Edo calm after September 28
CPJ berates FG over journalists’ arrest
Last Wednesday’s governorship election in Edo State was an anti-climax of sort going by the heated polity days to the election before and after the shift in date from September 10 to September 28.
Anxiety was heightened by allegations of harassment, intimidation, attacks of campaign convoys and possible attacks from militants allegedly hired from neighbouring states of Ondo, Delta, Bayelsa and Rivers to cause mayhem.
There was the controversy surrounding the case of 10 persons who claimed to be journalists and were arrested in a hotel in Benin City. On interrogation, they were found to be staff of a Watchdog Media News, an independent news website.
One of them claimed they were invited by a politician to help them train agents and monitor the election.
At the end of the day, the governorship election turned out to be the rather a peaceful one, perhaps the most peaceful so far in the state since 1999.
There were conflicting reports of the results as different results were pasted in various online platforms. Some completely at variance with what observers and journalists already had from monitoring the exercise directly.
Eventually, the state returning officer, Professor Kayode Soremekun in the officially released results, declared the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, Godwin Obaseki winner of the election haven polled 319,483 votes to defeat his closest and fiercest rival, Osagie Ize-Iyamu of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) who got 253,173 votes.
But before the final announcement, the PDP and its candidate rejected the results asserting irregularities and that the electoral umpire, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has compromised. Youth and supporters of the party orchestrated a protest outside the INEC office. They claimed that the results announced did not reflect what actually took place; that they voted for PDP and not the APC that was proclaimed winner.
The security men were equal to the task; they tactfully dispersed the youths and prevented the situation from degenerating into chaos.
Ize-Iyamu complained about irregularities in the election, alleging the detention of one of PDP agent, Uwa Osunbor in Orhiomwon, by security agents on trump up charge; the shooting of guns by some security personnel at Etsako East to scare away people during collation; and over 300 non-Nigerian who he alleged were allowed to vote, stressing that PDP complained, the relevant authorities turned deaf ears.
“With all this, we won’t dignify ourselves by going to listen to what INEC is annoying because it is all fabricated and at the appropriate time we will make a more categorical statement”, he said.
He however admitted inviting the journalists, whom the security agents arrested and branded fake journalists, to work in his party situation-room.
“Those people were invited by me to help us in our situation-room. Even when they showed their identity cards indicating where they work, the police still held them in detention. Maybe now that the election is over, they might release them because it was a well-orchestrated plan to ensure that PDP losses and do not have evidence to show that they lost”, he further said.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), an independent non-profit organization that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide, also came to the recue of the arrested journalists, calling for their immediate release.
“The impunity with which Nigerian security forces have recently attacked the press is reminiscent of Nigeria’s darkest days of military rule. … We call on President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration to reverse this alarming slide and let journalists do their jobs without fear of reprisal,” said CPJ West Africa Representative, Peter Nkanga.
The Nigerian Army spokesman, Col. Sani Usman had claimed that they acted on “credible security reports” that hired “hoodlums” were in the hotel preparing to attack the state. He said the journalists were arrested in possession of incriminating, sensitive election material.
However, Watchdog Media reportedly countered the Army’s claim by publishing pictures of the crew conducting interviews on the streets of Benin while wearing their press credentials.
CPJ quoted Taiye Garrick, the editor of Watchdog Media as saying that the security was targeting the newspaper because of material the staff collected while covering the Edo South senatorial district before the elections.
The Director of Media and Publicity of the APC Campaign Council, Senator Domingo Obende attributed the peaceful outing in the election to the operational arrangements put in place by the INEC and the security agencies.
He noted in particular that the early arrival of electoral materials across the state and the adequate presence of security personnel contributed largely to the peaceful conduct of the election.
His words: “The INEC did well, there was lot of improvement in the operation of the electoral umpire over what we had experienced in the past. The only snag I noticed is that some persons were disenfranchised as a result of population in their polling units. My advice is that the Commission should always deploy more hands to units where the population is large.”
Similarly, observers are of the view that the timely call on PDP supporters by Ize-Iyamu went a long way in ensuring that there was no violent response to the announcement of the results.
Though the PDP candidate rejected the results, he called on the party members and supporters to resist taking the laws into their hands, as redress would be sort through the lawful means.
Meanwhile, the deputy governor elect, Philip Shaibu said the Godwin Obaseki led incoming government would have no choice but to build on the legacies of Governor Adams Oshiomhole.
Speaking during a thank you rally to the people of Etsako West, Etsako Central and Etsako East Local Government Areas of the state, Shaibu assured the people who defied a heavy down pour to listen to his message, that they should be hopeful in the in-coming Obaseki’s administration.
“Yes, we have an outgoing government that have been generally acknowledged to have performed, however while we are challenged by this record performance, we are undaunted.
“To me, haven been part and parcel of the Oshiomhole-led government, we are well abreast of what have been done and what more is needed to do. This is to let you know that we are well prepared for the job.”