Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Edo poll and the allied forces against INEC

By now, we would have known the next occupier of the Osadebey House in Benin City. I mean the next Governor of Edo State, a state that prides itself as the heartbeat of the nation. That will have to wait till September 28, 2016 when the over 1.9 million eligible voters across the 18 Local Government Areas and 192 Wards of the state are expected to file out to cast their votes. Right from March 2016 when the Independent National Electoral Commission issued the timetable for the governorship election meant to hold on September 10, 2016, various stakeholders had keyed into preparations for the all-important off cycle election.
INEC on its part had conducted the Continuous Voter Registration to enable those who missed out of the pre-2015 general election registration to enlist on the biometric register. The commission had equally spent a lot of resources procuring sensitive and non-sensitive materials for the polls, recruited and trained poll officials, conducted massive voter education, accredited observer groups, held a series of stakeholder meetings and got the 19 candidates and their political parties to sign on to a peace accord.
According to the commission, it had implemented 12 out of the 14 items on the timetable for the Edo election and was 97 per cent ready for the conduct of the poll last Saturday. The electoral body was not alone. All other critical stakeholders and actors such as the political parties and their candidates, security agencies, media, the electorate and accredited observer groups also expressed their readiness for the poll. They had all deployed a lot of resources into the whole electioneering project. For instance, political parties had held their party primaries and nominated their candidates to INEC. They had equally been vigorously campaigning to woo voters. Going by the level of the sophistication of the campaigns, one would have thought only the All Progressives Congress and the Peoples Democratic Party were contesting in the election whereas there are more than a dozen of them that have nominated candidates. Indeed, as we say in election parlance, there are contenders and there are pretenders.
The PDP is also plagued with a dilemma. The party is factionalised between the Ahmed Makarfi‘s camp and Ali Modu Sheriff’s camp. Both held parallel congresses in Edo State and fielded candidates. Although INEC accepted the nomination of Makarfi’s while rejecting that of Sheriff’s.The latter group is still fighting tooth and nail to upturn that INEC decision by claiming to have a court order which had declared it as the authentic faction.
On the part of the media and civil society, they sought and got the necessary accreditation from INEC and had conducted their observers’ training. They had also been doing pre-election observation. Not only that, on Sunday, September 4, 2016, the Enough-is-Enough coalition in partnership with Channels Television held a debate for four out of the 19 candidates. They were candidates of the APC, the PDP, Labour and the All Progressive Grand Alliance. The various security agencies under INEC’s Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security had also assured the public at all the previously held stakeholder meetings about their readiness to provide robust security during the scheduled September 10 election. The police, for instance, had informed the public about the highly sophisticated security architecture they had put in place and their proposed deployment of 25,000 personnel for the poll. The Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps was also planning to deploy about 10,000 personnel. All these elaborate preparations were being made at a very huge financial cost.
It is worth mentioning that both the party primaries and campaigns of the political parties in Edo State have been largely peaceful. To the best of my knowledge, no single life has been lost and clashes among party supporters have been at the barest minimum. This is very much unlike what happened in Rivers and Bayelsa states ahead of the court ordered re-run elections as well as the December 2015 governorship poll respectively.
It is therefore curious that the police and the Department of Security Services, barely 72 hours to the poll, decided to pull the rug off the feet of INEC by addressing a press conference in Abuja and issuing an advisory to the commission for it to postpone the scheduled election for “security reasons”. I found a number of things wrong with such an advisory both in terms of content and procedure. It is noteworthy that both the police and the DSS are both active members of INEC’s Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security. If there were any unforeseen security threats, the right thing to do was for the Inspector General of Police and Director General of the DSS to call the INEC chairman to summon an emergency ICCES meeting where such an intelligence report would be discussed and the pros and cons of postponing the election weighed. Sadly, nothing of such was done.
On that fateful Wednesday, September 7, INEC had held the last stakeholders’ meeting in which a deputy inspector-general of police stood in for the IGP where he reiterated the police’s readiness to provide adequate security for the election. A day earlier, on September 6, President Muhammadu Buhari had led several APC governors and party chieftains to a mega rally at the Ogbe Stadium in Benin. Nothing untoward was reported to have happened. At what point did the police and the DSS now receive the fresh “intelligence report” that necessitated the advisory to INEC?
In terms of the content of the press conference, the threat alleged by the two security agencies was envisaged for the Sallah holidays on September 12 and 13. Well, the Edo election would have been held and concluded by September 11. So, why the insistence on postponement?
All sorts of conspiracy theories have been read into the action of the police and the DSS. The entire charade was reminiscent of what happened ahead of the 2015 general election when the then National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki,  flew a kite in Chatham House, London that INEC was not ready for the poll and should postpone the election due to large number of undistributed Permanent Voter Cards.  Latter-day revelations showed that the ruling party then was trying to buy time to perfect its winning strategy for the election which in spite of the six weeks’ postponement it orchestrated, it still lost woefully. Was the Edo election postponement therefore stage-managed? Truth will be out sooner or later. I’m sure if the discussion for postponement had been taken to ICCES, the other security agents would have rallied round the police to curb and curtail any impending security threats given that the poll was taking place in only one state with 18 LGAs.  That way, we would have saved the nation hundreds of millions of naira lost to the needless postponement.
Going forward, INEC needs to guard against picking controversial times for the conduct of elections. Though the poll was rescheduled allegedly on the basis of security threats, there had been previous calls for the postponement by students sitting for the West African Secondary School Certificate exams as they would be having Mathematics, a compulsory exam, on that day. Secondly, some Muslims had also called for the shift in the date of the exams as some of them would be on Holy Pilgrimage to Mecca while the Eid-el-Kabir celebration would also be taking place about same time.
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