Posted by Nelson Dafe, Benin City | 19 April 2013 | 5,880 times
It was a Saturday morning in late March. Some youths were having a football training session at the Enikaro Primary School field in the St. Saviour area of Benin City when a convoy of cars with the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) posters pasted on them arrived.
The visitors asked for a little bit of the players’ time, and after a few minutes of chat in which the PDP chairmanship candidate for Ikpobha Okha local council, Chief Edegbe Ugbobo, sought the support of the footballers, the team was a few thousands of naira and some football kits richer.
It is election season in Edo State once again, as the statewide local government elections arrive. The polls scheduled for Saturday, April 20, 2013 are being held to elect chairmen and councilors into the eighteen local government areas and the several wards of the state.
As it has been in recent elections held in the state, the council polls are largely considered a straight fight between the ruling party in the state, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and the PDP. However, some other parties like the Labour Party are hoping to make inroads in the election.
The council elections could be regarded as a referendum on the charismatic governor of the state Adams Oshiomhole, just a little short of a year after he was unanimously reelected as governor. A key question that would be answered after voting hours is: Do the majority of the people still love his party?
A lot of misgivings within ACN about how candidates have emerged have surfaced. Some party members grumble about what they see as imposition of candidates on the party by the governor. An angry member who spoke on condition of anonymity said: “Oshiomhole is a tricky man. He says he stands for justice, yet he is imposing candidates on the party for the local council elections against the general will of party members.”
This is a theme PDP is harping on, while hoping that disappointments and anger within ACN would lead many of its members swinging to PDP. At a town hall meeting recently at the Ugbekun area in the outskirts of Benin City, a councillorship candidate for the party in ward seven of Ikpobha Okha local council, Godwin Eribo, while imploring the audience to opt for PDP, cited the seeming fracture in the ACN as evidence that it is not a party that upholds justice and fairness after all.
However, the ACN has severally tried to dismiss the allegations of forcing candidates on the party against the general wishes of its members. A party member and public affairs commentator, Nick Osagie, argues that the ACN system of picking candidates for elections is one of consensus among party stakeholders in the state. “Intra-party elections are different from inter-party elections. In ACN we have party leaders who have the mandate to pick candidates who we think best represent the interest of the party,” he says.
Without reliable and official opinion polls available, it is hard to gauge the exact extent of anti-ACN or anti-Oshiomhole feelings. If they are in significant numbers, then the organisational capability of the Edo state Independent Electoral Commission (EDSIEC) to deliver free and fair elections would be very crucial. A tighter race will test the EDSIEC profoundly.
Here then is another test for Oshiomhole. The governor’s popularity over the years has rested firmly on his avowed love and readiness to fight for justice and fair play, especially in ensuring that people’s choices are reflected in the results of elections. People wonder whether he would not unduly influence the organisation of the polls now that he has carried out his constitutional duty of initiating a major electoral process.
A badly organised election which favours the governor’s party would leave him vulnerable to accusations of hypocrisy, given his life-long image as a man of fairness.
EDSIEC, on its part, is publicly expressing confidence that the elections would not go awry. At a public forum recently organised in Benin by Clearview Initiative, a non-governmental organisation, the electoral body’s chairman, Solomon Ogor, said: “We are ready.”
There have already been a myriad of complaints from PDP about what it sees as attempts to rig the elections. There is widespread belief in the party that EDSIEC’s electoral officers are members of ACN. Recently, a PDP chieftain in the state, Matthew Urhogide, raised alarm over the criteria for selecting electoral officers who would be at the polling stations on Election Day. He claimed that EDSIEC’s lists of election officials were “sent to government house” for doctoring by the Edo State Government.
ACN’s secretary in Edo State, Osaro Idah, however dismissed the accusations of bias leveled against his party and EDSIEC. He believes EDSEC “is ready” to organise smooth elections and his party is campaigning well on the dividends of democracy that they have provided for the Edo people so far.
If EDSIEC is plagued by challenges in putting together the polls, it can be argued that it has not been helped by the in-fighting within PDP in some instances. For example, at Ikpoba Okha Local Government Area, two PDP chairmanship candidates (Edegbe Ugbobo and Amos Omoregie) have been engaged in a legal tussle over who is the right representative of the party.
In the midst of these confusions, passions and expectations are high. It remains to be seen what the fate of the local councils, which is the nearest tier of government to the people, would be after the elections. Oshiomhole would be hoping that his image would remain intact.
•Photo shows Governor Oshiomhole.
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