Prof Pat Utomi, Convener and Chairman of The Big Tent Coalition of Civil society organisations, and political parties, for Obi-Datti 2023, has called for a review of the ballots in 12 states across the federation where voting took place during the Saturday, 25th February 2023 presidential election.
Utomi, a Professor of Political Economy and founder of the Centre for Value in Leadership, made the call on Friday at a press conference in Lagos.
The Big Tent Coalition leader, who listed some of the states to include Rivers, Plateau, Benue, Lagos, Bayelsa, Bauchi, and Nasarawa, among others, alleged that there was massive irregularities across the country during the last week president election such as manipulation of results, violence, intimidation and outright disenfranchisement of voters, and non-compliance on the part of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) with its own laid down guidelines for the polls.
Utomi warned that if the review is not transparently done to bring justice as soon as possible, then a court action would be pursued to ensure the true winner of the election emerges.
He further stated that where reversing the rigging and pronouncing the true winner becomes difficult for the electoral management body, outright cancellation of the election becomes imperative.
He charged the electoral body to ensure that the enthusiasm which Nigerians exhibited during the February 25 presidential election was allowed to flow through to March 11, with an assurance of free, fair, transparent and credible elections.
Utomi’s call comes as opposition political parties including the two leading presidential candidates have rejected the outcome of the presidential election which produced Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC) as winner and subsequently declared the president-elect by the INEC national chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, on March 1, 2023.
Tinubu has also been issued a certificate of return by the electoral umpire despite the outrage expressed by those who felt the electoral process was flawed.
Utomi thanked Nigerians for their resolve and determination to actively participate in the election which witnessed unprecedented turnout despite intimidation and violence visited on them by thugs, noting that it was a milestone achievement in the nation’s democractic system and a sign that they were tired of the system that seek to push them into serfdom and now desire a new order.
He stated that within just nine months he welcomed Mr Peter Obi into a movement of the Third Force it became a rallying point of revolutionary order for overhauling the seemingly corrupt political system, causing panic among the traditional political class.
He said that Labour Party which Peter Obi became its presidential candidate, was built with grinding effort of the Nigerian Labour Congress, the Trade Union Congress, the New Fabian Society of the Concerned Professionals and a potpourri of Civil Society Organisations.
According to him, the party was “built on hope, deep concerns for the dignity of all Nigerians, a special care for women, young people and a desire for inclusion, especially of the not so enabled.”
He added that despite being laughed at as having only four men tweeting in a room, the Obi candidacy, within six months, unleashed a movement that generated panic in the traditional politic class.
He said the development was due to the activities of young people who felt misgoverned and subjected to all kinds of abuses by the public authority meant to protect their interest.
“They wanted their PVCs to make the point that needed to be made and our country experienced a surge in new voter registration. The pensioners and middle class followed the path throde by the youth in this country in which the median age is 18.2 years and the vast majority of the population is youthful,” Utomi stated.
He further noted that the support for Obi by those that came to be known as ‘Obidients’ cut across ethnic, religious and economic groups, but they were bounded by a common belief that a new Nigeria is possible.
“Nigeria will not be the same again because of the faith shown by Obidients who came of different ethnic, religious and economic class configurations. They simply believed a new Nigeria was possible. This is victory and for me a personal triumph. My life’s work evidently is approaching its epogy and I am thankful to God for that.”
Utomi encouraged Nigerians not to get tired as a result of what happened, noting that the only way to concretize the success built so far was for them to make more effort by showing up on Saturday, March 11 and voting massively for Labour Party.
“The only way to concretize these gains is not to get tired or distracted as those who have reduced Nigeria to a criminal enterprise would want. These include a massive turnout at the election of March 11 as voting “Mama, Papa, Pikin” to paint Nigeria Labour,” he said.
While bemoaning the irregularities that occured on the day of the presidential election, Utomi said some state governors brazenly interfered with the voting process to make their preferred candidate win against the will of the people.
He said the group would forward the list of “Governor, other elected officials and their henchmen involved in electoral malpractice to the International Criminal Court and demand prosecution with strong sentence or conviction.”
He also condemned security officials who looked the other way while massive rigging took place and violence visited on harmless voter who simply came out to exercise their franchise.
Utomi also accused INEC of lacking in transparency and accountability, noting that it “cannot regain the confidence of the world if it continues down that path.”
“There are far too many accusations on the streets on such matters as the conflicted nature of the supplier of the BVAS machines in whose offices we were once alerted were raided by the police and how one of the candidates has a commercial stake in the firm. There is also talk about the role of a company which was engaged in collecting biometric details in several states of the federation and whose officials from outside of the country arrived just before the elections and were seen hurriedly departing shortly after.”
While stressing that accountability is the essence of the democratic process, which centres on respect for the will of the people, Utomi maintained that INEC must, like Caesar’s wife, be ever beyond reproach.
He called on the electoral body “to provide us guaranties of BVAS, what system they will use on March 11 and the general integrity of elections in Nigeria. But before that we want to urge INEC to show good faith and not wipe their server of the activities of February 25 in the excuse of having it ready for March 11. We also want to request that they administratively begin a review of the vote in 12 states with a procedure we shall produce that can bring sunlight into February 25. All we seek is sunlight. We accuse none and come with malice towards none but are assured that our children will have better tomorrow if we ensure that sunlight and transparency define our electoral ways.”
In the event that the system fails to redress the shortcomings, he said it would not be the “usual foul cry that comes with sore losers in Nigerian elections.”
“All we want is the truth made bold by sunshine. Once that shows the truth, I will be first to celebrate the winner, whoever they may be and call in for congratulations. To remove light is to keep Nigerians in traumatized mental health situation where most of them are right now. We pray with all compatriots to cheer up and act rather than suppress emotions, and become sick from such. Victory comes to those who seek God’s face and I am confident it is coming. We do not desire to be triumphalist but to triumph in truth. Man has be given this by God in due season and that season is now,” he said.
He lamented about the lack of consequences for negative actions during elections, noting that such has emboldened politicians who have made it a tradition to visit violence on the citizens, prevent them from voting and manipulate their votes every election season. “This is why the pattern resurfaces every four years. We insist that since our justice system seems to fail us, supranational institutions need to kick in,” he advocated.
“We also charge the system to hold accountable security people on whose watch violence and rigging have been allowed. We invite evidence which is plentiful against these men and women for consequences beginning with ostracisation to trials, naming and shaming,” he added.
The Big Tent Chairman also charged the Labour Party supporters to make next week Saturday election different from the last one, adding that “If INEC cannot assure that, its leadership must step down and move aside.”
“We seek the same law enforcement agencies. Self-preservation is the first law of nature. If the leviathan cannot preserve life and property, if the state of nature beckons, then people will prefer to defend themselves. I believe in the biblical injunction of turning the other cheek if you are slapped, but if the one who slapped is a sadist who continues to enjoy striking the other cheek, the nuclear deterrence thesis of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) may become the path to peace,” he stated.