The governorship election in Edo State, which is scheduled for September 19, 2020, is generating tension due to the actions of politicians and their supporters. ADEYINKA ADEDIPE writes that the successful conduct of the poll will be a big challenge to the electoral umpire and other interested parties
Over the years, organising violence-free elections in Nigeria has become a Herculean task. The more the electoral body and the government devise means of delivering flawless elections, the more sophisticated the perpetrators of chaos become. It is obvious that political parties and their thugs, who are hell-bent on sabotaging the electoral process, are always a step or more ahead of the electoral body, the government and the security agencies.
Realising the need to ensure that security is top-notch for elections, the Independent Electoral Commission under the leadership of Prof. Mahmood Yakubu created the Inter-agency Consultative Committee on Election Security and saddled it with the responsibility of securing the voting process as well as lives and property.
The Edo governorship election, which is less than two weeks, will be a litmus test for the security agencies in the country because there are fears that the election may become bloody considering the conflicts that have been recorded between the two leading parties – the ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party and the All Progressive Congress during campaigns. There have been reported cases of shooting, fighting, killings and maiming at campaign rallies of the two parties, with each one pointing the finger of blame at the other.
While it is not clear to what level the gladiators and their supporters are willing to take their desperation, it is, however, obvious that they are ready to do anything to get to power.
The fact that the PDP candidate, Governor Godwin Obaseki, fell out with his benefactor and former governor of the state, Adams Oshiomhole, who orchestrated his rise to power before Obaseki defected to the PDP has also added to the tension being experienced in the run off to the election. In a bizarre turn of events, Obaseki was denied the APC ticket and he quickly defected to the PDP in order to realise a second term in office, which he says, is non-negotiable.
With Oshiomhole now backing Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, his former adversary, who picked the APC ticket, it is obvious that Edo State will witness the mother of all battles on September 19.
Residents are worried that the division caused by the acrimonious campaign is unprecedented in the history of the state and they fear that it is capable of degenerating into a political war if the provision of security is not taken seriously.
Some of the allegations both parties are levelling against each other can be termed as absurd with character assassination becoming the order of the day. They have resorted into mudslinging instead of running issue-based campaigns. All these have heightened fears that a major crisis may be brewing as the day of reckoning for the candidates approaches.
However, the Edo State Resident Electoral Commissioner, Johnson Alalibo, allayed such fear and called on the parties and their supporters to eschew violence, while assuring that INEC was ready to deliver the best election under the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said, “The second document that was developed by INEC in conducting elections under COVID-19 dwells on security agencies and their conduct. So, they have already been trained in how to handle the voters in conjunction with the ad hoc staff and other personnel, who will be on the ground on election day. There are sufficient measures to ensure that they comply with the protocol to stem any disruptive act on that day.
“INEC makes the policies in line with Section 95 of the Electoral Act that outlaws any violent language at campaigns; the enforcement of those laws is purely in the hands of the security agencies. We can only draw their attention to the infractions or breach of the law.
“What INEC is doing is that we are conducting elections under the COVID-19 pandemic and there is a shift in paradigm from the old ways of conducting elections to a new way; we have introduced other issues that we have to take care of, especially the health and security concerns as regards conducting elections.”
The REC stated that social distancing would be strictly adhered to with voting expected to commence early in the morning and close by 2.30pm.
The state Commissioner of Police, Johnson Kokumo, stated that there would be a synergy among the security agencies as the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, was in touch with other security chiefs for the election.
He said training was being carried out to get the security operatives ready on land, in the air and on the sea, adding, “I wish to assure the INEC chairman and other stakeholders that we will do all within our powers to provide a conducive environment to conduct a free, fair and credible governorship election in Edo State on September 19.”
The acting Chairman of the APC in the state, Col. David Imuse (retd.), alleged that the pattern of violence had been one way, accusing the PDP of orchestrating the unrest being recorded in the past one year.
He said, “If you look at the pattern of violence in the state over the last one year, it has been one sided. You don’t need a soothsayer to tell you who the perpetrators of these criminal acts are; it is the ruling party and its supporters. So, we have made this point clear to the security agencies and it is their responsibility to carry out investigation and apprehend those responsible. The security agencies should do their job to make Edo State safe for a peaceful election.
“This is not a conventional war when you see your political opponents as enemies. But due to desperation to cling on to power, some people will go out of their way to carry out actions that are unlawful. And that is why we report incidents of this nature to the police. It is their responsibility to detect crime, arrest the perpetrators and bring them to justice. What we need to do as members of the public is to give information to the police that will assist them in carrying out their job and that is what we have been doing in the APC.
“No politician seeking political office will tell you that the position he is seeking is non-negotiable. There is nothing like that, because politics is based on negotiation and interaction. So, the PDP should know that no position is non-negotiable.”
The state Publicity Secretary, PDP, Chris Nehikhare urged INEC and the security agencies to be transparent, while wondering why the polity was so charged as this was not the first time an election was being held in the country.
He stated, “This is not the first time an election is being held in the country. We want a situation where there will be transparency not on the part of INEC alone, but from the security agencies, whose duty is to protect lives and property as well as the integrity of the ballot and the electorate.
“This is very important to us the people of Edo State. So, we expect that people are not victimised, intimidated and anybody caught with arms should be dealt with according to the law, while nobody should be threatened by security agents or members of another party.
“The arms build up is a narrative being put forward by the other party to try to have the election postponed by creating an atmosphere of confusion and insecurity. It is their imagination that arms are being built up; we encourage them to go to the police and show them where arms are being stock-pilled.
“I can tell you that the arms build-up narrative is to prevent people from coming out to vote on election day. That plan will fail and people will come out and vote. They are scaring the people from voting, because they are threatened by the margin they will be defeated by.
“The security agencies should be alert and do their job fairly and freely without bias as well as improve their intelligence gathering. If our competitors have intelligence, I will advise them to share it with the security agencies.”
The National Orientation Agency, Edo State Directorate, is also playing its part to ensure that a credible election is held in the state. The Head of the directorate, Mrs Grace Eseka, enjoined the political parties and their supporters not to see the election as a war that must be won at all cost.
Eseka stated, “We are appealing to everyone to take responsibility and do the right thing. An election is not a war. We are all brothers and sisters and we will come together after the election. So, we have to vote accordingly and avoid fights. Voters should not come with branded face masks that may be seen as campaign materials and this can trigger unrest.
“The people should stay in the queue, while they wait to cast their votes. In Edo, we are peaceful people, so we should go and vote peacefully and return to our houses in peace.”
She also said that the agency, through its community relation officers in the 18 local government areas of the state, was going from street to street and telling people what should be done to have a credible election.
The NOA official stated, “We are preaching peaceful elections and urging voters not to sell their votes and thumb-print appropriately so their votes will count. We have also gone to critical stakeholders like the traditional rulers, religious leaders, market heads and motor parks.
“The message we are also taking to them is that COVID-19 is real and so, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control’s protocols should be adhered to. We are also appealing to politicians to avoid hate speeches and should not cause tension and adhere to the NCDC protocols when they are campaigning.”
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