Iyobosa Uwugiaren in Abuja and Adibe Emenyonu in Benin City
Palpable tension engulfed Benin City monday as leaders and governors of the nation’s two main political parties, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), prepared to storm the Edo State capital today for the final campaigns to support their respective candidates in the gubernatorial election scheduled for Saturday.
Although both parties would hold their rallies at pole ends of the capital city, residents expressed fears of possible clashes between the stalwarts of the parties that are the main contenders for the coveted post in the state.
But heavy presence of armed security operatives in the ancient city that is expecting President Muhammadu Buhari and his deputy, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, who would be leading the mop up push for Godwin Obaseki, the APC nominee for the post being vacated by the incumbent Adams Oshiomhole, gave some assurances of security monday.
The APC’s concluding rally holds at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium.
Ahead of the president’s visit, Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State; the Deputy National Chairman of APC, Chief Segun Oni; the National Organising Secretary, Senator Osita Izunaso; and other senior officials of the party were on the Arik Airline flight that landed at Benin City Airport yesterday at 4pm. Some senior officials of Edo State government were on ground to receive them and later drove them to Edo State Government House.
Speaking with journalists yesterday in Benin City, the state Chairman of the APC, Anselm Ojezua, said the party was prepared for the rally, adding that the National Campaign Council for the APC governorship candidate, Obaseki, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State and his team were already in Benin to ensure a smooth rally.
He said all logistics to ensure free movement of the visitors and party supporters across the state had also been perfected.
The Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium venue of the rally wore a new look monday. When journalists visited the stadium, soldiers, officials of the Department of State Services (DSS), riot policemen and other security agencies had taken over the stadium and all the major roads leading in and out of the stadium area.
The Airport, Golf course road, and the Edaiken Uselu Palace where the president and his entourage would visit had also been taken over by soldiers and other security agencies.
The Edo State PDP on its part, will also host all PDP governors and some national leaders of the party who would be in the state capital to canvass votes for their candidate, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu.
The party’s governors and the national leaders, according to a member of the Board of Trustees (BoT) who spoke with THISDAY, would hold a town hall meeting with Edo PDP leaders, as part of their operation and execution strategy to wrap up their campaign.
The Director-General of the Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu Campaign Organisation, Senator Mathew Urohinde, told THISDAY yesterday that it was too late in the day for APC, saying President Buhari is coming for a “rally of defeat”.’
According to him, “I just told the APC leaders that they are coming to Benin City for a rally of defeat. Edo people have made up their minds and they will massively vote for PDP on Saturday.’’
Also in a statement monday, the Ize-Iyamu campaign organisation welcomed President Buhari to Benin City; but said his visit “would not make any difference as the good people of Edo have made up their minds to take their destiny in their own hands by sensibly picking the best candidate, Pastor Ize-Iyamu, that can move the state beyond where it is now.”
It said: “The people remain strong and focused in the on-going efforts to bring about a new state that will deliver socio-economic, healthcare, employment, skill acquisitions and other deliverable services to the people. And there is no better prepared candidate for the position in any of the political parties than Pastor Ize-Iyamu.’’
The organisation said its candidate’s public service records were so glowing not to be noticed by the people, noting that they dwarf the eight years sojourn of his main contender, Obaseki.
According to the organisation, “Having served in the past as Chief of Staff to the Edo State government and later the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Ize-Iyamu had piloted the engine of governance and would therefore need no induction course to swing into action from day one, just as no one can bamboozle him to derail governance as can be done to a typical green horn like Godwin Obaseki.”
INEC Set for Itch-free Poll
Meanwhile, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) yesterday declared its readiness to conduct the poll.
Prof. Mohammad Kuna, the Special Adviser to the commission’s National Chairman, Prof. Mahmud Yahaya, stated this at a stakeholders’ meeting on public presentation of the security threat assessment for the governorship election in Edo State, organised by CLEEN Foundation in Benin City.
He said the commission was well equipped in the area of human and capital resources to carry out the exercise, adding that all stakeholders must be up and doing to ensure a violent-free poll.
“It is however important that the people must own the process of electoral system. It has been observed that whatever the modalities INEC has put on ground to conduct a credible poll, the people must ensure that they behave in a civil manner to help democracy grow in the country,” he said.
Also, Prof. Mim Abutudu of the University of Benin, in his presentation stated that rigging and fear of electoral manipulation could be a high risk factor that could raise the level of violence and urged INEC to ensure that materials were deployed on time to the various polling units.
The Executive Director, CLEEN Foundation, Mr. Benson Olugbuo, explained that the foundation had as one of its cardinal objectives to monitor and report the level of security threat to the conduct of elections in Nigeria.
Stakeholders agreed that the activities of security agencies, including officials of INEC must be checked to ensure that the process was violence-free, credible and fair to all.
Meanwhile, the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) in the state, Mr. Sam Olumekun, has disclosed that Incident Form would be used if the Smart Card Reader failed to authenticate a prospective voter.
Olumekun, who spoke with journalists shortly after receiving the Director General of the National Youths Service Corps (NYSC), Brigaider-General Sule Zakari Kazuare, in his office in Benin City, however, said the commission anticipated that the use of the incident form would be few and far between on Saturday.
According to him, “We don’t expect that there will be too many of such cases but if condition warrants it, off course we will use it.”
He also disclosed that the distribution of Permanent Voters Card (PVCs) would continue at the local government INEC offices until Thursday, adding that some persons, who tried to hijack the 2014 PVCs in the state were arrested by security agents and the PVCs collected from them.
However, the Director General of the NYSC, Brig-Gen Kazaure, met with corps members participating in Saturday’s governorship election in the state, warning them that any corps members found wanting during the election would bear the full weight of the law.
Kazaure, who visited the state to solicit for adequate security for corps members participating in the governorship election, visited the 4 Brigade of the Nigerian Army, headquarters of the state police command and the state headquarters of INEC.
Addressing the NYSC Director General, the Commander of the 4 Brigade, Brig-Gen Bebenla Raji, said the army was working with the police, the DSS, FRSC, NSCDC and the Nigeria Police to ensure a peaceful election and protection for the participating corps members.
He said: “As long as you have me here, rest assured that the corps members are well protected. We have even gone as far as arranging for the corps members to have the phone numbers of the officers that will be at the respective units where the corps members will be stationed.”
He also stated that more protection would be given to the corps members as troops would be stationed in not too far distances to the polling booths in line with relevant laws guiding the conduct of elections.
While receiving Kazaure in his office, the outgoing Edo State police commissioner, Chris Ezike, assured Kazaure of police protection for the corps members, charging him to inform the corps members that any of them found wanting on Saturday would be prosecuted.
Students Protest, Want New Poll Date
Secondary school students have called for a shift in date of the gubernatorial election in Edo State scheduled to hold on Saturday to another date as it clashed with their Mathematics examination also scheduled by the West African Examination Council (WAEC) for the same day.
The students who stormed the Government House, Benin City, with placards with various inscriptions said holding the examination and the poll same day would disenfranchise them.
The students also said they would kick against any plan to be moved to other states for the Mathematics examination as planned by WAEC, adding that this would not only disorganise them but also put them at a disadvantage.
Spokesman for the students Iko Emmanuel Moses said: “Our position about the General Certificate Examination (GCE) in Edo State, the scheduled governorship election on the 10th of September, with a deep sense of regret and pains, we wish to express and oppose the disturbing circumstances surrounding the above examination of this year and its effect on our expected performance in the examination.
“The plan to relocate us out of Edo State, our state, to other regions to sit for the examination because of the September 10 election in Edo State as scheduled by INEC is an ill wind which will affect our chances to perform well in the examination. We have found this situation very disturbing, discouraging and we cannot take the risk.”
In his response, Governor Oshiomhole said he would pass their protest letter to the president, saying the election was fixed by INEC which is an independent body.
He said the responsibility of fixing the governorship election in the state rested with INEC, explaining that he was not consulted when the election for September 10 was scheduled.