Shift in Edo Election: In Whose Interest?

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Mahmood Yakubu, chairman, INEC

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THE rescheduled governorship election in Edo State has continued to generate controversies as the All Progressives Party and Peoples Democratic Party accuse each other of causing the shift to perfect plans to rig election through different methods, and at extra costs to the nation

By Olu Ojewale  |  Sep 26, 2016 @ 01:00 GMT  |

Baring any hiccup, the rescheduled governorship election in Edo State slated for Wednesday, September 28, appears to be on course. The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, which was all set to conduct the election originally slated for September 10, before it was shifted through expressed security concerns is yet to voice opposition to the September 28, date.

So far, there has been no word from security agencies that the election should be shifted again. However, in order to allow the politicians to have their fill ahead of the election and not to cause further distractions, the scheduled programme for the coronation of the new Oba of Benin, which was originally slated for Monday, September 26, has been moved forward to October 18.

According to sources close to the palace, the seat of the monarch was not contacted before the new governorship date was fixed, thereby forcing a new date for the coronation so that the Benins and Edos in general would not be distracted during both important events.

One of the sources said that the two events, governorship election and coronation of the new king, were big enough to distract people of the state. He said pointedly: “The fear is that, either the election will distract people from massively participating in the coronation or the coronation would do same to the election. Also, many dignitaries outside the state may not want to come to Benin City for the coronation if it is too close to the election because of security consideration. It was, therefore, decided that the coronation should be moved forward so that our people can give both events the deserved attention.”

Many people, who spoke with Realnews on the matter, commended the palace for being so magnanimous to shift the date. They said that Governor Adams Oshiomhole should have been more sensitive to the situation and liaise with the palace before agreeing to a new date for the election.

Nevertheless, observers have expressed optimism that the state would help the Benin royal family to defray additional costs that it would incur, printing new invitation cards. In addition, massive tents that were already being installed at different locations have to be pulled down. Some corporate organisations that have printed event specific banners with dates also have to reprint the banners.

However, it is feared that some invited guests may not come for the coronation because of the new dates as they might have planned their journey and stay well ahead to coincide with the former date and rescheduled flight may not also be in their favour.

While the Benin royal house has been so magnanimous in shifting the coronation date, the stakeholders in the election have not been so charitable in their utterances, thereby heating the polity ahead of the rescheduled polls. They (especially politicians from the All Peoples Congress, APC, and the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP) are both reading different meaning to the situation which led to the postponement of the election.

It was Governor Oshiomhole who first threw the first salvo when he accused his counterparts in the South-South of importing militants to rig the governorship election in the state.

The governor, who spoke when he received Ibrahim Idris, inspector-general of Police, at the Government House on Friday, September 9, said about 8,000 militants from some South-South states had been registered for the poll.

He alleged that the militants were being imported to foment trouble in the state “in order to make peaceful election impossible” and because the governors were unable to find local thugs to help them perpetrate violence.

He said: “In line with my tradition, I have always tried to speak out on any matter that I am worried about. I first raised this alarm on the eve of INEC Continuing Voters Registration exercise, that has been designed to register those who have become 18 between the last registration and the current one.

“But these criminals who are determined to perpetrate violence and deny us the beauty of a peaceful election, unable to find local participants have chosen to import these militants with the support of two or so of my brothers. When I say brothers, I mean brother governors. It does not matter if I disagree with them. They are my brothers.”‎

Oshiomhole
Oshiomhole

The Edo State governor specifically mentioned Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State and Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State, as the main culprits in his allegation. He also alleged that the governors sent N2billion to Osagie Ize-Iyamu, governorship candidate of the PDP in the Edo State Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.

In any case, Idris assured the governor that the security agencies are up to the task of ensuring a free, fair and orderly election in the state.

That notwithstanding, the PDP members would not allow the matter to go unchallenged. On Wednesday, September 14, in his reply to the allegations, Wike said that “the falsehood” from Oshiomhole was an indication that the Edo State governor was panic-stricken over the forthcoming governorship election in his state.

Wike stated that Oshiomhole’s inconsistencies had shown that the people of Edo had rejected the All Progressives Congress, APC, in the state.

He said that it was “completely” untrue that he and Okowa, mobilised militants to Edo State. The governor also denied the allegation by Oshiomhole that he sent N2bn to Ize-Iyamu.

Wike, who spoke when he granted audience to the Inter-Party Advisory Council, Rivers State chapter at the Government House in Port Harcourt, described as shocking that, at his (Edo’s governor) age, Oshiomhole still believed in drama and lies.

He said he was shocked by Oshiomhole’s allegation because, on the day of the campaign, he met with his Edo counterpart alongside other APC governors at the Benin airport where they all embraced and exchanged pleasantries.

“Oshiomhole even cornered me and said ‘don’t mind these people, they don’t know that we meet and talk. If Oshiomhole has lost the confidence of his people, he should not blame me. He brought the President and 10 APC governors and he was not satisfied. Just because two PDP governors visited Edo State, Oshiomhole is panicking,” Wike said.

Similarly, the Edo State chapter of the PDP took a swipe on Oshiomhole, accusing him of using Nasir el-Rufai, his Kaduna State counterpart, to influence the postponement of the governorship election in order to buy time to rig the poll.

The INEC, last on Thursday, September 8, postponed the election from September 10 to September 28, citing security reports received by the ‎Nigeria Police Force and the Department of State Security over threats by insurgents to disrupt the election.

Dan Orbih, Edo State PDP chairman, at a press briefing on Wednesday, September 14, in Benin, claimed that the party received information from the Government House that el-Rufai had allegedly influenced a national commissioner of the INEC to postpone the election.

The Kaduna State governor is the deputy chairman of the National Campaign Council of the APC for the Edo State governorship election.

As expected, the Edo State government denied the allegations, accusing the PDP of being jittery over the election. The state INEC also denied culpability.

Dismissing the PDP allegation, Priscilla Imoudu-Sule, spokesperson for the INEC in Edo State, said that the accusation must have been based on imagination and not reality. “I would rather advise that they go and campaign for the remaining two weeks and make up for that time. They should leave the administrative issues for INEC alone.”

In any case, the INEC has promised to investigate the alleged registration of 8,000 militants by the PDP for the Edo State governorship election.

Nick Dazang, the INEC’s deputy director in charge of Voter Education and Publicity, who spoke on the allegation, said that the attention of the commission had yet to be drawn to the issue, but the matter would be investigated  before the election.

Dazang said: “The commission is not aware of the allegation that over 8,000 militants were registered as voters for the governorship election in Edo State. This allegation is grievous, but we have not been officially informed. We will not close our eyes or ears to such a serious allegation. As soon as it is officially brought to our notice, the commission will swing into action by investigating it.

“We will do everything within our powers and within the law to have a credible election in the state. So, we are waiting to be briefed on the matter.”

Even then, the PDP has warned that the alleged registration of militants should not be used to alter the voter register in the state.

Dayo Adeyeye, spokesperson for the PDP, who stated this on Sunday, September 11, wondered how the militants could have been registered without the knowledge of the commission that carried out the exercise.

“It is good, if the commission can investigate it. At least, Governor Oshiomhole will be able to tell Nigerians where and when the PDP registered the so-called militants.

“Were they registered by the INEC?  If not, which organisation registered them? Were they registered as voters or as observers?  For what purpose?  And when did Oshiomhole suddenly discover the registration of the alleged militants?”

Apparently, Nigerians would be interested to know the answers that the INEC and, indeed, the Police would give to Adeyeye’s posers.

But critical observers may also like to read between the lines the submission of Ayo Olukotun, a university don, in his column in The Punch of September 8. In the piece, Fridays Musings, Olukotun writes: “Talking about security reports, this writer recalls that in the course of researching a book published in Sweden 12 years ago, I had occasion to interview a former minister of information and well-known political scientist, Prof. Sam Oyovbaire. In answer to one of my questions, he said to me: “Don’t forget that very often, security agents can be likened to makers of coffins whose businesses flourish when there are fatalities. It is understandable therefore that state security can sometimes manufacture or create alarms in order to boost their relevance and professional importance”. Oyovbaire was, of course, referring to the role of security under the Gen. Ibrahim Babangida government about which I had sought clarification. But the point can be applied generally…

“Obviously, there is a distinct difference between intelligence gathering and intelligence analysis, and recent events and statements call into question the judgment and analytical acumen of our intelligence community. Even if the alert on Edo is as credible as we are made to believe, could it not have been raised before the arrival of international and national observers in Edo State and INEC’s preparation got into full gear?. It is a very poor advertisement for Nigeria and our sense of organisation that such an alert is being published 72 hours to a scheduled election. In the unlikely event that INEC will brush aside the security advisory, its publication, without consultation with INEC, has raised serious doubts about the motives, let alone the monumental losses and disenfranchisement that will occur as a consequence.”

As a political observer would like to think, it may also be an avenue to ensure that international, and perhaps, some local election observers are discouraged from participating in the process in order not to record how the election may be rigged.

However, the bigger concern appears to be that of the security agencies who engineered the postponement of the election which may also be linked to alleged infiltration of militants.

There are fears in some quarters that the allegation may be used to create confusion among the electorate to foment trouble in some parts of the state. It is also being suspected that the idea was to disenfranchise some electorates who may not find it easy to return to state to cast their ballots because they normally live outside the state.

For the likes of the Labour Party, LP, and the Social Democratic Party, SDP, the cost of shifting the election has a big implication for them. Abdulsalam Abdulkadir, national chairman of the LP, and Alfa Mohammed, national publicity secretary of the SDP, said in separate interviews, that because of the cost implication they might lose their supporters to the opponents.

Mohammed said the shift in the date for the election would cost individual opposition political parties between N30m and N50m each in terms of logistics, which include the cost of flight tickets, feeding, transportation and accommodation of party agents, provision of campaign materials, advertorials and other miscellaneous expenses. He said: “This shift will cost each opposition party nothing less than between N30m and N50m because some of us have already disbursed transport, accommodation, feeding and other allowances to our party agents.”

On his part, Abdulkadir did not want to quantify the amount but acknowledged the financial burden. He said, “There is no doubt it will cost parties like ours a lot of money. I cannot put a figure to it now because we will need to audit our accounts before I get the details.”

Indeed, it appears that the APC is already reaping from the shift. On Thursday, September 15, Edo State chapter of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, expelled Paul Okolie, publicity secretary of the party, Chidi Eze, organising secretary, and other members over alleged anti-party activities.

Okolie had led hundreds of the APGA members to defect to the APC to support the candidacy of Godwin Obaseki.

Wike
Wike

In a statement signed by Godfrey Ehizokhale Ehimhen, state chairman of the party, and Aifuobhokhan Emmanuel, secretary, the party warned its members across the state to desist from “political prostitution” or face sanction.

The turn of events in the APGA, perhaps, gives credence to the assessment of Okechukwu Nwanguma, a former member, Steering Committee, Network on Police Reform in Nigeria, that the APC needed more time to campaign and merely used the security issue to blackmail the INEC. “The ruling party cannot claim that it was not part of the blackmail. Perhaps, it wanted more time to work on the electorate in the state. That is understandable as the All Progressives Congress has lost its popularity,” Nwanguma said.

Similarly, Junaid Mohammed, a former lawmaker, described the shift in the election date as an alibi. “What is certain is that the shift is not in the interest of the country or the people of Edo State. We understand that thousands of police officers were deployed to provide security. That was in addition to the heavy presence of soldiers. We should also remember that there is a brigade in Benin City.

“Frankly, I don’t think Nigerians would believe the reason that was given for the postponement. The responsibility of conducting elections rests on the INEC. Nobody, not even the president, has the power to advise that the election should be postponed.

“Obviously, we are reaping the tragedy of the decision by a former National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (retd.), who used insecurity to blackmail INEC into postponing the presidential election so that his party could gain an advantage. Dasuki became openly partisan. I find such an act extremely abominable.

“Security was certainly not the reason why the Edo election was postponed. And the postponement was an invitation to anarchy. We cannot blame the postponement on the poor capacity of the police. The support of the armed forces and paramilitary organisations was enough to foil any security threat. The DSS and the police should be ashamed because they acted in a manner that was not befitting of their constitutional mandate.”

Ibrahim Zikirullahi, executive director, Resource Centre for Human Rights and Civic Education, on his own part, was not impressed by shifting the date of the election forward. He too, suspected some sinister reasons as he said in an interview: “If the 2015 general election could hold in the North-East at the height of the Boko Haram insurgency, the security agencies have a lot to explain on the issue as regards the Edo poll postponement. Even the mode of communicating their piece of security advice to INEC was very untidy. And this points to the fact that the security agencies need to be overhauled to make them accountable,” he said.

A lawyer, who prefers anonymity, said Nigerians should learn how to trust their security agencies and stop reading political meaning to their actions or inactions. “The excuse by the police as regards the Edo election should fuel the debate on state policing. I hope by so doing there will be a less burden on the NPF.”

Whatever the misgiving anyone may have about the reasons for the reschedule of the election, it is expected that either Godwin Obaseki, APC candidate, or Osagie Ize-Iyamu of the PDP will be elected on the day to replace incumbent Oshiomhole whose two-term tenure expires in November, this year.

President Muhammdau Buhari was in Benin City on Tuesday, September 6, where he campaigned for Obaseki in their party’s final push to sway the undecided.

But based on the advice of the Nigeria Police and the Department of State Security Service, SSS, citing security concerns, the INEC postponed the election.

Shortly after the announcement, Ekiti State governor, Ayo Fayose, condemned the INEC alleging that the APC was behind the plot as it was desperate to win elections. “Democracy in Nigeria has now graduated from inconclusive elections to postponement of elections in other to return APC candidates at all cost,” Fayose said.

But Mahmood Yakubu, national chairman of the INEC, said contrary to widespread public opinion, inconclusive elections actually started in 1979 when there was controversy over the presidential election resulting in litigation on what constituted two-thirds of 19 states. Other states where there have been inconclusive elections before his appointment include Ekiti, Imo, Bauchi, Taraba and Abia. Yakubu stated that if everyone, including the staff of the commission, the voters, politicians and other stakeholders, played by the rules, there would be no inconclusive election.

Besides, the commission record on inconclusive election is not as abysmal as it has been portrayed in the media. A statement issued by the commission on August 23, said: “The Commission has thus far concluded 139 elections, 118 at first ballot and 21 after supplementary, out of a total of 163 scheduled elections, and that 22 elections were suspended due to violence while 2 elections are sub-judice.”

“This shows that 72.3 percent of the elections were concluded at the first ballot, 21.8 percent of the inconclusive elections were concluded after supplementary; 1.2 percent are pending; while 13.4 percent were suspended in Rivers state due to violence.”

Be that as it may, the international community, and indeed, Nigerians look forward to a conclusive election devoid of acrimonies and intimidation as it is done in order clime to show that best practices are followed to have a people’s elected candidate in office. Only when that happens, can the electorate in Edo State will be assured that the election is done in their own interest and not for ego trip.

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