The dreaded Edo State gubernatorial election was held last weekend as slated and a winner has since emerged. The bitterness and acrimony on display during the campaigns created the impression that it was a war and not an election. However, the outcome of the exercise, no doubt, proved bookmakers wrong. The conduct of the election, in spite of the doomsday prediction of violence and death that preceded it, opened a refreshing chapter in the nation’s determination to consolidate on the gains of the democratic process. When the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced the result, the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and incumbent governor, Godwin Obaseki polled enough votes to defeat the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Osagie Ize-Iyamu. Observers adjudged the process acceptable.
Remarkably, the election was said to be relatively peaceful when compared to past elections at that level. Now that the election has been won and lost, political analysts are of the view that the next critical issue is facing the challenge of providing the people of the state who turned out in their numbers to cast their ballots the much talked about dividends of democracy.
Remarkably, one of the major lessons learnt from the election was the resilience of the people of Edo State who were determined to exercise their franchise devoid of external influences and factors. Before election day, bookmakers had concluded that it will be an easy walk over for the APC. The party had everything going for it until over confidence set in and the rest is now history as the people defied the gratuitous machinations of some chieftains of one of the political parties, days to the election. Similarly, INEC proved it can actually conduct a free, fair and credible election if all the stakeholders keep to the rules of the game.
Another lesson to be learnt from Edo State is that the era of surrogate candidates are over. What happened in the state made it clear that in an election, the electorate will vote for the candidate presented by the party and no one else. Because in the final analysis, he or she will be the one to be held accountable.
This Newspaper commends the exemplary conduct of the staff of the electoral umpire and security forces in the election. In a country where most of the elections are characterised by violence, brigandage, thuggery, and vote-buying, the Edo election deviated from these ugly trends to a reasonable extent thus making it a significant improvement on previous ones.
We also commend President Muhammadu Buhari who congratulated Governor Obaseki on his victory despite his party affiliation. In his reaction to the outcome of the election as announced by INEC, President Buhari said: “My commitment to free and fair elections is firm, because without free and fair elections, the foundation of our political and moral authority will be weak.”
We also recall that the President had on the eve of the election ordered the heads of security agencies involved in the election as well as INEC to rein in their personnel, urging them to mind their business and exhibit professional and exemplary behaviour. That is as it should be.
In our considered opinion, the sportsmanlike disposition of the APC in congratulating Obaseki is a sign that the nation is on the right track as it firms up the democratic structures.
It is pertinent at this time to urge Governor Obaseki to be magnanimous in victory and bear in mind that the campaigns are over and rhetoric has to end. On the part of Ize-Iyamu, there is every need for him to be humble in defeat. What should be uppermost on the mind of all, those who won and those who lost, is coming together to deliver to the Edo people enough welfare packages to reinforce their confidence in the ballot box.
Going forward, it is advisable that INEC and the security agencies maintain absolute neutrality, professionalism and exemplary conduct during elections. We have in mind, particularly, the upcoming Ondo and Anambra States’ governorship elections. The people must also have a level playing field to be able to choose who governs them and the courts should play a minimal role in that regard.
Consequently, we call on the National Assembly to, as a matter of urgency, work on the Electoral Act Amendment Bill. Electronic voting, in our view, will reduce considerably, incidences of rigging and violence during elections. We also call on President Buhari to match words with actions and assent to the bill when passed by the legislature. Free, fair and credible elections should be the rule in the country and not the exception.