Friday, 16 September 2016

Edo poll: Complicating a simple matter – By Louis Odion, FNGE

By on 17:40
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Adams Oshiomhole
When someone first alerted yours sincerely that Wednesday afternoon (September 7) that the much-awaited Edo 2016 governorship poll would be shifted, I thought it was the most insensate idea to propose. Yet to be fully dismantled at the iconic Sam Ogbemudia Stadium was the giant canopy under which President Buhari stood barely 24 hours earlier in what was thought to be the final mega rally to rouse the Edo electorate to vote APC in the scheduled September 10 election.

Elsewhere in Benin 24 hours earlier, the Markafi-led faction of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had also staged a "grand rally" in a hall.
Barely an hour after Buhari's jet took off that Tuesday evening, the chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, landed the Benin airport aboard Arik Air’s Boeing 737 aircraft from Abuja into the waiting arms of his henchmen right at the tarmac.
Louis Odion
Besides, for days, columns of troops in battle gears had been mounting the customary "show of force" round key urban centres across Edo State to scare prospective troublemakers. Even as the police headquarters in Abuja announced the deployment of a whopping 25,000-man contingent for the exercise.
Against this backcloth, one would think INEC had passed the point of no return as far as the September 10 date was concerned. Alas, what eventually prevailed were the words of the police and the DDS that the election be deferred to September 28.
Typically, the blame game followed next between the security agencies and INEC.
Given the hazy circumstances, some commentators were inclined to smell conspiracy over the postponement. On the contrary, I see tardiness on the part of the relevant state institutions. The controversy could have been avoided if each one was alive to its duty.
My first take-away is that the biggest casualty is perhaps no other than President Buhari himself. That the commander-in-chief could grace a rally and twenty hours later the security services would suddenly wake up and say the election could not hold leaves the dark impression that he was denied the benefit of proper pre-briefing on the security situation. Which is a monumental scandal indeed.

IGP Ibrahim Idris
From what is now known, it is clear the security agencies had become aware of the security concern much earlier. Contending interests had raised the alarm on the infiltration of the state by undesirable elements. Last week, the security agencies only hinted on possible Boko Haram strike on soft targets in some locations across the country including Edo. But before then, their attention had been drawn to clear and present threat posed by political desperadoes in Edo.
For instance, apart from rampart reports of some identified party leaders being caught conducting voters' registration illegally in their private residences, the Edo State Government had accused the five PDP states in the South-South sub-region of planning to bringing militants to storm the state and unleash mayhem on the D-Day, particularly in Edo North and Edo South, considered the strongholds of the sitting APC.
Lawal-Daura, DSS-DG
The cold calculation behind such ploy should be understood. By Edo's electoral map, whereas the Bini-speaking Edo South accounts for 56 percent of the close to 2 million registered voters, Edo North boasts of 29 percent as against the Esan-speaking Edo Central with 15 percent and is perceived the only comfort zone for PDP.
While addressing the rally for the factional candidate of PDP in Benin penultimate Tuesday, visiting Governor Nyesom Wike, who has built a fearsome reputation as a jungle expert since his rise on the political scene in Rivers State, was quoted as urging the faithful to "follow them bumper-to-bumper" on the D-Day. (I am told that is a coded statement.)
The puzzle then: wasn't Buhari brought into the loop on the sit-rep before his trip to Benin that Tuesday?
Two, given that the security agencies were alerted to the threat weeks ahead, how come nothing seemed to have been done by way of preemption? Or, are the militants mightier than the combined strength of our security services?
To begin with, it should not be the remit of the Inspector General and the DSS boss to directly address the nation on the security threat to the election. Their observations ought to be directed to the National Security Adviser who should have briefed the president even days ahead of the pre-scheduled rally in Benin. Therefore, if a world press conference would be held to break such weighty news to the nation at all, the host should be the INEC chairman, possibly flanked by the IG and the DSS boss.
Instead, what the nation was confronted with penultimate Wednesday was a fait accompli of sorts. Ironically, whereas the security chiefs, through their respective spokesmen, were busy raising the red flag at a packed news conference in Abuja, the INEC chairman was holding court simultaneously with the parties and other stakeholders in Benin and it was decided that the elections should proceed.
If further evidence of official dereliction is still required on this matter, the level of complicity can be measured with the harvest of arrests made in the belated raids carried out in the past few days. By the account of the police themselves, no fewer than 54 suspected militants from the Niger Delta were rounded up within three days from various locations in the Edo South. Dangerous items including AK-47 rifles and N9m cash were allegedly found on them.
Osagie Ize Iyamu
Tellingly, some of the arrests were made at a 2-star hotel located near the Benin airport belonging to the Igbinedion family. Following their arrest, Chief Gabriel Igbinedion, one of PDP's surviving godfathers, reportedly made a spirited attempt to secure their release from police detention, pleading they were guests invited to his 82th birthday celebration. What a loyal host the Esama chose to be. But the puzzle is: when did AK-47 become an ornament to be brought to an Owambe (Obitos in Bini) ceremony? Was it for a 82-gun salute or what?
Clearly, the financial burden the postponement invariably inflicts on everyone is better imagined. Not only INEC will have to incur costs; the parties themselves have to shop for additional cash to fund the extended campaigns. Hundreds of election observers, some of whom came from abroad and had already arrived Benin, had to alter their itinerary.
Gov Nelson Wike
Part of the initial argument raised against the September 10 date was that it coincided with the day Maths was to be written in the ongoing General Certificate of Education (GCE) exams. Now, fresh protest has been made that subjects like Physics are to be written by some students on September 28!  Added to that is a significant fixture on the cultural calendar of the Bini Kingdom. September 26 had been pre-scheduled for the coronation of a new Oba.
The Benin palace had earlier deferred to the political authority by fixing the epochal event more than two weeks after the date INEC originally announced for the poll. Given the hurly burly that usually defines the polling process, holding election barely forty-eight hours after the crowning of a new Oba would be considered culturally anomalous, if not abominable, by the Bini traditionalists. Now, the palace has to endure the inconveniences of making new arrangement for another date.
Again, tardiness was on display when INEC unilaterally fixed September 28, a working day, as the new election date. I am reliably told that the authorities at the Dennis Osadebey Avenue in Benin City were not consulted before the announcement. Yet, the concurrence of the state government is required to declare not only that Wednesday a holiday but also the preceding Tuesday, to allow workers who registered in their villages ample time to relocate from the urban centres.
Godwin Obaseki
Not surprising, apparently unable to think up new lines to woo voters, the two main parties in the race have since resorted to trading pure insults and bile for the remaining days. Never in history has Edo witnessed an election which language was this vile. Surely, uncommon season breeds rare creatures. Suddenly, some strange masquerades are beginning to slither out of the raven. Emerging from his political hiding, Lucky Igbinedion, widely acclaimed as a failed governor in the past, finally summoned courage few days ago to publicly endorse his erstwhile sidekick and factional PDP candidate, Osagie Ize-Iyamu. He was quoted as boasting that, come September 28, there shall be rejoicing in the household of the Igbinedions.
Well, it is left for Edo voters to decide who will gnash their teeth in electoral sorrow on that day! 

Gbenga Dan Asabe

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