After Initial Bravado, INEC Bows to Pressure, Postpones Edo Election

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• It’s illegal, PDP
• Oshiomhole kicks

Bolaji Adebiyi, Iyobosa Uwugiaren, Tobi Soniyi, Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja, Wale Olaleye in Lagos and Adibe Emenyonu in Benin City

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on Tuesday bowed to pressure from the nation’s security agencies and postponed the Edo State governorship election by two weeks.

The INEC National Commissioner, Voter Education and Publicity, Prince Solomon Soyebi, said the election earlier scheduled to hold tomorrow had to be countermanded because of concerns expressed by the security agencies.

He told journalists at a news conference last night at the commission’s state headquarters in Benin City that the election would now hold on Wednesday, September 28, 2016.
Soyebi said: “At 6.00pm today, we received official communication from the police and DSS, drawing our attention to the need to postpone the Edo governorship election.

Such a postponement, the communication indicates, is necessary in view of threats of terrorist activities in Edo and other states of the federation during the election and over the Sallah period. The deployment of security personnel countrywide to secure lives and property would outstretch their capacity to at the same time provide adequate security for the elections.

“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 governorship election to Wednesday, 28 September, 2016.

“The commission enjoins all eligible voters in Edo State, political parties, candidates and other stakeholders to be peaceful and law abiding.”
The electoral body had earlier yesterday told off the security agencies that had requested the postponement of the election, saying the commission would not be ordered about in the discharge of its electoral responsibilities.

Citing security concerns, the Department of State Services (DSS) and the Nigeria Police had on Tuesday advised INEC to shift the election to a future date.

The advice was sequel to a meeting of the Director-General, DSS, Mr. Lawal Daura, and the Inspector General of Police(IG) Ibrahim Idris, where the security situation in the country was reviewed.

“Credible intelligence availed the agencies indicate plans by insurgent/extremist elements to attack vulnerable communities and soft targets with high population during the forthcoming Sallah celebrations between 12th and 13th September, 2016,” the security agencies said in a statement by the Force Public Relations Officer (FPRO), DCP Don Awunah, and Mr. Garba Abdullahi of the DSS.

But in a swift response, the INEC expressed surprise at the advice and said it was unaware of any security threat to the election, particularly when it had just been assured by the Inter-agency Security Committee on the ground in Benin City, the state capital, that all was well.

“As regards the position of the police and State Security Agencies, we like to say that we were not informed and therefore not part of that decision in Abuja. Nobody told us, the INEC chairman is here along with all the national commissioners and we were not informed about it. We just heard the news like every other person else,” Rotimi Oyekanmi, Chief Press Secretary to INEC National Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, had told THISDAY on phone on Tuesday.

The electoral body followed up with a clear statement of rejection of the request yesterday morning when Soyebi said the cost of postponement of an election that had attained over 97 per cent preparation would be high.

Besides, he said, the commission was concerned about its integrity and the credibility of the electoral process, both of which he said would be greatly undermined if it were to accept the request from the security agencies.

But INEC was to buckle under pressure last night after engaging the security agencies in long hours of meetings, where it was told in definite terms that the security of the exercise that was less than 48 hours away could not be guaranteed.

Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State immediately kicked against the postponement, fearing that it might clash with the planned coronation of Oba of Benin fixed for September 26.
Speaking on a television programme, Oshiomhole said the oba’s coronation would be a big event, which every Edo man celebrates and has a role to play.

“We have a big event in Edo on September 26 which is the oba’s coronation. Before that day, there are other events that must be done. It will not be proper to hold election during that period,” he said, asking: “Why not postpone the election for one week?”

While the reaction of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) was being awaited yesterday, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was up in arms against the shift in the date of the election, saying it was illegal since it did not meet the requirement of the Electoral Act, 2010 as amended.

Describing it as a coup against the Edo people, the party in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Prince Dayo Adeyeye, said the reason adduced for the postponement was not clear and cogent as required by law.

“The postponement of the election by INEC is illegal, unconstitutional and a breach of the people’s trust in the commission and the security agencies. It is a coup against the people of Edo State in particular and Nigerians in general,” the party said, adding that: “Since APC assumed power, virtually all elections conducted by INEC have either been inconclusive or truncated.”
In Benin, the party’s state branch accused INEC of conniving with Oshiomhole to postpone the election in order to escape defeat that it said awaited the APC.

“Reason of security given by the security agencies, is a fluke,” said the state branch in a statement by its Publicity Secretary, Mr. Chris Nehikiare.
The electoral body, however, got support from the Labour Party that endorsed the action on the grounds that it would avoid unnecessary loss of lives.

The party’s National Chairman, Alhaji Abdulsami Abdulkadir, who spoke to THISDAY on telephone yesterday evening said that there was nowhere in the world where issues of security were taken for granted.
He said: “You see INEC has no option, they have no alternative than to postpone the election. There is nowhere in the world, no organisation disregards or disrespects security advice, however flimsy it is, however partisan it is. Since they call it security report, it must be upheld, it must be worked upon because it is the ordinary people that will die if INEC refuses to respect that advice.

“I commend the thoughtfulness of the INEC chairman and his team to deem it necessary to postpone that election because we did not know the undertone that informed the security advice. So I support the postponement.”

INEC’s Power to Countermand Election

No doubt INEC has the power to postpone an already scheduled election.
Section 26(1) of the Electoral 2010 (as amended), states thus: “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 the elections as a result of natural disasters or other emergencies, the Commission may postpone the election and shall in respect of the area, or areas concerned, appoint another date for the holding of the postponed election, provided that such reason for the postponement is cogent and verifiable.”

A similar scenario occurred during the 2015 general election when the commission was forced to reschedule all the elections following an advice from the Office of the National Security Adviser that there would be security challenges if the elections were to take place on the appointed dates.

Consequently, the commission then rescheduled the 2015 elections which were billed to hold on February 14th, 2015 (National Assembly and presidential) and the state elections (governorship and state assembly) scheduled for February 28th, 2015 to March 28, 2015 (presidential and National Assembly) while the state elections (governorship and state assembly) held on April 11th, 2015.

The then chairman of the commission, Professor Attahiru Jega, in a statement announcing the rescheduling of the election said:‎ “The conduct of elections in a country like Nigeria is invariably a collective venture that involves not just the Election Management Body (EMB), but also a diverse range of stakeholders, notably security agencies, political parties and their candidates, voters, as well as interest groups, such as the civil society organisations and the media. To guarantee successful conduct of elections, there are things that are wholly the responsibility of the EMB. But there are other things critical for the success of elections, which fall outside the control of the EMB.”
Since INEC does not have its own security apparatus, it is duty bound to consider advisory from security agencies when holding an election.

Jega captured this clearly when he said: “It relies on the security services to provide a safe environment for personnel, voters, election observers and election materials to conduct elections wherever it deploys. Where the security services strongly advise otherwise, it would be unconscionable of the Commission to deploy personnel and call voters out in such a situation.”

POP Gives PDP Edge over APC

The PDP’s insistence on the election must have been influenced by a poll that predicted that its candidate, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, had established a very comfortable lead over his APC’s counterpart, Godwin Obaseki.
According to the new opinion poll conducted by a media research and marketing organisation, Samrex Communications Limited and supervised by Dr. Ubani Azuka, the data showed that the lead, which Obaseki had enjoyed in the Edo North, compared to the last survey, had hugely declined.

The report said that the survey, which targeted 23,000 respondents and cuts across the three senatorial districts, was carried out between August 1 and September 2, 2016.

The latest report by the organisation, which targeted likely voters by telephone and online survey in the three senatorial districts: Edo South, Edo Central and Edo North, showed Ize-Iyamu to have the support of 75 per cent of the electorate in Edo South; 77 per cent in Edo Central, and 47 per cent in Edo North versus 25 per cent, 22 per cent and 53 per cent of the respondents, who said they supported Obaseki.
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.

For example, some respondents in Owan-East in Edo North said that their communities have been neglected: no polling booth at Okpa-Emai; insufficient primary school in Ake; bad roads/abandoned projects at Egbuotubu, and lack of social amenities. They advised the next government to focus more on agriculture to increase food production and reduce unemployment rate in the area.

Asked why they have decided to support the PDP candidate, many respondents in Igueben community in Edo Central, based their decision on lack of job creation; women empowerment and lack of water, light, good roads, education and others by the APC-led government in the state.
Others include lack of free education/health care; lack of reduction of school fees and lack of funds for farmers and market women.

In Oredo Local Government Area in Edo South, those who responded to calls by the polling agency based their rejection of the present (APC) government on bad roads, power supply, reduction of teachers’ salary, lack of provision of social amenities — water, light and job creation — and the increasing cost of living in the land.

On the other hand, those who promised to vote for the APC generally based their decision on renovation of schools, promise to build industries to generate income and creation of jobs, provision of loans to farmers and small scale business owners and provision of potable water and youth empowerment. They also want somebody who will sustain Oshiomhole’s legacies.