On Saturday the people of Edo State trooped out to cast their votes for who would be their governor for the next four years.
The election was a huge political battle that transcended the state.
President Goodluck Jonathan, had on June 30, charged the stage when he led stalwarts of the Peoples Democratic Party to the state on a campaign rally in support of the party’s candidate, Gen. Charles Airhiavbere (retd).
Accompanied by Vice-President, Namadi Sambo; PDP National Chairman, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur; Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Chief Anyim Pius Anyim; Governors Emmanuel Uduaghan (Delta), Seriake Dickson (Bayelsa), Liyel Imoke (Cross River), Idris Wada (Kogi); PDP Chieftain, Chief Tony Anenih; and state PDP chairman, Chief Dan Orbih; Jonathan declared that his party would reclaim the state.
The PDP was declared winner of the 2007 governorship election in the state against the verdict of the people, but the state electoral tribunal in 2008 declared Adams Oshiomhole of the Action Congress Nigeria, winner of the election, forcing Prof. Oserheimen Osunbor of the PDP out of the state’s government house.
At the Benin City rally, Jonathan said, “PDP is the dominant party. As long as you (the electorate) mobilise and vote PDP, we (the party) will win. I am sure that, come July 14, PDP will rule Edo.”
Enamoured of this presidential backing, ‘Mr. fix-it’ of Nigerian politics, as he is politically identified, Anenih vowed to end Oshiomhole’s reign. Significantly, yesterday’s election was about Anenih’s relevance in Edo politics, which the governor and ACN dominance had erased for four years.
However, the Action Congress of Nigeria did not allow itself to be cowed.
On June 7, its National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, and five of its governors in the South-West — Babatunde Fashola, SAN, (Lagos), Kayode Fayemi (Ekiti), Ibikunle Amosun (Ogun), Abiola Ajimobi (Oyo) and Rauf Aregbesola (Osun) – stormed Benin City to show solidarity for its candidate, Adams Oshiomhole, the incumbent governor, who was President of the Nigeria Labour Congress.
Tinubu told electorate that ACN was, seeking the mandate to remain in office, “To completely restore the lost glory of Edo. We have constructed roads with street lights; we have provided water for the people and we have built schools.
“Our children no longer sit on the bare floor in classrooms without roofs. We do not want these projects to be abandoned. Nigeria has the money to meet all the needs of Nigerians but Nigeria does not have enough money to meet the needs of politicians who feed on the resources of the nation.”
In addition Fashola, who is regarded as the role model for governors in the party, said, “This is the time to renew the social contract that you made four years ago. By July 14, we will come back to celebrate the renewal of the social contract we signed four years ago.”
Having witnessed these two grand rallies by the top contending parties — PDP and ACN — not to mention earlier rallies, including the one led by Sambo and his 49-member PDP Committee, Edo people had a tough decision to make.
With the votes cast and collation of results ongoing, it would soon become clear whether the will of the people was upheld or whether one of the two political power houses bullied its way through.
Though other parties such as the All Nigeria People Party, the Labour Party, the National Conscience Party, and the Social Democratic Mega Party were involved, it was a straight fight between the ACN and the PDP.
Although the Independent National Electoral Commission under the leadership of Prof. Attahiru Jega, was rated high for organising a significantly freer and fairer general elections in 2011, the conduct of subsequent governorship polls in Sokoto, Kebbi, Adamawa, Kogi, Bayelsa, and Cross River states, do not seem to have fared better.
In Adamawa State, there was a low turnout of voters, owing to the fact that many eligible voters were scared away by the security situation in the state at the time.
There were also complaints of late distribution of election materials in opposition strongholds, intimidation of opposition party agents, distribution of money to sway voters and snatching of ballot boxes.
In Sokoto State, opposition parties alleged that massive rigging and violence were perpetrated by the PDP, whose candidate, Governor Aliyu Wammako, won the election.
The police were said to have harassed agents of opposition parties, while some houses, particularly in a village called Gidan Kaya in Gwadabawa Local Government were set ablaze.
Similarly, controversies were reported in Kebbi State where the PDP candidate, Saidu Dakingari, also won.
According to electoral observers under the aegis of Project Swift Count, despite the controversies over the conduct of the election, the result released by the INEC was a true reflection of the wishes of the voters.
Probably, the most dramatic was the case of the Bayelsa State governorship election. The contention had started within the PDP, with the replacement of the then incumbent governor Timipre Sylva, with Mr. Seriake Dickson, who eventually became governor of the state.
Few days to the election, INEC had announced that the PDP had no candidate, due to intra-party wrangling. However, the situation was remedied before the D-day.
But the election was still characterised by relative low turnout of voters.
Also in Cross River State, election observers faulted the performance of INEC, noting that it was “well below” those of Kogi, Sokoto, Adamawa and Bayelsa states.
The report of PSC stated that INEC continued to suffer from poor logistics as shown in the delayed deployment of election materials in some polling units.
It also noted that, “The problem of late arrival of staff and electoral materials was significantly a greater problem in Cross River State than in other recent gubernatorial elections. As at 7.30am, in 81 per cent of the polling units in the state, polling officials and election materials had not arrived at the polling units. This was a marked decline from Sokoto’s 57 per cent and Bayelsa’s 68 per cent.”
The report also stated that, “Only 19 per cent of the polling units were opened on time, which is substantially worse than Sokoto’s 43 per cent, Bayelsa’s 34 per cent, Adamawa’s 38 per cent and the 42 per cent recorded during the 2011 general elections.
“Voters’ turnout was estimated at 37 per cent, compared with Kogi’s 35.1 per cent, Adamawa’s 37.5 per cent, Sokoto’s 29.9 per cent and Bayelsa’s 71 per cent.”
Observers have however said each the results of the elections bore the marks of the more powerful political party and not necessarily the will of the people.
According to them, the pattern of the results suggested that the votes were supposedly cast in favour of parties not candidates.
But were these negatives at play in the Edo poll? The statistics are still unfolding. What is clear, however, is that the PDP is desperate to reclaim the state. Anenih had predicted victory for its candidate, Airhiavbere. “Oshiomhole lacks the capacity to remain governor,” he declared.
However, the Publicity Secretary of the ACN, Lai Mohammed, remained optimistic to the day of the election.
Speaking to SUNDAY PUNCHa, Mohammed insisted that, “Come what may, we are confident that Oshiomhole would win with a wide margin. We continue to warn PDP not to attempt rigging the election, because if they do, there would be consequences. And if INEC joins them in rigging the election, they would face the wrath of the people.”
Oshiomhole had on Wednesday raised the alarm on the existence of fake voters cards, an allegation which Jega admitted. Also, the state Commissioner of Police, Mr. Olayinka Balogun, was redeployed in a manner that aroused curiosity.
However, INEC stated that it was set to conduct a free, fair and credible election in Edo State.
INEC Director of Public Affairs, Mr. Emmanuel Umenger, told SUNDAY PUNCH that the commission had earlier met with all stakeholders in the state on the need to ensure that the election was credible.
“INEC, on May 18 met stakeholders in the Edo election and all the accusations of plans to rig the election were investigated. Last week, INEC met with them again and discussed at length and showed them the result of the investigation. So we assured the people of Edo State of free, fair and credible elections. Security agencies also assured us of their preparedness,” he said.