National Electoral Commission, Professsor Attahiru Jega
Heavy security as voters go to poll
Ademola Adeyemo, Chuks Okocha and Adibe Emenyonu in Benin City
It’s decision day in Edo State today, as about 1.6 million voters file out to determine who will govern the state in the next four years. This is coming after weeks of pulsating, and sometimes, violent campaigns by some of the major contenders.
Because of the controversy generated by the gubernatorial election in the last few weeks, tension has remained high across Edo State. By yesterday, about 3,500 armed soldiers, joined by mobile policemen and members of the Civil Defence Corps mounted sentry at the strategic places in the state.
For most analysts, today’s election is a straight fight between incumbent governor, Adams Oshiomhole of the Action Congress of Nigeria and Charles Airhihabare of the Peoples Democratic party
The Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Professsor Attahiru Jega, who has been on ground in Edo State since Tuesday is leading the team of INEC officials for today’s election. Jega reiterated yesterday that the election would be free and fair
INEC National Commissioner, Ishmail Igbani told THISDAY on phone yesterday that 1.65 million voters are expected to vote in today’s election.
Apparently to prevent any violence, armed soldiers and other security agencies were seem on most streets in Edo State yesterday evening, patrolling and checking vehicles coming into the state.
From Mission Road, Ikpoba Hill, Uselu and to Ring Road and Sapele Road to the Airport Road, armed men were seen blaring their sirens in Hilux utility vehicles. Also at the popular Benin – Okene Road, armed soldiers were seen patrolling the major roads, while others were observed escorting electoral officers with sensitive electoral materials to their respective destinations.
Armed soldiers were also seen around the major roads of Benin-Asaba and the Benin-Warri axis. In the Uromi axis, armed soldiers were seen patrolling the streets up to the Ekpoma, where the Ambrose Alli University is located.
At the office of the Independent National Electoral Commission at Ikpoba Hill, the armed soldiers were seen protecting the office, while distribution of election materials was going on.
The deployment of the 3,500 soldiers was a controversial one, which created a bit of controversy in the National Assembly. At a point, some members of the House of Representatives kicked against it, saying that it was a ploy to rig the election.
However, they eventually approved of the deployment. Oshiomhole has equally endorsed the deployment of soldiers
On the streets of Benin, people were seen going about their duties, but whenever the siren blaring soldiers drove past, it startles the people.
Igbani told THISDAY on phone yesterday evening that the commission was prepared for the election as “all sensitive electoral materials have been distributed.” He also appealed to the voters to be orderly and to cast their votes and leave the voting centres.
He also confirmed that that there would be restriction of movement during the elections and that only those on essential duties would be allowed to move freely cross the state.
Meanwhile, the PDP spent most of yesterday on last minute campaign for Airhihabare. The National Publicity Secretary of the party, Olisa Metuh urged members and indigenes of the state to turn out en masse and vote for the party, promising that the PDP “is determined to turn the state around.”
Metuh alleged that there are “devious plans by the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) to massively influence the outcome of the election, using unwholesome methods.”
He continued: “We have received reports that the ACN has printed fake voters’ cards and imported thugs from neighbouring states to terrorise voters and precipitate violence on election day. We urge our supporters to remain vigilant and bring to the notice of law enforcement agencies any suspicious activity."
The movement of electoral materials across the state continued for most of yesterday under heavy security.
The resident Electoral Commissioner in the state, Mr. Kassim Gaidam received sensitive electoral materials from the Central Bank of Nigeria in the presence of participating political parties represented by their agents as well as officials of the electoral body who witnessed the movement of the materials that started as early as 6am yesterday.
According to the Resident Electoral Commissioner from Ondo State, Mr. Akin Orebiyii, who is also helping out, “as at this moment, everything is well under control. Materials have been distributed to the various local government electoral officers. As I am speaking now, they are on their way to the council areas across the state.”
He said materials for 13 local government areas were already on their way to the council areas where they would further be distributed to wards. The state has 192 wards.
Orebiyii is one the 20 resident electoral commissioners deployed to the state for the election.
Also deployed are eight national commissioners while 18 INEC top officials would be in-charge of the each of the 18 local government areas of the state.
Orebiyii told journalists that the electoral body was poised for a free, fair and credible election in Edo State and that adequate security measures have been put in place to mitigate any untoward behavior.
Meanwhile, it was gathered that soldiers and mobile policemen have been giving instruction to give the various waterways in the riverine communities of Ovia North East and Ovia South-West special attention “to present a breakdown of law and order by suspected militants and movement of arms by suspected political thugs.”
As Edo votes, all eyes are on Oshiomhole and Airhiavbere considered as the key contenders among the seven candidates for the election.
At the Government House, Benin, there were skeletal official activities while some offices were under lock and key.
At the INEC headquarters along the Benin-Auchi Road, hundreds of armed soldiers were seen maintaining security.
Hundreds of international and local monitors and journalists were also seen at INEC office jostling for accreditation.
Meanwhile, a socio-political pressure group, the Akoko-Edo Coalition for Oshiomhole 2012 has vowed that “no amount of misinformation, misrepresentation of facts, intimidation, harassment or even threat could stop Comrade Adams Oshiomhole victory in today’s Edo State gubernatorial election.
Chairman of the coalition, Engineer Afemikhe Emmanuel Yakubu in an interview with THISDAY in Bauchi yesterday said “victory is certain for Oshiomhole today.”