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Democracy wins as Edo people speak with one ‘vote’

By Kelvin Ebiri, Leo Sobechi and Michael Egbejule, (Benin City)
22 September 2020   |   4:28 am
Nigerians desire genuine democracy. That was the major point to take away from Saturday’s Edo State gubernatorial poll. It was not all about the outcome, but about the fidelity of the process as well.

Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki PHOTO: Twitter

Nigerians desire genuine democracy. That was the major point to take away from Saturday’s Edo State gubernatorial poll. It was not all about the outcome, but about the fidelity of the process as well. After all said and done, the much-hyped election, particularly the media celebration of fear of possible blood letting, the exercise presented an anti-climax.

Heavens did not fall. Edo State voters lined up peacefully and comported themselves with decorum, as they waited patiently to exercise their franchise. The situation in the state as the polls opened by 8.00am was generally calm and nothing near the apprehension, hot rhetoric and tension that pervaded the electioneering process.

Although the election proceeded calmly, the process was sluggish due to a combination of factors, particularly malfunctioning of smart card readers and interference of political agents that acted as inducement contractors.

Speaking after he voted around 11.30am, the governor said the process was 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.”

Obaseki remarked that the Independent National Electoral Commission (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 incidents, Obaseki enjoined journalists to ask security agencies why those without PVCs were found near voting centres, century to what was promised.

“What is happening is different from the assurance they gave us,” he said. “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, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, who voted without hassles at about 9.30am at Polling Unit 26 in Ward 5 of Iguododo, Orhionhwon Local Government Area, said the exercise was peaceful.

The APC standard bearer stated: “The accreditation is very easy. I have done 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 Government Area, immediate past national chairman of APC, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, 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 some level of laxity, since according to him, the electoral body turned out as a bad egg by allowing malfunctioning card readers.

He urged the 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 the collation time.”

However, signs that Governor Obaseki was coasting home to victory emerged shortly after ward collation of results took off. But, prior to the emergence of local government results, stakeholders of the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) and its standard-bearer, Ize-Iyamu, maintained optimism that victory was coming their way.

Suspense, echoes of violence
BUT for the suspense that attended the delay in announcing the results of Orhionwon Local Government Council, the massive turn out of Edo voters provided no opportunity for any attempt to compromise the election. The solidarity of PDP leaders, especially governors Nyesom Wike, Ifeanyi Okowa and Seyi Makinde of Rivers, Delta, and Oyo States, respectively, helped to checkmate any planned mischief, because with the shootings at Orhionwon and Egor, it was obvious that some overzealous thugs wanted to play funny games.

Furthermore, the siege on the PDP governors’ hotel and the attendant outcry alarmed Nigerians, and coming days after the United States of America handed out visa bans to perpetrators of election violence and malfeasance, the security agents, particularly the police, took caution. Add to that was the intervention of the National Peace Committee (NPC), led by former military head of state, retired Abdulsalami Abubakar and the convener, Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah, all things worked together against any planned political mischief.

It was gathered that shortly after the brief ceremony where the gladiators signed a peace pact, General Abubakar went privately to confer with President Buhari to drum home the implications of a flawed Edo State governorship electoral process on Nigeria’s image.

The fruit of that private military-man-to-military man tête-à-tête was the public position by the Inspector General of Police, Abubakar Adamu, that a 31,000-man detachment was being sent to Edo State to provide cover for a free and fair poll.

Upon arriving Benin City, the police demonstrated a show of force, to leave no one in doubt that they were not in Edo State to spell John Bull. As it turned out, the show of force, which was not perceived in good light in some quarters, according to the Executive Director of Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Idayat Hassan, as well as the siege on PDP governors, roused the people to extra vigilance.

Riding on the positive public goodwill earned from the siege on the possessors of constitutional immunity, Governors Wike and Makinde came out to address a press conference following the suspicious delay in announcing the result of Orhionmwon council result. The governors warned INEC against plots to declare the governorship election inconclusive, saying the delay in releasing the collation of results for Orhionmwon LGA, if done to declare the process inconclusive, could plunge the state into crisis.

Speaking with unmistakable ire, Wike said the Edo electorate already knew that the result so far announced in 16 LGAs of the state is in favour of the PDP candidate. In their separate speeches, Wike and Makinde maintained that there was no need to try to manipulate the results, insisting that the entire state and Nigerians, home and abroad, have acknowledged that PDP was leading with a wide margin that could not be compromised.

Intriguing web
THE journey to the resolution of the Edo State governorship was a chequered one, detailing intra- and inter-party squabbles and scheming by entrenched political interests and ambitions of sundry godfathers. A few days to the election, one of the national leaders of APC, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, released a short video message in which he literally ‘commanded’ Edo voters to reject the incumbent, stressing that Governor Obaseki was not a democrat.

Tinubu hinged his claim on the allegation that Obaseki aborted the inauguration of 14 lawmakers-elect for the Edo State House of Assembly. However, that short video was like a poke on old wounds. It called to the minds of Edo electorate Obaseki’s battle to breathe the air of gubernatorial freedom brought about by the excessive interest shown by the former APC national chairman, Adams Oshiomhole.

The bickering between Oshiomhole and the governor led to a plethora of crises within APC, both at the national and the state levels. Stakeholders, particularly Obaseki’s colleagues in the Governors’ Forum, recalled the short end of the stick handed out to their former colleague and decided to give him (Obaseki) solidarity.

Suspension, disqualification, defection
IN a bid to provide the incumbent a breathing space in the party, APC governors hit on an ingenious plan, which revolved around the suspension of the national chairman by the ward executive of ward10, Etsako West Local Government Area chapter.

Feeling that the suspension was of no consequence, the then national chairman disregarded his suspension even when the local government and state chapters ratified it.

Governors’ solidarity
RIGHT from the onset of the attempt that denied Obaseki a second term ticket on the platform of APC, his colleagues banded together to ensure that he was not disgraced by godfathers the same way the immediate past Lagos State governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, was denied access to the platform.

The governors’ solidarity played out during the flag-off of Ize-Iyamu’s campaigns as some of the APC governors that arrived Benin City failed to address the rally after visiting the Palace of Oba of Benin, Ewuare II.

Similar solidarity was demonstrated by the governors, not only by shunning entreaties to donate funds for the APC candidate’s electioneering, but also in the failed campaign grand finale.

While Tinubu, Governors Abdullahi Umar Ganduje and Hope Uzodimma backed Oshiomhole in supporting Ize-Iyamu, the likes of Dr. Kayode Fayemi, Mallam Ahmad Nasir el-Rufai and Senator Atiku Bagudu, reportedly kept aloof.

The chasm between APC governors and Ize-Iyamu was, however, not only as a display of brotherly solidarity for Obaseki, it was also seen as a deprecation of Oshiomhole’s efforts to claim credit if victory was won by the APC, something he could possibly use as a bargaining chip to return to reckoning.

Not that alone, the feelings in certain quarters within APC that Tinubu was out to corner the APC structure for both economic and political purposes worked against Ize-Iyamu, who was being perceived as another crony to serve as conduit to Edo resources.

Zonal integration
THE determination by governors of the BRACED Commission to belong under a common political umbrella also worked to the advantage of Governor Obaseki as his brother governors of Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, and Delta quickly embraced him. Rivers State governor, Wike, alluded to such beneficial relationship, when he remarked that power belongs to the people of Niger Delta to ward off godfathers.

Perhaps, out of apprehension of the possible impact and appreciation of zonal political integration on APC’s future, the Edo State chairman of the party, Anselm Ojezua, said: “I don’t even know what the state of the party will be after this, because Oshiomhole has succeed in fractionalizing the party; he has destroyed the goodwill that existed between members of the party. The existence of the party is threatened as I speak.”

Having come to the present auspicious juncture, it could be said that Governor Obaseki has moved from a child of circumstances to being a man of destiny and one of the leaders of the emergent Niger Delta political solidarity.