Without prejudice to Section 26 of the Electoral Act which empowers the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to postpone scheduled elections under certain conditions, we have strong reservations that the reasons given by the electoral commission to shift the Edo governorship poll earlier slated for September 10, were “cogent and verifiable.” Our reservation is anchored on the last-minute surprise announcement by the electoral body shifting the election to September 28, based on security advice.
It will be recalled that a few days to the scheduled date for the election, the Nigeria Police Force and the Department of State Services (DSS) had in a joint statement urged INEC to shift the polls. The two security agencies claimed that there were plans by unscrupulous persons to disrupt the election.
But INEC had earlier given assurances of its readiness to hold the election. However, on the eve of the scheduled election, September 9, INEC’s Commissioner (Voter Education and Publicity), Mr. Soyebi Solomon said the commission had received official communication from the Police and the DSS drawing its attention to the need to postpone the election, citing threats of terrorist activities in Edo State and other states of the Federation during the election and over the Sallah period. This was in spite of about 25,000 security agents deployed to Edo State for the election.
However, a new twist was added to the postponement of the election following allegations by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state that the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had planned to bring 8,000 militants to disrupt the election.
Specifically, the Edo State Governor, Adams Oshiomhole had accused the governors of Rivers and Delta states, Chief Nyesom Wike and Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa of the PDP for being the sponsors of the alleged deployment of militants. Also, Oshiomhole alleged that Wike and Okowa had raised N2 billion for the PDP candidate in Edo State governorship poll, Mr. Osagie Ize-Iyamu.
The governors had since denied the allegations. The postponement of the polls is not only shocking, but another failed litmus test for INEC. Democracy comes under threat when the process appears truncated. Edo electorate deserve more than what INEC and the security agencies have given them.
Though INEC may not have had any option but to agree with the advice of the security agencies, we advise both the electoral body and security agencies to ensure that the new date fixed for the election is not shifted again. If that happens, it will raise serious questions on our democratic process and the capacity of the security agencies to protect the voters and prevent breach of peace that may arise during elections.
The allegation of deployment of militants to the state to disrupt the election is serious and should be thoroughly investigated by the security agencies. The outcome of the probe should be made public.
Undoubtedly, our democracy is on trial by virtue of the uncertainties of the governorship poll in Edo State. But rather than indulge in blame game as the politicians are doing, the extension should be seen as an opportunity to resolve all the concerns, threats and logistics problems so that Edo people will freely choose their next governor without let or hindrance. Already, the postponement has affected the transition time-table, in addition to the financial cost of the poll.
Although the Electoral Act and the Constitution allow for the adjustment of the electoral calendar, such powers should be exercised with utmost restraint. Neither INEC nor the security agencies should hide under the provisions of the Electoral Act or the Constitution to compromise the democratic process. Our advice is that everything should be put in place to ensure that the Edo governorship poll holds on the rescheduled date. Anything to the contrary will be unacceptable.