By Simon Ebegbulem & Gabriel Enogholase,
Benin-City You could see through the tension in Edo State last Thursday when the major combating political parties waited anxiously to hear the final announcement from the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, on whether the governorship election, scheduled for yesterday, could hold. The tension was quite high, particularly when supporters and leaders of the parties had concluded arrangements to move to their various constituencies for the election.
They were all waiting to be mobilised for logistics for the election before leaving Benin, the state capital. The enthusiasm was manifest as APC leaders who thronged the residence of the Director General of the Obaseki Campaign Organisation, Osarodion Ogie, appeared battle ready, but waited for instructions. At the campaign headquarters of Osagie Ize Iyamu, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, candidate, the scene was not different. The anxiety was obvious, palpable and sticky.
Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State had earlier informed all his political foot soldiers to assemble at Government House where they will take the final instructions before moving to their wards. As a matter of fact, the governor was attending to the leadership of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), led by its President, Waheed Odusile, who paid him a courtesy visit, when the APC candidate, Godwin Obaseki bumped in, to announce to the governor, that INEC had just announced that the election will go on as scheduled.
The governor hurriedly went into a close door meeting with his party leaders and was commanding his foot soldiers to move to their villages immediately. Obaseki’s running mate, Philip Shuaibu, was already at his village in Jattu, mobilising his people.
He, however, put a call across to Obaseki in Benin, informing him of the heavy presence of militants in Okpella and riverine communities in Etsako Central and Agenebode, explaining that APC supporters had been advised not to engage them, adding that the police had already been informed.
For PDP members were jubilant that the election will go on as announced by INEC.
While APC leaders were on their way to their various communities, they got a call to return to base, after INEC, curiously, announced the postponement of the election about few minutes to seven, in the evening. You could see the disappointment on the faces of virtually all the supporters.
The PDP celebration was cut short, as the state chairman of the party, Dan Orbih, who had earlier hailed the new INEC Chairman for his earlier decision, rejigged and rained abuses on INEC.
However, after INEC’s subsequent postponement of the election to 28 September, 2016, Governor Oshiomhole faulted the date, saying that it would not be fair to disrupt the traditional rites which will follow before and after the coronation ceremony of the Oba of Benin, scheduled to take place on the 26 of September.
The governor stressed the fact that the kingdom will be involved in traditional activities prior to the coronation, frowning that the election might distract attention. Speaking also, Political Adviser to the governor, Charles Idahosa, asserted that “INEC should have consulted before announcing a new date but I can tell you any day any time we are ready. We learnt PDP is complaining that we asked for postponement; how can we do that; we know we were going to roast them.
I have been in the village until I was asked to come down to Benin due to the new development. Who are the leaders that will deliver them in various wards or local governments? The truth is that they were relying on violence so that election will be cancelled because they imported thugs. But as the party in power we cannot be mad and desperate like them, so we kept our cool. They want to kill, but we don’t want to kill, because we love our people. Ize-Iyamu is desperate and I think he should be careful.
They should know they have no monopoly of violence. I am just warning them to know that they have just one head like others, I am saying this because we know them in PDP, we were there before so all they are planning we know. But they should be careful”.
However, this issue of alleged plot to perpetrate violence in the forthcoming governorship election had been on since President Muhammadu Buhari defeated former President Goodluck Jonathan. Ex militants and some Ijaws from Bayelsa and Delta states vowed to deal with Oshiomhole in the forthcoming governorship election due to what they described as his dogged opposition towards the re-election of Jonathan in the South South.
Sunday Vanguard gathered that one of the PDP governors in the South South was mandated to lead the onslaught against Oshiomhole for going against Jonathan. The Edo State governor specifically fingered Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State and Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State.
But in a swift reaction, the Rivers State Commissioner for Information and Communications, Dr. Austin Tam-George, charged back that Governor Nyesom Wike and his Delta State counterpart, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, did not mobilise to rig the Edo State governorship election.
Tam-George, in a statement, made it clear that claims by Governor Adams Oshiomhole that the two governors donated N2 billion to rig the election in favour of the PDP was false.
The commissioner said Wike never made such financial donation.
“Governor Wike has no links with militants in the region or anywhere else in the country,” he said.
Continuing, Tam-George said the governor gave moral support to the PDP candidate, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, to win the election.
He stated that Wike would continue to give moral support to democratic forces, not just in the region, but across the country, with a view to bringing better life to Nigerians.
The commissioner said the governor enjoined Edo people to vote for the PDP in the election.
But most of the ex-militant leaders in the Niger Delta had been waiting patiently to work for the PDP in Edo State. The aim was to embarrass Oshiomhole and frustrate his move to install a successor in the state. They have their reason: Edo is the only South South State that is ruled by the APC and the state would be a good trophy for the outgone federal ruling party. Therefore, all hands need to be on deck.
Governor Adams Oshiomhole, in a chat with journalists, warned Governors Nyesom Wike and Ifeanyi Okowa of Rivers and Delta States respectively, to stay off Edo State politics. He warned that the people of Edo will hold them responsible for any bloodshed in connection with the governorship election in the state. Excerpts:
How do you react to the postponement of the election?
I am not happy. I am not happy because the new date will clash with the coronation of our Oba and that is very dear to us. I believe INEC should have consulted since it decided to shift the date for the election. I have read comments made by some observers and it was, for me, very embarrassing. Let me tell you, party members becoming election observers these days are complicating issues for us as a nation. I think as observers it will be nice to identify politicians who are likely to join and hide under the cover of election monitors to do things that might discredit those legitimate and credible election monitors.
After the police and the DSS announced that there were security risks if the election goes on, surprisingly, I could see a lot of mischief already. Some people wanting to suggest that APC is responsible for the postponement. If you allow me, let me be very clear. If you wake me up at midnight and say, ‘are you ready for election at 1 a.m. and you provide flood light, we will defeat PDP any day any time. Infact I was shocked about the postponement because everything was ready for the final political funeral of the PDP.
But the APC organised a mega-rally just two days ago and…?
Yes, we organised a rally which we called our final rally last Tuesday. If we had any idea that elections might be postponed for any reason, we would have delayed our mega rally as well because the idea of the mega rally was to conclude our rallies and go into technical issues that elections entail. And for any objective observer who is dealing with facts that are sacred, there were two rallies that day and both rallies were attended by most senior executives on the platform of the two main parties. In the case of my party, we were able for the first time to play host to the President and several state governors who were elected on the platform of the APC. That same day,
PDP also organised a rally, because they did not have the supporters to fill even the lawn tennis court of the stadium, they used a small hall to host a rally that was addressed by virtually all the South South PDP governors. When you compare that in door rally of PDP in a small hall – we did not even call our own a mega rally, but the media described it that way because of the mammoth crowd – you would know the difference. If you have such a commanding performance in relation to the mushroom rally of the PDP, what can be more intimidating.
Apart from the rally, how truly ready was your party for the election?
We were ready and even now I am very ready. I cannot wait to have the final burial of PDP and their god fathers. And like I said, they did so well in misapplying the army and the police here before. but we still defeated them. The last election conducted in this state was the House of Assembly election under the PDP federal government; in that election we won in 16 Local Government Areas out of 18. Between then and now, even in Uromi, at least three major PDP leaders have decamped to APC. Thousands of PDP members have decamped to APC. In Edo South, the Edo South leader of PDP, Samson Esemuede decamped to APC. Last week here, the leader of the party in Oredo, Evbuowan decamped to APC. Their woman leader decamped, all the ward leaders in Ikpoba Okhai three weeks ago decamped along with over five thousand members. In Etsako, Shagadi decamped along with hundreds of their supporters in SDP.
But you have been making what some people have described as wild allegations against fellow governors – Okowa and Wike.
Again, even though people run their mouth that the police are doing our bidding, they are not. I have shared my frustrations a couple of times; I raised alarm about reports through our network. I have had cause to raise alarm about the decision of South South Governors, Okowa and Wike to make Edo ungovernable during the election and perpetrate violence by exporting militants from some of the South South states, may be with the exception of Cross River. As we speak, both governors have raised N2billion to give to Ize-Iyamu at a time when they could not pay salaries in their states. They mobilized militants to Edo to register, preparatory to using them for violence in this election. And the governors that came to Edo to raise N2billion for PDP, they have not paid salaries like in Delta State. In Rivers they don’t pay salaries, in Akwa Ibom as rich as they are they are yet to pay salaries.
But as most commentators now say, once we launched one man one vote, we eliminated violence in our elections here. In my election in 2012 PDP killed more than three people at Oba Primary School and brutalised hundreds of others in 2007. But there after we have ensured free and fair elections in Edo State – one man one vote. And when I raised that alarm, as we expected, those who are behind crime, you don’t expect them to easily confess. But we asked our people to be on the watch out, during the continuous voter registration exercise, hundreds of them actually came into town and to my shock INEC registered them. But at least we were able to apprehend 13 and we handed them over to the police.
During the same period in Etsako Central, the Local Government where Dan Orbih comes from, they carried data capturing machines and turned private residences to registration centres. We did not take the law into our hands, we reported to the police. The guy whose house was being used was arrested. We insisted that the police charge them to court and after they did that they were granted bail. And all these are PDP players. In the course of distributing the PVCs last week at Igueben, some PDP thugs came to forcefully hijack PVCs from the officer that was distributing them at a school in Igueben and he ran into the residence of a PDP leader.
Those PVC cards were recovered by the DSS. I have asked them why they are not publishing it and those involved. Why will anybody snatch PVC since it is one man one vote. I am speaking to find not. You know before you arraign ten thieves, hundreds would have escaped. So we are talking about confirmed cases now. As we speak many militants have been imported into Edo State and the security agents are aware of this. They imported them before registration and they have been bringing more; they brought arms into the state and we have been sharing these information with security agencies.
I want to tell Nigerians that I am not just one other governor, we are different, we invested in the struggle for democracy. We are not opportunists who were embedded in the military and today they are the firstliners in benefiting from the free space provided by our liberal democratic environment. So having made such investment, we are not going to join people who have no electoral value to do things that will make elections impossible. For us we are ready for the election but we know that PDP has perfected plans to unleash violence. If you watch their public pronouncements, it is all very indicative of their plans to frustrate this election. The PDP candidate has persistently talked about the possibility of inconclusive election and an election can be inconclusive if there is extensive violence which will make it impossible for our people to come out.