With the Edo gubernatorial elections just around the corner, violence, which has sadly become a hallmark of major elections in the country, is on the rise again. But the identity of the party perpetuating the violence has become a source of bother.
By Omorogbe Igbinosa
Recently, at a rally in Jattu, pandemonium broke when gunshots were fired and people scampered for their lives. A few got injured in the process. As expected, the major parties in the election – All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) – threw missiles of accusations at each other.
According to Prince John Mayaki, chairman of Edo APC Media Campaign Council, Deputy Governor Philip Shaibu led thugs to disrupt proceedings at the venue of the rally. “Multiple eye-witnesses in Jattu confirmed the arrival of the armed thugs in a convoy personally led by Shaibu at Jattu Junction, where they proceeded to the venue of the APC’s rally, shooting recklessly and causing terror,” Mayaki was quoted as saying.
“Edo deputy governor masterminded the attack and invasion. The thugs were hired and lodged in hotels by Shaibu who preceded the carefully-planned attack with a false petition to the police to deflect attention from himself and blame the violence on others. Today in Jattu, Shaibu charged his thugs to ensure that no APC rally took place, because the sheer number of residents who planned to attend would expose his rejection to the whole world and advertise his defenestration as a good-for-nothing liability on the PDP ticket.”
That was the version of what happened according to the APC. The PDP had a different version.
“The allegations are not true,” said the Senior Special Assistant on Media to Shaibu, Benjamin Atu. “Edo deputy governor was in the house of the late Speaker of Edo House of Assembly, Hon. Zakawanu’s for the 40 days prayer in line with Muslim practice. How can a man in prayer session with others be accused of such allegations?” Atu also accused the APC of sponsoring the killing of four PDP members at a rally in Agbede.
The Edo guber race is largely between incumbent governor, Godwin Obaseki who switched at the last minute from the APC to the major opposition party, PDP, and Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu who ran for governor in the last election under the PDP but is now the standard bearer of the APC. Prior to his switch, Obaseki had accused the PDP of being the base of violence. Now, it is a bit surprising the governor claims the APC is behind the rash of politically motivated violence in the state
Since February when the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced the September 19 election date, political gladiators in the state took to confrontations. On February 22, during a visit to the state, thugs attacked the party of former Edo governor and former APC National Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole. Oshiomhole said the thugs were sponsored by the state governor, Obaseki. But in a reaction, the state government accused Oshiomhole of violating protocol with his visit. Spokesman to the governor, Crusoe Osagie, claimed that the visit of Oshiomhole to attend a function in Benin City caused “sudden tension in Benin metropolis which resulted in large, unruly crowds gathering in strategic points and military personnel shooting sporadically, thrusting the city into pandemonium.”
Lampooning the former governor, Osagie added: “It is unfortunate that a former governor who should understand basic security and protocol standards will repeatedly violate them and cause tension and severe threat to public safety and security.”
Later the state sent a disclaimer that it would not be responsible for anything that befalls Oshiomhole on that visit. If not for the battle between Oshiomhole and his former protégé and current governor, Obaseki, such a matter would have been laughable. If Obaseki knows the APC is behind the violence across the state, as the state’s chief security officer, he should arrest those involved rather than speak to cause confusion.
However, with the way Obaseki was ‘chased out’ of the APC on the eve of his re-election campaign, it is not surprising that he would be bitter. Addressing his supporters recently, Obaseki said: “Nobody has monopoly of violence. If they want violence, we will show them violence. So, if I see anybody, if you see anybody, smashing any car because my sticker or poster is on the car, let us know. We will show that person that we are in government.”
It is rather sad that the state governor thinks matching violence with violence is the right way to go. To be fair, in July, it was reported that thugs attacked Obaseki and some PDP officials outside the Oba of Benin’s palace. They had gone on a courtesy visit to the Oba. Again, it is not clear who instigated the fight.
In the light of these accusations, concerned groups and individuals in the state have called for peace ahead, during and after the elections. Keeping to neutrality, the Oba of Benin, Oba Ewuare, said the palace is non-partisan and pleaded with all parties to be peaceful. INEC also announced it is documenting all episodes of violence and hate speech in Edo State. It is good to hear that erring parties are being noted. However, despite such pleadings and warnings, there have been pockets of violence as the election race progressed. But as the major parties trade counter-accusations, who really is telling the truth? And who is lying?
However, Benin residents are now afraid to move once dusk sets. Not only that, political gatherings which should ordinarily attract people are now feared grounds. This is not a good development for Edo. Already, Amnesty International has urged President Muhammadu Buhari to take proactive steps to forestall further violence.
“The potential turmoil being stirred up by various factions ahead of the gubernatorial election in Edo State should send a clear signal to the Nigerian authorities of the imminent violence ahead of the polls and government must take active steps to prevent a bloody poll,” said its Country Director, Osai Ojigho.
“Fuelling the instability and impunity in the state, are reports of supporters of some politicians violently targeting political opponents, real or perceived. The authorities must stamp out any potential impunity by ensuring these incidents are investigated and those suspected to be responsible.”
Perhaps, the best advice to achieving a peaceful election comes from the Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Yekini Nabena, who in a recent statement, told players in the forthcoming election to focus on issues and desist from rigging and violence.
“While we understand the panic and distress in the camp of the PDP and Governor Obaseki following the massive and widespread support given by the Edo electorate to the APC Governorship candidate, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, the APC invites the PDP to join us in issue-based campaigns and at least attempt to sell to the Edo electorate the merit of their candidate, if any,” said Nabena.
“We call on partisans, particularly the PDP to purge themselves of their age-long undemocratic habits of election rigging, vote-buying, violence, abuse of state institutions for political ends and address themselves to new realities that under the President Buhari-led APC administration, the power now belongs to the people and during elections, votes count.”
This message, though emanating from the APC and largely directed to the PDP, is valid for all stakeholders because all that Edo people want is peace. We are tired of accusations and counter-accusations of violence.