By Jethro Ibileke
In the last couple of weeks, political bickering in Edo State ahead the September 19 governorship election has left nothing to be desired. With rate the desperation by political actors, there are fears that a bloodbath is looming if pragmatic approaches are not adopted to nip in the bud a time bomb waiting to explode. The key actors in the political game are the All Progressives Congress, APC, and the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
Less than one month to the election, in which Governor Godwin Obaseki is seeking a second term and the APC’s governorship candidate, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu wanting to oust him from power, the atmosphere in Edo State is charged. Politics of mudslinging, accusations and counter-accusations are the order of the day. Series of skirmishes by rival parties have taken the main stage. The do-or-die syndrome is being put in the front burner.
The political tension in Edo State began with the internal crisis that led to the factionalisation of the APC, and the emergence of the Edo People’s Movement, EPM, the foot soldiers of former national chairman of the party, Adams Oshiomhole, on one hand, and the faction loyal to governor Godwin Obaseki. It later culminated in the disqualification of the governor from contesting the party’s primaries, and his eventual defection to the PDP.
Thereafter, the tension graduated to a multi party affair, between the PDP and APC. It however assumed a worrisome dimension when, on 25 July, supporters of both parties clashed at the entrance to the palace of the Benin Monarch, during a courtesy on the Monarch by the campaign council of the PDP, including some governors and the national leadership of the party, for the flag-off of the party’s governorship election campaign.
Trouble started with a protest by supporters of APC against governor Obaseki at the palace gate. In a reprisal, PDP youths who were at the Samuel Ogbemudia stadium-venue of the campaign flag-off, allegedly mobilised to the palace and all the adjoining roads around the palace.
Sounds of gunshot rent the air, with several supporters of both sides sustaining varying degrees of injuries, just as motorists and pedestrians scampered for safety. Some motorists who were unlucky had their vehicles vandalised in the heat of the confrontation. Most vehicles branded with the PDP and APC campaign logos were not spared in the attack.
It was gathered that the ensuing mêlée thoroughly embarrassed the palace and both parties.
While the dust of the palace brouhaha was yet to settle down, the invasion of the State House of Assembly on 6 August, by scores of police operatives from Abuja allegedly on the order of the Inspector-General of Police, further aggravated the political tension in the state. The ensuing pushing between supporters of the PDP and APC almost completely broke down the fragile peace in the state capital.
Not long after the Assembly incident, gunmen allegedly lunched attack on the convoy of governor Obaseki on 13 August during his ward-to-ward campaign at Adams Oshiomhole’s ward 10, Apana road in Etsako west local government area. Others allegedly hurled stones at the convoy of the governor. They were however dispersed by a combined team of security operatives and vigilante group.
It would be recalled that the PDP campaign council had earlier raised the alarm over alleged security report of planned attack on the governor’s convoy, which necessitated postponement of its campaign in the area.
Accusation and counter accusation of arms importation between the two warring parties have added to the fears and anxieties of people over the likelihood of the 19 September gubernatorial election turning to a bloodbath.
On Friday, 21 August, the leadership of the APC accused the ruling PDP and Delta State Governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, of importing arms and persons believed to be thugs into the state, with the intention to scuttle the election processes, for fear of the party’s candidate, Obaseki, losing the election.
Also, the chairman of the state media campaign council of the APC, John Mayaki, accused Obaseki of arming thugs and other non-state actors with newly-purchased guns and weapons to attack innocent Edo people on their campaign trail.
He further alleged that Obaseki spent state resources on the procurement of hundreds of high-grade weapons distributed to thugs sourced from neighbouring states.
Addressing a press conference, the factional chairman of the APC, Col. David Imuse (rtd), blamed the tension in the built-up to the election in the state on Obaseki’s alleged desperation and deployment of do or die tactics in seeking for second term in office alongside his deputy, Mr. Philip Shaibu.
Imuse also carpeted the Delta state governor whom he accused of allegedly bringing thugs into the state in order to cause mayhem during the election.
He pointed out that Okowa, who he alleged shot his way to a contrived victory in Delta State, has begun to lend his hand to Godwin Obaseki, with the supply of thugs and gangs charged with the mission of unleashing violence and rigging the election.
Imuse accused Ikota and Obaseki of “executing a do-or-die approach where they must either forcefully impose themselves on the people.
According to him, “This manifested on Wednesday, August 19, in Igueben local government area when Okowa, suspiciously attended a single ward political event allegedly with an army of thugs with the objective of contributing to their militarization of the state and to spread panic and intimidate voters.”
Expectedly, the Igueben incident resulted in blame-trading among the two parties, with the CPS to Okowa, Olisa Ifeajika, absorbing his principal of any wrongdoing.
“When PDP governors paid a courtesy visit to the Oba of Benin and violence broke out after they left, was it Okowa that was responsible? We should be thankful that our governor was not harmed.
“The governor has visited Edo state many times and there was no violence. Okowa as a person has not been known for violence and since he has been contesting elections, he has not been associated with violence.
“Everybody knows Okowa as a peaceful person. The violence is in Edo and will remain in Edo. Before now, in the build up to the election, Edo has been in the news for violence. So, what happened in Igueben is part of that violence. They should leave Okowa alone,” he said.
Also reacting, the State Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Chris Nehikhare, described Imuse’s allegations as “baseless and lacking foundation. We are the ones that should be complaining because of their inclination to fraud and violence.”
He added: “All we keep saying is that they are trying to create situation of anarchy and chaos to force a postponement of the election.”
Mayaki in a statement during the week said: “In a new development that further stretches the tyrannical reach of Mr. Godwin Obaseki, the embattled Edo State Governor has, arbitrarily, procured multiple and hundreds of brand new guns using state resources.”
But, the governor’s media aide, Crusoe Osagie, denied the allegation, saying that it was unfounded and baseless.
Again, the Chairman of Edo APC Media Campaign Council, John Mayaki, on 19 August, petitioned the State Commissioner of Police, Johnson Kokumo, and the Inspector-General of Police, Adamu Muhammed, over alleged deployment of police operatives numbering over 50, to Okpella community, allegedly on the order of governor Godwin Obaseki, occupying the private residence of the governor’s aide.
He noted that the deployment has caused apprehension among residents of the community and also caused them to express worry over planned violent intimidation ahead of the September 19 governorship election in the state.
According to him, “The police officers were reportedly deployed on the orders of Obaseki and have set camp in the building of one Lukman Akemokue, a political aide and ally of the Deputy Governor, who relocated his mother from the building to make room for the officers.
“Residents of surrounding communities in the area have lamented the police officers’ night movements, characterized by indiscriminate shootings, shouts of obscenities, and other bizarre acts of intimidation which they claim were aimed at inducing fear ahead of the polls.
“It is important to note that Okpella has recorded large numbers of movements from the PDP to the APC in the past few weeks, as residents declare their intention to back the bid of Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, over failure by the Obaseki-led administration to keep his promises to them after four years.
He named Prince Kazim Afegbua, who although a chieftain of the PDP, openly declared support for the APC and Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, as perhaps one reason why the PDP would want to use police to intimate the people from voting his party to power.
“The despatch of the police officers has been interpreted as a desperate tactic by the Governor and his allies to scare away voters to prevent the anticipated embarrassing defeat expected on the 19th of September,” Mayaki said.
But the Special Adviser to Edo State Governor on Media and Communication Strategy, Crusoe Osagie, in response to Mayaki’s allegation, said that the APC has no reason to fret, if they have no sinister plans.
He noted that the increased police presence noticed in Okpella, Agenebode, Akoko Edo and other parts of the state is not out of the norm.
According to him, “With just a month to the gubernatorial poll in Edo State, security agencies are stepping up their activities across the state. This should not be misconstrued by anyone.
“The claims by the All Progressives Congress (APC) is strange because anyone who means well for Edo people should commend the police for doing their job. The APC should not fret if they have no sinister plans.”
The governor’s aide urged Edo people to cooperate with men of the various security agencies and assist with information where necessary so that the forthcoming election will be peaceful, free and fair.
Meanwhile, INEC’s National Commissioner and Chairman of Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, has cautioned politicians against doing anything that could hinder the conduct of the election, because the options available are not palatable.
He warned gladiators in the election to sheath their swords and see the conduct of the election as a national project that must be executed in strict compliance with all the safety protocols.
Okoye, a lawyer, who underscored the need for all stakeholders to conduct their activities in a manner that does not jeopardize the due and constitutional conduct of these elections, emphasized that there was no alternative to the peaceful conduct of these elections “as the alternative will leave the people of the two states with a constitutional logjam that may be difficult to resolve.”
He gave the warning at a one-day sensitisation workshop for journalists on election processes and procedures in Benin City, the state capital.
He warned that “Political parties must, therefore, eschew violence. Political Parties and their candidates must eschew the use of intemperate, inflammatory, and base language designed to inflame passions or incite violence.
“There is no alternative to the peaceful conduct of the September 19 governorship election because any alternative will leave the people of the state with a constitutional logjam that may be difficult to resolve.”
“We have advised political parties not to play with end-of-tenure elections because anything that disturbs election from being conducted and concluded on or before November 10 will create constitutional crisis that may lead to a state of emergency.
“My advice to all the political gladiators is that they should play by the rules of the game to avoid constitutional crisis arising from the election,” Okoye added.
These not withstanding, some observers are of the opinion that the election will come and go, without incidents of violence and bloodbaths. They further argued that President Muhammadu Buhari, being who he is, might not in any way influence the election to favour his party, the APC.
According to such observers, the recent meeting between President Buhari and Adams Oshiomhole, was perhaps to drum to the latter’s ears the need to let peace reign now, during and after the election.
Perhaps, this was why the Department of State Service, DSS, invited some notable chieftains of the APC, in Edo, for a peace meeting, at its Court Road-office in Benin. Waziri Mohammed, who signed the invitation letter with reference number 171/B/122 and dated 20 August, 2020, said the meeting was part of the move to stop the violence threatening the gubernatorial election.
The letter read in part: “I am directed to invite you to an important meeting with the State Director of Security.
“You (Adun) are to come with the following persons: Osakpamwan Eriyo, National Chairman RTEAN; Ehis Adams, APC Leader Oredo; Osaro Idahosa APC Leader, Ikpoba-Okha; Okunbor Roberts, APC Leader, Ovia South West LGA; Atarodo, APC member; Kingsley Amedo, APC member; Richard Obe, APC member; Osarobo Idehen, APC member; and Dr. Emma, APC member.”
Whatever the situation, we can only hope, pray and wait. But, the choice for a peaceful election rests in the hands of the stakeholders, with the hope that they do not get too desperate for victory.