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Why I insisted on free, fair election in Edo – Buhari

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President Buhari<br />received a Courtesy visit from Edo State Governor Obaseki<br />at State House, Abuja.

• I Will Lose Integrity If I Return To APC, Obaseki Insists

President Muhammadu Buhari has said that his insistence on free and fair election in last Saturday’s governorship election in Edo State was informed by his desire to ensure that innocent Nigerians do not suffer, regardless of party affiliation.

Speaking yesterday when re-elected Governor Godwin Obaseki led his Deputy, Philip Shuaibu, and other party supporters to the State House on a thank you visit, Buhari said: “I thank you for bringing your deputy and supporters to come and see me after beating my party.

“I am supposed to preside over all Nigerians’ interests, whether I like it or not, but my single desire is to make sure that innocent people don’t suffer. That message I got across to the Inspector General of Police, that elections must be free and fair.”

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According to the President: “If contestants have too much money and they decide to spray, so be it. But what I insist is, nobody should go and raise a counter-force to the government, arm heavily-drugged thugs to go and humiliate people.

“I want Nigerians to appreciate that I respect them as Nigerians and that I am bound by the oath I have taken, that their security is in the hands of God and in the hands of the government, which I am leading.”

Buhari noted that as leader of the governing party, and despite the fact that the party has lost some states in past elections, he wishes to leave behind a political culture based on integrity, adding: “We have lost states across the country. Now I do not like to escape the responsibility, seeing as the leader of the country, I am also the leader of my party, that I am not leading the party very well.

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“I am trying to make sure that the party is built on a civilised basis, rule of law and respect for human rights and human beings, right from polling units to local governments to states up to Abuja, and that is what I have been insisting as my contribution to the National Working Committee (NWC) and executive of the party.

“I know we are a developing country, a developing economy and trying to develop our political culture. I want the development of political culture to be based on integrity and accountability. Let people work very hard and earn what they are looking for through their hardwork and fair competition.” He added, jocularly, that he was congratulating Obaseki “reluctantly,” because he defeated the candidate of his All Progressives Congress (APC).

In his remark, Obaseki thanked the President for ensuring that fair play reigned during the election, noting: “You would recall a couple of weeks before the election, I came to see you and you assured me that we were going to have a free, peaceful and credible election. That was what we had during the election of September 19 and the whole world has acclaimed that Edo election was perhaps one of the best conducted in recent times in Nigeria.

“This could not have been possible without your insistence that the right things be done, and for that, we want to say thank you very much.”He also commended the President for his congratulatory message, assuring him that the message has been internalised, adding: “It is God that made this election possible. Therefore, I should be humble about the election and also magnanimous in victory.”

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He pledged his loyalty and support and that of the people of Edo State to the President and the Federal Government.Obaseki, who dumped the APC for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), following his disqualification from the party’s primary election, while fielding questions from State House Correspondents after the meeting with Buhari, dismissed insinuations that he was set to leave the PDP for the APC, which he said would amount to going against the President’s gospel of integrity.

The governor affirmed that he would lose his integrity if he returned to the APC. He said he was not disposed to replacing former APC national chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, as the new godfather of Edo politics, adding: “I should be dealt with accordingly,” if he attempts to do so.

“This (yesterday) morning, we were privileged to meet with the President, essentially to express the gratitude of Edo people, myself and my deputy for his role in the conduct of the election. He insisted that Nigeria should have proper, credible, free and fair elections, and that was what happened.

“So, this morning, we are in the Villa to show our profound gratitude and appreciation for this, which on the surface will look normal, but the implications are very far reaching, because this is a sitting President whose party was contesting an election and who insisted that the right things be done and a level playing field be created for contestants.

“By that singular action, he has deepened our democracy far beyond what we can understand and imagine today. For that act alone, we felt we must come and say thank you. I am not just coming alone with my deputy; we came to say thank you with the representatives of Edo people, including our senators, members of the House of Representatives, senior citizens and party leaders.

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“Mr. President, in his characteristic humorous manner, said he reluctantly congratulated me for beating his party. He also pointed that his role, first and foremost, as President of Nigeria, is to be President of all, regardless of your party, race, tribe or creed.

“We couldn’t ask for more from Mr. President; he really played the role of a statesman.”On whether he was contemplating a return to the APC, he responded: “The answer to your question, gleaning from the comments of Mr. President, that he said that he wants to leave a democracy that is built on integrity, accountability and hardwork, is obvious. Those were his words and I subscribe totally to that.

“It will not show integrity; it will not demonstrate somebody that has ethical or moral foundation to do what you asked about. I couldn’t have contested on a party, won on that party platform and then consider moving to another party. It is not the kind of thing to do; it is not the right thing to do and I am sure you will not encourage me to do that.”

Obaseki dismissed the idea of godfatherism in the polity, adding that the concept was outside the purview of the constitution of Nigeria and very dangerous to our democracy, stating: “That is why when we came into the political fray in 2006/2007, the mantra then was to get rid of godfathers from our political life.

“The reason is simple; the godfather has no constitutional responsibility and acts outside the constitution and controls people who are constitutional players. So, if we allow that sort of situation to continue, it will be worse than military rule.

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“When people who have nothing at stake, no checks and balances, but just arbitrarily decides that this is the way the constitution should be interpreted or constitutional players should operate, that is why problems come in.

“God forbid, if I become a godfather, I should be dealt with accordingly, because it is dangerous to the concept of democracy.” On how he plans to go about unifying Edo people after such exchanges of hurtful words during the campaigns, he stressed: “It is really unfortunate that there is so much bitterness and I can assure that most of it did not come from my camp, because we were not desperate. But that is neither here nor there.

“We also have to appreciate the role of the social media. Since COVID-19, the importance and the impact of social media technology is at all time high.

“So, it is not that in the past, such hurtful words and hateful speeches were not used, but it was never at the level of proliferation and spread as it has now because of social media.

“We will continue to try and heal the land. Fortunately, it doesn’t show that Edo people are divided; it shows essentially that they have come together under one umbrella. That is what the election has shown.

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“We will continue to appeal to those who are outside our umbrella to work with us for the benefits of our people because, what is the purpose of election anyway? Is it not a contest for who will rule the people better? If the results of this election has shown that Edo people trust that I will, at this point in time, be able to govern Edo better and give them what they want, everybody should join me, so as to be able to accomplish that goal.”

On what would be his focus in his second tenure, the governor said: “We have done quite a lot of work in four years; what we have done has been foundational, we have laid the foundation for the new Edo State.” He promised to consolidate on his achievements so far, while going into new areas to ensure the accelerated development of the state and take it to the next level.

Meanwhile, Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, has said that Obaseki is free to return to the APC if he feels the PDP is not working for him.

Wike, however, said the governor must never forget that he was given an umbrella when he was left in the rain.Speaking during a television programme, yesterday, when asked what he would do should Obaseki leave the PDP, Wike said: “I don’t want to discuss something that is not going to be possible. However, assuming it happens, so what? That is politics.

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“If the governor believes that the PDP is no longer a party for him to actualise his vision and his mission, there is nothing wrong, but I don’t believe that it is going to happen, because the governor has consistently told us that there is no way he will leave the PDP. If he leaves the PDP, people in Edo State will not be happy.

“And he is somebody I have that trust in that he will not leave the party. This is a party that clothed him. This is a party that when it was raining, gave him an umbrella.”Wike said he did not play such a big role in Obaseki’s re-election, but only acted as the chairman of the campaign council.

This is just as the governorship candidate of the APC, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, has denied asking Obaseki to leave the PDP and return to the party. Spokesman for Ize-Iyamu Campaign Organisation, John Mayaki, debunked media reports that the APC candidate made the plea to Obaseki at any time, saying the “video in reference is from three months ago, not after the election.”

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