On the 31st of March, 2015, during the collation of the presidential result in Abuja, Nigerians watched, aghast, on live television as Elder Godsday Orubebe staged a protest at the INEC result collation center alleging that Prof. Attahiru Jega has been compromised. According to him, Professor Jega has been selective, partial and is tribalistic. Orubebe, who is a former Minister of Niger Delta, called for Jega to stop result collation while he sat on the stage.
Reports have it that Reuters news agency has unraveled the whole tantrum to be an alleged plot by some persons close to President Goodluck Jonathan to abduct the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Attahiru Jega, to stop him from announcing the results of the presidential election and also declaring Major-General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) as the winner of the poll.
According to Reuters, Elder Godsday Orubebe’s role was to cause a disturbance at the collation centre as a cover for the abduction of Jega.
Quoting pro-democracy advocates and an Abuja-based diplomat, the report said as Buhari closed in on Nigeria’s presidency, an aide to Jega sent a text message to an independent voting monitor, warning of an imminent threat to the electoral process.
The aide had unearthed a plot by supporters of Jonathan to disrupt the public announcement of the national election results and kidnap Jega in a bid to wreck the count.
Central to the plan, they said, were Jega’s security detail and Orubebe, a former cabinet minister from Jonathan’s Niger Delta, an area whose leaders feared a change of power would mean an end to the perks it enjoyed under Jonathan’s presidency.
After repeated phone calls and SMS from THISDAY to get Orubebe’s comment on the allegation hit a brick wall yesterday, he later responded by SMS, saying he was in a meeting.
INEC also turned down requests for an interview with Jega, whom Reuters was unable to reach independently.
However, Reuters found no evidence to suggest that Jonathan, who conceded defeat in the election, was involved. His spokesman and his party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), did not respond to requests for comment.
While the plot would likely not have changed the result, it could have unleashed fury among Buhari supporters in the north, where over 800 people were killed in rioting after his last election defeat in 2011.
But the plot’s failure enabled Nigeria to complete one of its few credible vote since independence in 1960.
According to Reuters, the plot to derail the election in its closing moments was pieced together from the text message from Jega’s aid.
When the SMS was sent, the election official, whom the sources declined to name for his own protection, hoped the outside world would hear of the plot, the text of the message made clear.
Here is the SMS sent on the morning of March 31 to Clement Nwankwo, head of the Situation Room, an Abuja-based coalition of human rights groups and democracy advocates, monitoring the polls;
“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.”
At that moment, Jega was about to preside over the announcement of results, having announced results from 18 states including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) the day before, which had given Buhari an early lead.
As tallies from around the country showed Buhari on course for a win, unidentified PDP hard-liners started to panic, seeking ways of manipulating the count, Nwankwo and the diplomat said, citing political contacts in the Delta and Abuja.
Realising they could not engineer an outright win, PDP agents set about doctoring the tally at collation centres in pro-Jonathan areas to ensure Buhari failed to meet a requirement for 25 per cent in two thirds of the states, Nwankwo said, citing reports from election monitors on the ground.
A Reuters reporter witnessed and photographed one tally list in Port Harcourt 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. US Secretary of State John Kerry and his British counterpart Philip Hammond – 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 Delta, including Orubebe, decided on a final gamble: to create a disturbance in the collation hall and have thugs snatch Jega from the stage, according to Nwankwo and the Abuja-based diplomat.
What the group planned to do after the abduction is unclear, the diplomat and Nwankwo said, but the confusion could have triggered nationwide violence.
“It was a desperate thing, mostly by a group of people from the Niger Delta who were in the room,”
Nwankwo 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 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.”
Meanwhile, Jega’s security detail was approached by unidentified individuals telling them to stand down, according to Nwankwo and the diplomat. But the bodyguards refused.
“Some of the guards who had been guarding Jega for years demanded a written order,” Nwankwo said. “But it didn’t exist.”
Jega then rebuked Orubebe:
“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.
Later on, Orubebe congratulated Buhari on Twitter, expressing his “apologies to fellow Nigerians”.