On June 26th 2019, the National Human Rights Commission convened a reconciliation meeting for the members of Joint National Associations of Persons with Disabilities (JONAPWD) in order to resolve lingering leadership tussle that has engulfed the association. It would be recalled that the crisis of JONAPWD started last year after the election that was alleged to be marred with a lot of irregularities, it was said that there was over voting at the election, the actual accredited delegates meant to vote at the election was 244 but after the counting of the votes, the number of votes casted was 264. Interestingly, the gap between the lending candidate and the runners up was slim, Ekaete Umoh had 104 while her closest rival Barrister Yusuf had 100. With this, it was obvious that the mysterious 20 votes affected the outcome of the result, this brought confusion at the election venue and it was alleged that the election, no winner was returned.
Subsequently, both parties laid claim to the leadership of the association, Ekaete Judith Umoh having scored the highest number of votes, organized a swearing in ceremony for herself while Barrister Iyodo Yusuf in his own arithmetic deducted 20 votes from Etaete’s votes, claimed the winner of the election and organized a swearing in ceremony few days after. This brought a lot of confusion in the community to the extent that the community became a laughing stock. In view of the ugly situation, a group of concerned members of JONAPWD went to court to obtain restraining order stopping the both parties from parading themselves as the president of JONAPWD pending the determination of the case in the court.
It was on above ground that the Executive Secretary National Human Rights Commission(NHRC), Barr. Anthony Ojukwu weighed in to resolve the crisis because JONAPWD has been for months without any leadership and this is not good for the association because it has denied over 27 million Nigerians with disabilities some sort of empowerment programmes that some foreign bodies give through JONAPWD.
Barr. Anthony Ojukwu in his remark urged the warring parties to approach the reconciliation with open mind and all members should be in reconciliation mood before there would be peace. He urged everyone of them to make sacrifices and compromises to achieve the desired peace.
NHRC invited the members of Board of Trustees of JONAPWD comprises of Prince Adelabu the Chairman, Miss Omotunde Ellen Thompson the Deputy Chairman, Mrs Ene and Nauche, others members invited were some heads of clusters, Jake Epelle(The Albino Foundation), the National President of National Association of the blind(NAB), Mr. Rilwan from Physically disability group and other from Leprosy group including some elders like David Anyaele, David Okon, Adekanbi, Barrister Ikem Uchegbulam, Paul Ihekwuaba, Dr. Irene Ogbogu, Samuel Obiefuna, Dr. Adebayo, Danderson Hart, a representative from Legal Aid Council and the warring parties Ekaete Judith Umoh and Barr. Yusuf Iyodo.
The Executive Secretary provided opportunity for the warring parties to present the grievances and also a proposal to be considered for reconciliation. Ekaete Umoh was first to present her case, she explained that after the election which she won, she was doing her thing until one day, she got a court summon. She said that was the first ever time she entered a courtroom. She proposed that she will form committees and have members of the other fraction accommodated via these committees. Her proposal was debated which didn’t go down well with some elders but it was argued that the proposal was not too clear. It was assumed that her proposal was that she has agreed to work with Barrister Iyodo just that it was not too clear how it can be work. That was taken, Then Barrister in his presentation gave an insight on what happened at the election venue. he broken the down the delegates list, from state delegates, ex-officers, etc, he explained how he felt the election was marred with irregularities and The Electoral committee Chairman Mr Rilwan did not make a return on that day, he told the meeting that Mr. Rilwan cancelled the election on tape and called for a rerun the next day which never happened. His proposal was that they go back to where Electoral Committee stopped and find out the truth.
Mr. Rilwan in clarification of what happened on the election day said that he cancelled the election under duress, he said that he did that only to save his life. He agreed that there was over voting and when that occurred, he called the attention of Barrister IKem who was a member of Convention Committee and enquired what the JONAPWD constitution said about over voting, it happened that the constitution was silent about it. He alluded that at this juncture as some people were trying to lynch him and his committee members so he has to device a means to leave the venue alive which was to cancel the election on tape as he was forced to by the angry crowd.
At last, it was established that the election was marred with irregularities but Mr. Ojukwu said that based on the cost of organizing a fresh election, it will be better if the two warring find a common ground to work together. He adopted a suggestion made by Miss Omotunde where she suggested reforms and restructuring of JONAPWD and review of JONAPWD Constitution, he urged the next leadership to take that tasks and ensure that it is done. He also adopted the suggestion of Prince Adelabu who at the end of his speech suggested that since no compromise has been reached publicly, the two major players should have a close door meeting with the Executive Secretary to discuss privately, maybe a compromise would be achieved. Prince Adelabu also during his speech confessed that he alongside Rilwan knew what happened at the election, he openly admitted that there was ballot box stuffing in favour of Ekaete Umoh. He said that the 20 votes was stuffed into the box for Ekaete to win the election. Surprisingly, he publicly admitted that he was aware of it, and he advised Ekaete to reach out to the aggrieved party but she ignored him and went all the way to organize a swearing in for herself. He openly blamed Ekaete for the crisis rocking the association.
The two major players, Ekaete Umoh and Barrister Yusuf Iyodo went into a close door meeting that lasted for over an hour and when they came back, The Executive Secretary informed the house that no agreement was reached.
The Executive Secretary at this juncture, made public his proposal/resolutions to them, they are as follows;
- We have agreed that the elections have issues, it is characterized with fraud.
- The association is not in position to organize a fresh election of the president due to lack of funds, safety and other logistics challenges and it can endanger the unity of the association.
- That the person who allegedly scored 104 votes be allowed to complete the balance of tenure with the cooperation of the person who allegedly had 100 votes, a provision will be made in the interim for the position of Iyodo as a co-chair of all the committees in the association for the balance of tenure.
- That all foreign meetings travels should be carried out by the President in company of Barr. Iyodo though the speaking rights and representation will be done by the president supported by Barr. Iyodo.
- That within this period Barr. Iyodo will understudy the office of the President in preparation for the next election, that the parties in this meeting and their supporters will support Barr. Iyodo for office of the president at the expiration of present tenure.
- That both parties will work in harmony in consultation with the elders of the association to ensure that the association stays together and also attracts the benefits due for the members.
- All the parties will work to persuade those who are in court to withdraw their case.
- That the parties should inform their groups and supporters about these resolutions today and report back to National Human Right Commission within two weeks on the support of these resolutions and following these resolutions, all court activities should put on hold pending the final agreement by next two weeks.
He said that the proposal was put forward to the two parties, Ekaete Umoh agreed largely with all the conditions but Barrister Yusuf Iyodo objected to it saying that he is not alone on the struggle, all they seek is justice, he insisted that the right thing should be done which is to go back to what happened at the elections and all those who played part in the manipulation of the process should be punished.
Iyodo said that there is no vacuum in JONAPWD since the restraining order is barring the two presidential candidates, the BOT can step in to pilot the affairs of the association. It was at this juncture that pandemonium broke out in the meeting and the elders threw caution to the wind and they were issuing threats to each other (like I will deal with you) coming from Ekaete Umoh to Miss Omotunde. The situation was brought under control and the meeting was brought to a close.