Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja and Adibe Emenyonu in Benin City
The Independent National Electoral Commission saturday lamented the heavy cost of the Edo State governorship election postponement in money and energy. The Deputy Director of Voter Education and Publicity Department at INEC, Mr. Nick Dazang, said the poll shift announced on Thursday by the commission would cost it a lot in terms of material procurement, training, and allowances for staff.
The governorship election earlier scheduled for September 10 was moved to September 28 following security concerns raised by the Nigeria Police and the Department of State Services.
Though, Dazang did not mention any specific amount, he said the commission would incur enormous costs in extra spending as a result of the election shift, which has also put a severe strain on the finances of the political parties.
Dazang told THISDAY by telephone yesterday that apart from the huge amount involved in the payment of allowances to staff already deployed for the election, the commission will have to undertake procurement of fresh sensitive and non-sensitive materials for the exercise.
“The financial loss incurred could be put at millions of Naira. For instance, INEC is now duty bound to pay the over 19,000 staff recruited and deployed for the Edo governorship election twice due to the sudden postponement,” he said.
Dazang stated that by the time the request for postponement of the election was made the commission had already gone far with preparations and deployment of men and materials for the election.
He said, “We had already mobilised the nearly 19, 000 staff that we needed to conduct the election. We had already recruited and trained them and the people had started moving to their duty posts at the local government areas.
“We also moved the non-sensitive materials to various locations. In fact, that Wednesday was the day we were are supposed take the custody of the sensitive materials from the CBN vault and take them to the local government areas under security escort and cover.
“If you look at the statement we issued on Wednesday, when we were addressing the stakeholders forum, we said that out of the 14 items in the timetable and schedule of activities for the Edo governorship election, we had already implemented 12. In fact, the last decisive one that was outstanding was just the conduct of the election, because the two items outstanding were the end of the campaigns and the conduct of the election. The end of the campaigns did not affect us at INEC, it affected the political parties. So that was the point at which we had mobilised.
“Of course, you are aware that we have already accredited all the observer groups, foreign and domestic, that were to observe the election and almost all of them were on ground. TMG was on ground, the convener of the Situation Room, Mr. Clement Nwankwo, was on ground, too, as well as the convener of the Election Monitoring Group. All these observer groups were on ground with us in Benin. At the same time, all the journalists that were to cover the election were even being accredited at our headquarters in Benin before the election was called off.
“So we had reached a high level of mobilisation and preparation for the conduct of the Edo State governorship election and the last major engagement before the election, the stakeholders’ forum, was what we were holding when the news of request for postponement started trending.
“That is why we are saying that to demobilise is going to cost us a lot because all these people we have recruited and trained and we have sent out, we have to pay them their allowances. In the same vein, when you are calling them back you have to pay them allowances again and we will have to devote a day or two to train and refresh their memories.”
On the issue of insecurity, which was the main reason given by the security agencies when they requested the postponement, the INEC spokesman said the election management body had as a matter of routine concluded its risk assessment and security mapping. From all indications, he said, all was well for the conduct of the election.
The public relations officer at the commission’s headquarters in Edo State, Mrs Priscilla Imoudu Sule, commented in a similar vein. Sule said INEC had spent huge sums to move staff and materials to the 18 local government areas and 192 wards in the state, stressing that demobilising them would cost it dearly. The political parties have also been counting the cost of the postponement.
The chairman of APC in the state, Mr. Anslem Ojezua, said the poll shift was announced without due consultation with the critical stakeholders, including his party. “Such an important decision as postponement of gubernatorial election, which had involved several months of active campaigning, would be done after extensive consultation with all the relevant stakeholders, as was done on the 7th of September 2016 when we all agreed that the election should go ahead; admittedly without knowledge of the very strong reservations expressed by the security agencies,” Ojezua said. “We believe that the timing and mode of communication by the security agencies could have been better handled, having regards to the very hard work and huge resources deployed towards the election by all concerned.”
According to Ojezua, “When a process has gathered momentum and all of a sudden there is a reversal, it is painful. We cannot quantify that in monetary value.”
The governorship candidate of APC, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, added that the postponement was not convenient, “But that is where we have found ourselves, we are okay with it if that is going to protect lives and property. We have to live with that no matter the inconvenience.”
The main opposition party in Edo State, the Peoples Democratic Party, described the shift in the date of the poll as a punishment. The PDP state chairman, Chief Dan Orbih, put the blame at the doorstep of the APC-led government in Edo State. Orbih said, “The cost is quite enormous, taking into consideration our lean resources because it is like starting all over again. But we have been assured by the people that if the election is postponed 10 times, they will vote PDP because they are tired of APC.”
The PDP national publicity secretary, Prince Dayo Adeyeye, said the postponement had put a heavy financial burden on the party. Adeyeye told THISDAY, “We have lost enormous resources due to the last minute shift in the date of the election, no doubt about that. But we count on the support of the good people of Edo State to remain steadfast in backing us till the election is won.
“We intend to go on with our campaigns and to encourage the Edo electorate, which have resolved to vote out the APC government in the state, to come out on the new date to cast their votes.”
On its part, the All Progressives Grand Alliance described the postponement as unfair and suspicious. The national chairman of APGA, Chief Victor Oye, said at the weekend that the postponement showed how unprepared the country was about democracy.
Oye said, “Our worry is that many of the youths that form the large chunk of our supporters will be involved in the GCE examination. So we are appalled that INEC and WAEC allowed both national activities to clash. “Again, the postponement tells a simple story about our unpreparedness about democracy. How could the elections be postponed three days to the D-Day? The entire thing smacks of indecency, unfairness and hidden agenda. There is need for all of us to sit up.”