The conviction of Professor Peter Ogban for electoral fraud

PROFESSOR Peter Ogban, a lecturer in the Department of Soil Science at the University of Calabar who served as returning officer in Akwa Ibom North-West district during the 2019 general election in Akwa Ibom State, was last week jailed by a High Court in the state for three years. This followed his admission that he manipulated the election results in two local government areas, namely Oruk Anam and Etim Ekpo. The court found him guilty of fraudulent manipulation of election results and publishing and announcement of same in favour of the All Progressives Congress (APC).

Naturally, Professor Ogban has been serially disavowed in the media, even by members of the ruling party which is presumed to have been the beneficiary of his fraudulent actions. The development is, to say the very least, scandalous. It is a big embarrassment to the Nigerian academia. Previously, it was because elections in the country were fraught with various forms of electoral malpractices that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) devised the novel means of deploying senior academics in the country’s universities as returning officers. The expectation was that their deployment would foster trust and credibility based on the integrity and character of these senior members of the academia. It was assumed that with that move, only those who were above board would thenceforth be involved in elections.

Sadly, however, that objective has not been realised. Time and again, the figures churned out by these returning officers have been disputed, with a great number of election cases going as far as the apex court for final resolution. In any case, it is a disgrace that a professor is now pleading guilty to election fraud, thus indicating that the universities are no different from the larger society to which they are expected to show leadership. As developments have shown over time, INEC was misled by its leadership into thinking that senior academics would be immune to the various corruptive influences and tendencies in the Nigerian system. If a system is polluted, it is bound to affect all units. There can be no doubt that the conduct of affairs in the universities, including examinations and theses supervision, is fraught with malpractices. Is it any wonder then that academics are now extending the rot in the universities into the country’s electoral system? And if the leadership recruitment system is corruption-ridden, what hope is there for the country?

Ideally, Professor Ogban’s conviction for election fraud should send a strong warning to lawbreakers to mend their ways or get thrown behind bars. However, there is as yet no viable system to ensure that electoral felons like Ogban inevitably pay for their crimes. It is also a bit curious that nobody seems to have been the principal(s) or accomplices) of the disgraced professor. Could he have been working all alone in his cheating expedition? We think not.

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