IN the past, Edo State only experienced insignificant incidents of electoral violence. There had been tiffs and toughs, lone hoodlums snatching ballot boxes amidst sporadic shooting, too inconsequential to scar the overall electoral credibility. And security had never been an issue.
Of all Nigerian electorate, Edo is one that has exhibited much political sagaciousness and maturity. It opened the Second Republic as Bendel State voting the progressive UPN, and when it suited it to change its mind, it voted for the rival NPN. In the Third Republic, Edo went with progressive SDP. In the Fourth Republic, it went with the conservative PDP, and then switched to the progressive camp with APC.
Agreed, such liberal deliberateness can unsettle an ill-prepared candidate, like a half-baked student’s confidence collapses at the face of an objective external examiner. Postponing an election would then come as political strategy for the privileged aspirant to disorganise his rival, whose resources have been expended in the calculation that the race was over, only for the finishing line to be extended most unexpectedly at the last minute; a 100-metre dash suddenly stretches into the marathon. But should state institutions be compromised and co-opted into beefing up one privileged aspirant’s shaking confidence, at the expense of other competitors and Edo’s 1.7 million voters?
Still more curious is the fact that this initiative did not spring from INEC, as had been the case when Professor Attahiru Jega announced the postponement of the 2015 Presidential and National Assembly elections from February 14 to March 28 and the Governorship and State Assembly elections from February 28 to April 11. That, also, was based on insecurity. But that shift was understandably because the North-East convulsed under Boko Haram insurgency.
This time around, the movement was the other way round: the police, the DSS and other security agencies ordered a postponement. This is improper. Both the Electoral Act and the Constitution saddle INEC exclusively with autonomy to operate independently, free from external control and influence.
Section 26(1) of the Electoral Act reads: “Where a date has been appointed for the holding of an election and there is reason to believe that a serious breach of the peace is likely to occur if the election is proceeded with on that date or it is impossible to conduct an election as a result of natural disaster or other emergencies, the commission may postpone the election and shall in respect of the area or areas concerned appoint another day for the holding of the postponed election provided that such reason for the postponement is cogent and verifiable.” Also, Sections 78 and 118 of the 1999 Constitution say: “The registration of voters and the conduct of elections shall be subject to the direction and supervision of Independent National Electoral Commission.”
Here, it says the buck stops with INEC. But clearly in Edo, INEC was deprived this statutory right to initiate policy for holding or shifting the election. It was rather railroaded to fall in line with security advisers. Is the authority moving to hijack INEC the same way sitting governors have pocketed their state electoral commissions, and compromised their independence?
In addition to this highlighted impropriety, the postponement represents a disservice to Edo State and her people. Although it is in the South-South, Edo is not a known theatre of war or Niger-Delta insurgency. The postponement gives the false impression that Edo is a no-go area. It is a most myopic demarketing of a peaceful state and her peace-loving people.
The postponement does gross disservice to Edolites. It undersells and demarkets the state. What foreign investors or tourists will come to a place where security is so lax that it disfigured the electoral timetable and caused a postponement of a major election? No. Opposite to this negative picture, Edo State is at peace. Edo is home to one of the world’s richest cultures and earliest civilisations. It is a national food-basket as well as a huge market. Day and night, its roads remain open as an unimpeded gateway and hub between the North, the East, the South-South, the West and the Middle-Belt. Its people simply want to go to the polls and pick their next Governor in the most civilised manner. Both INEC and the voters were ready to do just that. But they were helplessly short-changed.
During his maiden visit to Africa as US President in July 2009, Barack Obama said in Ghana: “Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions…. With strong institutions and a strong will, I know that Africans can live their dreams in Nairobi and Lagos….”
- Oboagwina, journalist and author, writes from Lagos.