By Jonathan Ugbal: Government House Correspondent, Ushang Ewa and Itiunbe Atunka
The Cross River State Government on Thursday accused two gubernatorial aspirants of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Messrs Venatius Ikem and Paul Adah of sponsoring the thugs that were arrested a few days to the House of Assembly bye-election in Obudu.
The Attorney General (AG) and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Joe Oshie Abang disclosed this in a world press conference at the executive chambers of the Governor’s office in Calabar where he claimed the duo caused the voter apathy.
The AG said the trouble began with the nomination of Mrs. Abbey Ukpukpen by the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), which did not go down well with the duo.
Mrs. Ukpukpen is the widow of Mr. Stephen Ukpukpen whose death necessitated the bye-election.
And, Mr. Abang who said the nomination of Mrs. Ukpukpen was done to ensure political stability and encourage the affirmative action averred that: “The decision to allow Mrs. Abbey Ukpukpen who is from Abi local government of Cross River State but legally married to Honorable Stephen Ukpukpen of Obudu local government to contest the State House of Assembly bye-election did not go down well with some Obudu sons, notably, Mr. Venatius Ikem and Honorable Paul Adah of the opposition APC. This information was obtained after thorough interrogation of the arrested miscreants that were charged to court this morning (Thursday).
“The duo of Mr. Ikem and Honorable Paul Adah in their deliberate attempt to undermine the electoral process and ensure that a free and fair election is not conducted in Obudu state constituency to fill the vacancy in the House of Assembly, decided to enlist the support of thugs and cultists from different parts of the country who stormed Obudu few days to the election with dangerous weapons like guns, ammunitions and other offensive weapons to disrupt the said election.”
Mr. Abang who said security operatives apprehended the thugs numbering about twenty-two, described as “highly reprehensible,” the alleged activities of the duo which according to him, caused voters apathy.
“The widow of the late Honorable Stephen Ukpukpen emerged victorious but with less than 50 percent of the registered voters turning out to vote for fear of attack and reprisals by these thugs,” Mr. Abang said.
But, fact checks by CrossRiverWatch indicates that only a dozen people were arrested about 7:00PM on Tuesday, August 7, 2018 which was four days to the bye-election and the voter’s turnout was less than 30 percent.
Official data from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) shows that the total number of registered voters, as collated, was 69,908 while the total number of accredited voters were 18,180 with 17,910 casting their votes of which 17,303 were valid.
This means only 25.619 percent of registered voters actually voted while the valid votes were only about 24.752 percent of the registered voters and less than half of the about 50 percent Mr. Abang called.
However, Mr. Abang averred that: “The state government is indeed worried by the aforementioned development which has further dented the good image of the state as a peaceful state and which if not addressed can lead to further disenchantment, and disenfranchisement of eligible voters and encourage hooliganism and criminality as we go and approach the 2019 general elections.”
He argued that the above was enough to hold the world press conference in a bid to forestall future occurrences even as he disclosed that the suspects have been charged to court for “promoting native war” and remanded in custody awaiting his advice.
Also, he assured that, “justice would not only be done but seen to be done to all who were arrested in connection with the unfortunate events in Obudu.”
Fielding questions from journalists, Mr. Abang stressed that the confessional statements obtained from the suspects was signed by them and they were not under duress.
The matter has been adjourned to August 20, 2018 he disclosed.
When asked why he said the suspects were been charged for promoting native warfare, Mr. Abang said it was in line with the criminal procedure law as the suspects had left their locality and invaded another community with arms as, “the people arrested are not from Obudu, they have no business in Obudu on the day preceding the elections or during the day of the elections armed with weapons and ammunitions and found in the residence of one of the persons that we have mentioned.”
As earlier stated in this report and information obtained from security sources, the suspects, based on an order by the Commissioner of Police, were transferred to the state command headquarters of the Nigeria Police in Calabar more than 48 hours before the bye-election and were arrested in a hotel.
CrossRiverWatch’s findings also revealed that the twelve persons arrested had on Sunday, August 5, 2018 checked into rooms 201, 202, 203, 205, 206, 207, 208, 303 and 304 at the Country Home resort located at Portharcourt street in Obudu town where they were arrested.
Meanwhile, when questioned why he blamed the low turnout of voters on the arrest despite a history of voters apathy in the state, Mr. Abang said that: “It is our reasonable suspicion that of course, this unwarranted elements who were arrested after a gun duel with the police, there is no reasonable person who loves his life that will go to vote when he heard that this people have brought thugs and they are shooting everywhere.”
Efforts to confirm whether there was a gun duel between the suspects and the police, proved abortive as the phone line to the Police Public Relations Officer in the state, Mrs. Irene Ugbo, did not connect following several tries on Saturday.
However, CrossRiverWatch gathered that Mrs. Ugbo, a Deputy Superintendent of Police is away in Abuja for a training.
And, when pressed to react to allegations that the current administration is witch hunting members of the opposition who have gubernatorial ambitions, Mr. Abang described them as “baseless.”
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