The People’s Democratic Party (PDP)‘s Borno Central Senatorial Candidate in the last election, Hon. Mohammed Kumalia has petitioned the Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu over alleged tampering of electoral materials in the custody of Borno State office of the electoral body a month after the conduct of the Presidential/National Assembly elections.
Kumaila in the petition personally signed by him, noted that: “Based on the outcome of the elections, I have filed a Petition before the Election Petitions Tribunal sitting in Maiduguri. We obtained a court order to inspect materials used for the elections which includes the Ballot Boxes, used and unused ballot papers as well as obtain Certified True Copies of the result and collation sheets among others.”
He said: “I wish to draw your attention to the commission of electoral offence by some Ad – Hoc staff of the Borno State Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) in collaboration with the Electoral officer in charge of Mafa Local Government, who were caught thumb printing and stuffing Ballot Boxes within the premises of the Maiduguri INEC Headquarters on Tuesday 22nd March, 2023, almost a month after the Presidential and National Assembly elections that was held on 25th February, 2023, in order to tamper and distort evidence to be presented before the Election Petitions Tribunal.”
He added that: “While our team of lawyers were undertaking the inspection of materials on 22nd March 2023 in the premises of the INEC Headquarters, our inspectors discovered some INEC Ad Hoc Staff within the same premises, sorting out and rearranging and counting ballot papers and stuffing them in different Ballot Boxes in respect of Mafa, Ngala, Kala Balge and Dikwa Local Governments. Our inspectors immediately raised alarm and accordingly reported the incident to the Borno State Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC). They drew the attention of the REC that the actions of the Ad-Hoc staff amount to tampering with evidence.
“The REC assured our team that the Ad Hoc Staff were only rearranging the documents that were dumped on them by the respective Local Government Electoral Officers who brought the materials from the local governments. Although we were not satisfied with the explanation, we gave them the benefit of the doubt and continued with the inspection.
“To our surprise, by the next day, Thursday 23rd March, 2023, our inspectors this time caught red handed some Ad-Hoc staff actually thumb printing ballot papers and stuffing them into Ballot Boxes for Mafa Local Government right inside the premises of the INEC office in Maiduguri. Our Inspectors immediately arrested the two staff involved in the thumb printing and stuffing of Ballot Boxes and took them to the Bulumkutu Police Station together with the bundles of Ballot already thumb printed papers and the indelible ink they were using. We were surprised that no official of the Maiduguri INEC office took interest to accompany our team to the police station in order to ensure the arrest of the Ad-Hoc staff and undertake investigation of any possible crimes.
“The police officials took the statements of the complainant and the two Ad Hoc staff and arrested the two Ad-Hoc staff. They also invited the Electoral Officer for Mafa Local government who brought the materials to the Maiduguri INEC office from Mafa Local Government to give a statement. Our team was informed by the police at Bulumkutu Police Station to come back the next day so that the case will be transferred to the Maiduguri Criminal Investigation Department (CID) for further investigation and prosecution.”
Kumalia informed the INEC Chairman that: “Sir, you are aware that the main reason the court gave the order for inspection is to determine whether the results as recorded on the result sheets and announced at the polling units are the same with the actual ballots that have been cast by voters. This will be achieved through counting of the ballot papers in each Ballot Box and accounting for the valid, invalid, rejected votes as well as the unused ballot papers. Therefore, any attempt by any official, permanent or Ad-Hoc to thumbprint or move ballot papers from one ballot box to another amounts to tampering with evidence.
“When our team arrived the police station the next day as requested, for the case to be transferred to the CID, the DPO informed our team that the suspects have been released and the bundle of Ballot papers and the indelible ink (Exhibits) have been returned to the INEC office in Maiduguri. They opined that the case is not within their jurisdiction, forgetting that they had on the day of the complaint informed our team that the case will be transferred to the Maiduguri CID department. The action of the DPO in our opinion amounts to obstruction of justice and failure to carry out his lawful duty.
“One issue that begs for an answer is who are the INEC officials that came and collected the bundles of Ballot papers from the Police station and returned to the INEC office? Those INEC officials that collected the ballot papers from the police station and returned them back to the INEC office are as complicit as the Ad-Hoc staff that were caught thumbprinting the ballot papers. It is therefore obvious that the INEC officials and the DPO are involved in suppression, concealment and aiding of crime as well as tampering with evidence.”
He also alleged that: “A similar situation occurred on Thursday 16th March, 2023 when the ANPP Governorship candidate caught some Ad-Hoc staff thumb printing and stuffing ballot papers in respect of Limanti Ward of Maiduguri Metropolitan, right inside the Maiduguri Metropolitan INEC office. The incident was also captured on video and has been circulating in the social media in the last one week.”
He said: “With these actions, it is apparent that the INEC officials that were involved in manipulating the results of the elections of 25th February 2023 are hell bent on tampering with evidence to ensure that the work of the Election Petitions Tribunal is frustrated.”
Kumaila told the INEC Chairman that: “Sir, we believe that there is collusion and conspiracy between the INEC Headquarters in Maiduguri, the Ad-Hoc staff and the Electoral officer for Mafa Local Government to commit the offence of tampering with evidence and they found the DPO Bulumkutu Police station willing to help them cover their tracks. We also believe the same level of connivance, collusion and conspiracy took place between the respective Electoral officers, the Ad-Hoc Staff and the INEC officials in the Maiduguri Head office in respect of Dikwa, Ngala, Kala Balge and Maiduguri Metropolitan Local governments, all within Borno Central Senatorial District.
“We have already petitioned the Inspector General of Police and the Director General of the Directorate of State Security Services (DSS) to investigate the matter and bring any culprits to book.
“We therefore call on you sir to undertake an urgent and independent investigation into this matter in order to fish out bad eggs from within the INEC administration who are hell bent on tarnishing the image of the electoral umpire.”
Michael Olugbode in Abuja