THE panic over the cancelled gubernatorial election in Edo State may have fizzled out, but its aftermath is the benign complacency that has come to settle over our political institutions as we try to unravel the very reason or reasons why the election was shelved.
Is Edo State a battleground for the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC)? Is that State a do-or-die State for both parties? Why is Edo State so important in our democratic calculus so much so that we have to fall into old habitual assumptions of mayhem, violence and social disorder if the election took place and won by a particular party?
Increasingly, strident voices from the security personnel, political parties, elders, and concerned politicians have come to interpret the dissonance in Edo State politics. They have come to interpret its temper to slide into anarchy, social disquiet and mayhem simply because the overwhelming greed and win-at-all-costs mentality of our internal politics could not be easily persuaded or placated by common decency and the need to be fair during elections. Even more disquieting is our inability to hold a free and fair election without muddling it up with controversies, disputes, antagonisms, inconsistencies and total breakdown of law and order.
Nigerians are political animals. We love politics. We love our politicians even though majority of them are with clay feet and unworthy of our hero worship. However, when election comes, we fall into emotionally ferocious political struggles to capture all, by any means, fair or foul. This violence-driven value is becoming emblematic of our democratic practices. All elections in Nigeria, from the local government to the presidential, are exercises in violence, mob attacks, kidnappings and killing of opposing party supporters.
The incumbent uses all the instrumentalities of power, like security forces, threats and fear to intimidate rival opponents while opponents employ thugs to repel the raw power of the State.
Today, Edo State is a victim of this ugly national heritage. The governorship election was initially slated for Saturday 10th September, 2016. At about 8:00 p.m., September 8, 2016, just about 48 hours to the election, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced its postponement. Though INEC had earlier announced its readiness to conduct the election, the Commission’s National Commissioner, Voters’ Education and Publicity, Mr. Soyebi Solomon, told journalists in Benin, the Edo State capital, that the body took the action following reports by the Police and Department of State Security (DSS) that terrorists and militants had perfected plans to attack some States in the Federation, including Edo before, during and after the election. Further, he said that “the Commission received official communication from the Police and DSS drawing its attention to the need to postpone the Edo governorship elections.”
Note should be taken of the fact that, such a postponement, for the same reason and sanctioned by section 26 of the Electoral Act, 2011, was ferociously resisted by the APC, in the 2015 presidential election. Now, the incumbent APC government has clearly endorsed the postponement of the Edo State governorship election, “on the advice of the security agencies”, even when the validity of the security outfits’ advice has not been ascertained.
And the heavens have not fallen!
INEC simply advertized, “Consequently, the Commission notes the request of the security agencies and, considering the security implications of proceeding with the election, the safety of eligible voters, electoral officials, including ad-hoc staff and other stakeholders, the Commission has decided to reschedule the Edo governorship elections to Wednesday 28 September 2016.” Case closed!
The eternal disharmony in our political arrangement and the attendant warfare and killings that blight virtually all our elections is more than a shaming testament on Nigeria. We have to reject this bloodthirsty course in our democratic tradition, involving naked violence, riots, confusion, police brutality and rigging. It is sad that this political extremism has happened twice in this administration: We remember, with a tinge of historical sadness, the bedlam that attended the last election in Rivers State.
President Muhammadu Buhari, who visited Edo State days before the original election date, should have made a proactive move to find a lasting solution to these gory tales of political hooliganism that recur at every election. It is shameful that, despite the fact that Edo State, being governed by the ruling party, APC, Governor Adam Oshiomhole could not provide security to protect lives and property for the people of his State during his last tenure as governor of the State.
This paper hopes that INEC will steer a position of absolute political neutrality, conduct a free, fair, transparent and credible governorship election, creating a level playground for all the political combatants to avoid any crisis or even noisome inconclusiveness associated with INEC these days.