As Edo governorship election gets intriguing

Alabi-Williams1It was with shock and frustration that many received the news of last week’s postponement of the governorship election, which should have taken place yesterday in Edo State. The reason offered by the Police and the Directorate of State Services (DSS) for the shift was that there are red flags, suggesting that the exercise might be compromised by security challenges.

The reason for the shock on the part of some was not in the content of the news per se, but in the fact that citizens and other stakeholders have searched for evidence on ground to justify the reasons adduced by the security agencies without any meaningful clue. The more they search, the further they go blank. The DSS and the Police, had last Thursday, advised that based on intelligence reports, which are not always available to citizens, it was not safe to go ahead with the elections. They said that insurgents were planning to attack vulnerable communities and soft targets, with high population during the forthcoming Salah celebrations between 12th and 13th September. And that Edo State was part of states where insurgents plan to carry out that evil plot.

The statement read: “The security agencies were able to decisively disrupt and thwart the insurgents’ plan. In the same vein, while election is important, the security agencies cannot allow the peace of the country to be disrupted, and we will continue to remain vigilant and ensure consolidation of the successes gained in the current counter-insurgency fight.

“It is in regard of these that we are appealing to INEC, which has the legal duty to regulate elections in the country to consider the need for possible postponement of the date of the election in Edo State, in order to enable security agencies deal decisively with the envisaged terrorist threats.”

In matters of security, ordinary citizens look up to the Police and the Intelligence Agencies to lead the way and they have done pretty well. They have been able to restore confidence in citizens, especially in dealing with matters relating to Boko Haram. So, when they issue advisory on activities of insurgents, we take them very seriously. However, citizens did not quickly connect the upcoming election in Edo State, which was slated for yesterday, with planned insurgency attacks around the Salah holidays.

The election would have come and gone two days before Salah, in addition to the fact that, even though elections attract crowd of persons around polling places, it is usually a meeting point for people who live around the same vicinity. Chances of stranger elements coming around voting places are, usually, remote, beside the fact; movement is usually restricted on election days, so that insurgents will be seriously encumbered to move around. Again, linking the election event in Edo State with insurgents’ plans for Salah looked a bit far-fetched. Edo State is not in the Northeast, even though we cannot take anything for granted, Edo State is also not your typical Muslim community, with all the colourful and splendid display of Salah merriments. All the same, we do not dispute the intelligence of our agencies. What we are just looking at is a postponed election and what we can harvest from it in order to deepen our democracy.

In the build up to the 2015 elections, Boko Haram was still a serious threat, which was given as reason for the deferment of the elections from February to March of that year. Added to it was the explanation by then Office of National Security (NSA) that a good number of voters were yet to be provided with Permanent Voter Cards (PVC), a crucial requirement for the elections. Sambo Dasuki, former NSA, was in far away Chatham House, London, when he offered the advisory to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Even though the opposition party, All Progressives Congress (APC) was furious and read other meanings to the suggestion, INEC saw sense in it and took advantage of it to cover ample ground that would have been effectively disenfranchised. The military also advanced its assault on the insurgents and significant grounds were recovered, thus making the 2015 elections a reality in the entire Northeast. It therefore, does not add up, that after we had sufficiently degraded the insurgents, both in the twilight days of the previous government and more vigorously in the last one year plus, we should still see such threats in our radar, especially in Edo.

Edo State is relatively and largely peaceful, apart from prevalence of common socio-economic crimes of robbery, kidnapping and other such malfeasance. Electoral crime is also a common issue in the state, but not in the heightened dimensions that we are regaled with these days. While the state was part of the Western Region in the First Republic, the people had a fair dose of the high wire politics that characterised the region. There were spillovers of the Wetie politics of that era into what later became Midwest. But it was largely ideological, nothing life-threatening. In the Second Republic, traces of it were still there, but it was also benign, and it remained largely ideological. A part of the then Bendel State loved the politics of the Southwest and the Awolowo legacy, while Delta part endeared itself to Azikiwe’s style and alliances it forged with the North. So, it was a contest of ideas and interests.

In this dispensation, from 1999, ideology hardly features in Edo politics. The political parties and the political class are driven by their search for what to eat. Serious issues like free education are no longer discussed. Lust for money and quest for survival have equally affected the way players enter the political arena. They do not go there to offer service that would liberate the people from poverty and ignorance. They go there to share money. We saw it from 1999 to 2007, as the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) failed to live up to the legacies of the past. It was at that point that Comrade Oshiomhole came in the cloak of leftist liberator, a labour leader and lover of the people. Commentators have said some good things about his efforts to open up Edo hinterlands with roads. The state is still challenged in areas of education, agriculture and sports development. These were departments in which Edo enjoyed competitive and comparative advantage.

In 2012, when Oshiomhole wanted to run for a second term, the stakes became very high. He had locked out many in the political class from the sharing formula, and they had sworn to smoke him out. Just as we are witnessing now, he cried aloud that some people had planned to deny him victory in the poll. It was former president Jonathan, who came to his rescue. The One Man, One Vote mantra, which Jonathan espoused and lived wholeheartedly, doused the tension. The 2012 election was highly militaristic. The deployment was huge and in the end, votes were protected for Oshiomhole. He went to Aso Villa to show appreciation to the former President.

In 2016, the stakes are equally high. Oshiomhole is desperate to retain the state for his new masters in the All Progressives Congress (APC). Equally, chairman of the party, chief John Oyegun, who in 2012, could not win his ward, even as vice presidential candidate of the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), has every reason to present the state to Abuja. Otherwise, the opposition PDP would rule his entire base in South-south. Owners of the PDP in Edo, on the other hand, are also desperate to recover what they had lost for eight years. This, to me is the more plausible reason why we all should be worried. It is not so much about the threat from outside, but that from within. After all, the campaigns have been largely well managed, without ugly incidents. If the security situation were that bad, would President Buhari have agreed to attend the grand finale of the APC campaigns last Wednesday?

The frustration from the postponement is largely borne by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and civil society groups that had deployed to observe the election. The monetary cost in a season of recession is huge, but that is not really an issue. The issue is that so far, an APC that promised to turn around the electoral fortunes of our country has not lived up to expectation. It is not about INEC.

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