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Edo election: Of INEC and its rigmaroles

Professor Yakubu and Oshiomhole

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) finally bowed to pressure and postponed the governorship election in Edo State late on Thursday. Group Politics Editor, TAIWO ADISA, examines the implications.

 

THE police and the Department of State Services (DSS) shocked the nation on Wednesday when they jointly announced an election advice to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), asking the electoral body to postpone the governorship election in Edo State hitherto scheduled for yesterday, September 10. Though it was not the first time federal agencies would directly seek to intervene in the electoral process, the jolt this time was heavy.

The shock was orchestrated by the fact that the police had earlier declared its deployment of 25, 000 officers and men, while the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) had also announced the deployment of 10, 000 personnel. Coupled with assurances coming from INEC’s consultations with Edo stakeholders, it was apparent that all was set for the election.

But at a press conference on Wednesday, spokesman of the Nigeria Police Force, Don Awunah, and an official of the DSS, Garba Abdullahi, said that the election should be put on hold. Awunah, who read a statement on behalf of the agencies, said: “The Nigeria police and the DSS wish to inform the general public that credible intelligence available to the agencies indicate plans by insurgent/extremist elements to attack vulnerable communities and soft targets with high population during the forthcoming Sallah celebrations between 12 and 13 September, 2016. Edo State is among the states being earmarked for these planned attacks by the extremists elements.

“It is in regard of this that we are appealing to INEC, which has legal duty to regulate elections in the country, to consider the need for possible postponement of the date of the election in Edo State in order to enable security agencies deal decisively with the envisaged terrorists threats.

“While the police\DSS remain mindful of the inconveniences this request may cause the various political stakeholders, it is our strong resolve that security agencies need not be distracted from ensuring a peaceful and secure Nigeria now and always.”

True, it was not the first time the security agencies or federal agencies have stopped election process in Nigeria. The famous and the most notorious being the overnight ruling of the late Justice Bassey Ikpeme which stopped the conduct of the June 12, 1993 election, while the last was the move by the former National Security Adviser (NSA), Colonel Sambo Dasuki (retd) which secured a six-week postponement of the 2015 general election on account of insecurity and Boko Haram insurgency in the North-Eastern part of the country.

While the ruling by the court in 1993 eventually paved the way for the annulment of the June 12 election, leading the nation through a huge political turmoil, the proposal by Dasuki secured for the nation a successful election, even in the Boko Haram strongholds.  But many are uncomfortable with the push this time by the police and the DSS, especially on account of the fact that Edo has been one of the most peaceful states of the Niger Delta region in the past months. Again, those who opposed the idea had said that since it was going to be a stand-alone election, it should be easy for the security agencies to lock down the state and ensure no miscreants move close to the election spots.

The political parties immediately sparked off a blame game after they were jolted by the news of the shift in polls. The opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) pointed the fingers at the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) for orchestrating the postponement as a way of postponing the doomsday. A statement on Wednesday indicated that the PDP was firmly putting the blame for the proposal by the police and DSS on the doorsteps of the APC.

A statement by PDP’s Publicity Secretary, Chris Nehikhare, said that the proposal was borne out of the fear of imminent defeat at the polls, adding that unfortunately, the APC was only postponing the doomsday. “Edo PDP has condemned in very strong terms and brings to the attention of the general public especially the good people of Edo State, a grand plan by APC to rig Edo elections through despicable connivance with security agencies whose questionable security report INEC has acted upon to postpone the elections.

“The security agencies in their report were talking about planned attacks on densely populated areas during the sallah celebrations on September 12 and 13; whereas Edo election is on September 10. APC Governor Oshiomhole and his proxy, Godwin Obaseki, knew and still know that Edo people are ready to vote them out and they have simply devised a strategy to prolong the process so that, in their calculation, PDP will be financially stressed and unable to sustain its electioneering.

“What APC and its leaders do not realise is that the liberation movement is beyond Ize-Iyamu and the PDP; it is a statewide consciousness; it is a defining idea and movement whose time has come, as the future is now,” the party said.

Governor Adams Oshiomhole, in his reaction, insisted that the election must hold. He stated that he was already moving to go and cast his vote as required by law. He said: “I am already preparing to go to my village to mobilise my people as other party leaders are doing. That is to let you know that we are not relaxing despite the fact that we know the PDP is already dead and our people are just getting ready for the burial.”

“However, security issues are security issues and as regards elections, they are very critical. If on their own, they are calling on INEC for postponement, I am sure they must have their reasons because they are

experts on it.

“If you recall, we raised the alarm that the PDP had planned to import thugs from neighbouring states to help them unleash mayhem on our people because they are not prepared for the election. They have not been campaigning because they have no message. They imported thugs into the state, but I wish that the election will go on so that the security agents will pick them up and expose them,” the governor said.

While the debate raged over who was planning what and who was pushing the postponement, the electoral umpire was involved in a sort of dance drama that defied the reality.

INEC’s National Commissioner in charge of Voter Education and Publicity, Solomon Shoyebi, told newsmen early on Thursday that the electoral body was going ahead with the election as planned. His decision that electoral body would defy the police and DSS looked suspect. But many chose to go by his words. Later in the day, the same Shoyebi announced INEC’s readiness to listen to the security operatives and subsequently announced the postponement of the election by two weeks.

The National Commissioner said the decision to postpone the election was reached at a security meeting held with security agencies on Thursday evening. According to him, though the commission had successfully implemented 12 out of 14 conditions set for a successful election, the receipt of official security report put a dagger into its preparedness. He declared: “However at about 6:00 p.m. today, the commission received official communication from the police and DSS drawing its attention to the need to postpone the Edo governorship election. Such postponement, the communication indicates, is necessary in view of threats of terrorists activities in the state and other states of the federation during the election and over the Sallah period.

Obaseki, left and Ize-Iyamu
Obaseki, left and Ize-Iyamu

“The deployment of security personnel country wide to secure lives and property would overstretch their capacity to at the same time provide adequate security for the election. Consequently the commission notes the request of the security agencies and considering the security implications of proceeding with the election the safety of eligible voters, electoral officials, including ad hoc staff and other stakeholders has decided to reschedule the Edo governorship elections to Wednesday, 28 September 2016,” he said.

The civil society groups, which had constituted the Situation Room for the election, insisted that the postponement was bad for democracy.

Again, PDP’s official statement released by its publicity secretary, Chris Nahikihare, blamed the ruling party and the security agencies for the decision. Nehikiare stated: “We are taken aback by the rash security advice, a day after the president and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Muhammadu Buhari, was present at the final campaign rally of the APC in Benin City, which was concluded without any security hitch.”

It described as ‘’lamentable, inexcusable and shameful,’’ the decision to push forward the postponement, adding that it was uncalled for that governorship election could not be held in Edo  which it said has a relative history of security stability.

‘’It will be recalled that a few weeks ago, I alerted the people of Edo State and the entire country that there were devious and evil plans to postpone the election and I alluded to the fact that it was a ploy by the APC to destabilise the electoral process, having sensed that the Edo people were fully prepared to vote them out in the governorship election.’’

But the PDP was to stoke more controversy when it said that the APC was aware of a poll conducted ahead of the election which indicated that the opposition would sweep the APC out of office if the election was held.

According to the PDP, the APC was aware of the result of a survey conducted by a media research and marketing organisation, Samrex Communications Limited, which it said put the opposition party in a poll position to the September 10 election ahead of APC’s Godwin Obaseki.

The survey, which was said to have been supervised by a university don, Dr Ubani Azuka and released to the PDP Campaign Organisation last Tuesday was said to have put PDP’s Osagie Ize-Iyamu ahead of Obaseki.

The report indicated that the survey, which targeted 23,000 respondents and cuts across the three senatorial districts, was carried out between August 1 and September 2.

“The survey said that many of the respondents based their decision on the neglect of their communities, unfulfilled promises by the government, huge corruption within the state government, high cost of living, bad roads and abandoned projects in their areas,” the report stated.

While quoting excerpts from the survey, the statement indicated that some respondents in Owan-East in Edo North claimed that their communities have been neglected with no polling booth at Okpa-Emai; insufficient primary school in Ake; bad roads/ abandoned projects at Egbuotubu, as well as lack of social amenities.

The statement also quoted respondents in Igueben community—Edo Central as restating their support for the PDP candidate due to what they called lack of job creation by the incumbent government; failure to empower women and lack of water, light, good roads and educational facilities.

It equally quoted respondents in Oredo local government area in Edo South,  as claiming that their support for the PDP was based on their rejection of the incumbent government in the state because of bad roads; poor power supply; reduction of teachers’ salaries; lack of provision of social amenities: water, light and lack of  job creation. The Ruling APC however described the survey as unreliable, adding that the people should disregard it.

Publicity secretary of the APC in Edo State, Godwin Erhahon, in a reaction said that the touted poll was lacking credibility and baseless.

He said: “I will not endorse any opinion poll that is concocted by partisan groups. Such opinion poll should be discountenanced until a credible media organisation or neutral bodies are able to come up with their own opinion poll.

“In any case, those opinion polls are irrelevant. They should have done that a long time ago. By Sunday we will know if the opinion poll was correct or not. It is not credible and what they are saying is baseless.”

Away from the endless arguments from the parties, the decision of INEC has however continued to raise questions of the readiness of the electoral body, its avowed freedom and the preparedness of the security agencies to perform its assignments. There are also question of costs of the election, especially to the security agencies, the political parties and the society in general.

For instance, policemen, DSS officials as well as NSCDC men have already been deployed, while many INEC officials have been in the state for upward of a week. Indeed, the electoral body also trained a number of election personnel starting from Wednesday, an indication that enormous resources had gone into the preparations before the postponement. The sad aspect of the whole saga is that all such trainings will be repeated close to the rescheduled date.

INEC and the security agencies appeared to play into the hands of the opposition when it made the announcement a day after the visit of President Muhammadu Buhari to the state. Bearing in mind the logistics that go into preparing for a president to a state and the backward integration that occasions in the aftermath of the visit, many would find it curious that security operatives would announce insecurity as the key to postponing the election. Indeed some commentators have insisted that the job of security operatives is to protect the people and not to give excuses in form of security advisory.

As all eyes now rest on the new September 28, the hope of all democracy lovers is that INEC and the security agencies would give no room for anyone to doubt their sincerity to conduct a free and fair election in Edo.