June 7, 2024

Edo 2024: LP, government at war over billboard destructions

Edo Election Tribunal

By Ozioruva Aliu, Benin City 

The candidate of the Labour Party (LP), Olumide Akpata, and the state government on Friday engaged in a war of words on Friday over an allegation by Akpata and his campaign organization that people believed to be agents of government pulled down his billboards in strategic places in Benin City, the Edo state capital, his home, and three local government areas.

However, in a statement by the Commissioner for Communication and Orientation, Chris Nehikhare described the allegation as false and urged Akpata to liaise with the owners of the billboards and the regulatory authorities to know if there were unsettled bills.

Addressing a press conference in Benin City, Akpata warned of a looming anarchy ahead of the September 21st governorship election if the destructions continue, as he claimed that no reason has been given to them for the destructions even after enquiries from the local government areas under whose jurisdiction signage lies.

He said, “Over the past few days, we have witnessed a coordinated, premeditated, and insidious assault on our constitutionally guaranteed rights to free speech, political expression, and the fundamental tenets of democracy itself. Billboards that I, as a law-abiding citizen and a gubernatorial candidate, legally paid for and erected across the length and breadth of Benin City have come under attack from the Local Government Areas, who are agents of the incumbent governor, Mr Godwin Obaseki.

“In Oredo Local Government Area, two of my billboards were viciously vandalised, defaced, and ultimately torn down, with explicit threats of more removals to come. The situation is equally dire and unacceptable in Ovia North East, where two more billboards bearing my visage and campaign messages were mindlessly destroyed by these merchants of antidemocratic forces. In Ikpoba Okha, my campaign team has received unambiguous threats that our billboards in that area will also be targeted for elimination.

“Let me be absolutely crystal clear: these are not the actions of a democratic government secure in its mandate, popular goodwill, and record of accomplishments in office. No, these are the desperate, last-ditch tactics of an intolerant regime terrified of the winds of change blowing across our dear state—a regime paralysed by the fear of the people’s burgeoning yearning for a new direction, a new vision, and a new era of progressive and inclusive governance.”

He said his campaign organization and the party would not be deterred by the destruction of their billboards. “We shall campaign—lawfully, vigorously, and indefatigably—until the last day, taking our message of renewed hope, sustainable prosperity, and progressive governance to every nook and cranny, every village and hamlet, of this state. Our campaign is not a jamboree; it is a revolutionary struggle to emancipate our people from the asphyxiating grip of malgovernance, mediocrity, and the crass debasement of democratic values.”

In his reaction, Nehikhare, in a statement, said the state government condemned any form of vandalism and urged all parties involved to address such issues through proper channels.

“While we understand Mr. Akpata’s frustration, we encourage him to engage with the relevant agencies responsible for the management of signage to settle any outstanding bills or disputes. Threats of violence or disobedience have no place in our democratic process, and all parties should conduct themselves with decorum and respect for the law.

“It is essential that we focus on constructive dialogue and peaceful engagement rather than resorting to tactics that may incite division or unrest. The government remains committed to upholding the rule of law and will address any disruptive behavior, regardless of one’s status or affiliation.

“We encourage Mr. Akpata to prioritize addressing the internal challenges within his party and work towards fostering unity and stability. Let us all strive to promote a peaceful and inclusive electoral process for the benefit of all citizens.”