Adibe Emenyonu, in Benin City, writes on the accusations and counter accusations that have followed the postponement of the Edo State governorship election
It all started like a rumour. Attention was shifted to some postings on the social media that the September 10 governorship election may not hold as scheduled.
Earlier, there was assurance from the Independent National Electoral Commission that the election will go ahead as planned, the security implication notwithstanding. On the morning of Thursday, September 8, the electoral body confirmed that the governorship election in slated for Saturday will still go on as scheduled.
Announcing the decision to go ahead with the election, INEC’s National Commissioner, Voter Education and Publicity, Solomon Soyebi, said the commission by the decision exercised its constitutional rights. He said, “We cannot shift the election on the basis of security report. We have weighed all the parameters and consequences of postponing the election. This commission will not mortgage its independence for the sustenance of democracy. We have made 99 per cent preparation for the elections and we have also weighed the political atmosphere.”
Soyebi added that INEC had come out with a decision to go ahead with the election after meeting with stakeholders and security agencies.
Against this backdrop, there was jubilation by PDP supporters who had accused the APC of masterminding the proposed shift.
But the jubilation was short-lived. In the evening of same Thursday, INEC came out with an announcement postponing the election. It was the same Soyebi that made the declaration. According to him, “The Independent National Electoral Commission has postponed the scheduled Saturday September 10 governorship election in Edo State for two weeks.”
Making the pronouncement about 7.55 pm Thursday night at the commission’s state headquarters in Benin City, Soyebi said the election will now take place on Wednesday, September 28. He attributed the postponement to security issues raised by the police and the DSS.
He stated, “About 6pm today, we received official communication from the police and DDS drawing our attention to the need to postpone the Edo governorship elections. 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 Sallah period.”
Although the INEC spokesman did not disclosed the nature of theh security report available to it, the two security agencies had few days ago written a report, expressing security concerns and had to advice that the election be put off because of what they termed a plot by members of the Boko Haram sect to bomb some states, including Edo, especially during this Sallah period. That was the major reason adduced by them.
THISDAY gathered that the desperation exhibited of late by the two major parties in the election to win at all cost might have contributed to the security report sent by the police and DSS. They might, apparently, have sought to douse tension before the poll.
Just before INEC announced the shift, there were accusations and counter accusations by APC and PDP alleging plans by the other to rig the election. Apart from the verbal accusations, there was physical assault on loyalists of the two parties.
About three weeks ago, there were two reports of attack on the campaign teams and supporters of Godwin Obaseki, the APC candidate, and one reported case of attack on supporters of the PDP. There were also allegations of plans to recruit Niger Delta militants from through Delta, Ondo, Bayelsa and Rivers states through the creeks to cause mayhem on the election day and enable the PDP candidate to emerge victorious. A pointer to this, APC supporters alleged, was a meeting held some months ago in Asaba, the capital of Delta State, where the governors of the South-south , who are all PDP members, except that of Edo converged and boasted they will reclaim the state for PDP to complete the circle.
On the other hand, there was accusation by the PDP that APC was planning to recruit thugs from neighbouring Kogi State to rig the election.
As soon as the postponement was announced, APC and PDP began another round of blame game. Reacting to the postponement, Governor Adams Oshiomhole condemned it, saying the new date may clash with the planned coronation of Oba of Benin on September 26. Speaking on a television programme, Oshiomhole said the Oba’s coronation was a big event that every Edo person celebrates and has a role to play.
He said, “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. Why not postpone the election for one week?”
On whether the APC was afraid of defeat, Oshiomhole said the APC defeated the PDP in 16 local governments in the last election held in the state. He added that his party was ready for the election and that Edo was not a war zone.
“We will win the election. The PDP has no credibility in this state,” Oshiomhole alleged.
Director of Publicity, APC Campaign Council, Senator Domingo Obende, said the PDP was angry over the postponement of the election because they will not be able to perpetrate their violence any more.
According to him, “I think we have two feelings and reactions, first and foremost we have prepared so hard and we believe and we know that the voters are behind us and we are going to win. Secondly, we are also happy because Edo has not been known to be a state where violence is the order of the day.
“So if actually for security reasons, as stated by both the police and the DSS, this shift is realised then I think I am happy for it, It means any time they decide to fix it, election will be peaceful. That is why I said I have mix feelings.
“PDP is saying rubbish because they have imported thugs, again because they brought aliens to come and register in Edo State.”
Reacting also, the state chapter of APC said it regretted the postponement of the election by two weeks. Mr Anselm Ojezua, the state chairman, stated this in a press conference in Benin on Friday. Ojezua regretted the postponement, lamenting the failure to consult critical stakeholders before announcement of the postponement. He regretted the time and resources that had been expended on electioneering in the past weeks.
The chairman alleged the infiltration of militants into the state and accused the opposition PDP of being behind it.
Ojezua stated, “It will therefore be fair to admit that the decision has adversely affected us somewhat. However, having regards to the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Electoral Act, we are obliged to defer to the decision of INEC particularly when ‘security threats’ have been cited as the reason for the postponement.
“Although we do not have the details from the security agencies, we have in the past drawn attention to the influx of militants into Edo from neighbouring states during the Continuous Voters Registration exercise. As a matter of fact, some of them were arrested at Ologbo in Ikpoba Okha LGA and charged to court but a host of others made it without detection; those ones must be lurking around various locations within our state, even as we speak.
“Data capturing machines were found to have been given to unauthorised persons to carry out illegal registration; a case in point is that of Alhaji Nakowa, a known PDP chieftain in Etsako Central, who was arrested with some unscrupulous INEC staff while engaged in illegal registration acts in a private residence in the middle of the night.
“All these, taken with the reported threat by the governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, to the effect that the APC people should go and write their will should be a source of concern to any right thinking person.
“You recall that the last time the same man issued the same threat in Port Harcourt several people lost their lives, including youth corpers who had been deployed to assist in the exercise in that state.”
The APC chairman added, “The postponement, therefore, provides an opportunity for the security agencies to address these concerns in addition to whatever other threats they may have discovered.”
But in its reaction, the PDP accused Oshiomhole, INEC, and the security agencies of the plotting the postponement. In a statement signed by its publicity secretary, Chris Nehikhare, PDP described the security report given by INEC for shifting the election as phantom.
“For us, the move by INEC to put off the election is shocking and unacceptable. We are taken aback by the rash security advice a day after the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, was present at the final campaign rally of the APC in Benin City, which was concluded without any security hitch,” Nehikhare stated.
The statement described the INEC’s action as “lamentable, inexcusable and shameful.”
However, the British High Commission and the European Union on Friday, in Benin City, sued for the conduct of a peaceful governorship election in Edo State. Political Counsel at the British High Commission, Mr Ben Jones, and Deputy Head of Delegation, EU, Mr Richard Young made the call after meeting with some stakeholders in the election. The two institutions, which are among the foreign observers for the poll, appealed to all stakeholders, including INEC and the security agencies, to prepare well for the new date. They also called for increase in communication between the political actors, security agencies and INEC.
According to Jones, “Our concern is that the elections on the 28th of September are held peaceful, conclusive and credible. And that all the institutions, the parties, INEC, the police and other security agencies do everything they can to make sure the people of Edo can decide who the next governor would be.
“We, members of the international community, are very keen and sure that the 28th of September should be peaceful, free and fair and should be supported. I think the important thing is that the institutions prepare themselves for the new date and tensions are coming; there are some tension we have seen them ourselves.”
On his part, Young said, “It is important that the people respect leadership and the leadership preaches peace. Peace is very important. We came here to discuss the postponement of the governorship election and to make a number of appeals for the increased contact with the political parties and INEC and the police and the security agencies.
“They should ensure that a careful ground is laid for the election to take place smoothly and calmly in a democratic and credible manner on Wednesday 28the of September. The need to have a sense that good communication between all those different actors, political parties, INEC, police and security services is paramount, to ensure that the election takes place smoothly and calmly in a peaceful manner on September 28.”