BY SIMON EBEGBULEM
Elections into the 17 local government councils of the 18 in Edo State were conducted by the Edo State Independent National Electoral Commission (EDSIEC), but Abuja based observers who were not accredited to monitor the April 20, 2013 polls are engaged in a war of words with the EDSIEC over the transparency of the elections.
The observers, who held a press conference in Abuja, described the election as a charade and aligned itself with the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) which earlier called for the cancellation of the polls. But countering the allegation of the Abuja observers, the EDSIEC described them as people with political interest masquerading as observers.
Addressing journalists in Benin City, on Wednesday, a member of the EDSIEC, Professor Stanley Orobator, regretted that after conducting free and fair elections in the state, the observers, who never monitored the polls, went to Abuja to tell the press lies.
“These so-called observers came two days to the elections and failed to meet up with the requirements of observers. They came requesting that we should pay them to monitor, but we said no because an independent observer cannot start asking for money and, because we had nothing to hide, we said no”.
He said 104 individuals and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) applied to be accredited, but that, on accepting the applications, “It was discovered that most of the applicants belonged to unregistered bodies while some had forged registration certificates. The commission screened the applications and reduced the number considerably and issued letters of acceptance
indicating the absence of financial commitment”.
He said the commission was shocked when some of the observers arrived two days before the elections and started demanding for money to enable them monitor the polls while others came two days later demanding that the commission offset their bills. He assured the determination of the commission to conduct free and fair elections in Esan North East and other wards where elections were cancelled.
The reports of the Conference of Non-Governmental Organizations (CONGOs) in Edo State and that of the Coalition of Registered Political Parties (CRPP) in Edo State, which hailed the conduct of the elections, described as shameful the attitude of the Abuja observers whom they alleged were sponsored by the PDP to discredit elections adjudged to be free and fair by the people of the state.
According to Dr Samson Isibor of the CRPP, “We should all learn how to accept defeat and it is sad that people are capitalizing on the calmness of Governor Adams Oshiomhole to rubbish the image of the man. For the first time in our history, election of chairmen and councilors was held in all the local governments except Esan North East where both the ACN and PDP supporters started fighting. PDP was in this state for over ten years, they never conducted local government elections; all they did was to write results at
Government House and announce to the people. The election in Edo was the freest and fairest in our history. Yes we are aware there was delay of materials but when it came people voted massively and the results counted. So the call for cancellation is rubbish”.
Election day /delay of materials
However, Sunday Vanguard found that though election materials arrived in most polling units as late as 12pm, people waited patiently to cast their votes. Election materials were said to have been printed in London and the flight arrived Lagos on Friday afternoon, 19 April.
After the London flight arrived Lagos, those in-charge of the materials put a call to the Edo government to talk to the Customs Director in the state so he could speak to his colleague at the Lagos Airport to give the materials express clearance with a view to getting them to Benin on time.
But by time they were through with the clearance, it was late; therefore the decision to get trailers to load the materials to Benin was made. The Edo Commissioner of Police, Folunsho Adebanjo, the state Director of SSS and the Brigade Commander were contacted on the development and the CP Edo volunteered to appeal to his colleague in Lagos to provide security for the materials to get to Benin.
The materials arrived Benin at about 4:30am. And when the materials arrived, the PDP, ACN, ANPP agents were at the warehouse. As a matter of fact, the PDP agents insisted that all the materials should be off loaded at the same time, none should be kept due to the fear that the EDSIEC might give some to the ACN to rig the elections.
The EDSIEC boss, Solomon Ogoi, in an attempt to show transparency agreed but that decision could not afford the commission the opportunity to cross check the materials that arrived. That is why they could not find that councillorship election materials for Egor and Ikpoba Okhai Local Government Councils were not printed. That was what forced the postponement of the elections in the two councils. These developments were monitored by all the agents including the PDP.
Why PDP lost
Sunday Vanguard observed that voting commenced at about 1pm and 2pm in most areas. And the delay in the arrival of election materials affected both the ACN and the PDP. ACN members protested non-availability of materials in Auchi, Oshiomhole’s domain. But it would be recalled that during the July 14 governorship election, the governor won in all parts of the state with a landslide, bringing about the popular song of 18 over 18 in Edo.
Oshiomhole achieved the feat due to his unprecedented developmental projects in the entire 18 local government councils in the state. Therefore, when the local government elections came, nobody expected anything less from the ACN. Even some leaders of the PDP like the legal coordinator to Gen. Charles Airhiviare, the party’s candidate in the gubernatorial election, Kelvin Aigbe, and Martins Osakwe dumped the PDP for the ACN with their supporters.
Oshiomhole led ACN campaigns in the 18 local government councils showcasing his achievements just as he reminded them of the PDP legacy in eleven years it was in office. But on the side of the PDP, none of the well known leaders was sighted campaigning in the state.
The only areas the PDP was visible were Ovia North East, where Chief Gabriel Igbinedion hails from, Esan North East, where the chairman of the PDP Board of Trustees, Chief Tony Anenih, is from and Etsako Central where the Chief of Staff to the President, Chief Mike Oghiadohme, comes from. Therefore, it was not surprising that the ACN won in the 17 local governments so far declared.
Esan North East was one of the areas Vanguard pointed out as flash points prior to the elections due to the presence of Anenih and the Minister of Works, Arch. Mike Onolemenmen. Though the PDP and ACN presented good candidates for the elections in the LGA, the events of the election day spoilt the chances of both parties. Trouble started on election day due to late arrival of election materials in the area.
After materials arrived at about 2pm, the ACN members were ready for the polls but the PDP called for the postponement. The EDSIEC moved the election to Wednesday April 24. On the appointed day, materials arrived early in all the polling units and voting progressed peacefully.
But at about 2pm, there were cases of snatching of ballot boxes just as EDSIEC staff were being attacked. While some PDP youths allegedly abducted unit returning officers, the ACN youths in the area allegedly abducted ward returning officers and took them to Benin.
As a result, both parties forced the returning officers to write results in their favour. And before any result could be said to be credible, it must be signed by the unit returning officers to the ward returning officers before it gets to the local government returning officer.. Consequently, EDSIEC decided to cancel the elections after it refused to accept any of the results.
However, the ACN swept the polls in the other 17 LGAs except Oredo Ward 6, Dan Orbih’s ward in Etsako Central and one ward in Owan West. And the in fighting among ACN members contributed to their losing Oredo Ward 6, where the ACN members accused the leadership of imposing one Uwagboe Gregory.
They opted to vote for the PDP candidate Henry Osaheni who polled 680 as against the 434 and 225 polled by the ACN and the Labour Party candidates respectively. In Etsako East, the ACN chairmanship candidate polled 23,262, PDP 4,281, Labour 245, CPC 16, ANPP 30. Unlike during the governorship election when the ACN and Labour presented consensus candidates in the person of Oshiomhole, the parties fielded their individual candidates in the local government elections and that whittled down the votes of the ACN in all the councils.