The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) caucus in the Senate Thursday accused the Department of State Security (DSS) of meddling in the election petition cases in Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Abia States, saying its actions were dangerous for democracy.
The senators therefore called on President Muhammadu Buhari to promptly call the Director General of DSS, Mr. Lawal Daura, to order and stop the alleged harassment and intimidation of officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) who conducted the elections in the states by the DSS.
Briefing journalists in the National Assembly yesterday, the PDP senators who were led by the Minority Leader and former Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Senator Godswill Akpabio, he described the situation as worrisome.
He also said a situation where INEC officials in the affected three states were being arrested, questioned and detained over politically motivated allegations of compromise could spell doom for this democracy unless it is quickly checked.
Akpabio added that no democracy could survive anywhere in the world without allowing a viable opposition to thrive.
“INEC is supposed to be an independent commission and its officials ought to be shielded from partisanship. It is on this grounds that we condemn in particular what is happening in Akwa Ibom, Rivers and Abia States, where election umpires are arrested daily, their families and associates hounded and judicial officers involved in election tribunals intimidated and questioned using trumped up petitions bordering on corruption.
“Yet, these officials were part of the 2015 elections that produced President Buhari, an election adjudged to be generally free and fair by the international community.
“We plead with the president to stop this operation capture Akwa Ibom, Rivers and Abia States by all means by certain APC schemers,” Akpabio said.
The PDP caucus further advised the DSS to concentrate on the recovery of captured territories by Boko Haram in the North-east instead of meddling in electoral matters.
“At the nation’s period of renewed onslaught by terrorists and Boko Haram in the North-east, PDP Senators urge the DSS DG to channel his capacity towards recovering lost territories rather than meddling in electoral matters. We expect security agencies to deploy their assets and manpower towards recovering lost territories and ensuring the safety and security of lives and property of all Nigerians.
“We condemn these arrests, describe them as illegal, a total misplacement of priority, a waste of tax payers’ money at an economically challenging time, and a serious threat to democracy,” he added.
The PDP senators also accused the government of Buhari of selective justice in the ongoing war against corruption, saying the war was specifically targeted at PDP stalwarts, adding: “The current war lacks transparency and fairness to all and appears to be aimed at political adversaries.”
However, Daura, has dismissed the allegations of undue interference in the Rivers State governorship elections’ petitions before the tribunal as spurious, unfounded and frivolous.
The DSS DG who stated this while appearing before the Senate Committee on Ethics and Public Petitions in response to a petition to the committee by members of Rivers State House of Assembly, said the DSS only acted on a petition it received from the All Progressives Congress (APC) on July 15 over various allegations.
The petition, he said, alleged that some staff of INEC led by the Rivers State Resident Electoral Commission (REC), Ms. Gesila Khan, refused to release official documents used for March 28 and April 11 elections in the state when requested.
He said the petition further said INEC officials refused to allow forensic inspection of election materials in disobedience to a lawful order of the tribunal, adding that some INEC directors from the headquarters directed INEC officials to approach police stations and make claims of loss of sensitive materials.
He also said the petition alleged that members of PDP attempted to pour water and chemicals on requested documents or set the INEC office on fire and consequently requested for INEC officials found culpable in the incident to be prosecuted.
According to him, DSS commenced investigation into the allegation with a view to avoiding threat to national security, sabotage and also ascertaining the claim of criminal infraction, noting that the DSS is empowered to investigate, prevent and detect any threat to law and order.
He denied inviting any member of the Rivers State Elections Petitions Tribunal for questioning over their handling of petitions before them, insisting that those making the allegation of harassment of members of the tribunal should provide evidence of their allegations.
He added: “Further, while it is true that the of Rivers State REC and some of her staff were orally invited to assist the service in its investigation, neither she nor any of her staff was arrested or detained as alleged.
“It is necessary to clarify that the service is quite within its right to extend an oral invitation to anyone who maybe in a position to assist it in its investigation and all responsible persons would have no qualms about responding positively to such invitation.”
The DG was represented at the meeting by Godwin Etim, the Director of Operations in the DSS.
But some senators in the meeting said the DSS went too far by getting itself involved in a matter before the tribunal, saying they should have allowed the relevant agencies to investigate matters of criminal allegations if indeed that was its interest.
The committee said if necessary, it would invite all parties to the petition again with a view to ensuring that everyone is given a fair hearing.
However, in his reaction to the allegation by PDP senators, the Chairman, Senate ad-hoc Committee on Media, Senator Dino Melaye, said the opposition senators were just crying foul where there was none.
He also said it was shocking for the PDP to start complaining that the DSS was against its members, alleging that the agency was merely an appendage of the PDP when it was in power.
But the position of PDP Senate caucus received some support from the party when it called on the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to also in the spirit of fairness beam its current anti-corruption searchlight on politicians in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), including former Governors of Lagos and Rivers states, Bola Tinubu and Chibuike Amaechi respectively.
Speaking during the visit of the leadership of the PDP Senate caucus led by Akpabio, the acting National Chairman, Chief Uche Secondus, drew the attention of the president to the one-sided arrests and prosecution currently being undertaken by the EFCC.
Secondus decried what he described as the selective witch-hunt of PDP chieftains who served in the President Goodluck Jonathan administration, stressing that the anti-corruption crusade should not be selective and only against PDP members.
“We also appeal to Mr. President to intervene, as statistics has so far shown clearly that the EFCC has only arrested members of our party and those who have served in government before. But there are APC governors, members of the APC who have served in various governments and have been left alone.
“We believe that if a government is very serious on the anti-corruption war, it cannot be one sided, it cannot be selective, it should holistic,” he said.
The acting chairman noted that though PDP was in support of the anti-corruption posture of President Buhari, “it should be not be made as if APC members who served in the last administration were all clean”.
Though Secondus did not expatiate on details or particulars of allegations against Tinubu or Amaechi, he maintained that using security agencies to hound only PDP chieftains defeats democratic tenets and the spirit of the anti-corruption crusade.
When asked to specifically explain when he talked of allegations against the ex-governors of Lagos and Rivers States, Secondus said PDP wants EFFCC to go after Tinubu and Amaechi if indeed it is serious about fighting corruption in the country.
“Therefore let’s use this medium to ask: Are members of the APC who were governors before clean? Have they given them a clean bill of health? Or is this aimed at making sure that PDP doesn’t exist as an opposition party?
“They should visit their APC governors. We have seen on the pages of newspapers allegations from Lagos State and Rivers State on the ex- governors. What is the EFCC doing on those allegations on the pages of newspapers,” he asked.
Secondus also urged PDP members nationwide not to be cowed but to remain committed to playing opposition politics.
“Statistics show clearly that EFCC has only arrested members of our party who had served the previous government but there are APC members, governors who served in the same regime and have been left alone. We believe the anti-corruption crusades cannot be one-sided.
“Have the members of the APC who served in the last government been given a clean bill of health even though we have seen petitions against these former government holders of the APC extraction,” he said.
On the dispute between the party’s National Working Committee (NWC) and its workers, particularly the alleged misappropriation of party funds, Secondus said it was not true that the amount realised from sale of forms and expression of interest forms during last the last elections amounted to N12 billion, stating it was about N11 billion.
He said in accordance with the PDP constitution, the money was shared between the state, local government and the zones.
“We did not open any private account. From the sales of forms, we raised a little over N11 billion to be shared among the national, states and zones. We gave state chapters 10 per cent; local government and zones 5 per cent each; 15 percent for people on assignment, while the rest was used for the elections. We raised the money and we used the money for the elections, there was no embezzlement or fraud,” he said.
He assured the PDP Senate caucus of the continued support of the party’s leadership.
Also, Akpabio noted with joy that the PDP Staff Welfare Committee dispatched an apology to the NWC, but advised its members to remain humble so as not to be seen as being recalcitrant or working against the party.
He explained that after listening to the NWC, they supported the need to downsize the staff strength, and advised the staff not to externalise the matter.
Meanwhile the PDP has said it started addressing the dispute with its staff.
In a statement signed by the National Director of Administration, Alhaji. Gurama Bawa, PDP said an agreement had been reached with the staff to stop all further adverse actions.
“Following the misunderstanding between the Staff Welfare Committee and members of the National Working Committee of the Peoples Democratic Party over a circular released by the NWC on the reorganisation of the secretariat, the Staff Management Committee comprising directors, deputy directors and assistant directors have waded into the matter with a view to finding an amicable solution to the problem.
“To this effect, a meeting between the members of the Staff Welfare Committee and the management staff was held today (yesterday) during which the staff were prevailed upon to stop all further adverse actions. The management committee has taken up the issues with the NWC and there are real prospects for an amicable solution,” the statement said.