Hon. Muhammad Kumaila, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate for the Borno Central Senate seat, has claimed that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is still thumbprinting ballot sheets in its storage facility, less than a month after the 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 thumbprinting and stuffing ballot boxes within the premises of the Borno office of INEC in Maiduguri last Wednesday, nearly a month after the Presidential and National Assembly elections.
Saturday, while addressing journalists in Abuja, Kumaila stated that he had filed a petition with the Election Petitions Tribunal in Maiduguri in response to the outcome of the National Assembly election, which he lost to All Progressives Party (APC) candidate Kaka Shehu Lawal.
He stated that he subsequently secured a court order to check election materials, including the vote boxes, used and unused ballot papers, and Certified True Copies of the election results and collation sheets, among others.
Abba Liberty, head of the Department of Voter Education and Publicity, stated that he had no knowledge of the matter when approached.
“I am now unable to react. I believe you should call the local election commissioner (REC). There are limitations to what I can respond to. This is the nature of my profession and my position “, he declared.
Kumaila said that while his team of lawyers was conducting the inspection of materials on March 22, 2023, they noticed INEC ad-hoc personnel sorting, rearranging, and counting ballot papers for Mafa, Kala Balge, and Dikwa Local Governments and stuffing them into different ballot boxes.
He said: “Our inspectors promptly raised alarm and accordingly reported the event to the Borno State Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) (REC). They brought to the attention of the REC that the conduct of the Ad-Hoc employees constitute evidence tampering. The REC reassured our team that the Ad Hoc Staff were merely reorganising the documents that had been dumped on them by the respective Local Government Election Officers who had brought the materials from the local governments. Even though the explanation did not satisfy us, we gave them the benefit of the doubt and continued the inspection.
“The next day, on Thursday, March 23, 2023, our inspectors found two ad-hoc personnel thumbprinting vote papers and inserting them into ballot boxes for Mafa Local Government on the premises of the INEC office in Maiduguri, much to our astonishment. Our Inspectors promptly detained the two employees involved in thumb printing and stuffing ballot boxes and transported them to the Bulumkutu Police Station together with the thumb-printed ballot papers and indelible ink.
“We were astonished that no official from the INEC office in Maiduguri accompanied our team to the police station to ensure the arrest of the ad-hoc personnel and investigate any potential offences.
“The police arrested the complainant and the two ad hoc employees after taking their statements. They also asked the Mafa Local Government Electoral Officer, who took the materials to the INEC office in Maiduguri from Mafa Local Government, to make a statement. The authorities at Bulumkutu Police Station instructed our team to return the following day so that the matter could be transferred to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) in Maiduguri for further investigation and prosecution.”
Kumaila noted that because ballots and results sheets serve as evidence in court, any attempt by a permanent or ad hoc official to thumbprint or shift ballot papers from one vote box to another after the elections have completed constitutes tampering with evidence.
He added: “The next day, when our team arrived at the police station as requested for the case to be transferred to the CID, the DPO informed our team that the suspects had been released to the officials of the INEC office in Maiduguri, and that the ballot papers and indelible ink (Exhibits) had been returned to the INEC office in Maiduguri.
“They opined that the matter did not fall under their jurisdiction and suggested that we file a complaint at the Mafa Local Government police station, apparently forgetting that they had informed our team the day before that the case would be moved to the Maiduguri CID. The DPO’s actions constitute obstruction of justice and failing to carry out his legal responsibilities.
“Who are the INEC officials to whom the suspects were released and who also collected the bundles of ballot papers from the police station and delivered them to the INEC office? Those INEC officials who collected the ballots from the police station and delivered them to the INEC headquarters are equally culpable as the Ad-Hoc employees who were caught thumbprinting the ballots. Hence, it is evident that INEC officials and the DPO are involved in the suppression, concealment, and facilitation of crime as well as the manipulation of evidence.
We have video footage of the accused thumbprinting ballots when they were captured.
He encouraged the Inspector General of Police and the Director General of the Department of State Security Service (DSS) to quickly launch an inquiry into this incident with the goal of apprehending the perpetrators and prosecuting them according to the law.
He stated that the IGP should urge the Borno State Commissioner of Police to apprehend the two INEC staff members who were seen thumb printing and stuffing vote boxes for Mafa local government within the INEC office in Maiduguri.
In addition, he requested security authorities to probe the INEC officials responsible for the suspects’ release and reclaimed the ballots and indelible ink that were given to the police as evidence.