The crisis between Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State and his estranged godfather, Adams Oshiomhole has taken a dangerous dimension with both men resorting to self-help in the build up to the September 19 Gubernatorial Election in the State. The Nigeria Police Force, NPF and the Independent Electoral Commission, INEC will eventually play decisive roles in determining who becomes the ultimate winner of what began as an Ego war but has now snowballed into a major dog fight with many casualties and more to come.
The two institutions can either play the roles of unbiased umpire, as enshrined in the constitution, or become interested parties in the crisis, as dictated by the strong men in the corridors of power. Whatever the NPF and INEC decide will have far reaching consequences on the polity with reverberations beyond Benin City.
Of course INEC, NPF and other security agencies are aware that the war is already simmering and the battle line has been joined. On Thursday August 6, 2020 17 members of the Edo State House of Assembly who are loyalists of Oshiomhole, who lost the Chairmanship of the All Progressives Congress as a result of the roiling Crisis, met in an undisclosed location and effected a change in the leadership of the House of Assembly. Fearing a rumoured impeachment gambit, the Governor’s camp directed an immediate renovation of the Assembly. Workmen ostensibly carrying out instructions from above, stormed the assembly, removed its roof and dumped mountains of gravel all around. This was to prevent reconvening of the assembly. The house of Assembly is one of the major casualties of the ongoing war.
It’s obvious that physical violence may become the order of the day in the days ahead making the Conduct of the Election difficult and arduous in such an environment. INEC, NPF and other security agencies should not be caught napping. They should be mapping out strategy on how to ensure that the Election process is not sabotaged in any way or by brute force. The events of August 6 clearly showed that the two camps will attempt to win the election at all costs with mainly foul means. They are ready for war with their supporters already baying for blood.
It is sad that after 20 years of constitutional democracy, the main actors still do not believe in resolution of crisis through the rule of law. When there are disagreements the court of law should be the next resort and not the streets. Oshiomhole and his protégé, Osagie Ize-Iyamu, who snatched the ticket of the APC from the incumbent Governor, and Obaseki the flagbearer of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP are speaking the language of the streets and violence and their supporters are decoding it.
It is also sad that both camps in the crisis are putting the lives of the people at risk of the COVID-19 pandemic as they mobilize them and encourage them to fight their personal wars without social distancing and other safety precautions. Governance has taken a back seat with politicking and fight for power taking over in Edo State. In the ongoing campaigns there is no attempt to discuss issues and policies. It’s personal attacks, cheap shots, ego trips and call to arms all the way. The tension in Edo State is now palpable with fear and trepidation all round.
The gladiators in Edo State should Sheath their swords and allow peace to prevail. Those who feel aggrieved in any way or form should stop the recourse to brute force and self-help. They should approach the courts to seek redress. They should detoxify the environment so that the election of September 19 can run smoothly.
However it is almost certain that the two camps will not heed the voice of reason. And this is where INEC, NPF and other security agencies come in. The security agencies, especially the Nigeria Police Force should be very professional in its activities in Edo State. There shouldn’t be any attempt to support any side in the crisis. The leadership of the police force must use Edo State to demonstrate that it is the people’s force and its actions should be guided by rule of law and the Constitution of the country.
The Independent Electoral Commission, INEC will drown or swim with the Election in Edo State. It will be benchmarked by the success or failure in Edo State. This is an opportunity for INEC to garnish its reputation with respectability. It should display fairness, neutrality and openness. The Election should be run in such a way that everybody including the main gladiators, internal and external observers and generality of Nigerians will adjudged it as free and fair.
The votes of the people must count and should determine the winner of the Election. If INEC bungles the Edo Election by allowing the political gladiators to stifle the voice of the people and render their votes inconsequential, the effect will be catastrophic not just for Edo State but for Nigeria.
NPF and INEC must be apolitical before, during and after the elections. That’s the only way to prevent the looming anarchy in Edo State.
Adebanjo, former Editor, Politics, TELL Magazine sent this piece via [email protected]