Home / News / Local / A poll shift and the undue de-marketing of Edo By Felix Oboagwina
INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu

A poll shift and the undue de-marketing of Edo By Felix Oboagwina

INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu
INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu
My call-log indicated I had missed the call of Shina Loremikan and I promptly rang up this journalist and social activist, who is National Coordinator of Campaign against Impunity and a member of the Campaign for the Defence of Human Rights.
“Longest time.” I rushed him with courtesy queries: “How body? How Madam? How children? How work? How life?”
“Fine! Fine!” he shot back. “All of us kuku dey.”
I could almost see the smile behind his trademark dark-rimmed specs. We rarely see these days; but Shina and I covered the Third Republic and the Social Democratic Party (SDP) way back in the 1990s, he for now defunct The Republic newspaper and I for The Guardian. Nowadays, our paths only crossed unexpectedly, once in a blue moon. We remained on good terms, although I suspect he was more aligned now to the All Progressives Congress (APC) and I to the Peoples Democratic Party,PDP, by virtue of my being Director of Media and Publicity to Mr. Jimi Agbaje, PDP’s Gubernatorial Candidate for Lagos in the last polls. Politics had failed to keep Shina and I apart. I eagerly wanted to know to what I owed this bolt-from-the-blue call last Thursday.
“Wetin dey happen? Abi you APC guys don help me get political appointment for Alausa or Abuja?”
“Which appointment?” his retort came. “Will you be going to Edo?”
Edo is my native state. Shina comes from Osun State.
“No,” I reported. “I have not been too involved in Edo politics. Are you going?”
“Not sure yet –I just wanted to know whether the picture is clear now.”
I knew what he meant. All that day had been laced with confusion on the September 10 governorship election that had taken stakeholders a minimum of 12 months, to rehearse for. Suddenly, barely 48 hours to D-Day, social media went abuzz with info that security agencies had demanded a postponement, in deference to supposed uncertainty over security in Edo State.
“Our people (on the surface he meant election observers) want me to come and join in monitoring the polls. But since we are not sure it will hold on Saturday, I cannot make travelling arrangements just yet. I felt you might have solid information.”
I supplied him with the nuggets of information at my disposal: “Well, it looks like things have been resolved and the election will hold on Saturday, going by what I have read online: INEC says no going back. The election will be peaceful and I think security people are unduly overreacting. Edo no get wahala now!”
“Na true you talk, my brother.”
“So when will you likely travel?”
“It is already too late to move today, perhaps tomorrow.”
Loremikan and I spoke at about 5.07pm. Before the end of that day, however, our bubble of optimism burst. Evening news bulletins reported the shifting of the September 10 election to September 28, INEC having yielded to advice over the adverse “security” atmosphere.
Of all the excuses available for a postponement, authorities zeroed in on security: Not on an earthquake. Not on adverse weather reports in the magnitude of a Tsunami. Not a Zika epidemic that had failed to stop the Rio Olympics in Brazil. Not even the poor distribution of PVCs to voters. Not a state-wide breakdown of law and order or a riot. Not a clash of the electoral timetable with the examination timetable of secondary school leavers. They could not even borrow from local concerns like the Oba of Benin’s coronation, in deference to which subsequent weekends had been avoided and the postponed election pigeon-holed into a Wednesday instead of the usual Saturday. No. Of all the alibis available in the world, authorities could only lean on the fickle crutch of insecurity! They insinuated that should the Edo Gubernatorial Election hold on September 10, the heavens would fall!
It left me wondering: Security concerns in Edo keh! Which Edo? Is it not the same Edo where there has been no single reported case of militancy or insurgency, unlike its five fellow states in the Niger-Delta? Is it not the same Edo where just four days to D-Day the President and Vice President had confidently taken selfies and joined their Governor to dance kokoma music? Is it not the same Edo where just a few days earlier the 4th Brigade of the Nigerian Army had embarked on a road-work as hundreds of battle-ready soldiers poured into the streets in an intimidating show-of-strength for the polls? Is it not the same Edo where the police had deployed 25,000 cops and 550 operational vehicles in ADDITION to those on ground through the 18 local governments? Is it not the same Edo where 10,000 Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), thousands of DSS, NMI, NDLEA and other paramilitary services were swarming like bees on a beehive! That is not to mention the retinue of thousands of volunteers who came to observe things and ensure free, fair and peaceful elections through the 2,627 polling units earmarked to serve 1.7 million voters.
If these same security agencies had permitted the President some four days earlier to campaign in Edo, then there could not have been any real danger. So there must have been another motive for the postponement. Someone was playing games. Perhaps Governor Adams Oshiomhole has some explaining to do. Not only is he the Executive Governor of the 3.3 million-strong state, he is its chief security officer. Definitely, he is an interested party in the polls. He and his party have a candidate they would want to succeed him. But publicly, at least, Oshiomhole has washed his hands off the postponement. That leaves the President.
Or at whose behest did the NYSC withdraw serving corps members (who had a role to play in the elections as electoral officers) from the assignment even before the initially recalcitrant INEC agreed to bend? The state NYSC Director could not have acted unilaterally; or did he receive instructions from Abuja? What if INEC had decided to damn the security reports and proceed with the election based on a more pacifist signal, did it mean that the polling roles of the NYSC operatives, the police, the civil servants and others beyond the control of INEC, would have been left hanging?
Impunity is at work and this Edo affair singularly puts a question mark on our entire electoral process, the electoral body and the sanctity of elections in this country.
In the past, Edo State only experienced insignificant incidents of electoral violence. There had been tiffs and toughs, lone hoodlums snatching ballot boxes amidst sporadic shooting, too inconsequential to scar the overall electoral credibility. And security had never been an issue.
Of all Nigerian electorates, Edo is one that has exhibited much political sagaciousness and maturity. It opened the Second Republic as Bendel State voting the progressive UPN, and when it suited it to change its mind, it voted for the rival NPN. In the Third Republic, Edo went with progressive SDP. In the Fourth Republic, it went with the conservative PDP, and then switched to the progressive camp with APC.
Agreed, such liberal deliberateness can unsettle an ill-prepared candidate, like a half-baked student’s confidence collapses at the face of an objective external examiner. Postponing an election would then come as political strategy for the privileged aspirant to disorganise his rival, whose resources have been expended in the calculation that the race was over, only for the finishing line to be extended most unexpectedly at the last minute; a 100 metre dash suddenly stretches into the marathon. But should state institutions be compromised and co-opted into beefing up one privileged aspirant’s shaking confidence, at the expense of other competitors and Edo’s 1.7 million voters?
Still more curious is the fact that this initiative did not spring from INEC, as had been the case when Professor Attahiru Jega announced the postponement of the 2015 Presidential and National Assembly elections from February 14 to March 28 and the Governorship and State Assembly elections from February 28 to April 11. That, also, was based on insecurity. But that shift was understandably because the North-East convulsed under Boko Haram insurgency.
This time around, the movement was the other way round. Aso Rock (by reason of the police, the DSS and other security agencies being part of the Executive portfolio of the President and Commander-in-Chief) ordered a postponement.
This is improper. Both the Electoral Act and the Constitution saddle INEC exclusively with autonomy to operate independently, free from external control and influence.
Section 26(1) of the Electoral Act reads: “Where a date has been appointed for the holding of an election and there is reason to believe that a serious breach of the peace is likely to occur if the election is proceeded with on that date or it is impossible to conduct an election as a result of natural disaster or other emergencies, the commission may postpone the election and shall in respect of the area or areas concerned appoint another day for the holding of the postponed election provided that such reason for the postponement is cogent and verifiable.” Also, Sections 78 and 118 of the 1999 Constitution say: “The registration of voters and the conduct of elections shall be subject to the direction and supervision of Independent National Electoral Commission.”
Here, it says the buck stops with INEC. But clearly in Edo, INEC was deprived this statutory right to initiate policy for holding or shifting the election. It was rather railroaded to fall in line with security advisers of the President. Is the Presidency moving to hijack INEC the same way sitting governors have pocketed their state electoral commissions, and compromised their independence?
In addition to this highlighted impropriety, the postponement represents a disservice to Edo State and her people. Although it is in the South-South, Edo is not a known theatre of war or Niger-Delta insurgency. The postponement gives the false impression that Edo is a no-go area. It is a most myopic demarketing of a peaceful state and her peace-loving people.
The postponement does gross disservice to Edolites. It undersells and demarkets the state. What foreign investors or tourists will come to a place where security is so lax that it disfigured the electoral timetable and caused a postponement of a major election? No. Opposite to this negative picture, Edo State is at peace. Edo is home to one of the world’s richest cultures and earliest civilisations. It is a national food-basket as well as a huge market. Day and night, its roads remain open as an unimpeded gateway and hub between the North, the East, the South-South, the West and the Middle-Belt. Its people simply want to go to the polls and pick their next Governor in the most civilised manner. Both INEC and the voters were ready to do just that. But they were helplessly short-changed.
One favourite criticism levelled against this government springs from its overbearing influence on institutions that should usually be held independent, including but not limited to the EFCC, the National Assembly, the Judiciary, the police, the DSS. INEC represented the last frontier of institutional independence; but Edo shows it too has been captured.
During his maiden visit to Africa as US President in July 2009, Barack Obama said in Ghana: “Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions…. With strong institutions and a strong will, I know that Africans can live their dreams in Nairobi and Lagos….”
INEC is our foremost democratic institution. In the postponed Edo polls, strong men in the corridors of power blatantly arm-twisted the commission into kow-towing to their script. Not only does the orchestrated postponement rubbish the constitutionally-guaranteed independence of INEC, it represents a gross disservice to the reputation and image of Edo people, who really are peace-loving and democratic. In reality, Edo State no get wahala at all, at all.

Oboagwina, journalist and author, wrote from Lagos

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