Friday, 22nd September 2023

How Edo Guber supports INEC’s delisting of parties

By Leo Sobechi (Who was in Benin City)
27 September 2020   |   3:02 am
• Issues That Made Poll Peaceful Within 24 hours to the September 19, 2020 gubernatorial election in Edo State, prospective voters had already been sharply divided between the two major political parties, the governing Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and opposition All Progressives Congress (APC). The peaceful conduct of election had instigated discussions on the salutary…

Issues That Made Poll Peaceful

Within 24 hours to the September 19, 2020 gubernatorial election in Edo State, prospective voters had already been sharply divided between the two major political parties, the governing Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and opposition All Progressives Congress (APC).

The peaceful conduct of election had instigated discussions on the salutary effect of Independent National Electoral Commission’s (INEC) decision to delist some fringe political parties and decongest the electoral space.
Stakeholders, particularly voters and politicians, expressed the belief that, beginning from Edo State, the country was entering into the glorious democratic stage of bi-partisan competition that would crown voters as the real custodians of power and harbingers of good governance.
Although voter turnout hovered as always below 30 per cent of total number of registered voters and collection of Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs), apprehensions over the likelihood of violence and lack of credibility of the electoral process remained high.

But, as the polls opened by 8.30am that fateful Saturday, a general climate of calmness was witnessed around the various parts of the state, except pockets of attempted efforts to disrupt the free flow of balloting.
As the day wore on, Orhiomwon, Egor and Etsako West turned out as flashpoints, which did not prove quite substantial to engender either a declaration of inconclusive exercise or opening for mischief.
Based on the foregoing, apart from the dominance of two prominent political parties, which candidates, incumbent Governor Godwin Obaseki and strong challenger, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, stood a good chance of winning, what likely reasons informed the peaceful and credible Edo State Governorship poll?

Bi-partisan Competition
CRITICS that observed the Edo governorship poll held that the exercise was made easier by the simplicity of the range of choices before the voters, which were majorly between PDP and APC. As such, prospective voters had already settled it on their minds, which party and candidate to vote for even before accessing the polling centres.
However, although some observers contended that only the two major parties mustered enough resources, including agents and alleged inducement of voters, it was obvious that only PDP’s Obaseki and APC’s Ize-Iyamu were very competitive in the election.

That could explain why one of the pro-democracy groups committed to election monitoring and good governance, Yiaga Africa Watching The Votes (WTV), singled out the two parties in its survey, stressing that the odds favoured PDP to triumph at the poll.

While emphasizing its commitment to promoting credible elections by providing independent information on electoral processes, Yiaga Africa disclosed that through WTV, which is driven by data, it verifies accuracy of election results.
In its report shortly after the September 19 poll in Benin City, the group said it employed the Parallel Vote Tally (PVT) methodology, alongside 500 stationary observers deployed in pairs to 250 polling units and assisted by 25 mobile observers to find out that PDP would collect between 52.5 per cent and 59.7 percent of the votes cast to win.
If the preponderance of two political parties made it easy for monitoring and evaluation, it could also be argued that voters would find it convenient to determine between two candidates which one meets with their preferences.
The only task for INEC under such circumstances would be how to address its logistic challenges, particularly on the issue of malfunctioning card readers, which affected accreditation and voting in the election.

But as to whether the preponderance of two major parties supported INEC’s decision to prune down the number of parties enhanced the success story, which the Edo governorship election turned out to be, some stakeholders spoke in the affirmative.
APC chieftain and Director General of Voice of Nigeria (VON), Mr. Osita Okechukwu, said: “Yes! The cause of democracy is better served under bi-partisan setting. In fact, in all advanced and successful liberal democracies, though multi-party, but two dominant political parties are found.
“Name them, USA, UK, India, Pakistan, Brazil et al. A lot of people do not know that USA has more than two political parties. This scenario was clearly exhibited in the Edo State gubernatorial election. Yes, 14 political parties paraded candidates, but the two majors – APC and PDP, drowned them.”

While rehashing the history of liberal democracy, Okechukwu noted that “voters are the owners of political parties and therefore you can’t divorce them from their form, character, strength and weakness.”

Continuing, he said, this is why there are those who canvas that INEC should deregister the minor parties, to save cost, space and size of the ballot paper, “(but) they forget that INEC is constrained by law.” The VON DG recalled that as the Edo State governorship poll approached, “one could not dismiss offhandedly the incipience of ‘MAD’ doctrine, which in diplomacy is noted as Mutual Assured Destruction.”

He maintained that despite the peaceful outcome, both camps were armed to the teeth, deep vault filled with huge cash war chest and propaganda arsenal. “Many factors were at play in the peaceful nature of the Edo State gubernatorial election, most important was the level playfield provided by President Muhammadu Buhari followed by the interventions of retired General Abdulsalami Abubakar and Bishop Matthew Kuka-led National Peace Committee, the Oba of Benin, Ewuare II and other non-state actors,” he stated.
It is possible that the outcome of the Edo governorship election would strengthen the hands of National Assembly members to equip INEC with enabling legislations, particularly in the amendment of the Electoral Act 2010, to further sanitise the election environment through greater scrutiny of political parties.

THE emergence of three giants who were not on the ballot, contributed to the early taking of sides by the Edo State electorate. The combined support of APC leaders, particularly Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole and Captain Ehosa Okunbor for the party’s candidate, Ize-Iyamu, turned the incumbent into an underdog.

Aligned to the perceived injustice in his contrived disqualification by the APC screening committee, Obaseki’s defection to PDP and the combined forces of the three big men elicited public sympathy and solidarity.
It was therefore easy for the masses to connect to the narratives that the governor’s travails revolve around overbearing godfather influence and attempt to treat him as a political orphan.

While Edo people alleged that Captain Hosa was trying to position himself effectively as a possible candidate of Esama of Benin by supporting Ize-Iyamu against Obaseki, the current occupant was said to have mobilised the people against the move to supplant the incumbent governor.

Meanwhile, despite the general perception that he performed creditably in office as governor, Oshiomhole’s grandiose efforts to usher in another governor at the expense of his former ally, Obaseki, backfired against the logic that he enjoyed eight years in office.
In the complex mix of the foregoing realities, observers noted that it was easy for the people to side with Obaseki, especially given the fecund mantra of Edo is not Lagos, which was conjured to pooh-pooh Tinubu’s call for his (Obaseki’s) rejection at the poll. 
The exclusion of the 14 state lawmakers-elect, which would have paid off as a negative point on the incumbent governor’s public image failed, ostensibly because many Edo voters felt that the absentee legislators failed to turn up for inauguration just to serve the godfather interest of Oshiomhole.

A former member of the state House of Assembly, Mr. Ogieriakhi, a lawyer, explained that there was a groundswell of opinion among Edo people that godfather should be totally dismantled, stressing that that rallying cry united the people behind Obaseki.

While remarking that the rejection of intimidation and thuggery was subsumed in the fight against godfather influence, Ogieriakhi declared: ”A major consideration was Edo People’s resolve to dismantle the looming image of another godfather, sustain a tempo of politics and governance where there will be mutual respect between the government and the people. These were the things that usually informed the resolve of our people.”

Incumbency Goodwill
BARELY two weeks to the election, former Edo State commissioner for Justice, Chief Henry Idahagbon, told The Guardian that APC was optimistic of winning four out of the seven council areas of Edo South Senatorial District, stressing that the party’s candidate, Ize-Iyamu was better accepted than Obaseki, who also hails from the District. 
Idahagbon claimed also that the fact that Obaseki did not do much for the Senatorial district in terms of projects or provision of infrastructure amenities would hurt him so bad at the poll.
But, as the polls opened, voters from Edo South Senatorial District were more strident in the proclamation of ‘4 plus 4 Ogbane’ (Two terms of four years apiece must be completed) for the incumbent.

The Guardian gathered that it was out of frustration that Ize-Iyamu was not pulling the expected magic stunts at the polls that led to the outbreak of violence, which sought to mar the exercise in the area.
A former second republic lawmaker in the old Bendel State, Mr. Chris Agbonwanegbe, remarked that Edo South leaders decided against voting for Ize-Iyamu based on the realisation that Obaseki performed and deserved a second term.
While hinting that dumping Obaseki could have some far reaching deleterious consequences on the state and senatorial zone, Agbonwanegbe, who is also a former Commissioner for Agriculture in Edo State, said the APC candidate lost in Orhionmwon Local Government Area for a lot of other reasons.
He said that the council was sharply divided between the experienced elements and the new tigers and Lions, adding that experience had the day because of superior strategies. “The best strategies to win the local government were in the hands of the experienced PDP leaders and they all agreed to support Governor Obaseki based on what he has achieved so far,” he added.
He pointed out also that the opposition worked on a false assumption that the use of card readers would not be religiously adhered to only for INEC to use the election to test run the efficacy of enhancing credibility through the card readers.
Both parties involved themselves in voter inducement as well as procuring supporters from other states to canvass for votes among their people resident in Edo State. Prominent of these foreign campaigners were Governors Hope Uzodimma and Ifeanyi Okowa of Imo and Delta states respectively.
Okowa reached out to the Edo citizens at the contiguous communities with Delta to vote for PDP, while Uzodimma pleaded Igbo residents to throw their weight behind APC.
In the last analysis, it could be said that there was a balance of political forces and Obaseki and Ize-Iyamu polled similar number votes as they returned in their first encounter in 2016 at alternate platforms.