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Vote-buying, apathy reign as state awaits new helmsman

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The highly-anticipated rematch between old foes, Governor Godwin Obaseki of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu of the All Progressives Congress (APC) took place, yesterday, as people of Edo State cast ballot for a new helmsman.

While the 2016 governorship election, which Obaseki as APC flag bearer won was not without challenges, the exercise this time around was equally fraught with widespread irregularities, voter inducement and sporadic gunshots.

Apart from the alleged shooting to death of one person at ward 10, Ologbo, Ikpoba Okha Local Council, after violence broke out during voting, snatching of boxes ballot and vote-buying were noticed in the council area and many of the 18 local councils.

In addition to this, there were widespread reports of smartcard reader malfunction across the state, just as there were also varying levels of compliance with voting guidelines, and COVID-19 protocols.

Largely, the exercise was devoid of the doomsday prediction, which many residents, observers, and others feared would undermine the exercise, judging from heightened pre-election tension.

In most polling units visited by The Guardian, wearing of face masks was not religiously observed, neither was hand-washing or social distancing given serious thought. But accreditation of voters and voting started on time in most of the centres.

For instance, at Ward Four, Polling Unit 19, in Oredo Local Council, the exercise took off peacefully with police officers and other security agents stationed strategically, while officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) ran the show. Aggrieved youths, however, got into a heated argument, which was later resolved at the unit. The same scenario played out at Ward 12 in the same local council. Generally, the atmosphere was right in many other polling units in the local council.

But in neighbouring Ikpoba-Okha Local Council, sporadic shooting and ballot boxes snatching characterised voting in some polling units in Ologbo, a riverine community. Same thing happened in Ward 9, in Egor Local Council, while sorting of votes was moved to a police station in Ubiaja Town after a party agent was allegedly shot dead at Local Education Authority (LEA) Primary School.

A source, who pleaded anonymity alleged massive inducement of voters in Egor Local Council, particularly in Ward 9, Unit 11, 12, 13 and 14. He further alleged some voters trooped to a popular recreational centre along Okhoro Road in the area, where they were paid N5, 000 after casting their votes.

Some youths who expressed sadness over the development threatened to set INEC vehicle on fire in the ward alleging conspiracy on the part of INEC. Another round of violence, which allegedly led to the death of one person, was recorded in Ward 8, in Ikpoba-Okha Local Council. The deceased was alleged to have met his waterloo while disrupting the exercise in the area.

However, The Guardian observed that the two front row political parties, the PDP and the APC evolved novel ways of inducing prospective voters.
   
For instance, at Adesuwa, some women were heard asking each whether they had collected their Akara, after information was stealthily passed around about the existence of the “incentive.”

The rampant vote-buying across the state manifests in politicians promising voters N5, 000 reward for each vote cast in their parties’ favour.

At Ward 4, polling units 7 to 9, Obe Primary School, Sabongida-Ora Local Council, political party agents got a number of voters to write down their names in order to benefit from the N5, 000 largess.

Also at Ward 03, Polling Unit 03, Evbiobie Central School, Sabo II, in the same local council, voters openly received gratification for voting one of the political parties.

At Ward 4, Eguare Polling Unit 5, in Ekpoma Local Council, voters equally had instant gratification for doing the bidding of political parties of their choice.

At Emopkae Model Primary School in Oredo Local Council, where Governor Obaseki voted, the process of accreditation and voting was sluggish even as some card readers could not establish data.
   
Speaking after he voted around 11:30am, the governor described the process as being very slow, noting that spending one and a half hours on the queue before accreditation and voting was not encouraging.
 
He stated: “One expected that there should have been better preparations for this election, the process is very slow. I spent one and a half hours on the queue before exercising my franchise. The card reader is very slow and it is the situation across the state, not only in Oredo.”

   
The governor remarked that INEC should have deployed more card readers to voting centres in high-density units adding, “I expected an improvement considering our experience with the same card readers during the last general elections.”
   
While alleging that security agencies were complicit in the widespread vote-buying by agents of his rival, Obaseki enjoined journalists to ask security agencies that assured that those without PVCs would not be found near voting centres what went wrong.
   
“What is happening is different from the assurance they gave us.  They told us adequate security measures have been taken. But a lot of cash distribution has been going on, a lot of cash for votes.”
   
But contrary to the governor’s observations, his main rival, Ize-Iyamu, who voted without hassles at about 9:30am at Polling Unit 26, Ward 5 of Iguododo, Orhionhwon Local Council, said the exercise was peaceful, and express optimism that victory would be his.
   
The APC standard bearer stated: “The accreditation was very easy, I did that and they gave me the ballot paper. Where the ballot box is placed is covered and that means you can vote with some level of privacy.
   
“I cannot say that what is happening here is happening all over the state because communication is not very good. I am happy I have been able to vote; I am very confident of winning and I just hope what is happening here is replicated all over the state.”
   
At Etsako West Local Council, the immediate past national chairman of APC, Comrade Adams Oshomhole, voted around 11:00am at his ward 10, Polling Unit 1.
 
Oshiomhole expressed satisfaction with the progress of accreditation and voting, even as he upbraided INEC for exhibiting laxity, since according to him, the electoral body turned out as a bad egg by allowing malfunctioning card readers.
 
He urged security agencies to be alert and guard against plans by some individuals to cause a breach of the peace during collation, adding: “There are speculations that criminals will arrive to cause intimidation towards collation time.”
   
The former Edo State Commissioner for Justice, Chief Henry Idahagbon told The Guardian on phone that the process was free and fair, noting that for “the first time INEC ensured that materials arrived at the polling units on time.”
   
The former Attorney General regretted the large-scale neglect of COVID-19 protocol, lamenting that the situation was compounded by the fact that “INEC was overwhelmed by the massive turn out.”
   
However, exonerating the commission of neglect or complicity, INEC’s Commissioner for Communication and Voter Education, Mr. Festus Okoye, told The Guardian that the commission had no enforcement powers.
 
While stressing that safety and proper conduct during election is a collective responsibility, Okoye, who said that INEC issued enough warnings, remarked that the electoral body does not have its own police force to enforce physical distancing, wearing of face masks and other protocols.

MEANWHILE, the INEC, yesterday, expressed displeasure over the open buying of votes by political parties. Chairman of the Commission, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, who expressed worry at the Edo Governorship Election Virtual Situation Control Room, hinted that the electoral body would engage with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) to get first hand records on what really transpired on election day. 

“Our partnership with the EFCC and ICPC is robust. We even included both agencies in the Inter-agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES). We will meet and find out what happened, and see if there are lessons to learn from the Edo election,” he said. 

The INEC boss who said the commission was determined to address the menace, explained that those who are not interested in improving the electoral process were responsible for the wide-spread vote-buying. 

Earlier in his address, the INEC boss condemned the shooting incident in Orhionmwon Local Council, vowing to bring all electoral offenders to justice, just as he informed that the commission had also received images showing the alleged hijack of electoral materials in Ward 9, Unit 15 of Egor Local Council.

THE Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), also yesterday, alerted the INEC, the Department of State Services (DSS) of alleged plots by agents of the APC to replace election results where the PDP is leading, particularly in Edo North.

While it charged its members to remain vigilant and follow their results “bumper to bumper” to all the collation centers, the party, however, cautioned security agencies against being used to replace results that have already been declared at the respective polling units.

The PDP, in a statement by its national publicity secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, said it is already aware that results are being manufactured in Kogi State to be used as replacements for already declared results, particularly in Edo North.

“We draw the attention of INEC to such results being bandied by the APC, including the fake result claimed to have emanated from a polling unit in Etsako West, where a vote of 914 was allocated to the APC, as against the genuine declaration at the polling units.”

It said that a cursory check on the results being circulated in the public space by the APC failed a litmus test of the identification numbers of INEC declaration of results. 

According to the PDP: “Whereas polling unit results are identified as Form EC8A, the results being paraded by the APC carry a fake identification number of Form EC60E.”

The party expressed concerns that “this sinister adventure of the APC is being encouraged by the slow pace of uploading already declared results in INEC’s virtual portal.

“We are alarmed by the report that this development has led to avoidable post-election violence, which has resulted in the reported killing of innocent Edo citizens, who came out to perform their civic responsibilities as the police allegedly withdrew their men in certain collation centres.”

THE National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Campaign Council, and Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, Governor of Delta State, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, and Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State, also yesterday, called on the various stakeholders in the election to ensure that collation centres are secured.

The governors, who spoke to journalists in Benin City, commended the INEC and security agencies for conducting what they called a peaceful election in the state, noting that the work is not over until the results of the election are released.
Wike, who said the election has been quite peaceful, commended “everybody for the peace we have enjoyed. Like I have always said, problems do not arise at elections, but during collation. So, we call on INEC to fulfill the promise it made to Nigerians that it will release the Edo election results real time.

“We are very happy with the election so far, but you cannot find security presence at the ward collation centres. After results have been announced at polling units, we expect that police presence will be more at the ward collation centres.

That is where we feel concerned now. We appeal to the Federal Government to mobilise security personnel to the various ward collation centres and the local government collation centres, so that the people’s mandate can be protected.

Governors Okowa and Makinde also stressed the need to ensure that the success recorded in the voting process should be extended to collation of results so that the PDP and Nigerians will commend INEC for a job well done.

“The people of Edo State have indeed spoken very loud and clear. We want the will of the people to remain sacrosanct and must not be subverted under any guise, Makinde said.

THE Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, yesterday, said the election was marred by violence, vote-buying, voters inducement, intimidation and harassment. 

The body also lamented widespread failure to comply with and enforce INEC guidelines on COVID-l9 in the state, especially social distancing and wearing of facemasks. 

In an interim report on the election signed by its alternate chairman, Esther Uzoma, the group noted that despite the large presence of security officials in the state, there were reported movement of thugs and intimidation of voters by a certain group without constraint, or hindrance in many polling units within the state capital. 

According to Uzoma: “Situation Room is concerned about reports of security personnel invading the hotel housing leaders of a major political and restricting their movement in and out of the hotel. There is also the report of security personnel restraining staff of the election observer group and partner of Situation Room YIAGA from accessing their Data Centre. These actions … are hereby condemned as an unacceptable infringement of the rights of citizens and citizens groups to participate and contribute to the electoral process. 

“We are also receiving reports of widespread vote buying by politicians and agents of political parties across the state. Reports of vote-buying has occurred in about 55 per cent of the polling units observed so far. For instance, in Ward 4 of Emotan College and Ministry of Education in New Benin, where there are 28 polling units both in Oredo LGA, voters were being induced with cash ranging up to N5, 000. 

It however applauded INEC officials for giving priority to Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) and other vulnerable groups especially the elderly, even though, according to the body most of the PUs were not accessibility to some categories of PWDs.” 


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