The attention of the world is today focused on Edo State as the people file out to either return their governor or elect a new state helmsman for the next four years. As the countdown to the governorship election ends today, ONYEKACHI EZE who was in the state, looks at the preparations towards a hitch-free poll.
Today, no fewer than 14 candidates are contesting the governorship election in Edo State, as the incumbent governor, Godwin Obaseki who is the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) struggles to retain his seat. His main challenger, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu of the All Progressives Congress (APC) is leading the pack of 13 candidates who are challenging Obaseki for the top position. Obaseki and Ize-Iyamu have swapped positions in this election. In 2016, the governor contested on APC platform, and Ize-Iyamu on PDP platform.
There are two women among the candidates jostling for the governorship seat; Mabel Oboh of the African Democratic Congress (ADC) and Ebun Agol Tracy of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP). There are also two female deputy governorship candidates – Mogbelehan Pauline of LP and Omion Omonye of SDP. Apart from Obaseki and Ize-Iyamu, there are 10 other male candidates; Obhafuoso Paul (Action Alliance –AA), Ibio Emmanuel (Action Democratic Party – ADP), Lucky Idehen (All Progressives Grand Alliance – APGA), Igbineweka Osamuede (Allied Peoples Movement – APM), Amos Osalumese (Action Peoples Party – APP), Osifo Isaiah (Labour Party (LP), Stevie Ozono (National Rescue Movement – NRM), Felix Obayangbon (Social Democratic Party – SDP), Jones Osagiobare (Young Peoples Party – YPP) and Akhalamhe Amiemenoghena (Zenith Labour Party – ZLP). A lot of interests have been shown in the election by political and non-political actors both within and outside the state.
As of Tuesday, most of the hotels in Benin, the state capital were fully booked. The run up to today’s poll was challenging, not only to the political parties and their candidates, but to the electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), security agencies, traditional institution in Edo State and stakeholders in the nation’s electoral process. The Edo election is the first major one in Nigeria this year, and in the midst of novel coronavirus pandemic. The election is being conducted at a time when some countries of the world are postponing polls due to the pandemic.
But INEC said it is going ahead, as to do otherwise will create constitutional crisis. The commission’s National Commissioner, Festus Okoye, said that there would be constitutional crisis if the election is not conducted, as Section 178 (2) already states the timeline for the conduct of the election.
The tenure of Governor Obaseki will end on November 11, which means that the election must be conducted not later than 150 days before, or 30 days earlier than the end of tenure of the governor, in accordance with the Electoral Act. INEC had postponed four senatorial elections it earlier fixed for May this year, due to the upsurge in the COVID- 19 pandemic. The elections will now hold on October 31. INEC said it had developed a code of conduct for the conduct of elections in the context of COVID-19 pandemic.
The commission’s Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu said the policy had been test run in a by-election in the Nasarawa central state constituency in Nasarawa State last month. “All the protocols enumerated in our policy were practically implemented and the overall result is very encouraging.
“We are going into Edo … assured that we have test run our preparations for voting under the COVID-19 pandemic,” Prof. Yakubu stated. Edo governorship did not only face the challenge of coronavirus pandemic, it is also dogged by electoral violence.
Electioneering campaigns by the two major political parties, the PDP and the APC, have generated a lot of tensions. Clashes between supporters of the two parties had resulted in bloodshed. Prof. Yakubu has visited the state twice. The visits were to appeal to the parties and their supporters to shun violence.
He regretted that INEC’s “preparations, deployment plans, innovations in result management, the safety of personnel, security of materials and, above all, the credibility of elections are all negatively affected by violence or malpractices.
“Even worse, the health of all those involved is jeopardised by any disruption that will make the observance of health protocols in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic impossible. It is, therefore, important for everyone to maintain the peace.” On Monday, Chairman of the National Peace Committee (NPC), General Abdulsalami Abubakar was also in the state to supervise the signing of peace accord by the parties and their candidates. Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah, convener of the committee arrived a day earlier. This is to underscore the interests shown by Nigerians in the Edo election.
Before then, the parties and their candidates had signed a peace accord before the Oba of Benin, Oba Ewuare II. Kukah said the NPC works at the level of presidential election but had to step it down because of the desire to see a peaceful conduct of Edo election.
“Our prayer and hope is that the election will be most peaceful. We appreciate the great work INEC is doing,” he added. The cleric advised the candidates not to see the accord as mere ceremony, but to regard it as “a vow, a trust and commitment making to the people of Nigeria and the rest of the world.” General Abubakar who presided over the signing of the peace pact, reminded the candidates that their integrity is at stake. “By agreeing to sign this covenant of peace, all of you are committing yourselves to ensure an enduring peace in Nigeria and Edo State before, during and after the elections, and agreeing to look beyond short term electoral gain, sectional interest or narrow party advantage, and accepting to focus on nothing but outward development of Edo State.
“I urge all the stakeholders to commit to the spirit of the accord while also remembering (that) a violation of this accord is putting your integrity on line, because you are signing this as people who are to be taken for your words. “We are calling on everyone to work towards ensuring peaceful election process and ensure that peace reigns in Edo State during and after election,” Abubakar demanded. The Benin monarch was not left out in the appeal. His jingles were played on radio and television stations.
He also produced a sticker, admonishing the candidates to play by the rules. He maintained his non-partisanship in the election as the candidates are his subjects. The monarch was represented by two of his chiefs at the stakeholders’ meeting and, at the signing of peace accord by the parties and their candidates, who delivered his message of peace and appeal to the candidates and their supporters to comport themselves during the election. The campaigns were electrifying. The candidates visited all nooks and crannies of Edo State, to woo the electorate.
They were in 18 local government areas and in 192 wards in the state. They took spaces in electronic and print media; the social media is also awash with campaign messages. The national campaign councils of the two major political parties visited the state twice, to flag off the campaign and to close same. About a week to the election, the electioneering was taken to community level, at market places and in worship centres. Money and food items were shared to win support. The campaign was also a war of billboards, banners and souvenirs (face caps and t-shirts). Vehicles were branded and party flags hung in private vehicles.
It was easy to identify political party one belongs. Debates were staged in beer parlours and in every social gatherings by men, women and youths, though none had degenerated to fisticuff. But the billboards and banners were not spared of attacks.
INEC said though 2, 210, 534 people registered for the election only 1, 735, 910 collected their permanent voter’s card (PVC). A total of 483, 868 PVC were uncollected, and therefore, their owners will not be allowed to vote. The commission did not carry new voters’ registration exercise in Edo State before the election. The Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu said the force is deploying 31, 000 police personnel for the election, to protect INEC officials and materials, and to forestall violence.
He had already announced the deployment of a Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG), an Assistant General of Police (AIG) and eight Commissioners of Police, for the election. “All the three senatorial districts, 18 local government areas and 192 wards and 2, 627 polling units across the state have been appropriately mapped out, and adequate deployments will be made to ensure security.
“This massive deployment is not only to deter misguided political acthe elections through acts of thuggery or other conducts that violate the provisions of the Election Act, but to also serve as a strong warning that the government is determined to bring such characters to justice should they advance their ignoble, undemocratic and unpatriotic intents,” Adamu warned.
Given this precautionary measures, everything seems to be in place for today’s election. Also, given the assurances of Governor Obaseki and Ize-Iyamu, those who predicted bloodbath in the election, might be disappointed. Obaseki said he has no choice than to maintain peace, “because, apart from being a candidate, I am also the governor and chief security officer of the state. I want to commit that I will live by the terms of this accord.” Ize-Iyamu, on his part, assured that APC will talk to all its “supporters to behave peacefully.
We assure you that the election is going to be peaceful.” According to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), a total of 2,210,534 residents registered to vote in today’s governorship election but 1,726,765 are expected to vote as 483,769 voters failed to collect their Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs). There are 1,159,325 male voters and 1,052,209 female voters while youths between the ages of 18 and 35 make up 50 per cent of voters.
The poll is a renewed battle between Obaseki and Ize-Iyamu, who squared up against each other during the 2016 governorship election. Obaseki, then of APC defeated Ize- Iyamu, who ran on the platform of the PDP by 319,483 votes to 253,173 votes.
The candidates had earlier signed a peace accord, which became imperative following a series of violent reports in the course of electioneering even as the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu, assured that Edo would experience the best-conducted exercise in the country.
The IGP, who spoke through the Deputy Inspector-General of Police in charge of Research and Planning, Adeleye Oyebade, warned the candidates to abide by the peace accord. “The IGP’s message is clear. We are here to ensure a hitch-free, fair, and credible election and I have assured all that the police will remain professional to the core. We will ensure that we have the best of the best in this election. “When signing this according, you must understand what you are doing. It is accountability and responsibility.
Go back to speak with all your people about what you have signed. The electorate should come out to vote because we are prepared to protect them. Edo will have the best of the best elections in Nigeria.” A former Head of State and the Chairman of the National Peace Committee, Retired General Abdulsalami Abubakar, said the committee supports free, fair, and credible elections, to ensure a peaceful transition.
“Giving peace during and after the election is a priority and it must be done. We, as a people should aspire to see Nigeria where people feel safe to come out of their homes to cast their votes without any fear. “As you are all aware the election cannot hold in the absence of a peaceful atmosphere more importantly disharmony among political parties in this hall. All contesting parties need to adopt a code of conduct that will remove confrontation among them”, he said