As the people of Edo state go to the poll today to vote their governor for the next four years with 14 political parties on the ballot, the contest, however, is majorly between the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC); ABDULRAHMAN ZAKARIYAU and BODE OLAGOKE write.
As Edo state goes to the polls today to elect a governor for the next four years, there is wide spread tension in the state over the possible outcome of the poll. Blueprint Weekend checks revealed that the issues at stake are more than winning and losing an election.
The election is set to take place in 2,627 polling units; 192 wards; with over 2 million registered voters expected to cast their votes. Candidates in the election include: 12 males and two females.
Chief Lucky Igbinedion was the governor on the platform of the party from 1999 to 2007, but his successor, Prof. Oserheimen Osunbor, also elected on the platform of PDP, served only 18 months before he was removed through a court judgement that invalidated his election.
Since Comrade Adams Oshiomhole assumed office as governor on the platform of the Labour Party of Nigeria in November 2008, the state remained in the hands of the opposition until June this year when the incumbent governor, Godwin Obaseki, dumped the APC for the PDP after being refused the opportunity to run in the party’s governorship primary election for a second term in office.
Our correspondents report that today’s election is beyond Obaseki, who subsequently secured the ticket of the PDP, but about the fight for the soul of PDP in the state ahead of 2023 general elections.
Obaseki is fighting his most difficult political battle yet, considering the fact that he won his first term in office with relative ease with the support and endorsement of the incumbent governor and his benefactor, Oshiomhole.
Obaseki has since fallen out of grace with Oshiomhole.
A win for Obaseki, who joined the PDP on June 19, alongside some of his appointees and supporters, would not only mean that the PDP has captured the six South-south states for its benefit in the 2023 elections, but will set Obaseki on the path of even more political conquests as well as end the strangle-hold of political godfathers on the state and ultimately signal an end to Oshiomhole and others political dynasty.
Similarly, today’s election would likely determine whether or not the APC would bounce back to winning ways in the South-south.
The election would also show if the former APC national chairman’s street credibility and political structure are still a force to be reckoned with.
A victory for the APC candidate, Osagie Ize-Iyamu may confirm speculations that he was indeed the most popular candidate in the 2016 governorship election and may have cheated out of the poll.
Also, the outcome of the election would, to a large extent, determine the chances of the APC in the 2023 general elections especially as the South-south region is concerned. It is on this premises that party big wigs and other stakeholders are speaking up on this election.
Above all, the election provides an opportunity for the Edo people to take their destiny in their hands and ensure that their will prevails by voting candidates of their choice without any form of inducement.
Police deploy 31,000 personnel
In order to forestall breakdown of law and order during the election, the Nigeria Police Force have deployed 31,000 policemen. The Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu, while speaking at a governorship stakeholders’ meeting organised by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Benin City, the Edo state capital, said the deployment was part of security plans for the poll.
He said: “As part of our election security plans, 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 actors that might be bent on threatening the 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.”
The APC deputy national publicity secretary, Yekini Nabena, expressed confidence that the party would win today’s election.
Speaking with Blueprint Weekend, Nabena, who said the party would win convincingly, said: “APC will win Edo governorship election convincingly. The people of Edo have practically rejected the PDP and its candidate, Godwin Obaseki. Everyone can testify to the popularity of our candidate Pastor Ize-Iyamu.
“We have campaigned in every nook and cranny of Edo state. We have large presence in every ward and polling unit. We expect the loving people of Edo state to vote massively for the APC and our candidate. We expect them to conduct themselves peacefully, avoid any form of crisis and ensure they protect their votes against evil plot of the PDP elements. They are well known for rigging.”
In a recent interview he said his plans for Edo state, as encapsulated in his SIMPLE Agenda, would transform all sectors of the state’s economy with focus on security, health, infrastructure, and job creation.
He said, “I have a comprehensive document on how I believe we can reverse the fortune of our state, and make it better. I believe sincerely that without good security, we would not be able to position our state in where we want it to be.
“Investors will not come, tourists will not come, even our own indigenes abroad would be reluctant to come back home if we continue to suffer the level of insecurity that we have.
“In the same way, without serious infrastructure, it is going to be very difficult to attract any serious industry or business to our state. Our people too must be trained and retrained so they can have the necessary skills to compete at any level.
“So, the agenda has been well thought out, and in terms of implementation, of course, we would be looking at funds. The state is blessed, I just believe that our money has not been prudently utilised in the past.”
Obaseki, who joined the PDP in a dramatic move, was granted waiver to run for the party’s primaries by the National Working Committee (NWC).
The 63-year-old finance and international business expert is former chairman of the Edo state Economic and Strategy Team inaugurated by Governor Oshiomhole in March 2009.
In a chat with journalists recently, Obaseki said, “I have faith in the principles of democracy and share the values of my party to build a qualitatively better society based on commonweal, human rights and social justice under the rule of law.
“As a political party founded on justice, equity and fair play, PDP’s social contract is the covenant with the people of Nigeria. I identify fully with its commitment to democracy and good governance, freedom, human rights, and human dignity, justice, equity, popular participation, inclusiveness and the rule of law.
“Its respect for integrity, transparency and accountability in the conduct of public affairs and sustainable development through the creation of an enabling environment for a private sector-led economic development endears the PDP to me.”
On his part, the PDP national publicity secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, said the electorate would massively vote its candidate, Governor Obaseki, based on his performance in the last four years.
He told Blueprint Weekend that, “Obaseki has gone around the state showcasing his achievements. He has built a modular refinery, he has shown it. He has renovated schools, he has shown it. He is building roads, he has shown it. He is creating employment, he has shown it.
“The APC candidate has nothing to show. He is just talking about promises, how does he expect the people of Edo state to leave realities and go after his mere promises? The people of Edo state, who are satisfied with the performance of Governor Obaseki, are ready to re-elect him.”
INEC’s assurances, caution
The chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, has warned staff of the Commission not to give preference to any of the candidates and his political party.
Yakubu gave the warning in a message to his workforce in the state for the election.
He said the international community was taking more than a passing interest in the election and admonished his staff members to “be neutral at all times and stick strictly to our Code of Conduct and Oath of Neutrality to which we have all subscribed.”
The statement read in part, “As we begin the final countdown to the Edo governorship election, it is clear that all eyes are on the Independent National Electoral Commission to deliver a free, fair and credible process.
“I have no doubt that our staff members will rise to the occasion. We have done it several times before and we can do it again. The Commission deeply appreciates the never-ending sacrifices made by our staff at all times, often beyond the call of duty, to ensure that we carry out our mandate. The management will continue to improve the welfare and conditions of service of staff within the available resources.
“Let me appeal to all of you to remain steadfast and committed to the ideals of the Commission Nigerians and the international community expects so much from us.
“They are watching. It is important that we all remain above board in the performance of our respective duties. We must ensure that no political party or candidate is accorded any advantage over the other. We must be neutral at all times and stick strictly to our Code of Conduct and Oath of Neutrality to which we have all subscribed
“For, at the end of the day, we would have all contributed to the sustenance of democracy and a strong electoral process that all Nigerians can trust.”
The Commission also gave the assurance that votes would count in the election.
It disclosed that the z-pad, a new innovation used in the recent bye-elections in Nasarawa state as a secondary means of achieving full biometric accreditation of voters using a facial image, would no longer be used for Edo election.
In an address delivered at a stakeholders’ meeting in Benin, the INEC chair Yakubu, stated: “Our ultimate objective is to ensure that the choice of who becomes the next governor of Edo state is entirely in the hands of the voters.
“I wish to reassure you that votes will count and only the choice made by the people of Edo state will determine the outcome of the election. The Commission shall not take any action to the advantage or disadvantage of any political party or candidate. Our focus is on our processes and procedures.”
Speaking further he said: “The Commission is also aware of the concern expressed in some quarters about the neutrality of our staff, in particular the ad hoc staff engaged for election duty.
“We have heard allegations that some ad hoc staff were recruited in such a manner as to compromise the election. In response, the commission deployed two national commissioners who reviewed the process for strict compliance with the guidelines for such recruitment. I want to assure you that all categories of ad hoc staff have been vetted.
“The integrity of the process will not be compromised and there will be no partisan infiltration. As the eligible voters in Edo state go to the polls on Saturday, I wish to renew my appeal to all political parties, candidates and their supporters for peaceful conduct.
“Your votes will count. Polling unit level results will be uploaded for public view. However, this will not happen where the process is disrupted by violence or malpractices.
“The commission is determined that no one will benefit from impunity or rewarded for bad behaviour such as vote-buying, ballot box snatching and stuffing, multiple voting, hijacking and diversion of election materials, disruption of collation, falsification of results, attack on INEC officials or compelling them to declare unofficial results.
“The people of Edo state must be allowed to freely vote for their preferred candidate without inducement or harassment. We have been assured by the security agencies that thugs and their sponsors will not have the freedom to move around freely to disrupt the election or collation of results.”
The Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, a coalition of CSOs in its preliminary statement on the governorship election, has said it would hold the INEC accountable to its promise and assurances on preparedness.
The statement signed by the Alternate Chair, Barr Esther Uzoma, said the group which would be on ground in Edo state to receive reports from its partners and networks distributed across the 18 local government areas of the state has deployed 300 observers across the state.
She said, “Situation Room has received assurances from INEC and the Nigeria Police Force that they are fully prepared for the elections, with INEC assuring that logistics and deployment are fully under its control and the Police assuring that it will keep the security situation under check.
“Situation Room expects an improved administration and management of the 2020 Edo state governorship election and will be holding INEC accountable to its promise and assurances of preparedness.”
Continuing, she said: “Situation Room calls on the leadership of the Nigeria Police Force to call their men to order and enjoin them to be neutral and professional in their conduct.
“Situation Room restates that by virtue of section 29(3) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended), the Police are the lead agency in election security and all other security agencies should take their lead from them.
“We further call on the Police Force to document evidence of violence, infractions and their perpetrators and share this information with INEC, in order to speedily bring offenders to book,” statement read in part.
The group also called on the parties to ensure their agents abide by INEC Covid-19 guidelines as they participate in the electoral process, even as they urged eligible voters to come out freely to exercise their civic responsibility despite the rhetoric of violence.