It’s turn for Edo electorate to shine!

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Jide Ojo  

In July 2019, we announced the imposition of visa restrictions on Nigerians, who undermined the February and March 2019 elections. Today, the Secretary of State is imposing additional visa restrictions on individuals for their actions surrounding the November 2019 Kogi and Bayelsa State elections and in the run-up to the September and October 2020 Edo and Ondo states’ elections. These individuals have so far operated with impunity at the expense of the Nigerian people and have undermined democratic principles.”

–  Spokesperson for the US Department of State, Morgan Ortagus, on Monday, September 14, 2020

It’s countdown to the September 19, 2020 governorship election in Edo State. The journey on the tortuous road to Osadebey House, which is the seat of power in Edo State, began on February 6, 2020 when the Independent National Electoral Commission announced the date for the election and subsequently released the timetable and schedule of activities.

Some of the activities that have so far held include party primaries and nomination of candidates, campaigns which will end tomorrow, procurement of election materials (sensitive and non-sensitive), recruitment and training of ad hoc staff that will conduct election, voter education, activation of Inter Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security, stakeholder  meetings, signing of peace accord by the 14 candidates in the governorship election,  accreditation of party agents, journalists and civil society election observer groups, political debate for selected candidates as well as training and deployment of security officials.

Unfortunately, INEC could not conduct voter registration and distribution of Permanent Voter Cards ahead of the poll due to COVID-19 pandemic plaguing the world. In fact, part of activities INEC had to do was to issue a fresh election guideline and voting procedure which will make the electorate to be in full compliance with COVID-19 safety protocols. For instance, voters are to maintain physical distancing and wear face masks before they can be allowed to vote. INEC officials are also going to be kitted in Personal Protective gear while there will be generous use of hand sanitisers for both voters and election officials.

It is shocking to note that political parties and candidates in Edo conducted their campaigns in strict defiance of COVID-19 safety protocols. The All Progressives Congress and the Peoples Democratic Party are guiltiest of this. Though they claimed to have stepped down their campaign to the ward level because of the COVID-19, even at that, mammoth crowds were drawn to these ward rallies with many of the attendees not wearing any face masks while physical distancing was not maintained.

The campaigns have also been full of bile and hatred with a lot of name-calling, incendiary comments, and hate speech. Physical, psychological and structural violence was also deployed by some of the political actors. Lives have been lost, property destroyed and injuries sustained as a result of activities of some of the thugs. The Oba of Benin, Ewuare II, was so worried that he had to invite the candidates of APC and the PDP and some of their party chieftains to his palace on September 2, 2020 where he pleaded with them to allow for peaceful election come Saturday. The Oba was quoted as saying, “I was very sad, shocked; what I thought was going to be a smooth ride for everybody, tranquility in the state, tranquility in the kingdom, turned to unprecedented conflict. I could not believe it that I tried to intervene several times; I even went to the President about their matter.” After the commendable initiative by the monarch, the Abdulsalami Abubakar-led National Peace Committee also convened a meeting on Tuesday where a peace pact was signed by the contestants.

It is not entirely surprising that the campaigns turned out the way they went. Nigerian politicians have read and imbibed the Machiavellian principle of “the end justifies the means”. In their power-grab attempt, they deploy all manner of arsenals including violence and vote buying. It does not take a Nostradamus or a prophet to know that though there are 14 candidates, the election of Saturday is a two-horse race. It is a straight fight between the APC And the PDP and their candidates. In a twist of fate, Osagie Ize-Iyamu was the governorship candidate of the PDP in 2016 while Governor Godwin Obaseki contested under the APC then and won. Now, the two gladiators have swapped party platforms.

Will thunder strike twice on Saturday? I mean will Obaseki trounce Ize-Iyamu for the second time on a different party platform? Indeed, the re-election of Obaseki on Saturday will be more devastating for Adams Oshiomhole, a former governor and predecessor of Obaseki in office. Oshiomhole was the chairman when the National Working Committee of the APC screened out Obaseki over purported irregularities in his academic certificates. It was rumoured that Obaseki orchestrated the suspension of Oshiomhole by his ward which sparked off the political cum legal crisis that led to the eventual dissolution of the APC NWC in July. Will Obaseki win his own political battle when Oshiomhole lost his own?

A victory for Obaseki will also seal the fate of APC in the South-South political region as the party has no foothold in the region again since Obaseki and his deputy, Philip Shuaibu, defected from the APC to the PDP in July. Interestingly, the six South-South states are all oil-producing states with very high monthly allocations and internally generated revenue. The APC as a party will want to reclaim Edo State by all means possible, more so, considering the fact that the party has lost ground in the 2019 general election by losing Oyo, Adamawa, Zamfara, and Bauchi even though it gained Gombe. Thus, from controlling 24 states after the 2015 general election, the APC now controls 20 while the PDP controls 15 and the All Progressive Grand Alliance controls one which is Anambra State. This does not look good for the APC ahead of the 2023 general election.

Come Saturday, September 19, 2020, I urge all critical stakeholders to play by the rules. INEC as the electoral umpire must ensure that its poll officials do not undermine the electoral process. The setting up of Polling Units, accreditation, voting, sorting, counting, collation and announcement of results must be seamless. Polls should start on time and COVID-19 protocols strictly adhered to. Political parties and candidates should know that campaigns end 24 hours before the polls and therefore should not engage in any form of campaigning during the election. They should also not incite their supporters to violence before, during and after the poll. They should remember the visa ban that has been placed on some of them by the United States of America ahead of the poll because of their role in instigating violence during the campaigns.

The Nigerian political class is notorious for vote buying. They should know that this unethical conduct has been criminalised by sections 124 and 130 of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended. The security agents must act in a professional manner without aiding or abetting any of the 14 candidates. Election security must be water-tight on Saturday. Accredited observers and party agents must also act with utmost decorum and in strict accordance with the code of conduct they signed on to.

Accredited journalists must engage in conflict sensitive reportage and shun compromises. Their reports should be factual and non-partisan. My biggest appeal, however, goes to the Edo electorate. They are the kingmakers who will decide the next governor of the state. They must not engage in vote trading and behaviour which can compromise the election. They should come out en masse to exercise their franchise. With elections being very competitive in Nigeria now, a vote can make a difference. During the 2019 governorship election in Sokoto State, Governor Aminu Tambuwal, defeated his arch-rival, the PDP candidate, with about 53 votes. That tells you how competitive elections can be. Therefore, Edo voters should troop out in large numbers, conduct themselves in an orderly manner to elect their next governor on Saturday. As it is said in the local parlance, “na their time to shine be dis”. They should therefore “shine dem eyes well well”.

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