By SIMON EBEGBULEM, BENIN CITY
The much awaited Local Government Council by-election in Esan North East Local Government Council of Edo State had come and gone, with the opposition Peoples Democratic Party at war once again with the All Progressive Congress (APC), accusing the later of rigging the election. Elections in the council were postponed twice due to violence, while the Edo State Independent National Electoral Commission (EDSIEC) successfully conducted elections in other 17 Local Government Councils on the 20th of April, 2013.
The tension in the area was not surprising to many due to the caliber of politicians in the council. The Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the PDP, Chief Tony Anenih and the Minister of Works, Arch.Mike Onolemenmen are all from this council. Before the coming of Oshiomhole, Esan land was in firm grip of the PDP leader, Chief Anenih who has empowered his loyalists from the area, particularly his Uromi brothers and sisters. However, the coming of Governor Adams Oshiomhole changed the politics of the area due to the developmental strides of the Comrade Governor, which eventually helped Oshiomhole in winning the entire five Local Government Councils in the 2012 governorship election.
Following his recent political fortunes, it is not surprising that the Leader will not want to relinquish his Local Government to the APC even though it is a local election. His foot soldiers prepared for the election, just as the APC members went to the election in full confidence based on the achievements of Oshiomhole. However, the Tuesday election commenced peacefully despite the late arrival of voting materials in some wards.
Prior to the elections though, APC leaders expressed concern about the presence of ‘imported’ mobile policemen from Abuja and Lagos for the election. Infact, the Edo State Police Commissioner Folunso Adebanjo confirmed that the security arrangement was “water tight” and warned political leaders to warn their supporters to stay out of trouble.
All was actually going well up till about 1pm when the leader of APC in ward 5, Prince Joe Okojie raised alarm that a Mopol Commander of Uromi origin, who is based in Lagos was arresting APC members including their leaders and detaining them at the police station. At ward 7, the member representing the area at the Federal House of Representative and PDP chieftain, Mr Friday Itulah said though the election commenced late, he was happy that people are voting peacefully.
He however alleged that an EDSIEC official was seen with ink all over his body indicating that he may have been thumb printing for the APC candidate. However, tension heightened in ward 5 when political thugs snatched ballot boxes and there was free for all fight between APC youths and that of the PDP. The police shot sporadically trying to recover the ballot boxes but to no avail, as the youths ran into the bushes destroying the votes.
Suddenly, the ward which boasts of the highest number of voters in the council became a burial ground as only security operatives were observed. The state Police Commissioner and the State Director of DSS,Bello Bakori brought the situation under control but was unable to appeal to voters to come back and cast their votes as they all ran for their dear lives.
At about 6pm, there was mass arrest of APC leaders by the police and they were subsequently detained at the Uromi Police station allegedly on orders from above. APC chieftain, Prince Joe Okojie who spoke from his detention cell, accused the PDP of alleged rigging, harassment and intimidation of their members.
According to him, “somebody from this our community who is a MOPOL Commander based in Lagos who obviously is working for the PDP came this morning arresting three of our members. I went to the Police station to bail two of them but I was shocked while I was coming from the Police station when he came to arrest two more persons.
“It was at that point that our people resisted him. The PDP tried to use their federal might to intimidate and harrass our people but we will resist them. Now, they have arrested me and other APC leaders, but we will not be intimidated. They saw that we were winning and decided to destroy the ballot papers, disrupting the election. But I thank God our people have spoken in one voice, no more dictatorship, we are free at last”.
However, at about 8pm, that Tuesday, the Chairman of the EDSIEC, Mr Solomon Ogoh announced the results declaring Sam Oboh winner of the election after he polled 12,672 as against his PDP opponent John Yakubu who polled 3,314 votes. The next day Wednesday, the elected chairman was sworn in by Governor Oshiomhole while angry PDP members led by Chief Dan Orbih, its state chairman, addressed journalists rejecting the results and threatened to go to court.
According to Orbih, “the result the EDSIEC chairman announced was not the true result, what he declared was variance with the results announced at the different polling units, wards and collating centers by the presiding and returning officers appointed by the electoral body. What he announced has no bearing with the actual results announced by the presiding officers. He has no result from the various wards and collating centers”.
He further claimed that the results will not stand the test of time, alleging that it was very clear from the results announced by Presiding and Returning officers from the various poling units that it was the PDP that won both the chairmanship and councillorship elections in Esan North East and the six other wards in the state where elections were conducted. He declared that copies of the election result were with the DPO in Uromi, DSS, Civil Defence and other security agencies and asked the media to verify this from security agencies. Orbih claimed that “ the PDP chairmanship candidate won the election by scoring 11,212 against APC candidate’s 6,143”.
But in a swift reaction, the interim chairman of APC in the state, Thomas Okosun, described Orbih’s declaration as laughable and wondered when the police, DSS and others “suddenly became EDSIEC members”. His words, “we read in the papers that PDP said they were rejecting the results of the election,Orbih was saying that the authentic result sheets are with the police, SSS and Civil Defense, without saying that the results sheets were with the EDSIEC staff who are the authentic umpire for the election.
The first question we are asking Orbih is, who requested for the services of these people during the election because it is the responsibility of the EDSIEC to request for security during elections? So these people who requested for their services were they from Edo state or other states and if they were from other states, who brought them to Edo state? My second question is, since when did the police become returning officers such that they now have the authentic result sheet according to what Orbih declared as authentic result which he manufactured with his hired policemen from Lagos and Abuja.
“Because in an election, outside the presiding officers and returning officers who have access to the authentic results, the other persons entitled to the authentic results are the agents of the political parties participating in an election. So Dan Orbih cannot claim that he has authentic results or that they are with the hired police men instead of the EDSIEC.
“I think his problem is that it is because himself and his party the PDP failed in their attempt to stop the election the third time, they are looking for avenue to discredit the election won by APC inEsan North East” he asserted. He added that “Orbih should know that just in 2012, ACN, now APC ,won Esan North East Local Government in the gubernatorial election and that was an election conducted by federal INEC, the same people that voted for us in that election and many more people that joined us again voted for us in this last election. Let me tell Orbih and his party that the people of Edo state will not give PDP opportunity to drag Edo state backward. PDP is dead and buried in Edo state. I urge Orbih and his people to accept defeat and the outcome of the election in Esan North East or go to court as they said”.
But the Coalition of Registered Political Parties in the state led by Dr Samson Isibor hailed the election, asserting however that “we are hearing this lamentation from the PDP today because the Comrade Governor is even a democrat. PDP never conducted Local Government elections all the while they were in government, but because this man decided to conduct an election, the PDP is taking advantage of him talking rubbish. But we commend the Comrade Governor for the free and fair election he conducted. APC members have conscience but PDP does not and that is why God is punishing them today in this state”.
Saturday Vanguard recalled that in 2005, Osaro Obazee the current chairman of Oredo LGA, was denied the chance to become a councilor in ward 5, oredo Local Government even after he won the election convincingly.
Oshiomhole broke his silence on the issue, during the swearing in of the elected chairman. He said, “Nigerians fought for democracy, many paid the supreme price , they did not survive to witness the birth of the present republic. Others including my humble self moved from one police cell to one prison, not on account of any dispute over our father’s land but on account of our contribution in the system that Nigeria must return to democracy in which the people and only the people can determine who governs them. So some of us have paid our price.
“But during this period, there were others who were embedded with all manner of military dictatorship, they compromised, they sold mandate, they traveled around foreign capitals to rationalize the futile attempt to defeat the forces of democracy and they failed. Some have returned and they are today among the key manipulators criminally trying to subvert the will of our people and misusing the instrument of state in their futile attempt to impose their will on the people of our country particularly, in Edo State. What I heard yesterday and I am still investigating; if the reports are correct, then Nigerians must be put on notice that the police may well have chosen to become the INEC or EDSIEC and over thrown by the force of fire arms, those who are authorised by law to conduct elections.
“As a Nigerian, I am embarrassed that the police are involved in carrying electoral materials, arresting EDSIEC returning officers and coercing them into a police station and converting it into a collation centre supervised by policemen imported from Abuja and Lagos in order to subvert the will of the people of Esan North East. As a civilised man, I felt ashamed that men in uniform at rather very senior level supervised this criminal act of the police in yesterday’s (Tuesday) election.
A federal Minister and other federal functionaries, including Assembly men used their exalted positions, taking unfair advantage of the police assigned to protect them and deployed them for election purposes, detaining returning officers and treating them as if they were prisoners of war and under duress, compelling them to sign fake results and police becoming Returning Officers writing result sheets. But thank God for modern technology that what the people have signed in full freedom is what matters, not what they signed under duress in a police station.
The law establishing the electoral commission is very clear, the location for collation of votes is very clear. The location for announcing winners and losers is very clear and it does not include a police station.
“Law enforcement officers were involved in converting a police post to a collating center in order to subvert the will of the electorate and for me, it is a matter of national embarrassment. And I want to state that no one will live forever but our reputation will live after us. Temporary gains are not worth our place in hell, if we choose to mortgage what is good in order to sustain evil practices. But Edo State under my watch will not submit to intimidation. My duty is to remain one of the forces of democracy.
Neither my voice, nor my physical efforts can be exterminated by the forces of darkness. Anyone who is under the illusion that they can use the instrument of coercion to intimidate us are poor students of history. We are at our best when we are challenged because we know that when we will die cannot be postponed by one day” he asserted.
Oshiomhole appealed that “ the Federal authorities and the security agencies should remain faithful to their oath of office which says they shall respect the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. They shall not be influenced by affection but each time they behave in such degrading manner, they violate those office serially and brutally. Yesterday, the police high command in their wisdom chose to turn Esan North East to a police state, such that we had more policemen in that local government than the population of the Local government .
If we have such number of policemen, how come we are at the mercy of kidnappers? We have such ruthless determination to deal with decent civilians and yet weak to deal with hardened criminals. I fail to understand that. I fail to understand why the police high command who has the tradition of posting away Commissioners and assigning new ones at the eve of every election, ostensively to ensure that there is fairness and impartiality.
“That in the case of Esan
North East local Gov
ernment election, they chose to bring senior mobile police commanders who are of Uromi origin knowing fully well that the fact of their origin means that they cannot be neutral in matters affecting some sections of that local government.
“In their wisdom, those are the officers they chose to deploy believing that they can help to subvert democracy. All of us remains in prison any time we keep quiet in the face of operation.We remain detainees each time we fail to speak our minds even in the face of abuse of office. And we are dead the day we keep quiet in the face of injustice. God gave us life, brain and mouth to speak, not just for nothing. So, I want to appeal to all those who need to listen that this country is greater than any of us.
“We want a free and fair election, the police chose to detain very senior APC leaders including the APC candidate for election on election day in order to rub it in that the police rather than the people will decide the winner. The police used instrument procured by our tax payers money including the resources I provided them to conduct this election to brutalize and assault APC members for the simple reason that they are leaders of APC. They hoarded them into cell and according to them, under orders from above, they have moved them to Benin. They can eat their flesh if that gives them some comfort but they cannot eat their soul”.