Be Neutral, All Eyes On Us, INEC Chair Charges Electoral Officers
Electorate Eager To Vote Amid COVID-19.
CDD: Blame INEC, Police, Politicians If Anything Goes Awry.
Edo South- 1,281,414 Voters, Edo North – 564,122, Edo Central- 364,998
Godfatherism, 2023 Dominate Poll
There was uneasy calm yesterday in most parts of Edo State ahead of the governorship election holding today.
Though a total of 14 political parties are participating in the polls, the battle for Osadebe House seems to be between the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and All Progressives Congress (APC)- battle for the soul of the state, with intermittent clashes of members and supporters, especially during the campaigns.
A late evening rain in some parts of the state yesterday helped to douse the atmosphere, as the people prepared to troop out to cast their votes this morning.
Ahead of the poll, Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, has charged the Commission’s staff to be neutral in today’s governorship election in Edo State.
Yakubu in a message to the electoral officers deployed for the poll, yesterday, said: “All eyes are on INEC to deliver a free, fair and credible process.”
He urged the electoral officers to ensure that no political party or candidate is accorded any advantage over the other, adding that the international community is watching.
He said: “I have no doubt that our staff members will rise to the occasion. We have done it several times before and we can do it again.
“The Commission deeply appreciates the never ending sacrifices made by our staff at all times, often beyond the call of duty, to ensure that we carry out our mandate. The management will continue to improve the welfare and conditions of service of staff within the available resources.
“Let me appeal to all of you to remain steadfast and committed to the ideals of the Commission; Nigerians and the international community expect so much from us. They are watching. It is important that we all remain above board in the performance of our respective duties.
“We must ensure that no political party or candidate is accorded any advantage over the other. We must be neutral at all times and stick strictly to our code of conduct and oath of neutrality to which we have all subscribed. For, at the end of the day, we would have all contributed to the sustenance of democracy and a strong electoral process that all Nigerians can trust.”
The main actors in today’s governorship election, apart from the voters, particularly the INEC, security agencies, led by the Police, and politicians would determine how the exercise pans out.
On Thursday, the Police organised a show of force, while INEC distributed materials, but despite the diligent deployment of materials from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) office in Benin City, there were reports of intimidation in some areas.
INEC had always complained of logistic challenges, in term of terrain, and how far the commission sustains the transparent distribution of its men and materials this morning would determine how prepared they are to organise a credible process.
Executive Director of Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Idayat Hassan, told The Guardian on phone that the actors in the election management should be blamed if anything goes awry today.
Hassan noted that the show of force by the Police was not well perceived in some quarters, stressing that reports of intimidation, false and unverified reports on the social media helped to sustain tension.
She observed that barring any logistic challenges or sabotage, INEC has earned an average performance to win public support, adding that the distribution of materials today would give a clear picture of INEC’s capacity to deliver on its mandate.
She stated: “Things remain tense, activities are ongoing as INEC is distributing materials. A lot of false reports, substantiated and unsubstantiated videos, releases from the political parties, especially unverified claims, are not encouraging.
“These things circulating on the social media give cause for worry, but I think everybody is hopeful. We expect to see how things will pan out in reality.”
The CDD director said judging by the way materials were distributed, INEC has shown signs of readiness, noting, however, that the Commission has the reputation of perennial complaint about logistic issues.
She noted: “INEC kept saying they are ready, but by 8.30 this morning, we will actually know whether they are ready. Things are moving on clear. Really, I think the deployment of materials and the way it was actually done from the CBN was quite commendable.
“But the actors in this election, the election management body and most importantly, the political class, would be the ones to determine the quality of the exercise and how it would round off.”
She disclosed that partners and observers met yesterday to check-in on issues and happenings in their locations, pointing out that in Igueben, for instance, security was housed in the premises of the council office, adding: “Last night, the tension of the final campaign was high, fear of political rituals has dropped, people are calm, no cause for alarm.
She noted, though, that vote-buying might enhance turn out, saying: “More voters may turn out to vote due to the peaceful atmosphere. The voting points are locked, most schools with a fence with a locked gate and that may be a challenge in the morning of the election.”
CDD observed that the atmosphere in Ovia West was peaceful, but with high presence of Police, as politicians were returning home from the city, just as voter education increased for COVID-19 compliance.
In a bid to enhance popular participation in today’s poll, the state government declared yesterday a work-free day.
Observations of the election environment show that prospective voters, who have been handed out a condition of no facemask, no voting by INEC expect the politicians to play by the rules and eschew banditry and thuggery.
Records at the INEC office indicated that no fewer than 1.72 million persons are eligible to vote in the election, while 483,796 eligible voters will not participate on account of failure to collect their Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs).
The consolidated figure of registered voters in the state as at August 2018 stands at 2,210,534 registered voters, while only 1,726,738 collected their PVCs.
The records show that Edo has 18 councils, 192 Wards and 2,627 polling units.
A further breakdown of the registered voters figure shows that the male accounts for 1,159,325 (representing 52 per cent), while 1,051,209 are female (or 48 per cent). Of these figures, the youth (18 to 35 years) account for 50 per cent (1,105,338); middle-aged (36 to 50 years) accounts for 29.1 per cent (643,551); the elderly (51 to 70 years) make up 15.99 per cent (353,508) and eligible voters classified as the old (70 years and above) account for 4.89 per cent (108,137).
Further distribution of registered voters in the three senatorial districts of the state shows that Edo South has the highest figure of 1,281,414; followed by Edo North with 564,122 and Edo Central has 364,998.
Edo South is made up of seven council; Edo North, six councils and Edo Central, five councils.
According to the number of collected PVCs, Oredo zone has 240,197; Ikpoba-Okha, 214,882; Egor, 158,817; Etsako West, 128,188 and Akoko Edo, 115,343.
On the surface, the atmosphere in Edo State seems very charged, threatening to boil over, but among the residents, particularly of Benin City, the state capital, there is a general feeling of expectant relief that after today, life would return to normal.
Apart from the 2007 governorship election that produced Adams Oshiomhole as the state’s third civilian governor, no other such contest has generated the kind of tension engendered by the current exercise.
Unlike in the past, today’s showdown between Obaseki and Ize-Iyamu has a lot of issues pushing up the hot narratives, chief among the troubling issues include 2023 calculations/godfather interests and partisan survival/geopolitics, among others.
The foregoing considerations have been feeding the tension and threats of violence that pervaded preparations for today’s strategic poll. There are indications that the real battlefield for the two front row candidates would be Edo South senatorial district, which has 1.2 million registered voters. The zone offers the true test of the power of incumbency, as both Obaseki and his main challenger, Ize-Iyamu, hail from there and how the people perceive Obaseki’s performance in the past four years could inform their choices.
To douse tension, the National Peace Committee (NPC), supported by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), organised a peace convention, where Obaseki of PDP and APC’s Ize-Iyamu committed themselves to non-violence.
INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, has assured political parties/candidates and the people of a level playfield, declaring that the Commission would remain impartial, just as Chairman of the NPC and a former military head of state, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, restated the committee’s commitment to free, fair and credible elections.
Convener of NPC and Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Rev. Father Matthew Hassan Kukah, described the signing of the peace accord as not just a mere ceremony, “but a spiritual vow among the candidates participating in the election.”
Earlier before the gladiators signed the peace pact, Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu, represented by Deputy Inspector General (Research and Planning), Adeleye Oyebade, reminded them of the need to respect the contents of the resolution, assuring: “We are here to ensure a hitch-free, fair and credible election and I have assured all that the Police will remain professional to the core.
“…Go back to speak with all your people about what you have signed. The electorate should come out to vote, because we are prepared to protect them. Edo will have the best of the best elections in Nigeria.”
The politics of 2023 and godfather investment were on virtually all discussions about the poll right from the build up. But it all comes down today, as both APC and PDP see Edo State as a very strategic outpost to enhance their chase of the ultimate triumph in 2023, with the thinking that whoever clinches the governorship would be midway to greater sphere of influence across the geopolitical zones.