The Independent National Electoral Commission puts on hold update of voters’ registration exercise in Edo State following bloody protest by the ruling party over alleged rigging plot by PDP
Last Tuesday, Muktar Bakori, director, State Security Service, SSS, Edo State, met with leaders of the two rival political parties in the state at its headquarters in Benin City. The sole agenda of the meeting was the unhealthy political rivalry between the ruling Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, and the opposition, Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and how to stem the tide of violence. In the last four weeks, the political landscape has been tension-soaked. The ugly trend started with a tragic accident involving the convoy of Adams Oshiomhole, the state governor. The governor accused PDP of orchestrating the accident, claiming that he was the actual target.
A few days later, four unknown gunmen gruesomely murdered Olaitan Oyerinde, 44, the governor’s principal private secretary, at his residence.
Again, the governor and his party are pointing accusing fingers at PDP, which vehemently denied the allegations. And last Monday, a protest rally by the ACN, led by the governor, ended on a tragic note following eruption of violence between two drivers’ associations. One Omosigho Wilfred met his untimely death in the course of the protest rally, which turned bloody. The ACN had called its teeming supporters out on the streets on a protest march to the state headquarters of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, over an alleged attempt by PDP to rig the forthcoming election.
The decision of the SSS boss to convene a meeting of the two arch-political enemies was also against the backdrop of an allegation by PDP that suspected ACN members at Ekpoma attacked Vincent Akhere, its youth leader, and a lawyer. Akhere is now being treated for a fractured leg. The SSS therefore wanted to get the two parties to keep the peace and put their loyalists in check.
Thomas Okosun, the state chairman of the ruling party, and Frank Erewele, former commissioner for education in the state, represented the ACN at the meeting. The PDP team was led by Christopher Adesotu, the deputy state chairman, and Matthew Urhoghide, the state publicity secretary, who spoke for the opposition party. Okosun denied the involvement of his party in the attack on Akhere. He told the PDP to look elsewhere for his attackers. The ACN claimed to have uncovered a plot by the PDP to rig the polls with the active connivance of some elements in the ICT unit of INEC. The atmosphere became more charged when the ACN supporters who laid siege to the INEC office allegedly caught Aigbe Goddie, a staff of INEC, with a direct data capturing, DDC, machine and registration kit.
They said he was attempting to smuggle the machine out across the fence. He has been handed over to the police. The electoral body was supposed to commence last Tuesday the update of the voters’ registration in the state in order to accommodate people who have attained the age of 18 since the last voters registration exercise.
Addressing the mammoth crowd, the governor vowed that the protesters would continue to occupy the INEC office until Attahiru Jega, its chairman, intervenes. Oshiomhole called for the redeployment of two officers heading the ICT units in Abuja and Benin, who he alleged were in collusion with the PDP. He said the planned registration exercise was a ploy by the opposition party to register ghost voters for the election. The state executive of the party had at an earlier press conference alleged that a prominent PDP leader held a meeting with some INEC officials in Abuja where the plot to rig the election was hatched.
Okosun alleged at that meeting that the PDP “resolved to bring in thugs from neighbouring states to, among other things, register them in some targeted polling units for two purposes: one, increase their votes given the fact that they do not have supporters; secondly and, more dangerously, to register such thugs in units where they will be used to foment trouble during the election.” Okosun said the opposition also planned “to mutilate the voters’ register, juggle names of voters from one polling unit to another, cause confusion and delete original voters and replace them with their thugs.”
The PDP however denied any plan to manipulate the election. Dan Orbih, the state chairman, said it was unbecoming of Oshiomhole to level all manner of allegations against the PDP. He said even before the election proper, Oshiomhole was already making grounds for election petition. According to him, “We know he’s a petitioner, but he should allow the process to go on. Edo people are getting tired of the governor and his antics.” Orbih accused Oshiomhole of being jittery because of his imminent defeat and advised him to withdraw from the race.
Concerned about the volatile political climate in the state, INEC has suspended the planned voters’ registration exercise. Priscilla Imoudu-Sule, spokesman of the commission, in a statement, said INEC has suspended the update of voters’ registration exercise and a new date would be announced later. A stakeholders’ meeting on the scheduled election was held last Wednesday at the commission’s office. There is no resident electoral commissioner, REC, yet in the state. Rose Ofuoborifo, the erstwhile REC, has served out her term and no one has been posted yet to the state to replace her. Security has been tightened around the INEC office with combat-ready and fierce-looking policemen on standby. The state police command said it was still investigating the allegation against the arrested official of INEC to determine what actually happened.
Oshiomhole has vowed to lead more street protests if the alleged plot by the opposition to rig the polls continues. He said in an interview with journalists that he was not a leader who would ask people to go and die while sitting back in the comfort of his office, stressing that “I want to lead by example… Any attempt to rig this election will be resisted. I am not going to hide.” For now, tempers remain high and there are fears that things might just get worse if nothing is done to arrest the situation.