ALEXANDER OKERE writes on the factors that shaped the outcome of the September 28 governorship election in Edo State and the controversies thereafter
It is now 11 days since the September 28 governorship election in Edo State was conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission and a winner was announced. A total of 19 political parties fielded candidates for the exercise held across 192 wards, 18 local government areas and three senatorial districts of the state. However, the poll was largely a fierce battle between the All Progressives Congress and the Peoples Democratic Party as was proven by the strength of their membership, campaign, media coverage and how the results from each local government area panned out.
After accreditation, voting and collation of results, which lasted for about 32 hours, the candidate of the APC, Godwin Obaseki, was declared the winner of the exercise, having polled 319,483 votes out of a total of 613, 244 votes cast to defeat his closest rival, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu. Ize-Iyamu had 253,173 votes to come second. Expectedly, the number of the votes received by the two parties in Edo North and Edo Central senatorial districts reflected their political strongholds.
For instance, in Edo North where the incumbent Governor Adams Oshiomhole hails from, the APC won in the six local government areas, including Oshiomhole’s Etsako West Local Government Area, where the party got the highest votes of 29,199, as against the 10,843 polled by the PDP. Many political watchers did not expect anything less, considering the huge government presence in the area such as Edo State University, Iyamho, and the opening up of rural communities through the construction of roads.
Edo Central is largely regarded as the political base of the opposition party, particularly because many of its bigwigs hail from the area. Among them are the former Board of Trustees Chairman of the PDP, Chief Tony Anenih; a former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chief Tom Ikimi; a former Minister of Works, Mike Onolememen; and the senator representing the district in the National Assembly, Clifford Ordia. The party secured majority of its votes in four of the five local government areas in the senatorial district. They are Anenih’s Esan North-East, Esan South-East, Esan West and Esan Central. But in spite of the political presence of Ikimi, the PDP lost Igueben Local Government Area to the APC by 242 votes, a situation which some analysts have connected to the influence of the current Speaker of the House of Assembly, Dr. Justin Okonoboh, who hails from the area.
However, while many see the election as won and lost, the second phase of the political war may have begun with the issues that trailed its outcome. It began with the outright rejection of the results from some of the local government areas, especially in Edo South and Edo North, and the calls for the cancellation of the entire election by some of the opposition parties including the PDP, KOWA party and the Young Democratic Party.
In fact, no sooner had the Returning Officer and Vice-Chancellor of the Federal University, Oye-Ekiti, Prof. Kayode Soremekun, announced the final result than a protest by angry supporters of the PDP began in front of the state headquarters of the commission.
However, Ize-Iyamu’s anger over the conduct was visibly portrayed by one of the PDP agents, Chris Agbonwanegbe, who was present at the Dr. Shehu Lawal Hall where INEC made the final announcement. He bluntly declined to sign the result sheet, stating that the outcome of the election had already been rehearsed and produced by the electoral umpire and the ruling party. He also cited an incident allegedly involving an INEC official and the deputy governorship candidate of the APC (now deputy governor-elect).
Agbonwanegbe said, “The theatre has been on for some time; it has now been finally produced. I cannot endorse it (result sheet). I want it to be on record that I refused to endorse it. I cannot sign this document (result sheet).
He added, “I made a request that you should look at the collation of Etsako West and other local government (areas). You said I should go to court, instead of looking at it, even when some of your officers said they were threatened with guns.”
The candidate of the PDP, while rejecting the outcome of the exercise, described the result as a fraud. Ize-Iyamu, while addressing journalists at his residence, said that the result of the election held across the 18 local government areas did not reflect what was collated by agents of the party and independent observers.
To buttress his claims, the former Secretary to the State Government alleged that between N3bn and N4bn was spent by the state government to induce voters during the election and in the presence of security agents on election day. He faulted INEC’s delay in announcing the official result on September 28, a situation he alleged was clearly pre-determined and designed to release fabricated results that were completely at variance with what happened at the polling units.
The PDP candidate also pointed out that electoral materials were allegedly carted away by “APC thugs” in some local government areas in Edo South, Central and North senatorial districts, while an agent of the PDP was allegedly placed under house arrest for protesting against the irregularities in Orhionmwon Local Government Area.
Ize-Iyamu said, “To show that the results were predetermined, if you look at the results, they do not even reflect the huge turnout the APC even attested to. Even the party’s national chairman (Odigie-Oyegun) commended the huge turnout.
”In Etsako East, the army fired shots to drive people away so that they could take the results sheets away. So, one wonders the results that were announced. The results they got were obtained through fraud and the use of arms and cohesion and we are not a party to it.”
The leadership of the PDP also did not hold back its disapproval. The party, in a statement, accused the governor and the APC of allegedly conniving with the INEC to rig the poll. The state chairman alleged that the APC engaged in obvious inducement of voters and manipulated the results in many of the polling units. The state Chairman, Chief Dan Orbih, also alleged that 88 per cent of the votes were cancelled by the collation officers in strategic areas where the party would have won.
According to Orbih, the results announced by the presiding officers at different polling units revealed that the opposition party was ahead of the ruling APC by a minimum of 30,000 votes. Orbih argued that in areas where the PDP was declared winner, the party’s votes were allegedly removed on the excuse of faulty card readers, a plot he said the party had earlier alerted Nigerians and other relevant stakeholders to.
But the Edo State Chairman of the APC, Anselm Ojezua, denied the allegation of mass inducement of voters, adding that ‘the only way I will admit inducement (is) if the provision of infrastructural development in a place is inducement.’
Ojezua, who spoke during an interview with Saturday PUNCH, said, “In terms of cash, we do not have money. I have said it in several places that the only way money can be available to you is if you misappropriate money for public purpose and put it in private pockets.
“But if you use public funds for public projects, there will be nothing to use. We do not have money to bribe voters. We show them evidence of governance, with the roads, schools and hospitals we have built and they are everywhere, in all parts of the state (and) in every ward, we have projects that we can say we are proud of. If that is the inducement, then we are guilty.”
There has been speculation that the PDP may only resort to unending public protests to express its displeasure, rather than commit huge resources to challenge the election results at the tribunal. But the state chairman dismissed that during an interview with Saturday PUNCH, when he vowed that the PDP would file a petition against the outcome of the governorship election.
Orbih said, “Of course, we are going to file our petition at the election petitions tribunal. We will give it our all. If nothing else, to expose to Nigerians how corrupt and incompetent the INEC is under its current leadership. Our lawyers are busy; they are working. Until they formally file a petition, all I can say is that we are going to challenge the result of this election at the tribunal.”
However, while many lauded the efforts in the early deployment of manpower and materials, as well as ensuring that the poll was generally peaceful, the INEC was criticised by some civil society organisations and election observer groups due to discontentment with the process leading to the final announcement of the result.
One of them, the Nigerian Civil Society Situation Room, cited reports of “seeming collaboration” between INEC personnel, security agents and (political) parties “to encourage vote buying by setting polling stations in such a manner as to breach the secrecy of the polls and encourage inducement.”
According to its interim statement on the election, the suspension of collation of results till the following day casts doubts on the inviolability of election materials and results.
The statement read in part, “Although voting ended early, the collation process was very slow and had to be suspended during the late evening, resuming the next morning. In the interval, there was no way of confirming or verifying the integrity of election materials, ballots and results.
“The gaps and challenges with collation of results certainly raise issues of transparency and integrity of the ballot and elections that INEC will need to resolve, if elections in Nigeria are to be accepted as credible.”
For observers under the African Union, the alleged exchange of money for votes by some parties leaves much to be desired.
One of them from the African Union for Economic, Social and Cultural Council, Christian Victor, said, “I watched the security agencies and it was clear they understood that money was being used to induce voters. But for reasons best known to them, they did not stop it.”
Analysts, however, differ on the issue. A professor of History and International Studies at the University of Benin, Eddy Erhagbe, opined that voters’ inducement has been a challenge ingrained in Nigerian elections, in addition to the acquisitive nature of humans.
Erhagbe said, “The issue of inducement of voters, I believe, has been in place for a long time, as far as our elections are concerned. But it would seem that this time round, as being alleged, it was more obvious and there was greater audacity, in terms of doing it brazenly without feeling any qualms that those carrying it out will be apprehended. As far as human beings are concerned, there is the tendency to accept what looks like freebies.”
But for the Executive Director of the Africa Network for Environmental and Economic Justice, Rev. David Ugholor, inducement is not unconnected to poor economic situation in the country, which is exploited by politicians to continue to remain in power.
However, as the controversies generated by the governorship poll continue to play out, all attention appears to be shifting to the judiciary, as the final arbiter.