Against nationwide apprehension that Saturday’s governorship election in Edo State would be marred by large scale violence, the election held peacefully in most parts of the state, save for disruptions recorded in few Local Government Areas.
Our correspondents who monitored the poll in different parts of the state observed that voting was conducted in a peaceful manner as security agents kept guard at the different polling units.
The fear of violence during and after the election had prompted the Oba of Benin, Ewuare II, to summon the candidates of the All Progressives Congress, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu and the Peoples Democratic Party, Godwin Obaseki to his palace, over their hot verbal exchanges, clashes among their supporters and pockets of violence that had characterised their campaigns.
Fourteen political parties participated in the exercise, but the contest was believed to have largely been between the incumbent governor, Obaseki and Ize-Iyamu.
Meanwhile, following the fear of violence, the National Peace Committee, headed by a former Head of State, General Abdusalami Abubakar, intervened in a state election as against its usual practice of intervening in presidential elections.
Also, the Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, had expressed concerns over the possible fear of violence during the election, which prompted the commission to invite the candidates and the political parties to sign a peace deal on Tuesday.
Yakubu had said two weeks ago that the National Peace Committee, INEC and every conscientious Nigerian were concerned about the fear of violence in elections. Similarly, the two major political parties had on several occasions accused each other of importing thugs and purchasing arms to be used to disrupt the election.
Thus, INEC, which threatened that it would not hesitate to stop the election mid-way if there was violence, earlier told Sunday PUNCH that it insured all its ad hoc staff and full staff against death and other election hazards. The police, in its response, deploying 31,000 policemen to the state for the exercise.
But, in contrast to the fears, the election was largely peaceful.
One of our correspondents who visited several polling units in Etsako West Local Government Area noticed the heavy security agents at the polling units as they were seen maintaining law and order during the voting exercise.
At Unit 001, Ward 10, Iyamho, where former APC National Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, voted, 19 security agents were sighted. At Units 009, 010, and 011, Ward 9, Elele, there were more than 20 security agents in total. A significant number of security agents was also observed at Unit 002, Ward 10, Ogbido and Unit 003, Ward 10, Uluoke/Ayaoghena.
Also, the Deputy Inspector-General of Police in charge of the election, Mr Leye Oyebade, told one of our correspondents on the telephone after the voting had ended that the poll was generally peaceful. He said this did not mean there were no incidents during the exercise.
The DIG said, “We have helicopters that flew across the state to monitor activities. You said there was shooting but we had people who came out to say this is the best election they have witnessed. If there were one or two things that happened, we are collating and we will address everything together later.”
Our correspondents who monitored the election at Iguododo community in Orhionwon Local Government Area and some of the adjoining communities as well as Ikpoba-Okah Local Government Area observed that there was no violence in those areas.
At Unit 26 Ward 5 in Iguododo community where Ize-Iyamu voted, three unarmed policemen and two officials of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps were present. Ize-Iyamu was accompanied to the polling unit by some persons. However, a team of policemen later came when the APC candidate had cast his vote and left the premises of Iguododo Primary School.
Even though there were roadblocks on the Benin-Abraka Road in line with the restriction on movement, some passenger vehicles coming into Benin from Abraka were seen loaded with passengers at around 2pm before the election was concluded.
“From the reports I’m getting from other places, the election is free and devoid of violence. The electorate conducted themselves properly and there was a strict adherence to COVID-19 safety protocols. So far, no form of violence, party agents conducted themselves and cooperated with INEC personnel.”
Meanwhile, our correspondents reported that there were pockets of violence in some polling units in Oredo, Orhionmwon, Igueben, Egor, including ballot box snatching, shooting, interference and disruption of the exercise.
Also, in Ogbe Primarily School in Benin, suspected thugs entered a voting centre and ordered all voters out at gunpoint. The wife of an APC local government chairman was also beaten up by suspected political thugs. These two were among the few skirmishes that marred the Edo poll.
Some stakeholders said they believed the exercise was the most peaceful in the political history of the South-South state.
Some observers also noted that the voter turnout was large.
Oba of Benin’s intervention did the magic – Community leader
Meanwhile, a voter, Chief Etiosa Omoemu, thanked the Oba of Benin for cautioning the governorship candidates of the two major parties, adding that the intervention from the monarch contributed to the peaceful conduct of the election.
Omoemu said, “It (election) is peaceful and the weather has been clement. There was massive turnout, which is encouraging. I think the awareness among the citizens about this election was quite high, hence, the massive turnout.
“I thank the Oba of Benin for his intervention. That bold effort to come out and call both parties to order was useful. To a large extent, that helped to calm down the violence that was escalating. Since then, there has been observable calm everywhere.”
The statement reads partly, “Suddenly, card readers are not working in areas where Governor Godwin Obaseki is very popular. Voters are being disenfranchised and we are constrained to say that this is sabotage.
“Specifically, in Oredo Ward 1, Unit 20 and other places where the governor is clearly popular, the card readers are not working.”
He added, “Given that this is a sole day election, I expected that a bit more planning, preparation and resources should have been put into this election. The card reader is working very slowly, and this is the situation in all the major voting centers in the Oredo Local Government Area of the state.
“In Garrick Memorial Secondary School, I understand that over 500 voters are stranded as they can’t vote because of the slow processing of the card readers.”
On the issue of vote-buying at polling units, the governor said security agencies were not doing what they promised Edo people and Nigerians before the election.
The former Edo governor, who cast his vote at Unit 001, Ward 10 at Iyamho Primary School, Iyamho, Etsako West Local Government Area at 10.15am, cautioned INEC against disenfranchising voters.
Oshiomhole said, “Now, they have reported; INEC officials have not brought a new machine. This exercise is supposed to have a closing time. So, if they are doing this in my ward, it is clear that somebody wants to reduce the number of voters here. But I’ve told them to stay here; if it is 2pm or 8pm, once they are here, they have the right to vote.
“It appears in this exercise, they want to disenfranchise many of my community people from voting. I also got such a report from Alegbete that the machines were not working and that a lot of people wanted to vote but the machines were rejecting them, even though in previous elections, these people have been voting.”
Also, Odigie-Oyegun decried the delays caused by faulty card readers during voting and accreditation. He described Nigeria as a “puzzling country,” saying the country ought to have improved on the use of technology in elections, considering the challenges facing its electoral system.
He told our correspondent on Saturday night, “Yes, there were issues with the card reader which just have to be fixed. I think it took three attempts before I was passed to vote. The fellow before me had almost as many (attempts), if not more.
“If this thing continues like that, it shows that the quality of the card reader is not up to scratch. That is technology. This is a very puzzling country. Given our problems, I think, by now, we should have improved on the technology of the elections. Whatever needs to be done has to be done to get that card reader to work properly and effectively or we seek alternative technology.”
He stated, “It’s clear I have sympathy for him, giving what he was put through unnecessarily and unjustifiably. I have never hidden that fact. It’s public knowledge. That is where the message comes; Edo people will send a clear message that things like this must not be allowed to occur again.”
While commending security agencies for their support, Odigie-Oyegun appealed to the electorate to continue to conduct themselves in a peaceful manner but insist on making their voice heard through their ballot.
He also said winning or losing the election in his polling unit was immaterial.
Imuse, who hails from the Esan West Local Government Area of the state, could not secure victory for the APC as the party was defeated in his Ward 9, Unit 3. The PDP scored 126 votes while APC scored 93 votes from the result at the polling unit.
He said, “They came in commando style, seating on vehicle bonnets and armed with cut-to-size guns, shooting in the air. They scared away voters and INEC staff and seriously injured many. They collected the ballot boxes and are at this minute putting their thumbprints on the ballot at the Uhronigbe Police Station.”
He called on the IG to caution his men while urging INEC to “seriously consider the result that would be declared from these two wards in Orhionmwon LGA.”
The Chairman of the state APC Media Campaign Council, John Mayaki, said, “Eventually, thugs belonging to the PDP shot two people, one of whom has been confirmed dead in the Ovia Southwest, Wards 9 and 10.
“The casualty, a woman, an APC agent, was said to be in her late 30s. Eyewitnesses said the PDP thugs besieged the two wards while voting was in full swing, shooting directly at the people, two of whom were consequently hit in the process. Many were injured in the ensuing melee.”
INEC begins collation, to announce results today
There are strong indications that the result of the election would be announced today (Sunday). As of the time of filing this report, collation had begun.
Meanwhile, the state INEC National Commissioner, Mrs May Agbamuche-Mbu, told journalists at the state collation centre, that the commission would wait to obtain the results from all the local government areas before announcing the result.