The Edo State Independent Electoral Commission declares all candidates of the ruling All Progressives Congress winners of the rescheduled local government election in Esan North-East even when collation was still going on
By ADEKUNBI ERO
In the early hours of last week Wednesday, anarchy reigned at Uromi, headquarters of Esan North-East Local Government, LG, area of Edo State as protests greeted the outcome of elections into chairmanship and councillorship positions in the LG council. There was eruption of violence as rival political groups unleashed mayhem on each other and caused massive destruction to public properties.
The secretariats of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and the All Progressives Congress, APC, were reportedly vandalised by irate mobs in counter-attacks. Edo State Independent Electoral Commission, EDSIEC, had declared APC candidates as winners of the chairmanship and 11 councillorship seats in the LG, resulting in protests by angry PDP members. John Yakubu, chairmanship candidate of the PDP, confirmed to the magazine that there were “serious protests” by his party men but stated that they did not attack APC secretariat.
Uromi became a theatre of political war, with the ruling APC and the PDP locked in a fierce battle for the control of the council. For the PDP therefore, last week Tuesday’s election was a case of thrice beaten, thrice shy. Elections were being held in Esan North-East LG for the third time since April 20, 2013 when LG elections were conducted into all the 18 LG councils in the state.
In spite of controversies that trailed the conduct and outcome of the election which results were rejected by all opposition parties (before the merger that produced the APC), Governor Adams Oshiomhole hurriedly swore in the 17 candidates of the party declared by EDSIEC as winners. He contemptuously challenged those crying foul to go to court. But the governor was bent on controlling the 18 LGs. The campaign slogan of the ruling party was “18 over 18.” For the ruling party however, Esan North-East had posed a hard nut to crack, hence the election had to be rescheduled twice. Tony Anenih, chairman, Board of Trustees of the PDP; Mike Onolememen, works minister; Friday Itulah, member, House of Representatives; Frank Ebewele; and Matthew Egbadon, former speaker, Edo State House of Assembly, among others, all hail from Uromi.
And given the ego war between Anenih and Oshiomhole, nothing would satisfy the governor more than conquering Anenih’s territory, no matter what it takes. At the first attempt on April 20, elections into the LGs had to be shifted due to protests by the people over late arrival of election materials at the polling centres, which the PDP believed was deliberate. Materials did not get to many polling stations at Uromi until around 2 to 3 pm. Voting in four councils where elections were either not held or conclusive was rescheduled for April 24, 2013. However, the election officer, EO, and the returning officer for Esan North-East reportedly absconded when it became obvious that the PDP had won. To the chagrin of the people, EDSIEC eventually declared the election as inconclusive and annulled the results announced at the various polling units.
Since the annulment, it took EDSIEC and the state government another six months to reschedule the election in spite of outcry by the people that they were being denied democratic governance at the grassroots level. Yakubu had boasted that even if the election were held hundred times he would win because of his past performance in the council. Unfortunately, it is the same old story. While collation was still going on at Uromi, EDSIEC was announcing results in Benin.
Solomon Ogor, EDSIEC chairman, announced the results before 8 pm whereas as at 10.30 pm, all the 11 returning officers were still at the collation centre at Uromi. Folusho Adebanjo, state commissioner of police; Bello Bakalori, state director, State Security Service; and the leadership of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps were also around to ensure security while the results were being collated. But like what happened before, the EO again reportedly absconded, making it impossible to announce the results. Interestingly, results had been announced at the various polling units and wards where EDSIEC officials issued certificates of return to those elected, all of them PDP. In fact, as at 6 pm when the magazine left Uromi, voting was still going on in some polling centres while all the EDSIEC officials were still on ground.
In the results announced by Ogor, Sam Oboh, chairmanship candidate of the ruling party, won with 12,672 votes as against Yakubu’s 3,314 votes. But rejecting the results, Dan Orbih, state chairman of the PDP, declared unequivocally that the PDP candidates indeed won the elections going by the results officially endorsed by EDSIEC officials who presided over the election at the various polling units and wards. He said Yakubu won the election by 11,212 votes against Oboh’s 6,143 votes. Orbih said all his party’s candidates also won the 11 councillorship seats in the council, reeling off respective figures for the parties’ candidates. Brandishing the result sheets before newsmen, he asked journalists to crosscheck the results from all the security chiefs whom he said had copies as endorsed by the EDSIEC officials. He said the results as announced by Ogor “have no bearing whatsoever with the actual results that were announced by the various polling units’ presiding officers and the actual results announced at the collation centres by their own appointed returning officers.”
He said the only thing that was left was for the returning officer for the LG and the EO to collate the results as declared by the returning officer in every ward and forward to Ogor for announcement.
But during the swearing in of Oboh last Wednesday, Oshiomhole accused the Nigeria Police of aiding the PDP in ballot box snatching, supervising electoral fraud and intimidating voters during the elections.
The police had arrested about 22 suspected thugs who had attempted to disrupt the election in Ward 5. Among those arrested was a councillorship candidate of the ruling party in Ward 8, Ehis Agbujie, who along with other political thugs assaulted some journalists, including this reporter whose digital camera was seized for taking the picture of four women who claimed to be EDSIEC officials but suspected to be on a less than patriotic mission. Other journalists assaulted and harassed were Banji Aluko of The Tribune, Jethro Ibileke of The News magazine and Gabriel Enogholase of the Vanguard. Agbujie also forced this reporter and Aluko to produce their cell phones and ran through them with the intention of deleting the pictures of the women suspected to have been taken. And when this reporter’s camera was returned last Wednesday at the state police headquarters in Benin, the pictures of the women had been deleted.
Like in Esan North-East, EDSIEC also declared all APC councillorship candidates winners of by-elections held in Ward 9, Ovia North-East LG and Isi Ward in Uhunmwode LG. With the crisis now rocking Esan North-East LG arising from the opposition’s protest, the last word has definitely not been heard about the macabre political drama playing out in the state.