Following the postponement of the Edo State governorship election, Adibe Emenyonu, in Benin City, looks at the sense of alarm felt by the rival political parties
Democratic elections anywhere in the world come with huddles. And one of the most fundamental means of overcoming those hurdles is developing appropriate institutions to handle key aspects of the poll. Security is a critical aspect of any election, as adequate security is needed to prevent, contain and control factors that may trigger disorder and violence during polls. An effective security measure, no doubt, is one of the ways of measuring the credibility of an election. The neutrality of the security agencies helps to guarantee the integrity of elections.
It was in the light of the above that the Nigeria Police and Department of State Services advised that the Edo State governorship, earlier scheduled for September 10, should be postponed. The decision by the Independent National Electoral Commission to shift the poll, which came only 48 hours to the election, stirred argument by the various stakeholders, particularly, as the political parties said they were not consulted by the commission before reaching such decision.
Although, INEC had hesitated and said the election would go on after a meeting with stakeholders, it later decided to shift the election to September 28, citing security concerns as raised by the police and DSS.
Alleged Importation of Thugs
After the postponement, Governor Adams Oshiomhole reiterated the concern of the ruling All Progressives Congress in the state about an alleged plot by some governors in the South-south to import about 8, 000 militants into the state to rig the election and cause mayhem.
Speaking while receiving the Inspector-general of Police, Mr Ibrahim Idris Ibrahim, at the Government House, Benin City, on September 9, Oshiomhole said there was a plan by the opposition to mar the election.
He stated, “Our opponent unable to find local thugs to help them perpetrate violence, which they have done between 1999 and 2007 when I took over, resorted to liaising with my brothers in the sub-region, Delta and Rivers, in particular, to export criminals and militants into Edo State in order to make peaceful election impossible.
“In line with my tradition, I have always tried to speak out on any matter that I am worried about. I first raised this alarm on the eve of the INEC continuous voter registration exercise, an exercise that has been designed to register those who have become 18 between the last registration and the current one.
“But these criminals who are determined to perpetrate violence and deny us the beauty of a peaceful election, unable to find local participants, have chosen to import these militants with the support of two or so of my brothers. When I say brothers, I mean brother governors. It doesn’t matter if I disagree with them, they are my brothers.
“They are exporting militants to Edo State to register so that with the PVC in their hands, they will appear to have the lawful basis to be present at the designated polling units where they are expected to unleash violence on election day.”
The governor added, “When I raised this alarm, I should expect, naturally, criminals are not as courageous as they seem. They denied that there was any such plan, but happily our ever vigilant, peace-loving electorate were able to apprehend some of these people from other states that came into Edo State for the purpose of this exercise.
“At least, 13 of them were handed over to the police. The IG may wish to establish what has happened to those people who were handed over. So, we handed them over to the police in line with what we were expected to do as civilised people.
“Having done that, we are clear that there are a lot of people, up to 8,000 of them who are non-resident in Edo State, who are not indigenes of Edo State, who are indigenes and residents of Delta and Rivers states and some other states in the South-south, some from Bayelsa State, who have registered for the sole purpose not to swell the votes, but to be present in various locations on election day.
“Now, as part of the processes they put in place to effect this, they had conspirators in INEC that made available to them data capturing machines in the residences of various opposition leaders. We shared these experiences with the police and the DSS.
“Our people are very anxious to have a free and fair election but the challenge is these people who are determined to import thuggery and violence, and they have an easier task and we have a more difficult task to protect the electoral process.”
Speaking, earlier, on his visit to the state, Idris said, “We are on a working visit. We have come here to interact with our officers and colleagues from other security agencies to see that the election we are having in a few days’ time is carried out in a seamless manner.
“Our presence here shows the synergy between the security agencies working in the state. This is an assurance that there is a lot of cooperation between us and other security agencies, and it is an assurance that we are definitely sure that in a few days’ time, we are going to have a successful governorship election in Edo State.”
The IGP also used the opportunity to brief the governor on some of the security plans for the election. Idris said, “Within the police, we are deploying about 25, 000 reinforcement to the command, and these 25, 000 will consist of conventional police officers, mobile police officers, counter-terrorists, marine police, air wing.
“We are going to deploy air support to the people on the ground, with a medical team also, including the waterways. They are going to cover the waterways. And we are bringing some reinforcement of gunboats to support our patrols on the water. This, obviously, we are doing to ensure that this election is provided maximum security.
“This governorship election, I think, is the first, apart from the Rivers election, which has been postponed, that we are going to carry out. So, we are very serious about this election. The men are going to report about three days to the election date and this will enable them to take care of most of the flash points in the state. We expect that on the election day we are not going to record any problem.”
Idris further stated, “I want to use this opportunity also to state that the laws are very clear in the Electoral Act, that every agency, including the police, on that day we are going to restrict movement. And since it is going to be a joint operation, any personnel, whether from the police or military, that we see moving outside the area of responsibility, I think we have given our officers on the ground the mandate to arrest all of them so that we deal with them departmentally.
“Equally, all supporting agencies, any of them that attempt to violate the Electoral Act in the conduct of the election, that is going contrary to the Electoral Act, we are going to take serious actions against them, whether they are working for state government, whether they are working for INEC or whatever, we are going to take appropriate action.
“What I am saying is that every person must try to conduct himself in line with the Electoral Act because we are going to be very decisive for anybody that violates the Electoral Act in the conduct of this election.”
But reacting to Oshiomhole’s allegation about the importation of thugs, the PDP chairman in Edo State, Chief Dan Orbih, said, “It is unfortunate that we have an outgoing governor of the state who has decided to state a lie just to achieve his political purpose. We know very well that what the governor was telling the IG is not true.
“For me, he was indicting the security agencies right in front of the IG because if you can bring in 8,000 people from outside Edo State and they all found their way into Edo State without the security agencies watching their movement, it means that nobody is safe in Edo State and it is a big indictment on the security agencies.”
On the allegation that the Rivers and Delta governors were interfering with the electoral process, with, among other, the alleged donation of N2 billion to the party, Orbih said, “How? Are they part of INEC? He has even gone to the extent of accusing them of contributing two billion to the election.
“For those who are from Edo State, it is no longer surprising when they see Oshiomhole talk, especially, when he lies. He tells lies at will and nobody takes his lies seriously; two billion is no two million. He should substantiate whatever allegation he is making with facts and figures. I would like to see a situation where Oshiomhole says somebody contributed two billion; he brings out a bank statement to show.
“Each time I accuse Oshiomhole of stealing money from the state, I bring out vouchers to support my claim. I challenge him to bring evidence to show that anybody contributed even one million from the two states he is talking about.”
The INEC Resident Commissioner in Edo State, Mr. Samuel Olumekan, also dismissed Oshiomhole’s allegation, saying the continuous voter registration exercise is open to all Nigerians. He, however, added that double registrations had been identified and deleted.
Olumekan pointed out that when people come to register, they do not put anything on their foreheads to indicate who are militants and those from other states.
According to him, “In any event, anybody who had registered before and came back to register, we deleted and announced the number we deleted. How do I come to know that somebody is a militant?”
He stressed, “They should not drag INEC into their whatever. We did a registration for Nigerians. Every Nigerian is free to come and register and they do not put it on their faces that they are militants. INEC registers human beings and you are free to register in a place close to your area.”
In spite of the allegations, denials and counter allegations, police detectives in the state were said to have arrested 54 suspected militants from the Niger Delta. They were, allegedly, picked up from different parts of the state by a crack team of detectives from the police force headquarters in Abuja.
Among items found on the arrested suspects, according to sources, are several AK47 rifles and pump actions guns and the sum of N9 million. The suspected militants were said to have invaded the state from neighbouring states with a view to causing mayhem during the election.
It was learnt that the covert operation that led to the arrests was ordered by the IGP following the uncovering of plans by the suspected militants to unleash mayhem on Edo State. Sources within the security services said it was this discovery that led to the postponement of the governorship election.
THISDAY was reliably informed by security sources that the police detectives were assisted by the intelligence unit of the military and DSS.
The arrested suspects were said to have invaded the state through the riverine communities. They were, allegedly, arrested in popular hotels in Benin City and Okada town. THISDAY also learnt that attempts by a top chieftain of one of the political parties to secure their release were rebuffed.
On Thursday, two of the arrested suspects were arraigned before an Evboriaria magistrates’ court in Benin City. They are General Pere Ejune, 45, and Trim Ade, 32, who were remanded in prison custody for, allegedly, been in possession of a double-barrel gun, a cut-to-size double-barrel gun and 18 live cartridges.
In the case filed by the Edo State Police Command, the duo and others at large were said to have committed the crime on September 8, 2016, about 2am at Upper Sakponba Road, Benin City. Magistrate C.E. Oghuma remanded both men, who are brothers, at Oko Prison, in Benin City, and adjourned the case to October 20 for further hearing. She, thereafter, ordered that the original case file be duplicated and sent to the office of the Department of Public Prosecutions for advisement.
Oshiomhole had shortly before the shift of the election raised concerns about an alleged invasion of the state by militants. With the unfolding events, it does appear that the governor’s alarm is not unfounded. What is uncertain is whether the security agencies will be able to avert the alleged plot to disrupt the polls.