Notwithstanding the violent kick-off of the Edo Governorship Election campaign and the subsequent fears in the polity, the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu and other stakeholders have assured that the September 19, 2020 polls will be hitch-free.
By Sam Egburonu, ‘Dare Odufowokan & Bisi Olaniyi
The Nation investigation during the week shows that concerned patrons of the 14 political parties participating in the crucial poll, with their governorship candidates and members have, as a result of the current tension in the state’s political theatre, initiated meetings to design fresh strategies that will help avert violence during and after the elections.
Some insiders however said the real challenge remains the rivalry between the two leading political parties, All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
This, they said, is mainly because of the intrigues that led to the emergence of Governor Godwin Obaseki as PDP candidate and Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu as APC candidate.
“Besides the fact that this 2020 governorship election is actually a sensitive rematch between Obaseki and Ize-Iyamu, some of the major patrons in the two political parties see the contest as the major test of their political relevance and survival.
It is, to such patrons, almost a do-or-die contest. It is this mindset that has charged the political atmosphere in Edo State today.
So, if we want peace to reign in the state, security officials, INEC and other important stakeholders within and outside Edo, will need to set up a system that will curtail the excesses of the two leading political parties.
They are the likely purveyors of violence in the forthcoming elections. I don’t know how they can be curtailed, but that is the only thing that will make the election peaceful,” Ferdinand Edobor, a political analyst in Benin City, said.
Edobor said “more than the known differences between PDP’s Obaseki and APC’s Ize-Iyamu, their utterances so far and that of their supporters have not helped to ensure peace in the state. Recall that when Obaseki launched his re-election campaign at the Lawn Tennis Court of Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium, Benin, on Saturday, July 25, he accused APC in Edo State of resorting to violence. Though he told PDP members not to retaliate, it would amount to political naivety to think his supporters will not interpret his speech as a call to war.”
The ugly incident that occurred at the Palace of the Oba of Benin, where suspected political thugs armed with dangerous weapons, including arms and cutlasses, clashed at the main gate, during a courtesy visit to the first-class monarch by chieftains and governors of PDP.
The alleged thugs, who have been described in the media as supporters of Obaseki and Ize-Iyamu, chanted songs to support their governorship candidates and abused each other before the violence erupted shortly after Obaseki and the other PDP leaders left the palace.
Billboards, posters, banners, umbrellas and other campaign items on the ever-busy and dualised Airport Road and other parts of Benin and its environs were destroyed.
Calls to re-strategise
As would be expected, Edo chapters of APC and PDP have disagreed over the sponsorship of the July 25 political clashes at the palace of the Oba of Benin.
APC, through the Vice-Chairman, Media and Publicity Committee of its National Campaign Council, Patrick Obahiagbon, at a news conference at the office of the campaign organisation of its governorship candidate in Government Reservation Area (GRA), Benin, alleged that Obaseki planned to arrest and detain former governor Adams Oshiomhole.
He also alleged that the Edo State governor planned to cripple the businesses of a billionaire entrepreneur, Capt. Hosa Okunbo, an indigene of Edo State, presumed to be Ize-Iyamu’s major backer, and to also arrest and detain other APC leaders, ahead of the September 19 crucial election.
PDP, while reacting through its Chairman, Edo 2020 Campaign Council, Chief Dan Orbih, who is also the National Vice Chairman, South-south of the party, alleged that APC leaders sponsored attempt to eliminate some governors of PDP and other leaders of the party that were in Benin for the kick off of Obaseki’s re-election campaign, which was marred by gunshots.
But APC national campaign council countered the allegation when it said Obaseki plotted to subvert the September 19 election through violent attacks and illegal detention of its party leaders and members.
According to him, the plot was that Oshiomhole would be arrested and detained over trumped-up charges on the eve of the election and also fire would be set on the farm of Okunbo, in continuation of the assault on his reputation and businesses, for refusing to back the second-term agenda of Obaseki.
The national campaign council of APC blamed Edo governor and the PDP for the violence that broke out on July 25 in Benin, which led to the hospitalisation of multiple persons for gunshot wounds, while accusing Obaseki of setting conscripted thugs and cultists on protesters who expressed their rejection of him and his invitation of tax-collectors, who were feasting on Edo’s treasury.
Following observers’ fear that the clash is a confirmation of what would likely happen during the election if something concrete is not done quickly; we gathered that concerned stakeholders have called on INEC and the Police to re-strategise in order to meet up with the Edo challenge.
We also learnt that major political parties in the state have also set out new guidelines to cope with the development, while exchanging blames for the charged atmosphere.
For example, in his reaction to the development, the Edo State Governor, Obaseki, condemned the attack of guests, mostly PDP governors and other chieftains, at the palace of the Oba of Benin, prequel to the kick-off of his campaign for re-election.
Obaseki, through his Special Adviser on Media and Communication Strategy, Crusoe Osagie, alleged that the thugs were sponsored by APC, its Edo governorship candidate and a former National Chairman of the party, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, an ex-governor of Edo state, who he claimed had in the past few days engaged thugs to cause mayhem in Edo.
Edo governor said: “We are appalled by the deployment of thugs in the sacred grounds of the palace of Oba of Benin by the APC, Ize-Iyamu and Oshiomhole to harass guests who were in Edo State for the kick-off of Governor Obaseki’s campaign and had visited the palace to pay obeisance to His Royal Majesty, Omo N’Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, Oba Ewuare II, the Oba of Benin.
“While we respect the boundaries of politics, as it relates to the palace, it is reprehensible that the APC, its candidate and their enablers would sponsor thugs to desecrate the palace, which is a clear case of desperation to score cheap points,” he said.
But in its reaction, Edo State Media Campaign Council of the APC accused Obaseki and PDP of unleashing violence on Edo people in Benin and its environs.
The council, through its Chairman, Prince John Mayaki, said Edo governor instructed his thugs to attack Edo people, as retribution for publicly booing the governor and his team on arrival at the gate of the Oba of Benin.
It also accused Obaseki and his loyalists of destroying PDP’s billboards and other campaign items at few locations in Edo State as a gimmick to deflect responsibility and get a reprieve for the organised destruction of APC billboards after the party (APC) filed a petition with the police and other security agencies.
Edo media campaign council of APC said: “It is sad that Obaseki, the outgoing governor of Edo State, on July 25, 2020, displayed the same traits of intolerance and penchant for violence that made the people of Edo State to unanimously reject him.
“Booed by the people at the entrance of the palace of our great Oba of Benin for handing Edo State to the PDP tax collectors, who are unconscionably feasting on our collective patrimony; Obaseki, as an act of revenge, instructed the thugs and cultists he spent the past few weeks recruiting in the state and beyond to attack the people with dangerous arms.
We are committed to peace -Omo N’Oba
The Oba of Benin, while reacting to the July 25 violence at the entrance to his palace, warned politicians not to turn Edo State into a war zone because of governorship ambition.
He maintained that the July 25 courtesy visit on him by governors and leaders of the main opposition PDP at his palace in Benin ended very well.
The first-class monarch, in a press statement by the Secretary, Benin Traditional Council (BTC), Frank Irabor, declared that Benin throne was not partisan.
BTC secretary said: “The BTC observed with dismay, the unruly behaviour of some youths outside the gate of the palace on Saturday, July 25, 2020, when His Excellency, Governor Godwin Obaseki, and some other PDP governors visited His Royal Majesty, the Oba of Benin.
“BTC wishes to state that HRM, the Oba of Benin warmly welcomed the august visitors, led by Governor Obaseki. The meeting was cordial. During the meeting, HRM recalled the warm reception accorded him by Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State and Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State, when the Omo N’Oba paid a ‘thank you’ visit to those states.
“The courtesy visit of the esteemed august visitors to the Omo N’Oba ended very well. We were therefore surprised to hear later that there was an incident outside the palace, directly in front of Oredo Local Government Council secretariat. HRM condemns this unruly behaviour that occurred in front of the palace.
“HRM is committed to peace and tranquility in Edo State and peaceful upcoming governorship election.”
The Oba of Benin also enjoined all well-meaning indigenes of Edo to join him in continuous prayers for peace and tranquility in the state and peaceful September 19 governorship election.
Edo state should not be in the news for the wrong reasons, while politicians and their supporters must sheathe their swords and embrace peace, particularly during the crucial September 19 election in Edo, in order to move the state forward,” he said.
Also, the only female governorship candidate in the Edo election, and candidate of African Democratic Congress (ADC), Mabel Oboh, did not only condemn the July 25 violence but said something must be done to curtail the possible violence in the forthcoming Edo elections.
Oboh vowed to put an end to the political war in Edo, if she was elected as governor.
She described as appalling, the clash between supporters of the leaders of the PDP and the APC at the palace of Oba of Benin.
She said: “This (the clash at the palace) is a taboo. It is disrespectful, as it shows utter disregard to the monarchy, the peaceful and rich tradition of the Edo people.
“It has never happened before and it reveals that there is a total breakdown in morality in Edo State.
“The youths are angry, because they are hungry, jobless and in need of good leadership. Rather than being led to greener pastures, our children have been abandoned and neglected. They are being pushed to engage in violence for pittance.
“The perpetrators should ask themselves questions. Are they in this for personal gains, power or for the interest of the people?
“I urge the Oba of Benin to forgive, because he is a father. The incident has obviously given a true insight to the Oba that there is a crisis in his land and obviously needs the assistance of a mother to help bring his children together on a roundtable to restore peace and order, respect and love for all.
“We must bury our differences, unite and change the Edo story together. Just as it takes a mother to run a home, it also will take a mother to run the affairs of Edo State, in order to guarantee the restoration of law and order,” she said.
Growing calls for peace
A group of youths under the aegis of Edo Youth Coalition (EYC) on Thursday staged a peaceful protest in Benin City, the state capital. Hundreds of youths marched through some major streets in Benin City to demand a peaceful electioneering process ahead of the governorship election in the state.
The protesters, chanting songs of peace and warning politicians to put the interest and safety of the people over and above political ambitions, also called on religious leaders and security agencies to help ensure peaceful campaigns and elections in the state.
According to the protesters, the demonstration became necessary as a result of the recent turn of political activities in the state. They urged the political leaders to maintain peace in the state as they prepare for the poll scheduled for September 19.
They cited the recent violence that erupted at the city centre outside the Oba of Benin palace during the campaign of one of the political parties. They believe the events seem to have raised concerns over the possibility of the election being marred by violence, thereby endangering the lives and properties of residents of the state.
Speaking during the protest, Comrade Ralp Igbinoga, state Chairman of Coalition for the Enthronement of Democracy (CfED) and convener of the rally, said it became important for the people to cry out and urge politicians to give peace a chance. “A critical look at recent happenings in Edo state revealed that politicians are desperate ahead of the guber election.
We have had so many clashes and confrontations in the past few weeks and it will be unwise for us to fold our hands and hope things will change. Politicians must be told in clear terms that no ambition is worth the blood of our people.
“The unnecessary pandemonium that occurred last Saturday afternoon at the city centre when thugs loyal to the two leading political parties in the state, had a violent confrontation during which staccato of gunshots rent the air and created panic across the city, is one of such developments we are talking about. Scores of innocent people were injured in that incident.
Other dangerous weapons were freely used at the busy Ring road area of the city as hoodlums engaged themselves in a free for all. While we are not interested in who started the trouble, we are saying no to a repeat of such,” Igbinoga said.
Another group, YIAGA AFRICA, an election monitoring team, said following worrisome breakout of violence in some parts of the state, it will synergize with the Nigerian Police Force (NPF), for the peaceful governorship election in Edo State come September 19, 2020.
This was followed up with a statement signed by the Executive Director, YIAGA AFRICA, Samson Itodo, which was part of the organisation’s preparation ahead of the election.
According to the statement, Yiaga Africa is set to commence the observation of the pre-election environment including violence monitoring to provide information and recommendation for immediate response by the election stakeholders.
“Yiaga Africa will train and deploy Long Term Observers across all 18 local government areas in Edo State. The observers will be observing the pre-election observers which include activities of the electoral commission, political party campaigns, voter information/education campaigns, adherence to COVID-19 guidelines, and importantly, violence monitoring.
The information received from observers across the state especially in violence monitoring will be escalated to security agencies for a response to prevent violence ahead of the elections,” the statement said.
Meanwhile, the Edo State Police Commissioner, Babatunde Kokumo, has reiterated the Police commitment to discharge its statutory responsibility of protecting lives and properties. “We will be proactive and we will leave no stone unturned to ensure a level playing ground for all candidates irrespective of political party affiliation.
For the Edo Governorship elections, the Inspector General of Police (IGP) is complementing the effort of the state government by sending eight-speed boats to secure the waterways.
We have coastal and riverine communities cutting across six Local Government Areas. We will be commissioning four-armed boats and four-speed boats.
“The police will also be having an air wing for aerial surveillance to track criminals hibernating in the forest saying all these security measures will be out in place, before, during, and after the Governorship elections in the state.
The state police command will be receiving technical support from other states to ensure the election is held in a secured environment while also ensuring all COVID-19 protocols are observed to the later.
To enable us to achieve this, we will have a series of training, workshops, and seminars with INEC and other security agencies and we will also conduct step down training for other officers of the force that will be involved in the elections”, he concluded.