By Tunde Oguntola">

Edo 2020: As INEC Umpires Queer Rematch

Amidst cross-carpeting and queer swapping of roles between the two leading political titans ahead of the Edo State governorship, TUNDE OGUNTOLA writes on the task before the nation’s electoral body.

In a search for a qualitative leader in Edo State, it is clear that politics in the last few weeks to the state governorship election is unlikely to be an easy ride, as the two main gladiators in the Edo State governorship election, the incumbent governor Godwin Obaseki of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and his key contender, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu of the All Progressives Congress (APC) are ready for an epic showdown on September 19.

Typical of an electioneering period, the state is expected to witness a flurry of political activities, with the lion share of political issues to revolve around the PDP and the opposition APC in the state.

Basically, tension and speculation are at a fever pitch, but from all indications, the battle is not anyone’s to lose yet. The fact is the governorship contest in Edo State, aside from being a rematch between two familiar combatants, also features a queer swapping of roles with the erstwhile national chairman of the APC, Adams Oshiomhole, behind Ize-Iyamu.

Pundits, however, are of the view that the developments ahead of the Edo State governorship elections, will impact on the voting pattern of the people.

Obaseki, who is the incumbent governor of the state, will be contesting under the platform for the second time, contesting against the man he defeated in the last governorship election in 2016, Ize-Iyamu.

At the moment, the duo have exchanged platforms, with Obaseki, who got elected in 2016 as the candidate of the APC, now the PDP flag-bearer while Ize-Iyamu, who contested under the platform of the PDP four years ago, has parted ways with his former party and is today the candidate of APC slated for the September 19 polls.

64Paradoxically, in their first contest in 2016, the then governor Adams Oshiomhole, who is currently not a happy man as he left no one in doubt of his determination to unseat his erstwhile political protégée because perhaps his woes could be compounded by September if he does not get his new ally, Ize-Iyamu, to win the Edo governorship election.

Recall that Oshiomhole was the major force behind Obaseki against Ize-Iyamu in 2016. He mounted a fierce resistance against Ize-Iyamu’s ambition, as he toiled vigorously to ensure the eventual victory of Obaseki, his anointed successor.

Currently, the situation has changed completely, as the immediate past national chairman of the APC is now the major force behind Ize-Iyamu against Obaseki in the state and re-explaining to the people why they should vote for the very same candidates they had warned the people not to vote for, Obaseki Ize-Iyamu.

However, the Oba of Benin, His Royal Highness, Omo N’Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, Oba Ewuare II, has taken a swipe at the political gladiators in the state, particularly the governorship candidates of the PDP, Obaseki and APC, Pastor Ize-Iyamu, for spurring pre-election violence and belligerent electioneering utterances, threatening to tear the state apart ahead of the election.

“I was very sad, shocked; what I thought was going to be a smooth ride for everybody, tranquility in the state, tranquility in the kingdom, turned to unprecedented conflict. I could not believe it that I tried to intervene several times; I even went to the President about their matter,” Oba Ewuare II said, while speaking with the two contenders.

He, however, lamented that he had put in several efforts to reconcile the two politicians stressing that he sought “the intervention of President Muhammadu Buhari at some point in the matter.”

The monarch noted that the fight between the two elephants was already having negative effects on the state and its people.

The Oba of Benin called for peace among the people of Edo and politicians ahead of the state gubernatorial election. He appealed to Edo indigenes not to sacrifice their lives, saying that once the (politicians) get into office, they will not remember those who sacrificed their lives.

“They ultimately keep their children out of the street and use other people’s children who die and get maimed during elections and electioneering while they amass wealth for themselves,” he said while appealing to all Edo and Nigerians to eschew violence during elections.

Speaking to the candidates, the Oba said, “Both of you are arming thugs and I am worried about what will happen with these weapons after the poll. We are doing our bit internally; traditional prayers are being offered so that there will be peace during the election. Enough is not enough.

“I want to appeal to the politicians to control the youths. I want the politicians to assure us that there will be peace, you do not kill yourselves over an office.

This is the worst scenario of all the politics that we have seen in Edo. Edo politics has been in the news for quite some time now for all the wrong reasons.

“I have had sleepless nights over this. My mind is burning up over this violence and shooting all over the state, let the shooting stop and let there be peace and tranquility in the state.”

He charged the two candidates to toe the line of peace just like former President Goodluck Jonathan during and after the 2015 elections.

The Oba continued: “Don’t kill yourselves over a political office; don’t kill yourselves over votes; let us have a working relationship that President Muhammadu Buhari had with former President Goodluck Jonathan. It is not a do-or-die affair. The two candidates must toe the line of peace just like Jonathan did when he willingly announced his acceptance of defeat in 2015.

‘’This singular act changed the prediction of the international community that Nigeria will break up as a result of that election. We are begging you the politicians, particularly the two political gladiators. You must all do your bit to calm down the tension in the state.”

The monarch maintained that the traditional institution remained non-partisan.

He continued: “I have already sacrificed my franchise over this because if I cast my vote in favour of a particular candidate, I would have already taken sides.

“If any of them (dukedoms) makes any statement, they are only taking your money and cannot do anything beyond what the palace wants. They are not speaking for the palace or me; they are only speaking for themselves.”

On his part, the electoral umpire, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has charged all staff of the commission in Edo State to maintain neutrality and professionalism in the performance of their duties during the state governorship election.

INEC chairman Prof Yakubu Mahmood, while addressing the staff of the Commission in Benin recently, stated that neutrality and professionalism were very crucial because the Commission doesn’t support any political party or the candidate during an election.

Prof Yakubu said that the choice of who becomes the governor of Edo State is entirely in the hands of the Edo people, adding that the task of the commission is to ensure that they conduct the process.

He stressed that in addition to the card reader authentication, the Commission is going to deploy another innovation called the “Zip with Z-file.”

The INEC Chairman who also inspected Ikpoba Okha, Oredo and Egor Local Government offices of the commission to ascertain the readiness of the commission for the poll, also stressed the importance of opening the polling unit early.

He said: “I want Nigerians to find officials and materials waiting for them and not the other way round, hence we have to address the issue of logistics. We have adjusted the time from 8 am to 8:30

and the closing time from 2 pm to 2:30 pm. I am confident you will not let the commission down.”

Prof Mahmood also said that the commission is not against any political party or the candidate either, but the concern is the integrity and transparency of the process.

He also told the staff that there are some new innovations the Commission has introduced, saying, “I am sure you have seen the policy of conducting an election under COVID-19.”

He said the Commission had made compulsory the wearing of a face mask and the use of hand sanitisers.

“So, we have requested that the PTF avail us with about 3,000 Infrared Thermometer for polling units and voting points.

“But on our own, we have made provision for 192 ward collation centres and when PTF can avail us with more, we would extend it to the collation centre in the 18 local governments and the state collation centres,” he said.

He told the staff that they are required to manage the polling unit in a manner that they have not been doing before, as the cubicle would be demarcated in a manner that will give a two-metre distance between voters, since it is going to be accreditation and the voting process combined.

On transparency, the Chairman said the commission had introduced new innovations to deepen transparency in the result management process, beginning with the Nasarawa State constituency by-election.

“In addition to the card reader authentication, we are going to deploy the zip with Z-file, it is a tablet with a camera, at the end of the process after voting has been concluded and sorted out and the ballots are counted, the picture of the ECFA would be taken and transmitted to a dedicated portal so that Nigerians can view the polling unit results live and direct by those close to the polling units.

“We did the same in Nasarawa State Central by-election and before the declaration of results, Nigerians were able to view the few clean results of the polling units.

“It was a great enhancement of the previous elections, and this is the major election after the Nasarawa State by-election.

“So, Edo will set the pace for the conduct of the major by-elections, and we look forward to a successful not transmission but the availability of ECFA for public views on election day”

“We were here four years ago and the lesson we learnt is that we must be able to speed the process and declare the result on time because, the longer it takes the more it becomes problematic to manage it so we must get logistics right,” he said.

Dr Johnson Alalibo Sinikiem, Edo State Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), told the chairman that all arrangements for the September 19 governorship election, including the training of EOs, AEOs among others, have been concluded, adding that the only challenge was the reduction of the budget.

Meanwhile, the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu, warned political actors in the forthcoming governorship elections in Edo and Ondo States, against threatening the nation’s democracy and security, saying the Force will not hesitate to bring them to justice.

The IGP who issued the warning recently during a conference with the commanders of the 79 Police Mobile Force (PMF) at the Force Headquarters, Abuja, cautioned all political gladiators to situate all their electioneering activities within the dictates of the rule of law.

While the Edo election will be held on September 19, the Ondo poll is billed for October 10.

The IGP said, “I strongly warn all political gladiators and the electorate in Edo and Ondo States, to situate all their electioneering activities within the dictates of rule of law.

“I affirm that anyone, regardless of his or her political leaning, that attempts to test our will by threatening our democratic values and national security on account of his or her electoral interests shall be promptly identified, isolated, and brought to desired justice.”

IGP Adamu, however, charged commanders of the 79 PMF Squadrons spread across the nation, to exhibit high-level professionalism, neutrality and embrace a citizen-friendly approach in policing the forthcoming gubernatorial elections.

In a related development, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has expressed concern over the unsavory comments by political actors ahead of the Edo and Ondo governorship election.

The electoral umpire lamented that such comments could stir violence and truncate the governorship elections in the two states.

Speaking at a webinar organised by the International Press Centre (IPC) entitled, “Edo/Ondo Elections: The Imperative of Safety Consciousness and Conflict Sensitivity in Media Coverage and Reportage” the chief press secretary of the INEC chairman, Rotimi Oyekanmi, however, assured that regardless of the threats and utterances, INEC would conduct a credible and fair election.

Chiefly, pundits are of the view that INEC must ensure that Edo people’s votes count and must give a good account of itself, to the satisfaction of larger numbers of Nigerians, as well as local and foreign observers.

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