*Voters accuse electoral umpire of compromise
By Tony Osauzo, Benin, Chidi Nnadi, Enugu, TUNDE THOMAS, Lagos and TONY JOHN, Port Harcourt
The conduct of the much-awaited Edo State governorship election earlier scheduled for today has ended as an anti-climax, with the election umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), re-affirming the date for the election and shifting same in less than seven hours.
The decision to shift the poll has however, drawn the anger of prominent Nigerians, civil society groups, voters in Edo and the leading political parties among others.
Confusion over whether the election should hold or not, brew on Wednesday when INEC was holding a stakeholders’ meeting with political parties, security agents and other bodies relevant to the conduct of the poll. From the venue of the parley, a security advice to INEC by the Police and the Department of State Security, (DSS), leaked to the media.
In the advice, the two security agencies urged INEC to shift the conduct of the election to another date, saying, information at their disposal indicated that members of the Boko Haram sect had plotted to attack densely populated areas across the country between the 12th and 13th of this month.
The information threw INEC, the political parties and indeed, the Edo electorate into confusion until Thursday morning, when INEC officially announced that the election would eventually hold today (Saturday).
Addressing journalists in Benin, INEC’s National Commissioner, Voter Education and Publicity, Prince Solomon Soyebi, said that the Commission, by the decision had exercised its constitutional rights on when an election would hold or not hold.
Explaining that the Commission would get assurances from security agencies that the process would be secured, Soyebi said the Commission was not in any form being tele-guided in taking decisions.
According to him, the cost of demobilizing was higher than the cost of mobilizing human beings and materials to the field. “We cannot shift the election on the basis of security report. We have weighed all the parameters and consequences of postponing the election. This Commission will not mortgage its independence for the sustenance of democracy.
“We have achieved 99 percent preparation for the elections and we have weighed the political atmosphere”, Soyebi said, adding that INEC has come out with a decision to go ahead with the Saturday elections after meeting with stakeholders and security personnel.
The re-affirmation of the election date by INEC was however , short-lived, as the Commission on Thursday night, reversed itself and fixed Wednesday, September 28, 2016 as the new date for the poll.
The same Soyebi announced a new date while briefing journalists.
“At about 6 pm on Thursday, the Commission received an official communication from the Police and DSS drawing its attention to the need to postpone the governorship election. Such postponement, the communication indicated, was necessary in view of threats of attack by terrorists in Edo and other states of the Federation during the election and over the Sallah period. The deployment of security personnel to secure lives and property across the country would over-stretch their capacity to provide adequate security for the elections at the same time.
“Consequently, the Commission notes the request of the security agencies and, considering the security implications of proceeding with the election, the safety of eligible voters, electoral officials, including ad-hoc staff, and other stakeholders, has decided to reschedule the governorship election to Wednesday, 28 September, 2016.
“The Commission enjoins all eligible voters in Edo State, political parties, candidates and other stakeholders to be peaceful and law abiding”, he said.
Voters express anger
Reacting to the postponement of the election, a voter, Dr. Edeaghe Ehikhamenor, said he was indifferent to INEC’s decision to shift the election. “The reason why I am indifferent is that if I have my way I will disqualify the two major candidates because they are creating unnecessary tension in the state.
“They have been dining and wining together. I don’t really see any difference between them. We need a green horn to clean the Augean stable”, Dr. Ehikhamenor, Coordinator General of Save Accident Victims Association of Nigeria (SAVAN), said.
According to him, if Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu of the PDP wins the election, the Igbinedion will be back to power and if Godwin Obaseki of APC wins, Oshomhole’s hegemony will continue, adding “it’s not that Oshiomhole did not work, he worked but he is the problem right now”.
In his reaction, Mr. Justin Imoudu described the postponement as “unfortunate”, saying that the security reason adduced for the action would have been understood without Governor Oshiomhole making allegations of planned rigging and attack by the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
He said people who cancelled their engagements fixed for the date of the election and those who travelled down to vote, were angry with INEC’s decision to shift the election. “I don’t like the postponement, it will work more for the PDP than the APC”, he said.
APC scared of defeat? Oshiomhole says No
The state governor, Adams Oshiomhole, in his reaction, kicked against the postponement for two weeks, saying the poll ought to have been shifted for one week because of the planned coronation of the Oba of Benin fixed for September 26.
He said the Oba’s coronation is a big event which every Edo native celebrates and has a role to play.
“We have a big event in Edo on September 26 which is the Oba’s coronation. Before that day, there are other events that must be carried out. It will not be proper to hold election during that period, why not postpone the election for one week?”, he asked rhetorically
He however, debunked insinuation that the APC was afraid of defeat, saying, the party defeated the PDP in 16 local government areas in the last election held in the state. Oshiomhole, while stressing that his party was ready for the election and that Edo is not a war zone, said “we will win the election. The PDP has no credibility in this state”.
APC, PDP in crossfire
Meanwhile, the PDP, in its reaction, accused Governor Oshiomhole, INEC, security agencies of conniving to plot the postponement in the face of imminent defeat of the APC in the election. The party, in a statement signed by the State Publicity Secretary, Mr. Chris Nehikhare, said “ for us, the move by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to put off the election is shocking and unacceptable.
“We’re taken aback by the rash security advice, a day after the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, was present at the final campaign rally of the APC in Benin City, which was concluded without any security hitch.’’
It noted that it was on record that INEC recently conducted a hitch free senatorial bye-election in Borno State, a state which had remained the hotbed of terrorism and insurgency, yet the security agencies saw no reason to advise against the conduct of the election.
The statement described INEC’s action as ‘’lamentable, inexcusable and shameful’’, saying, it is sad to hear from these same security agencies that the Edo governorship election cannot be held in a state that has no
history of security threat and where in less than 24 hours, the President and APC leaders across the country had converged to hold their rally without security concerns.
“We are therefore, convinced that this phantom security advice is orchestrated in connivance with the APC in the face of imminent defeat in the governorship election’’, it added.
The party reminded all security agencies and INEC of their sacred duty and civic responsibility to uphold the due process of law by refraining from partisanship in all elections including the Edo governorship. It stressed that Edo State people are fully prepared to resist any evil plot to manipulate the governorship election in favour of the APC.
“On my part and that of my great party, we have resolved to be law-abiding and cooperate with the relevant authorities in order to ensure a hitch-free election.
May we use the opportunity to call on President Muhammadu Buhari—as father of the nation who has benefited from the process of a free and fair election, to caution the security agencies against plunging Edo State into avoidable security crisis just to satisfy the vaunting ambitions of the APC, Governor Adams Oshiomhole and his puppet candidate, Godwin Obaseki.
“We call on all eligible voters in Edo State to be rest assured that whenever the governorship election holds, their votes shall count and will be protected. The international community and election monitors should also frown at the security agencies’ interference with the electoral process aimed at compromising the independence of the INEC.
“Finally, we wish to declare that sovereignty remains with the people of Edo State, and only they, and no one else, shall choose who their next governor becomes’’, the PDP said.
While replying the PDP yesterday, the Edo State chapter of the APC, said that it received, with mixed feelings, INEC’s postponement of the state’s gubernatorial polls to September 28.
In an address titled “Edo Governorship Election Postponement: Our Stand”, the Chairman of the party, Barrister Anselm Ojezua explained that the shift in the date for the election was announced without due consultation with the critical stakeholders which includes the party.
According to him, “Such an important decision as postponement of gubernatorial election which had involved several months of active campaigning would be done after extensive consultation with all the relevant stakeholders as was done on the 7th of September 2016 when we all agreed that the election should go ahead; admittedly without knowledge of the very strong reservations expressed by the security agencies.
“We believe that the timing and mode of communication by the security agencies could have been better handled having regards to the very hard work and huge resources deployed towards the election by all concerned. On our part, we have traversed the nooks and crannies of the State in the course of our electioneering campaigns and we have been able to effectively market our candidates and our manifesto. In that same process our members have been fully sensitized and mobilized in readiness for the election culminating in our final campaign at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium on the 6th of September which recorded the highest level of mobilization ever witnessed in that facility.
“It will therefore, be fair to admit that the decision has adversely affected us somewhat. However, having regards to the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Electoral act, we are obliged to defer to the decision of INEC particularly when ”security threats” have been cited as the reason for the postponement. Although we do not have the details from the security agencies, we had, in the past, drawn attention to the influx of militants into Edo State from neighbouring States during the Continuous Voters Registration exercise.
“As a matter of fact, some of them were in fact arrested at Ologbo in Ikpoba Okha LGA and charged to Court but a host of others made it into the state without detection; those ones must be lurking around various locations within our State even as we speak. Data capturing machines were found to have been given to unauthorized persons to carry out illegal registration; a case in point is that of Alhaji Nakowa, a known PDP chieftain in Etsako Central, who was arrested with some unscrupulous INEC staff while engaged in illegal registration acts in a private residence in the middle of the night.
“All these, taken with the reported threat by the Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Nwike to the effect that the APC people should go and write their will should be a source of concern to any right thinking person. You recall that the last time the same man issued the same threat in Port Harcourt several people lost their lives including Youth Corpers who had been deployed to assist in the exercise in that State”, he said.
Ojezua observed that elections have largely been peaceful in Edo State since 2007 until the sudden interest of the Governors of Rivers State and Delta State who are hell bent on realizing the long standing obsession of an individual to rule this state by all means, adding that the postponement, therefore, provides an opportunity for the security agencies to address these concerns in addition to whatever other threats they may have discovered.
“We also note that this puts paid to the matter relating to our children participating in the ongoing GCE examinations who were to be displaced by the postponed election. Finally we wish to appeal to all our party members, supporters, sympathizers and indeed all citizens of our great State to show understanding at this time because security of lives and property must take priority over political aspiration”, he added.
The APC chairman who regretted that the postponement would affect the momentum for mobilization for the election, also reacted to PDP’s claim that his party instigated the postponement because it was afraid of defeat, describing the claim as “idiotic”
It’s shameful –Eminent Nigerians
The Archbishop of the Diocese of Enugu, Church of Nigeria Anglican Communion, Most Rev Emmanuel Chukwuma, has described the postponement of the scheduled Edo State governorship election as shameful.
Bishop Chukwuma who spoke at Christ Church Achi, Oji River Local Government Area of Enugu State during the burial of Mama Janet Elobelu Madu, mother of the Archbishop of Diocese of Oji River, Most Rev Amos Madu, said the postponement of the election has exposed President Buhari’s inefficiency in providing security for the country.
He also lambasted the Federal Government, saying that Nigerians are today unhappy because they are hungry. “Nigerians today are very hungry. We want the change that was promised to come now. APC members here should tell their other members at the centre, APC in those days as we used to know it was good for headache, it was a good drug, but if it doesn’t stop headache now, next time, we will drink codine,” he said.
Chukwuma, however, commended the strongman of Enugu politics, Chief Gbazueagu Nweke Gbazueagu who attended the funeral service with the state Chairman of the APC, Dr Ben Nwonye, for having a good heart.
In his own view, former governor of Kaduna State, Alhaji Balarabe Musa believed INEC is playing a script written by some powerful forces who felt that the election, if held today would not favour their interests.
‘’I have lost faith in our system. It is another sad day in the annals of our political history. This postponement is a ploy to rig the elections. It is glaring to any discerning mind. INEC is just being used as a tool to achieve the diabolical plan. But for how long shall we continue like this? PDP played the same game last year when the general election was suddenly postponed. Now that APC is in power, it is now their turn to carry out this manipulation. INEC has been pressurized by the powers that be. We don’t have democracy in Nigeria again. Democracy is dead, and INEC has been the undertaker’’, he declared.
While describing the postponement as a bad omen for democracy, Gen Ola Isola Williams [retd], berated INEC for not living up to expectations. The anti-corruption activist said he was not surprised by INEC’S action.
‘’ INEC should stop giving excuses. INEC under Yakubu leadership has become an “agency for inconclusive elections.” This is a big shame. If they are citing security reasons for the postponement, if by September they have another unfavourable report, are they going to postpone the elections again? INEC is to buckle up. Then, what is the work of security agencies if they can’t secure the lives and properties of citizens? It is a shame that security agents have taken over INEC’s duties. PDP started this evil plan last year when the party was in power, but now that APC is in power, the musical game has continued. Nothing has changed in Nigeria’’.
However, for Alhaji Abubakar Tsav, former Commissioner of Police, Lagos State, INEC should not be blamed for the postponement in view of the fact that it was the security agencies that recommended the postponement based on unfavourable security reports.
Count us out of Edo politics –Wike, Okowa
The Rivers State Commissioner for Information and Communication, Dr. Austin Tam-George, has denied claims that Governor Nyesom Wike and his Delta State counterpart, Ifeanyi Okowa, mobilised militants to rig the Edo governorship election in favour of the PDP.
Tam- George, who was reacting to claims by Governor Oshiomole that the two governors donated N2 billion for the cause, maintained that Governor Wike never made such a financial donation.
“Governor Wike has no links with militants in the region and anywhere else in the country. He has only given moral support to the PDP candidate in Edo State to overcome the ineptitude and dysfunction the All Progressives Congress (APC) imposed on the people,” he said.
The Commissioner stated that Governor Wike would continue to give moral support to democratic forces not just in the region, but across the country, in order to bring better life to Nigerians.
Tam- George said Governor Wike has called on the people of Edo State to ensure that whenever the election is held, they stand firm in defence of their sovereign right to vote for the PDP.