Senator Iroegbu, in Abuja, writes on the new twists in the Edo State governorship race
The request by the Department of State Services and the Nigeria Police that the Independent National Electoral Commission should postpone the September 10 governorship election in Edo State due to security concerns has unsettled political players in the country. The odious security advice, which came as a shock to most Nigerians, especially the people of Edo State, was swiftly rejected by INEC, which made many to wonder if they were consulted in the first place. But the commission also did a fast U-turn that same Thursday and acceded to pressures for postponement of the election. It shifted the poll to September 28.
Citing security concerns, the DSS and the police had advised the electoral umpire to consider shifting the election to a future date. That was after a meeting behind closed doors between the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Ibrahim Idris, and the DSS director-general, Mr. Lawal Daura, in Abuja on Wednesday.
“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, DCP Don Awunah, and Mr. Garba Abdullahi of the DSS.
But INEC had in a swift response to the ominous request coming barely 72 hours before the scheduled election, 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.
INEC National Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, through his chief press secretary, Mr. Rotimi Oyekanmi, told THISDAY upon hearing the request from the security agencies that the commission whose national commissioners were already in Benin City for the election, would meet to consider the security agencies’ request.
Oyekanmi told THISDAY by telephone on Wednesday, “As regards the position of the police and State Security Services, 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.”
Oyekanmi said contrary to the fears over security, the inter-agency committee on election security had given an undertaking to secure the exercise. According to him, “The funny thing is that we are still in Benin City, we have concluded a final stakeholders forum during which the Deputy Inspector General of Police, Joshak Habila, gave his word that everything was ready; that the police were ready and that they were going to deploy about 25,000 men for the Saturday’s governorship election in Edo State.”
He wondered why the police raised concerns about security moments after giving guarantees through Habila. Feeling at lost, he queried why the security agencies made the request when their representatives overseeing security for the election in the state had rest assured it that they were ready to secure the poll on Saturday.
Oyekanmi stressed that some in the INEC leadership, including the national chairman, Amina Zakari, Muhammed Leky, Ambassador Lawrence Nwuruku, Soyebi Adedeji, representatives of the police and DSS and the 19 candidates contesting in the election.
“He gave assurances about adequate security for the election, only for us to hear of news filtering in that security agencies addressed a press conference in Abuja, saying that they cannot guarantee security for the election. As I speak we are planning to meet with the civil society organisations and other stakeholders to determine how we are going to respond to it,” Oyekanmi said.
He disclosed that the DIG who represented the IG on the inter-agency committee on election security and the new Commissioner of Police in Edo State attended the stakeholders’ meeting and gave assurances that security agencies would provide security.
Expectedly, many stakeholders, including the Peoples Democratic Party, the main challenger in the contest, opposed the proposition by the security agencies and called on President Muhammadu Buhari to put them in check.
“President Muhammadu Buhari should caution the security agencies to desist from doing anything that will jeopardise this forthcoming gubernatorial election in Edo State and direct them to provide security for the exercise,” publicity secretary of the PDP National Caretaker Committee, Prince Dayo Adeyeye, said on Wednesday.
Adeyeye insisted there was no way the state, which successfully hosted the president during the APC rally without any hitch, could now become as insecure as to warrant a postponement of the election. He went ahead to puncture the security excuse by the police and DSS as hogwash having regards to the fact that INEC recently conducted a hitch free senatorial by-election in Borno State, which is troubled by insurgency without objection from the security agencies. “It is lamentable to hear from these same security agencies that the election cannot be held in a state where in less than 24 hours, the president and all the APC leaders and members had an uninterrupted rally.”
Surprisingly, Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State, whose All Progressives Congress was rumoured to be favourably disposed to the request, opposed the postponement move, as he told INEC “not to shift the defeat of the PDP by shifting the date of the election.”
According to Oshiomhole, “The APC is ready for the election this Saturday and that was why we held our mega rally on Tuesday and after that rally our people across the state became more committed, more dogged and ready for the Saturday election.”
He was, however, reported to have clarified that security being a critical factor in an election must be taken seriously. “If on their own they are calling on INEC for postponement, I am sure they must have their reasons because they are experts in it. If you recall, we raised the alarm that the PDP had planned to import thugs from neighbouring states to help them unleash mayhem on our people because they are not prepared for the election,” he said.
From the reactions of the major stakeholders, it was clear that the proposal by DSS and the police was unpopular. But INEC reversed its stand Thursday night and acceded to the advice by the DSS and the police to shift the poll.
INEC’s National Commissioner in charge of voter education and publicity, Mr. Soyebi Solomon, said the decision to postpone the election was reached at a security meeting held with security agencies on Thursday evening. He said that the commission had successfully implemented 12 of 14 conditions required for a successful conduct of the election before the advice from the police and DSS to consider postponement of the election.
Solomon said, “About 6pm on Thursday, the commission received official communication from the police and DSS drawing its attention to the need to postpone the Edo governorship elections. Such postponement, the communication indicates, is necessary in view of threats of terrorists activities in Edo State 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 overstretch their capacity to at the same time provide adequate security for the election.
“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 Edo governorship elections to Wednesday, 28 September 2016.”
Security Scare and Sense of Deja Vu
There is no doubt that the request by the DSS and the police, urging INEC to postpone the Edo State governorship elections, has remained controversial and has stoked fear among Nigerians. Many have likened it to the situation before the last general election, under former President Goodluck Jonathan, when the poll was shifted by six weeks due to security concerns. The then National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd), while speaking earlier as a guest at Chattam House, United Kingdom, hinted on the plans to postpone the elections, thereby causing apprehension within the ranks of the then opposition APC and their supporters that the former president and his party might have planned to scuttle the elections they were bound to lose.
Though the former NSA and his principal were able to improve the apparent precarious state of security at the time, many are not convinced that the situation is the same now.
The former national chairman of All Progressives Grand Alliance, Chief Maxi Okwu, captures the mood of many in his Facebook wall, thus, “The security scare being thrown by the security agencies in Edo is a repeat of the tactics used by GEJ in 2015 to buy time. It’s now obvious that the APC has realised they are in trouble in Edo.
“The problem is that as a nation we have a very bad affliction of national political and historical amnesia. Just last year the scaremongering did not help GEJ and PDP. Please, what makes APC believe it will work this year? Na wah for this our Naija.”
The security agencies, however, insist that Edo State is one of the states targeted by extremist elements for attacks around the proposed election date. They say similar threats were made during the Labour Day and Democracy Day celebrations in May as well as the Ed-el-Fitr holidays in July but the security agencies were able to disrupt and thwart the insurgents’ plan. They recall that the DSS had last month uncovered plots by Boko Haram elements to attack Edo and Kogi states.
The DSS had in a statement signed by Mr. Tony Opuiyo said that it was further to their on-going tactical and counter-terrorism operations to degrade the capabilities of criminal gangs/syndicates in their hide-outs across the Federation.
Opuiyo had stated, “Following threat messages against some members of the Diplomatic Corps in Abuja and Lagos, the Service responded and subsequently apprehended one Aikhoje Moses, on August 19, 2016, at Azagha by-pass off the Benin–Asaba Expressway in Edo State.”
He was quoted as saying, “On August 12, 2016, at Auchi in Edo State, three members of the ANSARU terrorist group hibernating in Kogi State were apprehended by the Service. Usman Abdullahi, Abdulmumuni Sadio and Ahmad Salihu were arrested while making arrangements to launch attacks on some selected targets in Edo and Kogi states, before escaping to join ISIS in Libya.”
Accordingly, the joint statement by the two security agencies said while they recognised the importance of the election, the security agencies would not take the issue of security lightly.
“It is in regard of these that we are appealing to INEC, which has the legal duty to regulate elections in the country, to consider the need for possible postponement of the date of the election in Edo State in order to enable security agencies deal decisively with the envisaged terrorist threats,” the police and the DSS said.
From the foregoing, it seems the police and DSS have genuine reasons for the call for postponement of the elections, despite the fact that the timing may be wrong.
The stakes are high in Edo State for both the ruling APC and the main opposition PDP at the state and national levels. With all eyes now focused on the 2019 general election, each party is strengthening its base and alliances for maximum political harvest in the election.
Analysts say Edo State is the ground zero and ultimate springboard with which any victorious party can consolidate its position ahead of 2019. To political watchers, Edo State and Imo State are strategic states for APC in the South-south and South-east, respectively, from where it hopes to make inroads into the geopolitical zones. And for PDP, the calculation is that winning the Edo election would send a strong message to party faithful and supporters that the party is still a force to reckon with and a potential winner in the next general elections. In the same vein, losing the state may signal the weakening of APC in the South-south and ultimate end of any inroads in the zone where it appears to be facing a lot of hostility.
For APC and PDP, therefore, Edo seems to be a “do-or-die affair”.
The coming of Buhari and other APC heavyweights at the last campaign in the state as well as the gathering of PDP governors and top party leaders have helped to increase the political tempo in the state. However, some in the state were said to be angered by the involvement of the president whose rating has dropped drastically in recent times, especially within the zone. Analysts had noted that should the election hold as scheduled the ruling party might lose.
Incidentally, the PDP governorship candidate, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, had predicted a shift in date of the election, saying the ruling APC plans to hinge the postponement on the Sallah break. Ize-Iyamu had said a few weeks ago that there were plans to postpone the election, although he cited the Muslim Sallah as the probable reason. He further alluded to the fact that it was a ploy by the APC to destabilise things and put the PDP at a disadvantage.
He alleged a few weeks ago, “There is the possibility that INEC may postpone the election from September 10. Although this is not official, we have it on good authority that the date may coincide with this year’s Muslim Salah and if that is true, the postponement might be inevitable. But no one has mentioned or communicated this to us yet.
“But we have it on good authority that the other side already knows about the development and are trying as much as possible to conceal it from us, so that by the time the postponement is announced, we would have outspent ourselves and you know what that means.”
The political intrigues on the road to the governorship election in Edo State have created doubt among Nigerian. And this may seriously affect the credibility of the election result, no matter the winners.