By Tonnie Iredia
Electioneering campaigns for the forthcoming governorship elections in Edo state have taken off in earnest and as usual it is the two major political parties, the ruling all Progressive Congress (APC) and the main opposition, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that would slug it out among themselves.
Both parties claim to be strong in the state; while the APC and its supporters led by Governor Adams Oshiomhole argue that they are the ones in power and would retain it, the PDP and its supporters say Edo is a PDP state having secured majority of votes in the Presidential and National Assembly elections of 2015. With such bold claims and counter claims, there is doubt if both parties would allow for free and fair elections.
Many people are indeed scared if violence would not mar the contest bearing in mind that experts in election rigging abound in both parties. PDP traditionally controlled the rigging apparatus but because of the large number of its operatives that moved to APC, neither the latter nor the former is sure who can outwit the other in perpetuating electoral malpractices. So, what hope is there that the elections would be free and fair when many of the issues which usually mar elections in the state subsist?
Although the story has been told of how some military operatives were used to perpetuate unwholesome election practices in Ekiti state, not much was exposed of their conduct in Edo state. Those who used the military in the case of Edo in 2012 were quite smart to cover their tracks as they were allegedly helped by federal authorities through the instrumentality of anti-party activities.
Indeed, the then ruling party went to the extent of disowning its flag bearer at the election tribunal only to lick their wounds when the chips were down. Those who saw through the charade were able to pooh-pooh the belated cry of the then Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Olisa Metuh for government to investigate the role of the army commander in Benin. Except the exposures of a military officer in the Ekiti elections can scare the military from being used once again by one set of politicians against the other, the fears of 2012 may remain.
As for the police, there is more fear of partisanship. In 2012, the Edo State government raised an alarm that some people were buying voters’ cards on behalf of the Governor, the police disappointed many people by arresting six members of one of the parties for allegedly “buying” voters’ cards but no one was arrested for selling to them!
The point that must be made is that many critical segments of society were influenced to deny a level playing field for the elections. The emergence of the Oracle – a bogus make-belief and the ignoble role of some traditional institutions that were materially propelled to unduly influence the elections had their impact.
We can only hope that they would be neutral this time around but considering the influence of traditional rulers and the tendency of our political class to exploit anything, no one is sure if a recurrence of the sharing of Jeeps and other material gifts would allow the rulers to serve as fathers rather than members of the supporters team of certain candidates. To make matters worse, there are many political chiefs who often misbehave politically while purporting to represent traditional rulers who are not privy to such reprehensible activities.
Quite close to the last Edo governorship elections, members of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) suddenly got paid an amount which the state government called hazard allowance.
As this happened at a time when some states could not pay the officially recognized terminal allowances of the corps members, the payment of a non-existent hazard allowance to NYSC members in Edo state was instructive. This is because the payment was approved by an incumbent who was seeking re-election and it was paid close to an election to corps members who were scheduled to officiate in the elections.
As of today, no one knows the new title to be given to any such payment or the technique that would be used to lure any set of operatives. If we succeed in dissuading the state authorities from corrupting the system through such payments, there is little that can be done to stop the exploitation of incumbency- a good example being the use into which the state owned media organs would be put.
As part of political education, debates are to be organized by different media houses for all the candidates contesting an election so as to place the electorate in an informed position to vote wisely. Both the Electoral Act and Media Ethics provide that the media must ensure that they observe balance and objectivity in such debates and similar enlightenment programmes.
In 2012, the Edo Broadcasting Service (EBS) in breach of such ethical value and best practices was intimidated to spend 98% of its airtime telling its viewers and listeners what the incumbent Governor had done and was doing to develop the state as well as what he was likely to accomplish in his second term. The remaining 2% was devoted to publicizing what the other major contenders either did not do or were allegedly incapable of doing. Incidentally, such a trend from which no one could distance ownership control was not new at the EBS bearing in mind that 25 years ago, that Station was responsible for the nullification of an otherwise hitch-free Governorship election held on December 14, 1991.
In the forthcoming Edo elections, it is hoped that the new governor would be elected by the people and not by the Judiciary. For this to happen, so much will depend on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Will it, as in 2012, constructively muddle polling units? Will election personnel and materials be adequate and will they be promptly deployed to undertake an impartial exercise? If not, the resultant grievances and other cases that ought to have been dealt with on time will hurt the state as no one would be able to stop the use of a sizeable amount of public funds in prosecuting election petitions against the winner.