Nseobong Okon-Ekong writes that the two major political parties, the All Progressives Congress and Peoples Democratic Party, in the September 19 governorship race in Edo State continue to take actions that are inimical to the spirit of the Nigerian constitution and the promotion of democracy
From all indications, the impending governorship election in Edo State on September 19 holds a lot of foreboding for the people in that state constituency and the country at large. So far, only the electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has been reassuring in its conduct, which offers hope that it will insist on the political parties playing it by the rules.
In a novel step, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) revealed recently that it was keeping a careful record of incidents of violence and hate speeches in Edo State. It is not clear how INEC may deploy such evidence. There is no prior action on a similar matter that may be relied on, as INEC has often tried to walk the middle course, staying away from being accused of meddling in the affairs of political parties or being seen to be in favour of one political party over another. The INEC National Commissioner in charge of Voter Education and Information, Festus Okoye said, “The Commission is documenting incendiary statements aimed at inflaming passion. The Commission is also documenting violent acts and threats to the smooth conduct of elections in Edo and Ondo State.”
Okoye specifically told THISDAY, “In the coming days, the Commission will engage the leaders of the political parties, the campaign councils, the candidates in the election, traditional and religious leaders, civil society groups and organisations as well as the inter agency consultative committee on election security with a view to deescalating and degrading the level of violence in both state.”
The Commission, Okoye stated, will not condone the present slide towards violence and the present escalation of abusive, intemperate, slanderous and base language designed to provoke violent reactions.”
However, the two major political parties-the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have been carrying on like a house on fire, hurling every available verbal and sometimes, physical attack on opponents. Governor Godwin Obaseki took the fight to his former godfather and immediate past governor of Edo State, Adams Oshiomhole since last year and things have never been the same again. A critical highlight in the faceoff between Oshiomhole and Obaseki was the midnight inauguration of about one-third of elected members of the state house of assembly who are loyalists of Obaseki. Those suspected to have sympathy for Oshiomhole were tactfully denied the opportunity to be sworn in.
Every attempt to resolve the matter through the conflict resolution organ of the APC failed. Even the efforts of the National Assembly was successfully rebuffed by pro-Obaseki elements. Chapter V Part II 96 (1) of the 1999 Constitution says, “The quorum of a House of Assembly shall be one-third of all the members of the House.”
On top of these were several litigations challenging the legality of a nocturnal swearing in of a minority of members of the Edo State House of Assembly to the exclusion of the majority.
Last week, the sidelined Edo legislators returned and attempted to take over the house of assembly by force. Having failed to enter the Edo legislative chamber, they reconvened at another venue outside the House of Assembly and purportedly carried out an inauguration of the house, claiming that it had thrown overboard all decisions taken by their colleagues who were earlier sworn in.
Nigerian courts have, at different times, pronounced that legislative business cannot be conducted outside the designated chambers
Worried by this development, a pro-Obaseki group, Obaseki Field Marshal (OFM) has called on President Muhammadu Buhari and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to prevail on security agencies to put modalities in place to ensure the provision and maintenance of security before, during and after the Edo State governorship election.
The group said the call has become necessary because of recent developments in the state which seems to threaten the security of the state even weeks before the election, saying that if things are allowed to continue the way they are it may not speak well for the state during the election.
Speaking with journalists in Lagos at the weekend, the Convener of OFM, Don Olusegun Ugbo said he was calling on INEC and the security agencies to act now before it is too late, because “the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and security agencies are indispensible organisations in conducting elections.
“Therefore, we appeal to both bodies to discharge their duties without fear or favour. We don’t want any bloodshed in the election. We don’t want anybody to lose any member of their family to this election. INEC should make sure the election is not rigged and avoid all other electoral malpractices.”
Speaking on their support for the incumbent governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, the OFM convener who said the group has membership with executives in all the 18 local governments of the state, informed that Obaseki has performed very well in his first term in office and so deserves a second term.
Ugbo said because of Obaseki’s level of performance in the state which has seen him deliver on almost all of his campaign promises, it will amount to ingratitude for anyone in the state not to work for his re-election.
According to him, “Obaseki has been able to salvage the state by driving out the thriving thuggery business in the state; hence creating an enabling environment for business activities in the state and also jerking up the revenue of the state.
“We appreciate the fact that His Excellency pays the civil servants and pensioners through the contributory pension scheme as at when due.
“In terms of education, he went to the core of the problem, basic education. Retrained teachers and trained them on how to use technology. So, today the children in the state are learning.
“Parents are moving their children from private schools back to public schools. Infact we discover that he has a portal that every teacher must log into when they get to school every day. These teachers must complete their lesson notes, if they don’t he can tell.”
In a,counter statement, the Edo State Media Campaign Council of the APC for the governorship election has accused Governor Godwin Obaseki and his party, the PDP, of unleashing violence on the people in Benin City following a confrontation in which the Governor was booed and embarrassed while trying to gain entrance into the palace of the Oba of Benin.
The Chairman of the Media Campaign Council, Mr. John Mayaki, said the Governor instructed his thugs to attack the people as retribution for their public booing of his arrival with various chants labeling him a rejected candidate and for spurning his rally allegedly attended by tax-collectors and mobilized thugs.
He also accused the Governor and his loyalists of destroying their own billboards at few locations in the State as a gimmick to deflect responsibility and get a reprieve for the alleged organized destruction of APC billboards after the party filed a petition with the Police and other relevant agencies.
He said: “It is sad that Mr. Godwin Obaseki, the outgoing Governor of Edo State, has displayed the same traits of intolerance and penchant for violence that made the people of Edo State unanimously reject him.”
“Booed by the people at the entrance of the Palace of our great Oba for handing the State to the PDP tax collectors who are unconscionably feasting on our collective patrimony, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, as an act of revenge, instructed the thugs and cultists he has spent the past few weeks recruiting in the State and beyond to attack the people with dangerous arms.”
“This criminal and heartless action not only affirms our repeated warnings that Mr. Godwin Obaseki fully intends to prosecute the election with violence and thuggery, but it also shows his lack of empathy, conscience, and respect for the lives and dignity of the people he was elected to serve.”
“His thugs have presently invaded the State Capital, unleashing mayhem to anyone perceived to be critical of the failed Governor or supportive of our party and candidate. After converging at the venue of the Governor’s campaign flag-off, they have poured into the streets, vandalizing properties and causing panic. We have heard unconfirmed reports of fatal injuries.”
“Furthermore, as a way to avoid responsibility and expected sanction for the undemocratic and criminal destruction of our billboards, the Governor’s thugs are going around the city, deliberately pulling down their own billboards in an orchestrated gimmick meant to portray the false impression of “violence on both sides” when in truth, the desperate Governor, in cahoots with his PDP godfathers, are the ones threatening the peace of the State.”
“We condemn this action in totality and demand immediate intervention by the Police and other security agencies. Our party, the APC, has built an effective campaign on the strength of our documented manifesto. Tellingly, on the back of four years of no achievement, Mr. Godwin Obaseki has neither a plan nor record of office to show, hence the resort to violence and thuggery.”
The sidelined Edo legislators returned and attempted to take over the house of assembly by force. Having failed to enter the Edo legislative chamber, they reconvened at another venue outside the House of Assembly and purportedly carried out an inauguration of the house, claiming that it had thrown overboard all decisions taken by their colleagues who were earlier sworn in. Nigerian courts have, at different times, pronounced that legislative business cannot be conducted outside the designated chambers