Tony Osauzo, Daniel Kanu and Ighomuaye Lucky, Benin
Violence, vote-buying and disregard for social distancing trailed the conduct of the Edo State governorship election on Saturday.
Despite the massive deployment of security personnel to protect voters and forestall violence, there were several reports of violence in voting centres across the State.
In Egor Local Government, the wife of the Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC) was said to have been beaten for resisting thugs who allegedly took away voting materials.
Similar reports of violence were said to have characterised the election in many parts of the State, with thugs reportedly shooting at voters and in the process killing a woman said to be in her thirties, a polling agent of the APC, and fatally injuring another person in Ovia South West, Ward 9 and 10.
Eyewitnesses reports indicate that the thugs besieged the two wards while voting was in full swing, shooting directly into the crowd of people, two of whom were struck by bullets. Many were reportedly injured in the ensuing melee.
‘The shooting was entirely uncalled for, but they did it nevertheless. The PDP thugs came in a van which was most surprising to us, because of the police presence. When the woman fell, we knew she had been hit. She died immediately,’ a witness said.
‘The other person said to have been shot at Ward 9 has not been confirmed whether alive or dead, but I gathered hers too is serious. Only God knows if she will survive it. Many others who survive gunshot wounds have been taken away in available vehicles.’
In many of the voting centres monitored by our correspondents, it was observed that voters were quietly being given money in exchange for their votes, just as social distancing was completely ignored.
Meanwhile, Edo State Governor and candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Mr Godwin Obaseki, expressed disappointment over the failure of card readers in several wards across the State.
The Governor, who spoke to journalists shortly after casting his vote at his unit 19, Oredo ward 4 voting centre at Emokpae Primary School, in Benin City, had spent close to two hours on the queue before he could vote, owing to a slow functioning card reader.
He said after spending several hours on the queue due to card reader issues, the failure of the card readers shows the unpreparedness of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
‘I expected better preparation on the part of those saddled with the responsibility to conduct this election. To wait for one and a half hour on the queue before exercising my franchise is a bit disappointing.
‘Given that this is a sole day’s election, I expected better planning and preparation and resources should have been put into this election.
‘At the last presidential election, in my polling unit, there were two polling points which eased the burden on voters. You all are witnesses to how long it has taken.
‘The card reader here is working slowly, and this is the situation in all the major voting centres in Oredo Local Government Area of the state as I speak.
‘At Garrick Memorial School, I understand that over 500 voters are already stranded because they can’t vote due to the slow processing of the card reader.
‘One would have expected that INEC will have deployed more card readers and more voting points in high-density polling centres,’ he said.
Responding to the issue of vote-buying at polling units, the Governor said that the security agencies are not doing what they assured Edo people and Nigerians before the election.
‘The security agencies assured us that they won’t allow anybody who doesn’t have business voting into a particular place, but they are working contrary to what they promised us.
‘You can see cars parked with a lot of cash being disbursed to people buying votes, and it seems to be normal practice, but we are not perturbed as people know what to do. Cash can’t buy their future,’ he said.
Meanwhile, the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, has expressed optimism of winning the election.
Speaking shortly after voting at Iguododo Primary School at his Ugboko ward 4, unit 26 in Orhionmwon Local Government Area, Ize-Iyamu commended the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for the peaceful conduct of the electoral process.
He also commended INEC for adhering to the COVID-19 protocol.
‘The process is good and going on smoothly; there is no thuggery and violence, the place is peaceful and calm. I am happy that INEC has thermometers to check the temperature and they also give out face masks to our people.
‘We encouraged our people to come out in batches so they can strictly adhere to the COVID-19 protocol of social distancing,’ he said.
He added that he had not been able to get information about the conduct of the election across the state due to the poor network at his voting community, expressing optimism that he would emerge victorious in the election and that he was confident of victory across the 18 Local Government Areas of the State.
Also speaking after voting at George Idah primary school, Ward 2 Oredo, Capt Wells Idahosa Okunbo, described the election as peaceful and orderly.
‘This is what we have been praying for. I thank God the election is peaceful, no antagonism, no oppression I can see around here. It is a day we all waited for. I pray that God will do His own.
‘This is all I am praying for, better Edo State, Edo State that is devoid of oppression, Edo State that our children can once more be employed the real way, positively, positive change,’ he said.