Like it happened in 2015 when the presidential Election was shifted from February 14 to March 28, the much publicized Edo State Governorship Election was moved from its advertised date of September 10 to September 28; 18 days ahead.
This is as the fog of uncertainty beclouding its conduct was cleared as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), yielded to security advice and postponed the election to Wednesday, September 28, 2016.
INEC National Commissioner for Voters Education and Publicity, Mr. Solomon Atoyebi, anchored the postponement on security concerns at a news briefing in Benin, the Edo State capital less than 48 hours to the proposed election day.
Mr. Atoyebi had at an earlier briefing, brushed aside the security advice from the Police and the Department of State Services (DSS), to postpone the polls on the basis of alleged security threats directed against some states of the Federation, Edo inclusive, because the electoral commission was 97 per cent prepared to conduct the exercise.
The postponement elicited immediate response from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which rejected the move and Governor of Ekiti State, Mr Ayodele Fayose, who said the development was a bad signal for Nigeria’s democracy, describing it as a coup against democracy.
On his part, the Edo State Governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, lamented the extensive extension of 18 days that followed the postponement, saying ‘it is too long’
Earlier in Okpella, Estako East Local Government area of Edo State, supporters of the PDP and the All Progressives Congress (APC), clashed over the issue. It was gathered that the incident started brewing much earlier when some PDP supporters were alleged to have threatened to attack any Okpella indigene supporting the ruling APC.
While rejecting the postponement as illegal, the PDP said the Saturday, September 10, 2016 election date should remain sacrosanct, since there was no tangible reason(s) evident to tamper with the election. It threw tantrums and accusation at the APC for the mastermind of the postponement, and the INEC for allowing itself to be used.
In a statement it issued in Abuja by the spokesman, Prince Dayo Adeyeye, it said the “postponement of the election by top hierarchy of the security agencies predicated on alleged security threat was a less than ingenious attempt to buy time for the APC, which is clearly heading for a major electoral catastrophe on Saturday.
“It is shameful and indeed a major constitutional breach for the security agencies to act in concert with the APC to truncate an election that had been planned for months. Nigerians were not deceived by the obvious concoctions of the security agencies, which performances during elections had been less than average since the advent of the Buhari administration. Indeed, they have become instruments in the hands of the ruling party to harass, intimidate and punish opponents.”
He said the time might be ripe now for President Buhari and the National Assembly to conduct a non-partisan holistic review and investigation of the national security apparatus to save the nation’s fledging democracy.
“Finally, we call on all stakeholders – The Media, civil society organizations, all political parties and indeed all Nigerians and the international community to rise to defend our hard earned democracy from the assault being unleashed on it by the APC government,” he said.
The outspoken PDP Governor of Ekiti State, Mr Ayodele Fayose, described the postponement as a bad signal and beginning of the end of democracy in Nigeria. He added: “It is obvious that the APC feared that it couldn’t win the election, and was ready to employ whatever crude means to subvert the wish of the people.”
The governor, who said he was alarmed by the APC government of President Mohammadu Buhari’s use of security agencies to arm-twist democratic process said: “I warned Nigerians not to elect Buhari, now we are all seeing the results. Our economy is in recession and democracy is also in recession.”
In a statement by his Special Assistant on Public Communications and New Media, Lere Olayinka, the governor said INEC knew that it was not going to conduct the election on Saturday as scheduled but opted to deceive Nigerians. “Apart from the security agencies that they instructed not to provide security for the election, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) was under instruction since, yesterday (Wednesday) not to release electoral materials to INEC. “It was just a game by the APC-led Federal Government to frustrate the people of Edo State from kick-starting the journey of changing the APC one-chance change in Nigeria, but they should realise that the power of the people will always be greater than the power of those in power.”
As the exchange of blames continue to trend as to whose fault and making the postponement came about, political analysts and stakeholders have been lending their voices to the possible reasons for the action of both the Police and the DSS, which the INEC finally bought.
A Lagos PDP stalwart who craves anonymity claimed that the postponement could not be divorced from the outcome of the guber debate which was conducted by the Channels Television where four governorship front liners representing APC, PDP, the Labour Party (LP) and the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA). He stressed that the mess up recorded by the APC flag bearer, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, as regards the autonomous nature of the local government administration in Edo State, was obvious to cost the party the election, adding that this was the reason the APC government engineered the postponement.
“All these are stage managed by the APC. They are very sure that following the poor performance of their candidate, Obaseki, the chances of the party at the poll has become slimmer. As a result, they had to engineer the shift to buy more time to cushion the effect of the ‘mess up’,” he said.
Prior to the postponement, Governor Adams Oshiomhole, had alleged that governors Nyesom Wike of Rivers State and Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State had deployed militants from both states to Edo State to perpetrate violence and disrupt the governorship election. He, therefore, urged security agents to watch out for such planned violence, saying that the APC was ready for election but “nobody should shed the blood of our people.”
Oshiomhole raised the alarm when he received the National President of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Alhaji Waheed Odusile.
Collaborating Oshiomhole’s stand, the Director of Publicity of the APC Campaign Council in Edo State, Senator Domingo Obende, said PDP leaders were angry over the postponement because they would not be able to perpetrate violence any more.
“I think we have two feelings and reactions. First and foremost, we have prepared so hard and we believe and know that the voters were behind us and we were going to win. Secondly, we are also happy because Edo has not been known to be a state where violence is the order of the day.
“So, if actually, for security reasons, as stated by both the Police and the DSS, this shift is realized, then I think I am happy for it. It means any time they decide to fix it, election will be peaceful. That is why I said I have mixed feelings. PDP is saying rubbish because they have imported thugs and brought aliens to register in Edo State. What is more is that our strength is the voters and we have them behind us; they are not going to die. For us, any time, any day, we are ready for the elections,” he said.
On their part, the Transition Monitoring Group (TMG), in collaboration with the Conference of Edo State Non-Governmental Organizations and Civil Society Organizations, said that the advice by the Police and DSS to INEC to shift the election was poorly timed and wrongly presented.
Chairperson of TMG, Dr. Abiola Afolabi, told a press conference in Benin, that INEC and security agencies have channels of communication to address the issue, adding that it was astonishing that INEC was not taken into confidence before the security agencies announced their preference for a postponement.
Noting that there are undercurrents in the security apparatus who are trying to suppress the electoral process, she said: “With the present economic recession as witnessed in the country, it is not economically viable to postpone the election given the resources that have been committed to the process by INEC, domestic and international observer group, security as well as other stakeholders.
“This clear interference in the electoral process by security agencies is a throwback to the 2015 general election, which was postponed at the behest of the nation’s security chiefs. We feel strongly that this tendency could undermine the confidence of voters and precipitate apathy and capable of building tension in the electoral space. This could lead to electoral violence, which the security agencies are supposedly trying to prevent.”
The group called on INEC, the security agencies as well as political parties to learn from the experiences of previous elections and ensure that unsavoury incidents, which tainted the legitimacy of the electoral process in the Kogi and Bayelsa governorship elections do not recur.
PDP governorship candidate, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, and state chairman, Chief Dan Orbih, alleged, in Benin while addressing party members and supporters at an emergency stakeholders’ meeting the Oshiomohole was behind the postponementl.
Ize-Iyamu said: “I have been reliably informed that when the chairman of INEC called the President, he categorically told him (president) that he was not aware of such (security) challenges. It was arranged by the state government with a cabal to postpone a day of reckoning.’’
On his part, Orbih claimed that the PDP had uncovered a proposal made by some people to the INEC to change Electoral Officers (EO) already trained and mobilized for the election, adding that the party was already in possession of the names of the electoral officers and that any attempt to change them will be resisted by the PDP. He said at the stakeholders meeting held with the INEC on Wednesday, the participating political parties were assured that additional 25,000 policemen apart from the para-military groups had been deployed for the election, adding that no threat would be too big in such situation.
“If one may ask, how did a state that hosted the President during the APC rally in Benin 24 hours earlier without any hitches suddenly become unsafe? If Edo was so unsafe as claimed, the security operatives would certainly have advised Mr. president not to come.”
Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, National Chairman of APC, declared that the party was ready for the election but security agents must check violence allegedly being plotted by the PDP.
Oyegun who reacted to the earlier decision of the INEC to go on with the election, told journalists in Benin City: “I must confess that I am stunned and surprised, suspicious and even begin to wonder if the security concerns expressed by security agents have not started playing out. But whatever happens we have to prepare ourselves; INEC is the final arbiter on this issue. I have to make two appeals.
“Security agents must do everything humanly possible to make sure that the security threats that they perceived, some of which some of us as party leaders have come across, are contained. And I think in the interest of the nation, they will do everything they possibly can to make sure that the fears that have been expressed do not materialize because we take their views seriously and we think everybody should but we are faced with this most unusual situation.
“Secondly, very very deep appeal will be to the voters of Edo State not to be distracted by the seeming contradictions and confusions by fears of insecurity because I have a feeling that with what INEC has done, security agencies will pull out all the stunts to make sure nothing evil happens. So they should not be afraid of their personal safety,” he said.
While the two parties are divided with one supporting the postponement and the other scorning the action, the truth remains the Police and the DSS are yet to be explicit as to the sort of security threat they envisaged.
In another development, a social critic based in Lagos, chipped in another angle to the unfolding brouhaha, saying that no one has considered the fact that the election weekend happened to be the Esama’s birthday, and the event is always held big. He added that there is the possibility that the High chief would not want anything to disrupt his big day.
“The Esama of Benin, Chief Gabriel Igbinedion, has never missed his birthday, and this year’s fall within the election weekend. While I am not saying that the man has anything to do with the election postponement, I know he wouldn’t want anything to interfere,” he said
Again, it must be recalled that West African Examination Council candidates (WAEC) for private candidates, also known as General Certificate of Education (GCE) for September 10 Mathematics, once staged a protesting against the election date, calling for its postponement.
It is still yet unknown if their protest triggered the eventual postponement.
Whatever be the actual reason for the postponement, the Edo State electorate patiently await Wednesday, September 28 to finally exercise their franchise.