Doing my usual walk out from my GRA accommodation along Giwa-Amu Street off Airport road in Benin after Salat al-fajr on Saturday September 19, I had a good feeling that Edo people were set for democratic renewal through a peaceful, secured and fair election. I had good and memorable fun jogging almost two hours through the airport road (signature project of Adams Oshiomhole’s government 2008 to 2016) on this beautiful day with the best of fresh air. Thanks to Benin rains with its fresh scent at this time of the year.
Ring Road, the ancient City’s busiest intersections, with major roads as Akpakpava, Airport, Sapele, Forestry, Old Sakpoba, was literarily deserted that morning. Everybody was in a voting mode. Few motorists and pedestrians were in frenzy to go to their respective polling booths to vote. As an accredited INEC election observer, I bear witness that true to expectation, Edo voters exercised their right to vote with remarkable enthusiasm and resilience on that historic Saturday. Godliness is in some details.
Out of 4million population, a record total 2,210,534 registered as voters, 1,159,325 male and 1,051,209 female. Edo election was the first major election under the COVID-19 pandemic. By the way we must intensify the health education that COVID-19 is still here. Not a few voters used face masks in the breach. In the full knowledge that mass voting/vote counting is inherently about social relations, yours comradely had canvassed a controversial view according to which elections under a pandemic be postponed. But that is now history.
As many as 550, 000 plus voters were accredited and voted during Edo election. The audacity of voters against the backdrop of a virus and threats of violence in Edo indicated that Edo people have truly come of age in democratic expressions. The final figures also convey true contest between the leading candidates. The incumbent Governor Godwin Obaseki of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) deservedly won having polled a total of 307,955 votes to defeat All Progressives Congress’ Osagie Ize-Iyamu-Iyamu who got 223, 619 votes, according to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Qualitatively, I bear witness that women and youths were visible voters in a number of wards and polling booths I observed at the Edo South Senatorial district. Remarkably too were a significant number of old folks, mostly pensioners and retirees who told me it was time to vote again for Governor Obaseki who had cleared their pension arrears and made life easier for them to witness the day. I also took notice of a good number of middle class professionals who hitherto would ordinarily seat back but last Saturday rolled their sleeves to endure the patience of relatively slow card readers to cast their votes at various crowded polling units.
Governor Obaseki on Saturday offered a remarkable leadership by example himself. He refused to be privileged in voting. Himself and his wife, Mrs Betsy Obaseki, cast their vote at Unit 19, Ward 4, at Emokpae Model Primary school in Oredo Local Government Area of Edo State, after almost two hours on the queue to the acknowledgement of local and foreign election observers.
A UK election observer was so impressed with Godwin Obaseki’s simplicity that he bet he would win the polls. The national leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Tinubu, had released a controversial video attacking the governor of Edo State, Godwin Obaseki for not participating “in any aspect of the struggle to enshrine democracy in the country”! The Edo voters had inadvertently replied the APC leader (sorry “leader of democrats”) that democracy is not just a historic event (defined as controversial June 12 struggle). On the contrary, democracy is a process that is part of Nigeria’s democratic heritage of mass resistance against colonialism, military regimes and civilian dictatorship. It’s also about modesty and humility in campaigns.
The old Mid-Western Region which gave birth to first Bendel (and now Edo State) was a division of Nigeria created in 1963 through plebiscite. Certainly Edo was NOT like Lagos State created through military fiat by General Yakubu Gowon in 1967! Many voters were disappointed that Ashiwaju Bola Tinubu would for once lead from the rear to join an unhelpful vicious battle for Dennis Chukude Osadebay House by self-styled political “lions and tigers”.
As I once asked in my reflection countdown to Edo election: do the political actors in Edo appreciate the progressive peaceful historic profile of Dennis Chukude Osadebay, (29 June 1911—26 December 1994)? We need a sense of history to sustain democracy. Osadebay was a philosopher poet politician whose qualifications went beyond impeccable academic achievements, to include democratic values of debates and peaceful contestation, not broadcast dictatorship exhibited by Ashiwaju on the eve of this historic election. As a politician, Osadebe detested crude party politics through personalization, personal capture of public space.
The weekend peaceful democratic consolidation in Edo is a worthy tribute to the memory of Denis Osadebe. Since February when Professor Yakubu Mahmood, chairman of INEC, announced the Edo governorship election time table, I had confessed and even agonised that Edo election “compromised” me as a commentator, precisely because yours comradely remains a participant-observer.
The dramatized crisis which engulfed the ruling APC, with its attendant banana peel for my friend and comrade, Adams Oshimhole, is now history. Edo’s serial documented star wars of mutual suspensions, expulsions, threats to lives and addictive violence (scandalously all within same political party then!) beat political imagination. History will acknowledge the role of General Abdulsalami Abubakar-led National Peace Committee (NPC) in ensuring peaceful conduct of the election.
Many thanks to INEC under Professor Yakubu Mahmood for ensuring free and fair elections at the week end in Edo. The Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar Adamu by deploying as many as 31,000 working women and men in uniforms professionally and commendably protected voters to freely express their preferences. The cooperation between all security agencies should become the new normal. The re-elected Governor Obaseki should sustain his statesmanship.
There was once a (Edo) state in which cohesion, unity of purpose among political friends and collective commitment of the ruling class to the welfare and security of citizens generated positive news worthy of emulation by other states. The concluded September poll had taken Edo from the brink happily away from what I once described as politicide (defined as the end of politics of love, peace, measured temperament and issues).
It’s time for democratic renaissance that will consolidate on the achievements of state building since the return to democratic dispensation in 1999 in Edo State. President Muhammadu Buhari is commended for his statesmanship before and after the concluded September 19 Edo governorship election. The most important critical success factor in the election was the non- partisanship and statesmanship of President Buhari.