Fresh facts have emerged on the March 31 attempt by a former Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Elder Godsday Orubebe, to scuttle the announcement of the March 28 presidential election results.
The main part of Orubebe’s action, according to Reuters on Thursday, was a plot to use hired thugs to kidnap the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Prof. Attahiru Jega, and consequently stall the electoral process.
The news agency quoted unnamed pro-democracy advocates and a Nigeria-based diplomat as saying that one of Jega’s aides unearthed the plot.
It said that the aide had sent a text message to an independent voting monitor, “warning of an imminent threat to the electoral process.”
Reuters said it pieced the information together from the text message, events on the ground during the announcement of the results and interviews with pro-democracy advocates and diplomats in Abuja.
It added that when the independent voting monitor sent the SMS, he hoped the outside world would hear of the plot and the text of the message .
“Fellow countrymen, Nigeria on Trial,” read the SMS sent on the morning of March 31 to the head of the Situation Room, an Abuja-based coalition of human rights groups and pro-democracy advocates monitoring the elections.
“Plans are on storm [sic] the podium at the ICC Collation Centre and disrupt the process. Nobody is sue [sic] what will happen. Please share this as widely as possible,” the text read further.
At that moment, Jega was about to preside over the announcement of the results.
As tallies from around the country showed that the All Progressives Congress candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, was leading, “unidentified PDP(Peoples Democratic Party) hard-liners started to panic, seeking ways of manipulating the count,” the boss of the Situation Room and the diplomat said, citing political contacts in the Niger Delta and Abuja.
Realising they could not engineer an outright win, the PDP agents set about doctoring the tally at collation centres in pro- (Goodluck) Jonathan areas to ensure Buhari failed to meet a requirement for 25 per cent support in two-thirds of the states, the head of the Situation Room said, citing reports from election monitors on the ground.
Reuters said its reporter witnessed and photographed one tally list in Port Harcourt, Rivers State with suspiciously similar totals for registered voters at polling stations: 500, 500, 500, 500, 500, 500, 500, 500, 450.
In another tally centre in the city, 17,594 valid votes were recorded out of a registered voter population of 11,757, the Reuters reporter said.
Foreign election observers also noted the peculiarities – and contacted diplomats in Abuja who called in international intervention.
The United States Secretary of State, John Kerry, and his British counterpart, Philip Hammond, who were in Switzerland for talks on Iran – issued a tough statement saying vote counting “may be subject to deliberate political interference.”
But as Buhari’s lead grew, some PDP supporters from the Niger Delta, including Orubebe, decided on a final gamble: to create a disturbance in the main INEC hall and have “thugs snatch Jega from the stage, Reuters quoted the Head of the Situation Room and the Abuja-based diplomat.
What the group planned to do after the abduction was unclear, they said.
“It was a desperate thing, mostly by a group of people from the Niger Delta who were in the room,” the Situation Room head said, describing events that unfolded publicly in the minutes after he received the SMS.
When Jega opened proceedings on the morning of March 31, Orubebe had grabbed a microphone and launched into an 11-minute tirade accusing Jega of bias.
“Mr. chairman, we have lost confidence in you,” he shouted, pushing away officials trying to make him surrender the microphone. “You are being very, very selective. You are partial,” he continued, surrounded by three or four supporters. “You are tribalistic. We cannot take it.”
At this point, according to the Head of the Situation Room and the diplomat, Jega’s security details were approached by unidentified individuals telling them to stand down but they declined.
“Some of the guards who had been guarding Jega for years demanded a written order,” the Head of the Situation Room said.
Jega later rebuked Orubebe, saying, “Let us not disrupt a process that has ended peacefully,” he said as Orubebe slumped in his chair.
“Mr. Orubebe, you are a former minister of the Federal Republic. You are a statesman in your own right. You should be careful about what you say or about what allegations you make,” he said.
Orubebe later congratulated Buhari on Twitter, expressing his “apologies to fellow Nigerians.”
Orubebe did not respond to requests by the news agency for comment on the details of the plot.
INEC, said the news agency, also declined to comment and turned down requests for an interview with Jega,
Reuters however said it found no evidence to suggest that Jonathan, who accepted defeat in the election, was involved in the plot.
The Chief Press Secretary to the chairman of the commission, Kayode Idowu, told our correspondent that he was not aware of the alleged plot to kidnap Jega.
Idowu said, “I think somebody is imagining here. The chairman was not aware of any such plan, he didn’t conduct any investigation to know that. He was not under such threat during or after the announcement.’’