- Post 14 December 2012
- Last Updated on 14 December 2012
- By Michael Egbejumi-David
Every three years, the Urhobo people in London and parts of the UK gather themselves together and elect officials to manage their socio-cultural affairs. In truth, this is a run-of-the-mill event. Really, it is a thankless job with little prestige and even less benefits. These elections take place without the Queen losing any sleep, and many of the same Urhobo people remain largely unaware of it.
Not so this year. As the people were ambling towards another round of election, a unique candidate threw his bowler hat into the ring strong. He began to make the kind of noises you were likely to hear in a PDP-dominated election in Nigeria. He strode into the campaign arena as graceful as a leper. Outrageous and boastful promises were being made. Money started being thrown around. This candidate told people that he has set £10,000 aside to ensure that he got elected. £10,000 to prosecute an election of a mere socio-cultural organisation that consists of just a few hundred people? What for? In this economic hard times?
The people were thrown off kilter; most could not understand what was happening. Why was a local Urhobo Progress Union (UPU) election, a typically un-noticed and uneventful small matter being turned into a proper battle? Why this level of desperation to lead a socio-cultural group?
It turned out that the Ogidigbodigbo himself, the one and only James Ibori, currently in London at Her Majesty’s pleasure was pulling the strings.
You see, about three years ago, three of Ibori’s people – his sister, his mistress and his secretary ran into trouble with the UK authorities for laundering money on behalf of Ibori. As their case began, protesters hoisting freshly made PVC banners suddenly appeared on the steps Southwark Magistrate Court. Those protesters were mostly Jamaicans and a few Pakistanis. They were later joined by some Nigerian youths.
Their protest was ineffectual. All three defendants were jailed.
Then Ibori himself got collared and was tried by the same court. During his trial, the protest organisers redoubled their efforts. But again, their benefactor was jailed.
But these protest organisers didn’t do what they did due to a benevolent spirit, and some of them haven’t gone away completely. They have been profiting on a small scale from Ibori’s mega corrupt administration. Since their principal and hero was locked up in London, they have continued their association with the man in the hope of either ripping something off him now, or profiting from him in the future. However, more immediately, Ibori needs them to front the socio-cultural organisation in London in order for the organisation to lead a vigorous campaign in his behalf in the UK as he prepares to appeal his 13 year sentence. Ibori and his people need a credible organisation to sell him in the UK media; to project him as a kind human being – as John Fashanu was already doing; and also to safeguard some of his influence.
And this was what was being forced on the UPU folks in London. A lot of money was set aside and some of this was being splashed around to ensure that Ibori’s candidates win.
On Election Day proper, huge posters were everywhere! People were surprised. But they hadn’t seen anything yet. Ibori’s candidate has bought a bus! With their new bus, people were transported-in from all over the UK to come to a tiny London hall to vote.
But the election committee had somehow got wind of what might be afoot. A directive was sent out to everybody that to be eligible to vote on the day, all registered voters must present a valid Driver’s Licence, a Passport, or a Freedom Pass.
As people filed-in to vote, they couldn’t help but notice a few names on the electoral register that were repeated many times over. The surname would be the same, but it would list between six to ten different first names and all of these names would have the same mobile number attached to them. It was unbelievable! Nigerian election style has invaded the UK!
People were repulsed. The election committee stuck to its gun. Private security service was procured to secure the doors and the voting venue. Anyone who had no business being there on the day was not allowed in. Without the stated identification documents, a few people were not permitted to vote. Video equipment was setup to capture the entire voting process.
Sure enough, Ibori’s candidate lost. And that was when the drama began.
Promptly, they wrote a formal petition complaining that they were robbed. They actually claimed that the election was rigged against them! A review committee was setup to look into their allegation. The committee met and held audience with those concerned. Video evidence was presented; no electoral malpractice could be seen as claimed by the loser, who also averred that the introduction of a strict identification process disenfranchised him. His argument was rightly ignored.
Then the losing candidate flew down to Nigeria and canvassed that the London election be annulled. On his way to Warri, he might have stopped at Minna, I don’t know. God only knows what it was he did with the people in Nigeria, because the Secretary of UPU in Nigeria apparently agreed with him and wrote a letter directing that the London election be cancelled.
His letter was ignored. The London people looked down at their navel and couldn’t see any umbilical cord attaching the running of their local outfit to the folks in Nigeria, so they rightly disregarded the highly suspect and inconsequential directive.
But Ibori’s group did not give up. They continued fulminating. They threatened legal action. It’s a pity really; most of them don’t even know that they are being used.
The election review committee found that no rigging of any sort took place. The whole process was transparent, genuine and above board. Everything was captured on video. If anything, it was the Ibori’s group that attempted to cheat but the procedure put in place put a crimp in their plans. The review committee prepared its report. But before a date could be set for the report to be delivered to the larger House and the Board of Trustees, a text message was issued that the review committee was meeting that day, right away. Before the Administrative Secretary of the committee who had the committee’s signed report with him could get to the hastily arranged venue, the Ibori group were already there. They had bribed one or two redundant old men, wrote a fake report, somehow co-opted the outgoing UPU president and presented their own substitute report to the House. Needless to say, their fake report claimed that the London election was rigged and that it should be consequently cancelled.
A few honourable men and women who were present at the election review petition hearing tried to raise objections. They were shouted down and thoroughly abused by the contrarians. By the time the Administrative Secretary got to the meeting with the signed, authentic report, the Ibori group had made their pronouncements and disappeared.
The next day, the outgoing president overreached himself. He sent an outrageous message to everyone that the election has been cancelled and that the inauguration of the new executives will not go ahead. He said that a new election would be held at some point.
Fortunately, his message was lampooned and completely ignored by the people. The new UPU executive was inaugurated to a packed house at a colourful ceremony on Saturday, 24th November 2012.