In defence of the jailed election rigging professor

 In defence of the jailed election rigging professor

By Dons Eze, PhD

Everybody is now condemning Peter Ogban, a Professor of Soil Science at the University of Calabar, who the other day, was convicted and sentenced to three years inprisonment, with a fine of N100,000 by an Akwa Ibom State High Court, for manipulating election results.

What Peter Ogban did was bad. He had committed a big offence, an unpardonable crime, therefore, he must be punished severely. Nobody should sympathize with him, not even the person, and the political party he worked for. Peter Ogban is a disgrace to his high calling as a towering academic, everybody seems now to be saying.

The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) said that Professor Peter Ogban worked for Godswill Akpabio, a former governor of Akwa Ibom State, who was the Senatorial Candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), in the 2019 general election, and they mocked Akpabio and his political party.

Professor Peter Ogban who was the returning officer for the Akwa Ibom North West Senatorial election in the 2019 general election, was said to have manipulated the results of two local government areas, Oruk Anam and Etim Ekpo.

He was alleged to have earlier told the court that the results of that election were falsified to give the All Progressives Congress (APC) an unfair advantage over the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), where, for instance, 5,000 fake votes were added to the APC’s score in Oruk Anam. He pleaded for mercy, but the court refused his plea, and sentenced him accordingly.

But Godswill Akpabio, now Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, who was the APC Senatorial candidate in that election, said that Professor Ogban did not work for him. Rather, Peter Ogban worked for Chris Ekpenyong, a former deputy governor of Akwa Ibom State, who was the PDP Senatorial Candidate, and that was why he, Akpabio, was declared loser of the election.

In a statement by his spokesperson, Akpabio stated that “in their desperation in a continuing campaign of calumny against Senator Akpabio, the INEC in Akwa Ibom State twisted the context of the judgment and maliciously claimed that the election was rigged in favour of Senator Akpabio. Nothing could be further from the truth. The facts of the case put a lie to this assertion.

“Contrarily, Senator Akpabio was a victim of the fraudulent manipulation of the election of Akwa Ibom North West Senatorial District held on 23rd February 2019. He is vindicated that the perpetrators of the electoral fraud are being brought to justice. At last, the chickens are coming home to roost”, the statement read in part.

Professor Ogban is now standing alone. He has been used and dumped. The PDP has rejected him, and the APC would not own him. Nobody wants him anymore, or to association with him. That is the fate of a failure, which is an orphan, with no father and no mother. It is now the fate of Peter Ogban.

But Professor Peter Ogban was a victim of our unjust social, political and economic system. It is a system that does not recognize hard work, but short cut; a system that worships wealth rather than excellence; a system that accords more honour and respect to a local government councillor than to a university professor, and where the latter worships and takes command from the former.

Professor Peter Ogban did not do what many other Nigerian professors have not done in many of the elections held in Nigeria. They were all in the same boat, changed or manipulated election results.The only difference is that Peter Ogban was unlucky to have been taken to court by INEC and convicted, while the crimes of other professors have been overlooked.

If Peter Ogban was not dragged to court over what happened in Akwa Ibom State during the 2019 Senatorial election, he would still have been walking the streets, a free man just like many of his other colleagues who served as returning officers in our various elections, from the Presidency down to the least position. But Peter Ogban is a guinea pig. He is an unfortunate victim of Nigeria’s flawed elections.

Professor Attahiru Jega, former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), in a bid to convince us that his commission was conducting credible and transparent elections, decided to put lid on our eyes, by importing university dons to start announcing election results, which he thought would make us to believe that they were conducting flawless elections.

Professor Jega believed that once election results were announced by university professors, nobody would question their credibility. Then, we all would be clapping and hailing the electoral umpire for the excellent work they were doing. That was how Nigerian university professors have become part of our elections.

But who would be fooling who? The credibility or transparency of any election exercise does not necessarily lie on who reads out already prepared texts, which as we often see, most of our erudite professors always battled very hard to read out, because they were not the authors of such prepared texts.

Election is not a one-day event that begins and ends with announcement of collated figures, which often have been at variance, or not related to the situation on the ground.

Election is a long process of events, which starts from the laws establishing the electoral body, laws stipulating the modalities for conducting the election, demarcation of constituencies or electoral wards, registration of voters, what roles for election officials and the security agencies, the courts, and even the government, masquerading under various forms, etc. We then marry these with the value system prevalent in the society.

No doubt, Professor Peter Ogban must have found himself trapped in such a complex system. So, let’s not be too harsh in judging him.

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