The Independent National Electoral Commission’s credibility as a neutral umpire over the aborted conduct of voters’ registration ahead of the July 14th governorship election in Edo State is on the spot as the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP and the ruling Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN square off, heightening political tension. LEADERSHIP WEEKEND’s PATRICK OCHOGA reviews the unfolding saga
The stage in Edo State is now set for an epic political battle between governorship candidates of the ruling Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN’s Comrade Adams Oshiomhole and retired Major General Charles Airhiavbere of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. The tempo of local politics in the area has considerably scaled up.
This follows activities of the past weeks and months and has continued to heat up the polity as both parties are not leaving any stone unturned to emerge victorious in the forthcoming July 14th governorship election.
The PDP was in control between 1999-2008, before it lost the state to the former Nigeria Labour Congress president, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole in 2008, through Court of Appeal verdict which ousted Prof. Oseriemen Osunbor.
Events in the state indicate the election may go down in its political history as one election that will be most keenly contested. Tragedies are being recorded following the deaths of some journalists and the principal private secretary to Governor Oshiomhole, Comrade Oyerinde Olaitan, which in some quarters was attributed to the heightened political tension in the state.
More interestingly was the recent protest lead by the Comrade Adams Oshiomhole over what the party described as the alleged and desperate attempt by the Edo PDP, in collusion with ICT Unit of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, in Abuja and Benin to rig governorship election in its favor.
It is worth noting that as part of preparation by the electoral empire ahead of the July 14th election in Edo State, it had concluded arrangements to conduct another round of voters registration exercise to capture voters who had attained the voting age of 18 years between 2007 and 2012 when the last election was held in state.
But the ACN which protested against the exercise which has been postponed by INEC alleged that it had on good authority that it was aimed at manipulating and mutilating the voters’ registration exercise in collusion with INEC to advantage of the PDP.
The development, according to A C N, cast doubt on the credibility of INEC in ensuring a free and fair election in the state. The party, had at a media briefing, alleged that parts of the opposition plot was to import “thugs from neighbouring states to, amongst other things, register them in some targeted units for two purposes.
One was to increase their votes given the fact that they don’t have supporters; secondly and more dangerously, to register such thugs in units where they will be used to foment trouble during the election.
The A C N further alleged that a meeting held by PDP resolved to mutilate the voters register, juggle names of voters from one polling unit to another, cause confusion and delete original voters and replace them with their thugs.
A protest letter to INEC released by the state chairman of the party, Hon. Thomas Okosun reads, “Consequent upon this, the Edo State chapter of the Action Congress of Nigeria petitioned INEC chairman to draw his attention to the wicked and desperate plans of the Edo State PDP, in collusion with the ICT unit of the INEC, to give undue advantage to the PDP in the forthcoming elections.
“As if to confirm our apprehension in the said petition, we have discovered that the modalities and methodologies for the forthcoming registration exercise tended to raise more questions than answers. If the purpose of the exercise is intended to capture those who have attained the age of 18 since the last election of 2011 and given the projected population growth rate of 3 percent, why embark on a full blown voters registration exercise?
The party further argued, “First, we are aware that before the gubernatorial elections in Adamawa, Kebbi, Sokoto, Bayelsa and Cross Rivers States, INEC conducted continuous registration exercises only at Local Government headquarters level. In the case of Cross River, there was no continuous voters’ registration at all. Yet, elections were conducted by INEC.
However, we are aware now that INEC had decided to deploy 472 fully calibrated Direct Data Capture Machines for use in all the 192 wards in Edo State, thus, giving the exercise a semblance of a full blown or fresh voters registration exercise.
“Against the backdrop of the fact that INEC has restricted itself to conducting the continuous voters’ registration in other states herein, why has Edo State now become so special to warrant it veering off from its established pattern? If INEC were to do exactly what they did in other states, INEC will require 18 DDC machines and if it were to conduct registration in the 192 wards of the State, it would require 192 DDC machines and not the 472 DDC machines already deployed to the state for the exercise.
What will INEC be doing with the excess DDC machines of 454 and 280 respectively for either the Local Government or Ward level? The question is - what is the failure rate of the DDC machines that they would require over 100 percent back up machines?
“The answer is simple; for the Edo PDP to achieve their massive rigging plan perfected with the INEC ICT unit in Abuja and Benin, they needed to deploy excess DDC machines to enable them achieve their aim of manipulating the process in the forthcoming election. The PDP would also use such excess machines to register their imported thugs from neighbouring states to manipulate the entire electoral process”.
Besides, a stakeholders’ meeting by INEC in Edo to resolve the issue ended up in stalemate; this followed the inability by parties present, including the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, Labour Party, LP, All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, Action Alliance, AL, National Conscience Party, NCP, to reach consensus on a new date was botched.
But the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in Edo State through its Publicity Secretary, Pharmacist Mathew Uroghide, had argued strongly that the division between the PDP and A C N in the conduct of the voters’ exercise was purely a constitutional matter. He however warned that if INEC resolved to use the old voters’ registers and disenfranchised people it would be a fertile ground for election petition which he said the PDP would exploit at the appropriate time.
According to him “Issues pertaining to the meeting yesterday called by INEC are issues that are completely constitutional. INEC, by virtue of the constitution and the electoral Act, 2010, as amended has said that it is their constitutional responsibility to upgrade the voters’ register.
The reasons of upgrading the voters’ registers are; One, those who were not of voting age, 18 years in the last general election that have come of age need to be registered so that they would be able to exercise their franchise.
“Two, those persons who have relocated from one place to the other have rights to exercise their rights when the time comes, and more so the Electoral Act says in section 91, 35 and of course section in section 10 that the sole responsibility of continually updating the voters register and not only that, there is even a provision that 30 days to election, INEC too must update their register.
"What the PDP is saying is that it is not our responsibility to enforce the law, what we are saying is, if the law is not enforced it can work against us, so it is our responsibility too to make sure that INEC does its job. It will be irresponsible on our part to allow people to subvert the position of the constitution and the Electoral Act.
We are not going to allow it; INEC is going to do its duties not minding whose ox is gored. If the ACN and those that want to collude with them because they don’t want the exercise to go ahead, we will insist on it.
“We are going to stand our ground and of course we will let the world know that the issues of law must be taken into consideration; the provisions of the law must be taken into consideration and INEC has to do the right thing and they must abide by it.
“A lot of people will be disenfranchised. It will be wicked, inhuman for persons to be disenfranchised. There is no way that Nigerians who are of voting age in the election will be disallowed. If INEC does that, it is going to be the first ground that will be very ripe for election petition because a lot of persons would have been disenfranchised.
I know the parties are aware of this and I know the issues pertaining to electoral litigation; we are very versed in it and we will have no option but to take to that,” he insisted
However in another separate meeting among the entire political parties representatives called by the chairman of INEC, Prof Attahiru Jega, in order to defuse the charged political atmosphere in Edo State, he suspended the fresh voters registration exercise ahead of the July 14 governorship election scheduled to be held in the state.
Citing reasons why INEC took the decision which Jega stated had been accepted by all the political stakeholders who attended the meeting, he explained that the commission had become worried over the charged political atmosphere in the state adding that there had also been many allegations and counter-allegations by different candidates and political parties contesting the election.
According to him, “Now in the past two weeks or so, INEC has received letters of complaint or petitions making wide-ranging allegations from the Governor Adams Oshiomhole who is the candidate of Action Congress of Nigeria for the forth-coming poll; the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Gen. Charles Arhiavbere (rtd); Edo State Secretariat of the PDP and two other petitions from unknown groups”.
According to the INEC boss “In view of the allegations and counter-allegations which have been made in the last two weeks on the preparations for the continuous voter registration exercise in Edo State, and given the weighty nature of some of these allegations and the need to thoroughly investigate them and take a firm decision regarding them well before the elections, the Commission has decided to postpone the continuous voter registration exercise in Edo until after the elections so we can do it in an atmosphere devoid of suspicions and fears and so that we can focus on rebuilding confidence and preparing for free, fair, peaceful and credible elections”.
Jega explained that the commission had decided to embark on continuous voter registration exercise in order to accommodate persons who had attained the age of 18 since the last registration of voters was conducted early last year.
In further elaboration, Jega noted that, “With regards to the continuous voters registration exercise which was to have commenced on May 15 2012, we planned that it should be consistent with the Commission’s earlier decision on continuous voters registration in all states with pending rerun elections since April 2011 to give opportunity to those who have qualified since the last registration. Hence, we did continuous voters registration in Kogi, Bayelsa, Adamawa, Sokoto and Kebbi states"
He further explained that the commission could not do continuous voter registration before conducting the Cross River State rerun governorship election because there was no time since the poll was shifted backwards adding that in Sokoto State, even though the Commission conducted fresh voters registration in that state, INEC could not utilise the fresh register because revision of the electoral time-table prevented the commission from publishing the new register within the legally permissible time-frame.
However, all the key political actors in the state who attended the meeting fixed by the INEC boss expressed satisfaction with its outcome. At a political campaign rally in Edo State, the A C N national leader Chief Tom Ikimi had described the decision of INEC to postpone the election as a “moral victory.”
As watchers of political event in the state expect INEC to give all parties in the July governorship contest a free and fair level playing ground, the actors and their parties are also expected to play and conduct themselves to the rules of the game.