Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate in the Borno Central Senatorial election, Hon. Muhammed Kumaila has alleged that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) are still thump printing ballot papers, a month after election.
Kumaila who said this amounted to destroying and tampering with evidence that would be presented before the Election Petitions Tribunal, alleged that some adhoc staff of the commission in Borno were caught thumb printing and stuffing ballot boxes within the premises of Borno office of INEC in Maiduguri last Wednesday almost a month after the Presidential and National Assembly elections were held.
Addressing journalists in Abuja on Saturday, Kumaila said following the outcome of the National Assembly election, where he lost to the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Kaka Shehu Lawal, he had filed a petition before the Election Petitions Tribunal sitting in Maiduguri.
He added that he subsequently obtained a court order to inspect materials used for the elections, which he said included the ballot boxes, used and unused ballot papers as well as obtain Certified True Copies of the result and collation sheets among others.
When contacted, Head of Department, Voter Education and Publicity, Abba Liberty, said the issue was beyond him.
“I am not in a position to respond. I think you should contact the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC). I have restrictions to what I can respond to please. That is the nature of my work and that is my stand”, he stated.
Kumaila, however, disclosed that while his team of lawyers were undertaking the inspection of materials on March 22, 2023, they discovered some INEC ad-hoc staff sorting out, rearranging and counting ballot papers and stuffing them in different ballot boxes in respect of Mafa, Kala Balge and Dikwa Local Governments.
He said: “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 March, 23, 2023, our inspectors this time around caught red handed two ad-hoc staff actually thumbprinting 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 papers that were thumb printed and the indelible ink they used.
“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 them. 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.”
Kumaila explained that since the ballot and results sheets would serve as evidence in court, any attempt by any official, permanent or adhoc to thumb print or move ballot papers from one ballot box to another after the elections have been concluded amounts to tampering with evidence.
He added: “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 to the officials of the Maiduguri INEC office 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 and that we should go to the police station at Mafa Local Government to complain, ostensibly forgetting that they had a day earlier informed our team that the case will be transferred to the Maiduguri CID department. The action of the DPO 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 the suspects were released to and also 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, concealing and aiding of crime as well as tampering with evidence.
We have video evidence of the suspects when they were caught thumbprinting the ballot papers.
He urged the Inspector General of Police and the Director General, Department of State security Service (DSS) to immediately direct investigation into this matter with a view to apprehending the culprits and prosecuting them in accordance with the law.
He said the IGP should direct the Borno State Commissioner of Police to arrest the two ad-hoc staff of INEC by names that were caught thumb printing and stuffing ballot boxes in respect of Mafa local government right inside the premises of INEC office in Maiduguri.
He also urged security agencies to investigate the culpability of the INEC officials that caused the release of the suspects and also took back the ballot papers and indelible ink that were handed over to the police as exhibit.