Six days to the September 19 governorship election, the level of preparedness is already at a fever pitch. Hendrix Oliomogbe writes on the readiness of INEC and the candidates as well as their challenges.
From the northern fringes of Akoko Edo to the deep rain forest of Orhionmwon in the south, the candidates of the two major parties, the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and that of the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) have been on the campaign stump since July, wooing voters with promises of prosperity and abundant life after the election.
Incumbent Governor Godwin Obaseki of the PDP is squaring off against his main opponent, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu of the APC. In what looks like a melodramatic game of musical chairs, Obaseki was the APC candidate in 2016 while Ize-Iyamu ran on the ticket of the PDP. What an exchange on the political chess game!
Barring postponement or even outright cancellation of the election due to the threats of violence, when voters line up to vote on election day, they will have a hectic time sieving through the maze of logos of the 14 political parties on the ballot paper. Incidentally, only PDP and APC have been conspicuous so far, while the remaining 12 political parties are more prominent in their secretariats, at best.
During a recent visit to Edo State, the national chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Yakubu Mahmood, was emphatic about the preparedness of the umpire for the September 19 poll, declaring that the commission was fully prepared and ready for the conduct of the governorship election.
Mahmood, who spoke during a meeting with the Inter Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES), disclosed that the commission had successfully carried out 10 of the 14 activities on schedule for the election.
The INEC boss said that his visit to the state was to see, firsthand, the level of preparation by the commission in Edo State. Though he admitted that he had received reports in Abuja of the activities of the electoral body, but he felt that it was important for him to personally come down to Benin City to assess the reality on the ground.
He recalled that on February 6, 2020, the commission released a timetable and schedule of activities for the Edo governorship election, giving seven months notice. He noted that 14 activities were itemized in the timetable and schedule of activities to be carried out on specific dates, beginning with the publication of the notice of election and ending with election day proper.
Mahmood said: “I am happy to say that, so far, we have carried out 10 out of the 14 activities on schedule. Not one activity was rescheduled for a minute. The last one was the presentation of the voter register to the 14 political parties fielding candidates for the election.”
According to him, the four outstanding activities are the publication of the notice of poll, which will be done on Tuesday, followed by the submission of polling agents by the political parties on the same day.
“End of campaign which is by law 24 hours to campaign, so, campaign will stop by midnight of Thursday before the Saturday of election and then the election day itself. So, in terms of readiness, we are fully ready for this election”, he boasted.
Against the backdrop of the rising cases of the dreaded coronavirus pandemic, the INEC chairman noted that the Edo election would be the first major election the commission will be conducting amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Worried by the menace, he said that the electoral body came out with a policy on how to conduct elections in the midst of a pandemic.
He said: “We test run the policy in small bye-election in Nasarawa State and we are ready with the big one in Edo.’’
He assured of a safe environment for the peaceful conduct of the election, telling the candidates and parties that the commission would make the system open and transparent.
TOWARDS A SECURE POLL
Sounding upbeat, the Commissioner of Police, Mr. Johnson Kokumo, said that his men would provide adequate security before, during and after the election in spite of the seeming rising tension in the state.
Kokumo insisted that tough measures had been taken to nip in the bud any act of violence or breakdown of order before, during and after the polls, and the police boss warned that anyone found wanting, irrespective of his or her position, would be made to face the full weight of the law.
The police commissioner, who gave the assurance while on a courtesy call to the Oba of Benin, Oba Ewuare II at his palace in Benin City on penultimate Wednesday, said that maximum security would be provided, the seeming rising tension in the state notwithstanding. The police, he added, were collaborating with other security agencies, including the military to ensure that the election is violence-free.
EDO CAMPAIGN AND STATE OF ANARCHY
In the course of the campaign, there have been several reports of shoot-outs between rival hoodlums resulting in casualties on both sides. The situation has been particularly edgy in Edo North, the district home of the two most cantankerous political warlords in the politicking: Adams Aliu Oshiomhole, the erstwhile national chairman of the APC and immediate past governor of the state and his estranged godson, Philip Shaibu, the incumbent deputy governor of the state
Worried by the accusations and counter accusations of violence, the Edo State Resident Electoral Commissioner, Mr. Johnson Alalibo, disclosed that all the parties had been scheduled to sign a peace pact anytime between Monday and Tuesday.
Alalibo said that all the parties would after the peace pact go and commit their members to non-violence in the run-up to the election and after the polls.
He assured: “We are on course. All the non-sensitive materials have been distributed. All the parties will sign a peace accord next week. The aim is to prevent violence. There is no cause for alarm.”
PDP UPBEAT ABOUT VICTORY
Buoyed by what he insists is the overwhelming support Edo people gave him during Governor Obaseki’s campaign stump across the states and wards of Edo State, the Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Mr Chris Nehikhare, said that the ruling party was poised to score an emphatic victory on September 19.
“We have visited all the 18 local government areas and the 192 wards in the state. There›s no doubt that Edo people keyed into the message of resetting Edo State. Our message is an Edo State with equal opportunities for the people. We want an Edo State where thugs will not reign and hold the people hostage. We are very prepared. We are not envisaging violence. We want people to come out vote,” he enthused.
APC CONFIDENT OF VICTORY:
On his part, the state Secretary of the APC, Mr Chris Azebamwan, said that the party would win convincingly going by positive results from the places visited and yet to be visited by Ize-Iyamu, noting that the reception by the cheering crowd of supporters was the right tonic.
“Our candidate, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu is presently busy campaigning and selling his SIMPLE agenda to Edo people. All the indices point to overwhelming victory for APC. We have no shadow of doubt that our candidate will coast home to victory. We will win overwhelmingly.”
EXPECATIONS OF THE HOI POLLOI
A former speaker of Etsako West Local Government Area, Alhaji Salisu Umoru, said that the expectations of the people of his community, Auchi, are peaceful polls where they will be allowed to freely make their choice.
Notwithstanding the pockets of violence in former APC national chairman Comrade Adams Oshiomhole›s home local government area, Igbelela (triplets) as the ex-councillor is fondly called, said that he was optimistic of a free and fair election as policemen would be complemented from the military base at Auchi and Agenebode, Etsako East Local Government Area, to tackle any security challenge that might occur on election day.
“We are worried of violence but I am sure that the security personnel will be on top of the situation. I am optimistic of a free and fair election”, he hoped.
Going by reports of violence, a Benin City resident, Mrs. Esosa Ogbeide, says that she might not come out to cast her vote.
Mrs. Ogbeide, a fishmonger who said that she witnessed the violent clash between rival thugs during a courtesy visit by top PDP members to the palace of the Oba of Benin, Omo N’Oba Ewuare II, wondered “what will happen during the election, considering the violent clash at the palace during a visit by Governor Obaseki with top PDP leaders and governors. I won’t vote.”
She, however, tasked security agents and INEC to remain neutral, adding that their action would go a long way in making the election peaceful.
An optimistic youth leader who simply gave his name as Ernest, dismissed reports of thuggery, expressing optimism that the election would be peaceful despite the threat of violence that heralded the campaign.
He too called on the security agents to be non-partisan and up and doing as their neutrality would go a long way in validating the election as peaceful, free and fair.
As Edo goes to the polls this weekend, the expectations of the people are no doubt for a free, peaceful and credible election.