The Joint Investigation Panel, which probed the legislative elections in Rivers State, alleged that the state government bribed officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission with N360m to rig the poll.
The panel stated that it recovered N111.3m from 23 INEC officials, who confessed to have received the money from the Rivers State Government officials to manipulate the December 10, 2016 rerun polls in the state.
The panel, which presented its findings at the Force Headquarters, Abuja, on Tuesday, indicted six dismissed police operatives for misconduct and misuse of arms during the polls, contrary to the provisions of Force Order 237.
The officers – ex-Inspector Eyong Victor, ex-Sgts. Peter Ekpo, Oguni Goodluck, Orji Nwoke, Okpe Ezekiel and Tanko Akor – had been dismissed by the Force.
The errant operatives were said to have stormed the Port Harcourt City Council Secretariat and prevented the movement of election results of Emouha polling unit to the appropriate collation centre designated by INEC in disobedience to senior officers present.
The Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, inaugurated the panel on December 22, 2016, following the violence that rocked the poll in which Mohammed Alkali, a Deputy Superintendent of Police, and his driver were beheaded and their heads thrown into a river.
The panel, which comprised 12 officers of the Nigeria Police Force and three from the Department of State Services, was mandated to investigate the various infractions, incidents, and violence that marred the rerun elections in Rivers State and any relevant matter.
The panel attributed the violence during the election to lawlessness and leadership failure.
Speaking during the presentation, the panel chairman, DCP Damian Okoro, said, “The sum of N111,300,000 was recovered from 23 INEC officials.
Okoro said, “Three INEC officials said they met with Wike and that the Rivers State government gave them money. Out of N350m, N15m was given to each of the electoral officers and N5m was added by the government of Rivers to the EOs who were in charge.
“Consequently, the sum of N111,300,000 was recovered by the panel from the 23 electoral officers.”
Okoro said the committee established cases of misconduct against some electoral officers and law enforcement agents, who, according to him, allowed themselves to be compromised in their line of duties.
He stated that violent crimes, such as armed robbery, kidnapping and politically-motivated killings by militants and cult groups enjoyed the funding and protection of desperate politicians in the state.
He said, “These lawless elements target not only the political opponents of their sponsors but also law enforcement agents, especially the police, mostly within the Ogba/Ndoni/Egbema Local Government Area which is the axis of evil of cultism.
“The violence that occurred in Rivers State before, during and after the rerun elections was a reflection of lawlessness and leadership failure of narrow -minded politicians and their gullible supporters.
“Oftentimes, politicians make inflammatory statements that incite their supporters to avoidable violence that leads to the destruction of lives and properties and eruption of violence.”
He complained that Wike refused to cooperate with the panel.
The IG said the panel findings and recommendations report would be forwarded to the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, for implementation, adding that the indicted INEC officials would be prosecuted.
He said, “I see no reason why a rerun election will lead to the beheading of our officers, who were there to do their lawful duties. I believe that the report will go a long way to put an end to individuals seeing election as a do-or-die affair.
“We will take appropriate actions in conjunction with the law officer of the federation, the Attorney General of the Federation, in order to put an end to most of the abuse and electoral violence in this country.”
On the status of those indicted, Idris stated that they would be prosecuted as public officials.
“We are going to forward the report and our recommendations to the Attorney General of the Federation,” he added.
Commenting on the recovered money, Idris said it would be returned to government treasury.
“From the confession of those the money was recovered from, they said the money was from the state government. I can assure you that from here, the money will go into government treasury because this is a recovery on the basis of an investigation conducted.
“Six police officers were indicted and they have already been dismissed and I can assure you that they would also be charged to court,” he explained.
He dismissed insinuations that the probe was targeted at Wike, noting that it was open and transparent.
The police boss said, “The investigation was open and very transparent. We wrote to the governor, they (panel members) went to meet him but in his own wisdom, he refused to cooperate. We believe that what determines the outcome of this report is the transparency and the goodwill.
“Whoever that is involved has been arrested and isolating the governor will be a disservice to this country. The report should be seen as a corrective measure. Those indicted cut across different classes of life.”
Indicted commission staff risk dismissal
Meanwhile, there were strong indications on Tuesday that INEC would embark on mass sacking in the agency, especially of persons indicted for the bribery saga involving INEC officials.
Investigations revealed that the Chairman of the Commission, Prof. Mahmud Yakubu, was embittered by the findings of a police panel set up by the IG, which said it recovered N111.3m from 23 INEC officials.
A top official of the commission, who confided in one of our correspondents, said Yakubu was determined to ensure that anybody indicted for corruption was asked to leave the commission.
The source added, “We have seen the money the police have displayed; it is very sad. This thing has to do with the reputation of the commission and it is a serious issue.
“This thing is going to cause a lot of earthquake. Even within INEC, the chairman is so determined about it. If anybody is found culpable, that person is gone.
“There are two committees investigating these things and the two committees are still sitting.”
However, the commission, in its official reaction to the police findings, described the money recovered from the INEC personnel as a welcome development.
The Chief Press Secretary the Chairman of INEC, Mr. Rotimi Oyekanmi, said in a text message on Tuesday that while the commission had not received the report, the police findings would aid the leadership of the commission to purge the system.
Oyekanmi stated, “Although INEC is yet to formally receive a report from the Police on its investigation into the Rivers rerun elections, the revelation that money was allegedly recovered from INEC officials is a welcome development.
“This will help the commission in its current effort to clean up the system. Already, our internal panel is also continuing with its investigation on the same issue, and anybody found culpable will face appropriate sanctions.
“The INEC Chairman has reiterated that any INEC staff found doing the wrong thing will bear the consequences.
“We hope that the Police will also reveal all the other parties involved in the bribe saga.”
Prove bribery claim, Rivers tells police
But the Rivers State Government has described the claim by the police panel that the Rivers State Government financially induced officials of INEC as shameful, defamatory and reckless.
The State Commissioner for Information and Communication, Dr. Austin Tam-George, challenged the police to prove that Governor Nyesom Wike bribed INEC workers to rig the December 10, 2016 legislative rerun polls.
Tam-George, in a statement on Tuesday, also challenged the Nigeria Police Force to prosecute and imprison the electoral officers indicted by the panel without delay, even as he described the police investigation as dubious.
He stated, “The attention of the Rivers State Government has been drawn to the melodramatic images of heaps of cash, circulated in the media by the so-called police panel of inquiry into the rerun elections in Rivers State on December 10, 2016.
“According to the Police, the heaps of money were ‘evidence’ of bribes allegedly given to officials of INEC by the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, during the rerun polls.
“We consider the allegations of the Police as shameful, defamatory and reckless in the extreme. Never in the annals of infamy have we seen a vital state security institution descend to the lowest depths of blackmail and criminality as the Nigeria Police Force has done in this case.
“The Rivers State Government challenges the Nigeria Police to show proof that Governor Wike financially induced any official of INEC. Do the Police have bank records of the purported transactions between Governor Wike and the electoral officers?
“We challenge the Nigeria Police to move quickly to prosecute and imprison the so-called electoral officers on the basis of this dubious investigation. We strongly believe that the police panel is part of a bitter, politically-driven smear campaign launched by the Federal Government against Governor Wike and the people of Rivers State.”