An Almost Violence Free Governorship Election in Edo State

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Udora Orizu writes that certain factors may have played a role in ensuring that the much feared high level of violence in the just concluded Edo governorship election was almost nil

Following concerns over security and electoral malpractices trailing past and recent elections in the country, Nigerians rightly feared that the just concluded Edo State governorship election would be violent.

On Saturday, September 19, 2020, Edo citizens, among them 14 governorship candidates in the ballot, chose the incumbent Governor, Godwin Obaseki of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as their preferred choice to handle the affairs of the state for the next four years.

Prior to Election Day, there were indications of violence expected to mar the electoral process.

With the bloodshed in the presidential and Kogi state gubernatorial election in 2019, the Edo State governorship election just like the usual electoral contest in the country sent indications of battle that will lead to major loss of lives.

Pre-election survey conducted by Yiaga Africa and NOIPolls showed that voters are worried about electoral violence, intimidation and the credibility of the poll. Respondents expressed major concerns about violence by political parties and security officials during the elections. Approximately one-in-ten respondents said they had directly experienced violence and intimidation related to the elections, while over one-third had heard political candidates using hate speech on the campaign trail. The report listed potential hot spots of violence where the electoral battles were expected to be fierce.

They included Etsako West, Etsako East, Etsako Central, Owan West and Akoko-Edo in Edo North Senatorial district. And in Edo South, Oredo, Orhionmwon, Egor, Ovia North East, and Ikpoba-Okha LGAs.

While in Edo Central Senatorial district, Esan Central, Esan North East and Esan West as potential hot spots.

Another concern raised by Yiaga Africa was that the two major parties in the governorship race were guilty of hate speech and violence. It said this was largely attributable to an entrenched subculture of violence that is built around well-known strongmen, thugs, touts, gangsters and cultists on the one hand, and the widespread belief that elections cannot be won or smooth governance guaranteed without strong-arm tactics and the support of thugs.

The election observer group had presented a voter analysis that compared elections in Edo state since 2011. In the report, it said that Edo governorship election in 2011 recorded 38.4 percent voter turnout in the Presidential election. In the 2016 governorship election, turnout was 32percent, while in the 2019 general election turnout was 28 percent for the Presidential election and 32.8percent for the state assembly election.

While in the 2016 governorship election, the highest number of votes cast came from Edo South senatorial district (49percent) compared to Edo North and Edo Central senatorial districts (32percent and 19percent respectively). Six LGAs (Oredo, Ikpoba/Okha and Egor in Edo South senatorial district and Etsako West, Akoko Edo, and Owan East in Edo North senatorial district) accounted for half of total votes cast (50percent). In addition to the LGAs listed above, Owan West, Esan West and Esan central LGA were considered battleground in the just concluded Edo governorship election.

These LGAs, according to the Yiaga Africa report recorded incidence of pre-election violence during political campaigns as both the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) battled to win the highest number of votes.

To stem any incidence of violence, Yiaga counseled candidates and political parties to enlighten their supporters on these two critical thresholds as experience had shown that party supporters only focused on the first condition of securing majority of votes cast.

The group said that it was deeply concerned that despite entreaties by the Oba of Benin urging the major candidates to deescalate the palpable tension in Edo by refraining from inflammatory speech and violence, cases of pre-election violence and hate speech still persisted. The report pointed to increase in violent, physical and verbal attacks during any political party rallies, meetings, campaigns.

This could be seen in the weeks leading up to the poll, as there were violent clashes and verbal accusations, between the two major parties, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

The two major political parties, at different fora accused each other of plotting all sorts of electoral malpractices to disrupt the election. Days to the election, the PDP accused the former National Chairman of APC, Adams Oshiomhole, of piling arms and importing thugs to disrupt the election.

The Deputy Governor of the state, Philip Shaibu, who made the allegation, said APC resorted to violence and thuggery to set the state ablaze because it discovered that it could not win the election in a free and fair contest.

He said, “Remember, Oshiomhole is my father, and before now I was living in his house each time I visited the village. I have informants in his house who give me update on a daily basis about happenings in his house,” and added that Edo people were determined, more than ever, to resist the ploy of Oshiomhole.

Shaibu, therefore, called on President Muhammadu Buhari to prevail and stop “them” from setting the state on the path of chaos and anarchy.

On its part, the APC accused Gov. Godwin Obaseki of arming thugs and other non-state actors with newly-purchased guns and weapons to attack innocent people in the state.

In a statement, the spokesperson of the APC state campaign council, John Mayaki, alleged that Gov. Obaseki spent state resources on the procurement of hundreds of high grade weapons distributed to thugs sourced from neighbouring states to join his convoy and inflict violence on dissenters during his campaign across the state.

Mayaki called on the police and DSS to investigate the matter and look into the governor’s security detail for proper identification of all individuals bearing arms to ascertain if they were state actors with legal backing.

Meanwhile, before the commencement of campaigns, the PDP alleged an attack on its supporters who were out on a house-to-house campaign at Irakhor in Etsako Central LGA.

Later on, APC accused PDP of alleged attack on the party’s deputy governorship candidate, Mallam Gani Audu, at Agbede in Etsako West LGA.

There was also violent clash between the supporters of the APC candidate, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, and that of the PDP candidate, Godwin Obaseki, at the palace of the Oba of Benin, Oba Ewure II back in July.

The clash, it was gathered, happened when Obaseki, his deputy, PDP governors, PDP National Chairman, Uche Secondus, and members of the working committee of the party who were in the state for the campaign flag off visited the palace to seek royal blessing.

It was further learnt that the crisis started when supporters of Obaseki were chanting pro-Obaseki slogans while those loyal to the APC candidate who were at the palace waiting for some APC chieftains allegedly invited to a function at the palace were also chanting slogans to disparage the governor. There was exchange of gun fire by the loyalists of both parties, after the intervention of the police to bring the situation under control, as expected they both accused each other of sponsoring the attack.

The Peoples Democratic Party had in a statement soon after the altercation, described the clash as an orchestrated attempt by the APC to cause bodily harm and possibly eliminate PDP national leadership, including visiting governors, that were guests of the monarch.

The PDP wondered what the APC members were doing at the gate of the Oba of Benin’s palace on a day that the APC did not have any activity in the neighbourhood. The party accused the APC of masterminding crisis with the prospect of setting up inter-state conflicts on the premise of threats against the visiting governors.

Against the anxiety that the election in Edo State would be tainted by violence, surprisingly the election held peacefully in most parts of the state, except for the violence and electoral malpractices such as vote buying, ballot snatching recorded in few local government areas of the state.

However several factors are believed to have played a role in preventing the much feared violence.

Intervention of Oba of Benin

The fear of violence during the election had on September 2nd prompted the Oba of Benin, Ewuare II, to summon the candidates of the All Progressives Congress, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu and the Peoples Democratic Party, Godwin Obaseki to his palace, over the verbal clashes among their supporters and violence that had characterised their campaigns.

Oba Ewuare II, rebuked politicians in the state, particularly Obaseki and Ize-Iyamu, for the pre-election violence and belligerent electioneering utterances, threatening to tear the state apart ahead of the September 19 election.

The Benin monarch at the meeting said there were talks about the candidates of the two major parties arming thugs.

He warned them to desist from the act and expressed worry about what the guns would be used for after the election.

Oba Ewuare II, who said he was worried about the violence across the state stated that politicians must learn to conduct themselves in a peaceful manner, noting that election was not a do-or-die affair.

The monarch told the two leading candidates and their promoters, including former governors John Odigie-Oyegun and Adams Oshiomhole, in subdued anger during the meeting that the utterances, statements and activities that he heared were most immature.

He admonished the parties and politicians to note that they have only Edo State to call their own and must do everything possible to protect it from disintegration. He said not only has the state been in the news for the wrong reasons, but that the governorship election had divided the people.

He said, ”I have noted that Bini politics has been in the news for quite sometimes for all the wrong reasons. I have been having sleepless nights for some days. We are all from Edo State. We are no strangers. Why do you want lives to be lost by arming thugs, who will later hide the guns? Enough is enough. Let the September 19 governorship election in Edo State be peaceful. Be mature and be proud of Edo State. Do not make Edo State a laughing stock.”

”I am very sad about what is happening in Edo State. This is the worst scenario. Let us eschew violence and give peace a chance in Edo State. I cannot have you fighting. I want to plead with the politicians and the political actors to sheathe their swords, because the international community is watching.”

He further said the monarchy had offered traditional prayers to avert violence before, during and after the September 19 governorship election and pleaded with Edo politicians to control the youths.

”Don’t kill yourselves over an office; don’t kill yourselves over votes; let us have a working relationship that President Muhammadu Buhari had with Goodluck Jonathan; it is not a do-or-die affair,” he said, adding: “The two candidates must toe the line of peace just like Jonathan did when he willingly announced his acceptance of defeat in 2015.”

Oba Ewuare added that Jonathan’s conceding victory to Buhari changed the prediction of the international community that Nigeria would break up due to the 2015 elections.

He stated that the traditional institution remained non-partisan and warned the dukes against making any political statement.

”I have already sacrificed my franchise over this because if I do cast my vote in favour of a particular candidate, I would have already taken side. If any of them (dukes) makes any statement, they are only taking your money and cannot do anything beyond what the palace wants. They are not speaking for me or the palace, they are only speaking for themselves.”

In their responses, Obaseki and Ize-Iyamu assured the monarch that they would promote peace and promised to ensure that their supporters conduct themselves in a peaceful manner henceforth.

Obaseki, who commended the monarch for his fatherly role, said, “I have sworn on oath to protect the people and it will be irresponsible of me to do otherwise, especially that which can lead to the destruction of lives and property.”

He said he was as worried as the monarch over what was happening in the state. He assured the monarch that he would strive to see that there’s peace in the state.

Ize-Iyamu said he would ensure that his supporters conduct themselves in a peaceful manner throughout the remaining campaign and during the election.

Oshiomhole said as a product of peaceful elections, he would not deviate from that which would lead to a peaceful poll, assuring the monarch that they would heed his counsel.

Abdulsalami Peace Committee Wades In

Also worried by the violence, the National Peace Committee, headed by a former Nigerian Head of State, Abdulsalami Abubakar resolved to visit the state for the signing of peace accord before the election.

The panel intervened in conjunction with INEC. The peace committee expressed interest in going for the signing of the peace accord by all gubernatorial candidates. The Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Mahmoud Yakubu who was in Edo on peace building mission disclosed this at a meeting of the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES) in Benin.

Yakubu, had expressed concerns over the possible fear of violence during the election, which prompted the commission to invite the candidates and the political parties to sign a peace deal.

He said though the National Peace Committee engages political parties at the national level, for the first time, it will ensure that all political parties and their candidates are committed to a peaceful process, given the significance of the election in Edo State.

He said, “We have been receiving reports of the security situation in Edo State and it is part of what we are going to discuss with members of ICCES. The environment ought to be secured for the Commission to conduct election. We are taking every step to ensure that the environment is very conducive for us to conduct election. I trust that security agencies are fully prepared to deal with potential problem areas.”

The INEC Chairman, during the stay in Benin, also visited the Oba of Benin, Oba Ewuare II and pleaded with the Monarch to prevail on his subjects, especially the policy actors to give peace its chance before, during and after the election.

He said, “Like many Nigerians we are concerned about some of the statements and actions through their members and supporters that sound like a threat to peace during the election.”

US Visa Ban on Kogi/Bayelsa Election Riggers

The United States of America on September 14th imposed visa restriction on some individuals for their actions during the Kogi and Bayelsa governorship elections.

In a statement by Mike Pompeo, Secretary of State, said actions have also been taken against some persons in the run-up to the September and October 2020 governorship elections in Edo and Ondo.

Ahead of the 2019 elections, Pompeo had said those who interfere with the process must be held accountable.

The US said, ”In July 2019, we announced the imposition of visa restrictions on Nigerians who undermined the February and March 2019 elections. Today, the Secretary of State is imposing additional visa restrictions on individuals for their actions surrounding the November 2019 Kogi and Bayelsa State elections and in the run up to the September and October 2020 Edo and Ondo State elections.”

”These individuals have so far operated with impunity at the expense of the Nigerian people and have undermined democratic principles. The Department of State emphasises that the actions announced today are specific to certain individuals and not directed at the Nigerian people. This decision reflects the Department of State’s commitment to working with the Nigerian government to realise its expressed commitment to end corruption and strengthen democracy, accountability, and respect for human rights.”

The US also said it remained a steadfast supporter of Nigerian democracy and commended all those Nigerians who participated in elections throughout 2019 and have worked to strengthen democratic institutions and processes.

The identities of those affected by the ban were not disclosed.

Days later on September 17th, the United States Government again reiterated its decision to impose visa ban on anyone who undermines the country’s democratic process ahead of the Edo and Ondo States governorship elections.

It also clarified that its visa processes are confidential, stressing that the US Government does not make public those already subjected to the sanction.

The US Ambassador to Nigeria, Mary Beth Leonard, disclosed this in Abuja at the end of the inaugural consular meeting with Nigeria officials to resolve the listing of Nigeria among countries placed on immigration restrictions.

Leonard stated: “The integrity of the election process is important to the fundamental trust of compact between citizens and their government. It is fundamentally important, and that is why we are taking steps to internally identify people we believe can credibly be construed to have interfered in the process. The names of offenders would not be made public as US visa processes are in fact confidential, and so, we do not publish a list; we do not make public who it is that would be subjected to this sanction.

“An individual who intends to travel or apply for visa would be refused and impeded, but it is not something that we advertise. These individuals are those who had been involved in election processes in Nigeria, and should reflect upon that notorious behaviour in this regards which may have consequences on their ability to travel to US.”

UK Sanction Threat Against Violence Sponsors in Edo, Ondo Polls

Also the United Kingdom few days to Edo election said it would deploy observers in Edo and Ondo States to monitor the governorship elections, and threatened sanction, including a travel ban to the United Kingdom, against sponsors of violence in the two elections.

The UK said the British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Catriona Laing, had met with the leaders of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

The decisions of the UK Government were contained in a statement issued in Abuja by the High Commission to Nigeria.

The statement said, “As a friend and partner of Nigeria, we are closely following the lead up to the off-cycle governorship elections in Edo and Ondo states scheduled for September 19 and October 10, respectively. These elections are important, both as an essential element of effective governance within both states and an indicator of the strength of Nigeria’s democratic institutions.

“Our High Commissioner to Nigeria, Catriona Laing, has held meetings with leaders of the two main political parties, the APC and PDP. The discussions focused on the need for the parties’ leaders to prevail on supporters to avoid violence before and after the elections and we welcome the Edo candidates’ signatures of the National Peace Committee and INEC convened a peace accord yesterday.”

“We will be deploying observation missions to both the Edo and Ondo elections and supporting civil society led observation. The UK takes a strong stand against election-related violence and, just as we did in the general election in 2019, will continue to take action against individuals we identify as being responsible for violence during the elections.

“This could include restrictions on their eligibility to travel to the UK, restrictions on access to UK based assets or prosecution under international law. The UK will continue to provide support and engagement as we move towards these elections. We urge INEC, the Police and all other agencies involved to work together to deliver free, fair and credible elections.”

QUOTE

Against the anxiety that the election in Edo State would be tainted by violence, surprisingly the election held peacefully in most parts of the state, except for the violence and electoral malpractices such as vote buying, ballot snatching recorded in few local government areas of the state. However several factors are believed to have played a role in preventing the much feared violence