President Buhari raising the hand of the APC candidate during the party's mother of all rallies recently

Events leading to the postponed Edo State governorship election earlier slated for last weekend strikes closely familiar. Perhaps, the nation had been there before. Shola Oyeyipo and Segun James write

There is something quite uncanny about the postponement of the Edo State governorship election. It seems contrived, and much more disturbing, foretold. About a month ago, candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Mr. Osagie Ize-Iyamu told a gathering of journalists in Benin, the Edo State capital that the election might be postponed. He said an excuse would be built around the Sallah period to have it moved forward in favour of the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC).

He either didn’t quite have the details or rather, chose to be miserly with the information for security reasons. He didn’t allude to security concern as the reason for the likely postponement, but was certain a postponement was imminent. And the political slant? He reckoned the APC wanted him and his party to outspend themselves, before landing to their shock, the postponement, during which period they would not have sufficient money to further prosecute the campaign.

Also, a notable online news platform, Sahara Reporter, recently claimed that there were reports showing that APC was likely to lose the Edo governorship election to the PDP, if the election was held last Saturday and this was attributed to the security report from the Directorate of State Security (DSS) and the Police, which was believed might have necessitated the postponement to September 28.

The duo of Police Public Relations Officer, Mr. Don Awunah, and DSS publicist, Garba Abdullahi, in a jointly signed press statement had said “credible intelligence available to the agencies indicate plans by insurgents/extremist elements to attack vulnerable communities and soft targets with high population during the forthcoming Sallah celebrations between September 12 and 13, 2016.

“Edo State is amongst the states being earmarked for these planned attacks by the extremist elements. The public will recall that similar threats were issued during the May Labour Day and Democracy Day celebrations as well as the Ed-el-Fitr holidays in July, 2016. However, the security agencies were able to decisively disrupt and thwart the insurgents’ plans.

“In the same vein, while election is important, the security agencies cannot allow the peace of the country to be disrupted, and we will continue to remain vigilant and ensure the consolidation of the successes gained in the current counter-insurgency fight.”

Hearing the news, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) rejected the security advice and vowed to go on with the election as scheduled, irrespective of the fact that the SSS and the police clearly stated that they could not guarantee the security during the exercise.

For INEC, mobilization had been done about 90 per cent and thus, to demobilize and remobilize would also constitute constitutional breach. It therefore maintained that having weighed its options, going ahead with the election was its best bet.

It didn’t however stop there. the commission still met with his commissioners and after going back and forth on the matter, it eventually succumbed to the pressure from sagencies which had threatened it would not guarantee security and postponed the September 10 election by another two weeks.

No doubt, the postponement was a costly decision for the Mahmood Yakubu-led INEC, which had attained about 97 per cent readiness level before it was pressured to change its decision. But a mix of the political colouration of the decision has further heightened fears about alleged clandestine moves to manipulate the election.

For instance, in his combative characteristic nature, Governor Adams Oshiohmole had pointedly accused the governor of neighbouring Delta State, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, of masterminding the deployment of militants to disrupt the election, adding that Okowa and his Rivers State counterpart, Governor Nyesome Wike, were planning to use militants to subvert the will of the people had the election held as scheduled.

Maintaining his argument that plans were in top gear to disrupt the election, Oshiohmole told the National President, Nigerian Union of Journalist (NUJ), Waheed Odusile, who visited him in Benin, the state capital, last Thursday that Wike and Okowa had mobilised militants to cause havoc during the postponed governorship election in the state.

“As we speak, both governors have raised N2billion to give to Ize-Iyamu, when they could not pay salaries in their states. They mobilised militants to Edo to register, preparatory to use them for violence in this election. We have eliminated violence in our elections here but in my election in 2007, PDP members killed three people at Oba primary school and brutalised hundreds of others. But thereafter, we have ensured free and fair election in Edo State.

“But we have asked our people to be on the watch out. During the continuous voters’ registration exercise, many of them came into town and to my shock, INEC registered many of them. But at least, we were able to apprehend 13 and we handed them over to the police. During the same period in Etsako Central, they carried data capturing machines and turned private residence to registration centers. We did not take laws into our hand; we reported to the police.

“The guy whose house was being used, we reported to the police. We insisted that the police should charge them to court and after they did that they were granted bail. And all these are PDP players. In the course of distributing the PVCs last week at Igueben, Some PDP thugs came to forcibly hijack PVCs from the officer that was distributing them at a school in Igueben and he ran into the residence of the PDP leader. Those PVC cards were recovered by the DSS.

“As we speak, many militants have been imported into Edo State and the security agents are aware of this. For us, we are ready for the election but we know that PDP has perfected plans to unleash violence. If you watch their public pronouncements, Ize-Iyamu has talked about cancellation and inconclusive elections. As we speak, I do not know what has been done about the EO that made the data capturing machine available for illegal registration in private residence. We want a peaceful environment to be able to get our people out to vote.”

But the PDP would not take that. In fact, the Senator Ahmed Mohammed Makarfi-led faction of the opposition rejected the postponement of the election. The party described INEC decision as “coup against the Edo people”, arguing that there was no tangible reason(s) evident to tamper with the election.

The PDP National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Dayo Adeyeye stated that “The call for the postponement of the election by top hierarchy of the security agencies predicated on alleged security threat was a less than ingenious attempt to buy time for the APC, which is clearly heading for a major electoral catastrophe on Saturday.
“It is shameful and indeed a major constitutional breach for the security agencies to act in concert with the APC to truncate an election that had been planned for months. Nigerians were not deceived by the obvious concoctions of the security agencies, whose performances during elections have been less than average since the advent of the Buhari administration. Indeed, they have become instruments in the hands of the Ruling Party to harass, intimidate and punish opponents.

“The time may be ripe now for President Buhari and the National Assembly to conduct a non-partisan holistic review and investigation of the national security apparatus to save our fledgling democracy.
“The postponement of the Election by INEC is illegal, unconstitutional and a breach of the peoples’ trust in the commission and the security agencies. It is a coup against the people of Edo State in particular and Nigerians in general. Since APC assumed power, virtually all elections conducted by INEC have either been inconclusive or truncated. Saturday’s election in Edo State must be an exemption”.
Aside the sustained protest by the Ekiti State Governor, Ayodele Fayose and many other PDP stakeholders, who have condemned the postponement, the PDP governorship candidate, Ize-Iyamu has been showing rare confidence that he would win the election. He had told his supporters that he would join them in singing victory songs on Sunday had the election not been rescheduled.

For Ize-Iyamu, the postponement was simply an attempt by the ruling APC to buy time since it knew it was losing the election. “God had given victory to the PDP and it was time to work for the victory. We are on the threshold of history. They tried to postpone the election using flimsy excuses. The postponement was arranged by the state government with some cabals to postpone the day of reckoning,” he said.

Issues in Edo 2016 Election
The stakes in the Edo State election is high and this is owes largely to many factors. First, the outgoing Governor Oshiohmole is believed to have changed the landscape through developments and would surely want someone to continue on his template as former Lagos State governor and a national leader of the APC, Senator Bola Tinubu did with former governor Babatunde Fashola. And despite the fact that the APC has governed the state for eight years, the PDP has continued to boast that they could defeat the APC.

Unfortunately, the leadership of the APC has not been properly managing their 2015 electoral success that produced President Muhammadu Buhari. There are no clear indications that the presidency is in sync with the party, and as such, some PDP members are already working to make sure that its first president (Buhari) could actually be its last president before the party is eventually dismantled.

This is how that is likely to happen. First, after losing Rivers State to the PDP, if the party, by any stroke of fate, loses the Edo State governorship election; then its might have been demystified. That would become a trend, emboldening the PDP further and reducing the APC chances of winning the Ondo election.

This, therefore, explains why the Edo State governorship election is deemed very crucial to the two parties. The APC would need to win to remain in reckoning in national politics while for the PDP, its ability to reemerge as a strong force depends largely on its electoral successes ahead of the 2019 presidential election. And dangerously too, for the APC, PDP elements are in the ruling party and they could simply plough back to their old party and destroy the APC.

Implications of the Postponement
When the federal government in 2015 took the unprecedented decision to postpone the general election under the guise of security concern, not a few agreed that the action would be setting a precedent, but no one expected that the same flimsy security excuse used then would be used again, barely 18 months later in another election, this time, involving just one state.

Security concerns? Edo State is politically a South-south state, a group of states located in the Niger Delta region of the country, but geographically, the state is bordered by a northern state – Kogi. What is more, the state has never had security issues relating to militancy in the Niger Delta region.

Besides, the state is land locked and every part of it is accessible. It has little oil near its capital, Benin City, and no militant activity has ever been recorded in its territory since militancy became a security issue in the country. So, where are the militants located and hiding in an urbanised state that security would be used to justify a postponement of the governorship election? What move has the men of the Department of State Security (DSS) and the Nigerian Police (NP) taken to prove their claim for justifying the postponement the election?
Since the decision was taken, most Nigerians believe that it was political rather than security concern. Many also believe that the action was propelled by the fear of losing the election to the opposition PDP – which is now a viable alternative to the APC barely 18 months after dislodging the PDP from power.

The political implication of a loss by the APC in the election would have been that it has lost the support and trust of Nigerians. It would also prove that the policies of the President Buhari government, especially the handling of the economy, security, ethnicity and religion, do not have the support of Nigerians.

But what do Nigerians think? A cross-section of the people interviewed by THISDAY admitted that the decision was more political than the excuse given for it. A majority was disappointed with the decision was Mr. Morenikeji Saliu, a Lagos-based legal practitioner, who insisted that the decision to postpone the election was not only unjustifiable but very costly, both politically and economically.

Saliu said the decision also makes a mess of the change mantra of the government because what the federal government should have done was to insist on the election taking place, and order more security operatives posted to the state if there was indeed any security concern.

“This is an indication that the change mantra of the APC is fake and bogus. They are not prepared to do anything differently from the PDP, and they have not done anything differently and they are not likely to do anything differently. The government cannot convince anybody that they are not the ones that tele-guided security agencies to order the postponement.

“A golden opportunity has been lost that would have allowed the INEC to assert its independence despite the suspicions by Nigerians that this INEC is anything but independent. It is now a no-win situation for the government. If the PDP loses this election, they would claim, and rightly so, that the process has been rigged and manipulated to favour the APC. It would be a big dent on the credibility of the government.”

For Dr. Solomon Edebiri, a governorship aspirant in the PDP governorship primaries in the state, the postponement was a bad omen for the nation’s polity. He opined that the INEC would have used the Edo State election to regain its credibility following the series of inconclusive governorship elections in Kogi and Bayelsa States and its apparent failure to hold simple state assembly election in Rivers and other states.

“INEC has lost a golden opportunity. For me, the postponement has become a political issue that is now recurring in Nigeria. The unfortunate thing about it is that the parties would be forced to spend more money. The implication of this on the purse of the parties and individuals involved is going to be devastating.”

He said the postponement would give whoever loses in the election a justifiable reason to cry foul. “Besides, INEC has proven to the people who think it cannot organise a credible election, a reason to say ‘we said it.’ Also, the change that we preach has not had effect on the politicians. Even if the INEC organises a credible election today, the politicians will ensure that they create a situation where such election will not be credible.”

Mr. Kunle Bello Saburi was also scandalised by the decision to postpone the election, saying “What could be more scandalous? If INEC cannot conduct election in one state, what will happen in 2019, when a large and more elaborate election takes place? This is most disappointing.

“This INEC has not been able to organise any successful election. All the elections it has organised have been inconclusive. They should stop insulting the sensibilities of Nigerians. The excuse given is not only flimsy, but childish. Security concern? That was the same excuse that was used to postpone last year election. They should have been more ingenious.”

Saburi held the view that if security could be used to justify the postponement of the election in Edo, then, “what will happen if it is Delta, Rivers or Bayelsa States?”
For Mr. Tony Abolagba-Obazu, an Edo State indigene, who planned to go back home to his community in Owan East local government area of the state to vote from his Lagos base, INEC has spoilt and derailed the momentum leading to the election.

He lamented that he would not be going for the rescheduled election since he has other plans for the period. Besides, Abolagba-Obazu claimed he may not be having the means as he has saved towards the election date.
He was disappointed that INEC did not care about the cost implications on the voters, many of whom would have to go to their home communities to vote. He said a similar decision last year made a good number of voters to be disenfranchised.

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This, therefore, explains why the Edo State governorship election is deemed very crucial to the two parties. The APC would need to win to remain in reckoning in national politics while for the PDP, its ability to reemerge as a strong force depends largely on its electoral successes ahead of the 2019 presidential election. And dangerously too, for the APC, PDP elements are in the ruling party and they could simply plough back to their old party and destroy the APC