The National Industrial Court in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State has affirmed the sacking of an official of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) accused of tampering with the commission’s database.
The affected official, Sunday Ushie, was working in the ICT department of INEC headquarters in Uyo before INEC terminated his appointment on 7 August 2020.
INEC had discovered that Mr Ushie tampered with the commission’s database on the eve of the 2019 general elections and was engaged in the unauthorized of registered voters from different local government areas in Akwa Ibom to another and also did so to other states outside Akwa Ibom.
He was also found to be in possession of several permanent voter cards without the permission of INEC.
It is suspected that Mr Ushie may have been working in the interest of some powerful politicians in Akwa Ibom.
Mr Ushie, in November 2020, filed a suit at the National Industrial Court, Uyo, challenging the termination of his appointment with INEC.
He said his job was wrongfully terminated and, therefore, the court should order INEC to reinstate him and pay him N20 million as a relief.
But the judge, M.A. Namtari, dismissed the suit, saying that INEC was right in its decision to terminate Mr Ushie’s appointment.
Clement Onwuenwunor, SAN, defended INEC in the suit.
Mr Onwuenwunor applauded the judgement, which he said was timely, as Nigeria was about to go through another general election in 2023.
He said the court judgement will serve as a deterrence to permanent and ad hoc officials of INEC who may want to connive with politicians to compromise and sabotage the country’s electoral process.
Before Mr Ushie’s appointment was terminated, he appeared before a panel at the INEC office in Uyo and an appellate panel at the INEC headquarters in Abuja to defend himself against the allegations.
Mr Ushie, according to court documents, had admitted before the INEC panel in Uyo that “he was approached by about 200 persons resident in Abuja (for) inter-state transfer.
“He also admitted meeting some staff of Itu LGA office (in Akwa Ibom) to get the PVCs of those he had transferred.”
The panel said Mr Ushie admitted that four local government areas – Itu, Uyo, Uruan, and Etinan – were affected by his unlawful activities.
“He did the transfers without official permission through a prepared list, and photo shoots of the registrants’ PVCs. He had no less than 200 transfers. Uyo LGA had about 100 such transfers.
“He was not able to get the PVCs he wanted from Itu. However, he had distributed about 7 PVCs from Etinan. 1 or 2 PVCs in Uruan LGA. The bulk of the distribution was from Uyo LGA where he collected about 12 PVCs. The wards affected were 1, 2, 3, 4 and 7.
“He admitted being in possession of PVCs and TVCs which he voluntarily surrendered to the Panel. About 12 PVCs and 16 TVCs were retrieved from him,” the panel said in its report.
“He also admitted to have collected the sum of N5,000 only for the purchase of data for the work and was to be remunerated by his sponsors upon conclusion of the assignment. He refused to disclose how much he was offered and the identity of his sponsors,” the panel added.
Mr Ushie, in his response to a query from INEC, said his motive was merely to assist the people he knew, and not for financial gains.
“I will like to state with all humility and utmost truth that my intention regards this matter was not to circumvent the registration process but rather to exhibit my kind gesture of my esteemed offices to help those voters,” he said in his response to the query.
“I plead that justice should be tempered with mercy and disciplinary action should not be taken against me,” he begged.
There are pending court cases over two other INEC officials in Akwa Ibom who were sacked for offences related to the conduct of the 2019 elections.
One of them, a supervising officer at a local government area, was accused of handing out 10 election result sheets, form EC8A, to politicians on the eve of the elections. His action led to violence and INEC’s inability to conduct elections in the area.
The other was accused of handing over 13 card readers to a politician in the state.
A clip which trended on social media recently showed the shocking discovery of some PVCs discarded in drainage in an unidentified locality in the country.
Another clip showed some PVCs lying in some unidentified offices.
The INEC spokesperson, Festus Okoye, said the commission was investigating the clips.
“It is simple for INEC to investigate where the PVCs came from by looking at the codes on the card,” a resident in Uyo said. “Each state in Nigeria has a unique code which is different from that of other state.”