The Saturday, September 19 Edo state governorship election, is a matter of days away. Baring last minute hitches, the exercise is good to go. 14 political parties are fielding candidates in the poll but Governor Godwin Obaseki of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Osagie Ize-Iyamu of the All Progressives Congress (APC), are the most prominent. As the Election Day draws near, the parties are pushing for the finish line, moving from Ward to Ward, marketing their programmes and candidates.
Tension, fear, take centre stage
Ordinarily, there should not be any cause for alarm given that the election is a stand-alone exercise. But if what is on display, particularly from the camps of the PDP and APC, is anything to go by, there is a lot to fear. Some unusual dynamics are already manifesting in the state. The utterances of those directly involved and even some not from the state, give cause for concern. The tension in the state is palpable.
This is hardly surprising, though. Even in the best of time, election in Edo is war of sorts. It is usually an encounter in which the combatants throw in everything to outsmart their opponents. As in 2016, the Saturday poll provides opportunity to reenact a battle of supremacy, between the PDP and APC. More than that, the election is a contest that is seen in many quarters as a proxy war for 2023 general elections between the two leading political parties. At the state level, it is a rematch of the 2016 encounter that pitched Governor Obaseki, then of the APC and Ize-Iyamu then of the PDP. Now, the two have switched camps. And the rivalry returns.
Issues in the election
Edo holds a lot for PDP and APC. For the APC, Edo presents a launch pad to re-establish presence in the South-South, where it has been dislodged following Obaseki’s defection to the PDP. For PDP, it is an opportunity to consolidate on its hold on the politics of the zone. The governor particularly needs a win on Saturday to announce that he has fully arrived in the state’s politics. In Nigeria’s winner-takes-all system where politics has been reduced to a do-or-die encounter, the inciting and inflammatory comments of the participants and their supporters are therefore not surprising.
Police to the rescue?
Nothing perhaps indicates the state of uncertainty in Edo on Saturday, as the deployment of 31,000 Police personnel to provide security for the election. The Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, who made the disclosure at a stakeholders meeting organised by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Benin, admitted that the force was aware of heightened tension and violence that had characterised political campaigns ahead of the election.
Deployment of threats and uncomplimentary remarks against one another has remained the major trend in the campaigns. The leading candidates have not been short on promises of repositioning the state. They have however not been forth coming in giving specifics on how to actualize their pledges if elected. Apparently to avoid being taken to task on these, their foot soldiers have taken to unconventional tactics to deflect attention from the candidates. Intimidation and threats of violence therefore become the easy resort in gaining attention.
Nigerians express concern
Nigerians have not hidden their concern at the turn of events in the state. Former national chairman of the APC and erstwhile governor of the state, John Odigie-Oyegun, has urged the players to guard their utterances to avoid setting the state on the edge. He also called on the electorate to vote according to their conscience.
An advocacy group, the Network for Best Practice and Integrity in Leadership (NEBPRIL) has also lent voice in calling on actors and stakeholders in Edo to desist from inflammatory comments, violence and other tendencies that could mar the election. In a statement signed by its chairman, Hon. Victor Afam Ogene, a former member House of Representatives, the organisation observed that “it is frightening and worrisome, how stakeholders in the project have allowed rancour, bitterness and violence to define the path to the poll.”
It urged that “Violence-prone persons, no matter how highly placed, should not be treated with kid gloves. Rather, the full weight of the law should be brought to bear on anyone or group, irrespective of status that continues to engage in hate speech, vandalism and violence. The group charged the government to do everything to curb the excesses of those not directly involved in Edo election by checking their utterances and engagements.
Eyes on INEC, others
Eyes are on the relevant agencies of the state charged with the election to rise up to their responsibilities in ensuring free, fair and transparent exercise. Analysts are of the view that the critical issue is for the participating political parties and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to realize that election is a process. To them, how far the people will perceive the poll will depend on how well it is managed by INEC and other relevant agencies.
The September 19 Edo election is a litmus test for all the stakeholders and participants in Edo and even the federal government. Recent instances of staggered elections in Osun, Kogi and Bayelsa, were trailed by controversies and contentions because of allegations of partisanship by institutions of the State. The expectation is that the Edo exercise should rise beyond this. The election must be free, fair and transparent, concerned Nigerians insist, adding that the ballot must count.
INEC chairman Professor Mahmood Yakubu, has assured of a transparent exercise in Edo. The Commission had earlier vowed not to announce any of the candidates the winner if the election is marred by violence or proven underhand activities by the political parties. This is seen as a veritable check on the excesses of the players and their camps, if properly handled. The American policy of visa denial to those fingered in election manipulation, is also coming at the right time. Ultimately, the task falls on the Edo voters to choose their leader on Saturday.
Beyond any of the candidates emerging as a winner, the conduct and outcome of the Edo election will demonstrate how far Nigeria as a nation, has learnt from its 21 years of electoral democracy and in particular, the 2019 general elections. It will show the lessons learnt and those forgotten, so far. It will also determine how the October 10 Ondo governorship election will pan out. A successful outing in Edo will offer opportunity to rekindle faith in the country’s electoral system, informed commentators say.
The challenge is on the INEC to be on top of the game. Incidences of malfunctioning Card Readers and complaints of voters not finding their names in the Voter Register or not locating their Polling Units should be minimised if not avoided. If the people, for any reason, entertain the fear or suspicion that the election is rigged, it will be a poor taste to Nigeria’s democracy.
There should be adequate security to guard against violence in any form. Security presence should not however be unwieldy or that which will scare or intimidate the voters, experts note.
– Duru is a respected journalist with The Niche