Being the first major election conducted since the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic, Edo State governorship election is unique in terms of the challenges confronting the major stakeholders, particularly the electoral umpire, the political parties and the electorate. RAYMOND MORDI, BISI OLANIYI and PRECIOUS IGBOWELUNDU highlight the factors that shaped the poll in the Southsouth state.
With the outbreak of Coronavirus, otherwise known Covid-19 pandemic, early in the year, conducting the 2020 Edo State governorship election was considered a difficult challenge because it would be regulated by an additional set of policies and guidelines.
But, owing to the fact that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is bound by law to conduct the poll within a specific period to avoid a power vacuum in the Southsouth state, the electoral umpire was compelled to go ahead with it.
Beyond the issue of Covid-19 pandemic, some of the factors that would shape the outcome of the contest are violence, vote buying, incumbency, the looming influence of the former National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC) Adams Oshiomhole, and the much-vaunted ‘ederal might’.
Since the advent of the APC in 2013 and its triumph in the 2015 general elections, elections have become a tough duel between the two dominant parties, the ruling APC at the centre and the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP). Though 14 parties are on the ballot in last Saturday’s governorship election, according to the list published by INEC prior to the election, it was essentially a duel between the two dominant parties, which are equally dominated by strong personalities, rather than strong institutions.
As a result, observers described the election as ‘a contest between personalities, instead of a competition of ideas, issues, and proposals for sustainable growth and development’. YIAGA Africa, a non-governmental organisation that has been working towards reforming Nigeria’s electoral system, said the two parties are guilty of violent rhetoric, hate speech, vandalism, and violence during the electioneering campaign period.
The group, in its pre-election statement, classified two-thirds of the local governments in the state as hotspots and flashpoints of violence due to its frequency, arms proliferation, and a spike in the activities of cult groups within the areas. It said in the statement: “The violence rhetoric and strong-arm tactics employed by the two major parties for campaigns created a tense atmosphere, environment and a climate of fear, which informed peace talks initiated by the Oba of Benin, His Royal Highness, Oba Ewuare II, and the National Peace Committee headed by the former Head of State, General Abdulsami Abubakar.”
The local governments considered hotspots include Etsako West, Etsako East, Etsako Central, Owan West, and Akoko Edo, all in Edo North Senatorial District. Others are Oredo, Orhiomwon, Egor, Ovia Northeast and Ikpoba/Okha in Edo South, as well as Esan Central, Esan Northeast, and Esan West in Edo Central.
Elections in the past have always been characterised by inflated votes and cooked up results, which are usually ‘declared under cover of contrived confusion and violent attacks aided by partisan security agents’.
The fear of violence that hung over the Edo 2020 governorship election was fuelled by the reports of arms stockpiling, recruitment of thugs, vandalism, and a surge in the activities of cult groups in battleground local governments. The contrived climate of fear, it is said, was a deliberate ploy to scare voters away in areas where their opponents enjoy popular support on election day.
To guarantee safety, 31,000 policemen were deployed by the Inspector General of Police (IG) Mohammed Adamu and drafted across the state with 8,200 of them stationed at polling units.
Commissioner of Police (CP) in charge of Elections, Garba Umar, said those who were sent to polling units would later move to the collation centres. He said all the 18 local governments had three units of patrols each, and that three helicopters were deployed to the three senatorial districts for aerial patrols, as well as the Marine Police and Naval units stationed at the riverine areas.
Similarly, the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) deployed 13,311 personnel out of which 7,301 complemented the police’s efforts at the polling units. The remaining ones were deployed to watch critical national assets in the state.
Saturday’s governorship election in Edo State was nearly marred by vote buying and thuggery in the three senatorial districts, as earlier predicted by observers. Politicians and their agents were openly offering cash, small bags of rice and other items to the electorate to cast their votes for the governorship candidates being promoted.
For instance, at the Emokpae Model Primary School on Mission Road, Benin City, where Governor Godwin Obaseki voted, party agents were openly sharing money, thugs were fighting over sharing of money and generally most of the polling units visited by our reporters were literally turned into a bazaar where the votes of the people were offered to the highest bidder. But, there are many cases where prospective voters took money and still voted for the candidate of their choice.
The two major parties participated in the offering of money for votes. A chieftain of the PDP at Unit 4, Ward 1, Igarra, the headquarters of Akoko-Edo Local Government, Bankole Balogun, complained of vote buying. Ironically, some agents of the PDP at the same polling unit were seen openly offering money to the voters in the queues under big trees.
One of the PDP’s agents in Igarra was overheard informing a party leader that she had exhausted the N60,000 she was given for vote buying, and that she had just N5,000 left. The party leader retorted that the woman should exhaust the fund before asking for more money. Similarly, at Polling Units 1 and 2, Ward 2, located along Okada Drive, GRA Benin City, party agents were seen openly scouting votes, a situation that almost caused rancour.
Some of the party loyalists brought food to lure voters to their sides while others were offering between N2,000 and N5,000 to voters who proved they voted for their party. Also, at Polling Units 1 to 4, Ward 11, located within the premises of Imaguero College, Sapele Road, hoodlums representing the two major players were also engaged in vote buying.
Canvassers ensured that they see what they are paying for, by asking voters to stylishly bend their ballot papers for a nearby watcher to see. It is only after this is done that he gives the cashier a sign to pay the voter N3,000 or N5,000 depending on the party.
The case was not different at the Akenzua, Ogbe and several other polling units in the metropolis although the police made efforts to chase them away each time their attention was drawn to it. There was also a confrontation between rival canvassers at Oredo Ward six, Polling Unit 7, near Akpakpava, Edo City Transport Service (ECTS), Benin City but quick intervention of the security operatives stopped the crisis from escalating.
The major factor that may help Governor Obaseki in his bid secure a second term is incumbency factor. There are a number of reasons why incumbency is a big factor in Nigerian elections. One of them is because it guarantees a sitting chief executive access to funds to secure his victory.
Zoning of political offices is another reason why many incumbent office holders secure their re-election, irrespective of performance. In such circumstances, the zone that is waiting to benefit from the zoning arrangement will usually back the incumbent to hasten its bid to produce the next chief executive. Otherwise it may have to wait for an additional four years to do so.
Besides, an incumbent chief executive would utilise what he/she has achieved in the first term to campaign, as opposed to a challenger who can only make promises and try to rubbish the performance of the incumbent.
The Oshiomhole factor looms very large in last Saturday’s governorship election, to the point of almost overshadowing the image of the candidate of his party, Ize-Iyamu. Many who would vote for the APC’s Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu in Edo North Senatorial District would do so because of the influence of the former national chairman. Although Ize-Iyamu’s running mate, Gani Audu, comes from the same Edo North, it is likely to be the influence of Oshiomhole that would be more far-reaching and decision in garnering support for the party.
Conversely, others that voted for Obaseki may have done so, to spite the former governor who brooked no contradiction from any quarters when he was at the helm of affairs. The David and Goliath power tussle between him and his erstwhile protege, Obaseki and the allegation that he is trying to become a godfather in Edo politics may have also influenced the voting pattern in the election.
Obaseki may have won the sympathy of the electorate during the dogged fight between him and his former godfather. Oshiomhole displayed a lot of disdain for godfathers when he governed the state between 2008 and 2016.
A citizen perception survey conducted by YIAGA Africa prior to the election suggests that the election had generated a lot of interest in the state and that many are willing to vote. The findings of the study said 71 per cent are likely to vote in the election. To appreciate this this, it is pertinent to state that turnout is usually low in Nigerian elections, where only about 30 usually go out to vote during elections. The study also show that one-third have heard candidates of political parties using hate speech during campaigns.
For the PDP, the fear of “federal might” was the beginning of wisdom prior to the election. It remains to be seen whether that fear would be founded. Obaseki made an indirect reference to this factor when he expressed disappointment about INEC’s performance after voting at his polling unit. But, from all indications, nothing suggested that ‘federal might’ played any role during the contest.