and the second on April 17, 2007 at the cost of N1, 072,500,000.00.

According to his written responses to Atiku’s questions, the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Company, Abuja, handled both contracts which cost N7.6billion. He went as far as listing A. B. Jauro, the secretary of INEC (now retired) and Abdullahi A. Kaugama as the officials who awarded the respective contracts.

Atiku also raised a question on the essence of numbering of ballot papers. He asked whether the ballot papers used in the presidential election of April 21 had serial numbers or counterfoils and made in booklet forms.

Iwu said the initial ballot papers had serial numbers, but admitted that those produced in compliance with the Supreme Court judgment had no serial numbers, “because of the extremely limited time for their printing, but were packaged in bundles of equal quantity so that the quantity delivered could be easily ascertained”.

The remaining part of the 27 questions Atiku raised touched on the distribution of ballot papers, publication of the list of candidates, issues about display of voters list for the presidential election and the initial exclusion of the former vice president from the list of contestants. Expectedly, Iwu offered explanations meant to block the chances of the Action Congress (AC) presidential candidate from pining him to a corner. He provided answers to all the questions passed by Atiku in a manner that suggested that Atiku could still not find an easy fault in the manner that INEC conducted the 2007 presidential poll.

Iwu’s answers have provided an opportunity for counsel to President Yar’Adua, Wole Olanipekun (SAN), to insinuate that Atiku’s petition against the victory of Yar’Adua was rather misdirected. To prove this, he cited two examples. The first centres on the denial by Iwu that INEC did not print the ballot papers in South Africa as earlier alleged. The second is that since Atiku eventually participated in the presidential election through the judgment of the Supreme Court and his name included in the ballot papers, there was no basis for him to raise the issue of exclusion from the election anymore.

Essentially, Atiku is to prove to the Presidential Election Tribunal that the 2007 presidential election was flawed as generally alleged. It was the reason he raised the 27 questions with the aim of picking fresh facts likely to strengthen his case against Yar’Adua’s victory.

Ultimately, the tribunal has an uphill task in determining whether or not the answers Iwu offered to Atiku’s questions could provide the loopholes to strengthen Atiku’s case against Yar’Adua.

 

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