By SIMON EBEGBULEM
Governor Adams Oshiomhole conducted his first local government council elections in Edo State penultimate Saturday. Elections into the 18 local government councils of the state had not held since he was sworn-in in 2008, due to legal issues the state government had with former members of the Edo State Independent National Electoral Commission (EDSIEC).
Expectations on the polls were high due to the personality of the governor and his one man one vote mantra. Whereas many PDP controlled states including Bayelsa held local government elections recently and the opposition parties didn’t win any seat, people were watching with keen interest whether the Comrade Governor will follow suit or he will conduct free and fair local government elections that may see the opposition PDP in Edo winning a seat
or two. After inaugurating the Solomon Ogoi-led EDSIEC, the state government mobilized funds for it and tasked the commission to ensure free and fair elections.
The two major political parties in the state, the ACN and the PDP, commenced campaigns but the ACN campaign was more visible. Oshiomhole led the ACN campaign in the 18 local government councils while the PDP was only visible in Ovia North East, Esan North East and Etsako Central.
Initially there were arguments as to whether the PDP should boycott the elections after the humiliating defeat it suffered in the hands of the Oshiomhole ACN in the July 14, 2012 governorship election in the state. However, the party, led by Chief Dan Orbih, expressed the desire to go into the contest and called for free and fair elections.
When the ACN held its primaries ahead of the elections, there were disagreements in some local government councils over the choice of candidates anointed by the leaders. The leadership of the ACN agreed they were adopting the consensus approach to avoid a contentious party primaries that may polarize the
party. But there were areas where the leaders did not agree and the aggrieved ones were only waiting on the day of election to punish their party. Sensing the problem that may arise, Oshiomhole made frantic efforts to reconcile aggrieved members before the elections, but he made about seventy per cent success.
For instance the governor had issues with a leader of the ACN in his Etsako West, Alhaji Usman Shagadi, who opposed the governor’s chairmanship choice of Kadiri Hassan and insisted on Shuiabu Elamah. But majority of the leaders agreed on Hassan; Shagadi and a member of the Federal House of Representatives, Abubakar Momoh, were not happy with that decision.
While the parties were strategizing for the elections, the EDSIEC made arrangement to print the election materials in London to avoid a situation where it would leak before the polls. The PDP raised the alarm that the EDSIEC had concluded plans to write the result of the LG polls at the Government House, Benin-City. Though the idea to print the ballot papers abroad was laudable, the EDSIEC ran into trouble when they had problems flying the materials from Lagos to Benin-City.
Sunday Vanguard learnt that it was the Friday President Goodluck Jonathan visited Lagos for a function and therefore the Lagos airport was briefly shut to commercial flights. As a result, they decided to move the materials by road to Benin that Friday night and they arrived Benin at about 5:30am Saturday, the election day. That was how the late arrival of election materials marred the exercise in the 18 local government
councils. People who came out in large numbers started casting their votes at about 1pm.
As a matter of fact, aggrieved ACN members in Auchi, the governor’s area, capitalized on the EDSIEC lapse and started making trouble when Oshiomhole went there to find out whether materials had arrived after casting his vote in Iyanomo. The ACN members started throwing stones at the governor’s convoy. An ACN lawmaker was said to have been arrested. But the situation was brought under control by security operatives.
The elections went peacefully in most councils, but the late arrival of materials stalled the exercise in Esan North East, Chief Tony Anenih’s domain, and Esan West. PDP members in the areas insisted that the elections could not go on since the materials arrived late thereby forcing the EDSIEC to shift the exercise to Wednesday.
The elections in Oredo and Ikpoba were also moved to Thursday because materials for the councillorship were not printed. At the end of the exercise, the ACN won in 17 local governments; the result of Esan North East was being awaited at the time of this report. It was learnt that the EDSIEC had issues with some results which were said to have been recorded by the police where Returning Officers were said to have bolted away due to the activities of thugs.
Sunday Vanguard observed that the crisis that ensued in most areas were ACN fighting themselves and not necessarily the PDP fighting the ACN because the PDP was over whelmed. Like in the ward of the chairman of the PDP, Chief Dan Orbih, the ACN lost the councillorship position due to the fact that some leaders of the party in that area said the candidate was imposed on them. The Chief of Staff to the President, Chief Mike Oghiadohme, lost his to the ACN.
But the Edo PDP kicked against the entire result, describing the exercise as a charade. They called for the cancellation of the polls just as they called on the governor to resign. The youths of the PDP, on Tuesday, stormed the Ring Road, Benin-City, protesting the swearing in of the 14 ACN chairmen who won their elections. The protest grounded activities in Benin City for over two hours and tension heightened when the ACN youths stormed the King’s Square, commending Oshiomhole and the EDSIEC for organizing free and fair elections.
Tony Kabaka, who led the ACN youths, said: “This is the first time we are having local government elections in this state. When the PDP was there for ten years, they only wrote the names at Government House and announce to us. We will resist any attempt to destroy the image of the Comrade Governor. The PDP thinks.
Orbih called for the sack of the entire members of the EDSIEC, alleging that they connived with the ACN leadership to make result sheets unavailable. The chairman of the ACN, Thomas Okosun, debunked the claim, saying the PDP was never prepared for the elections. According to him, the PDP never campaigned for the polls.
The Coalition of Registered Political Parties (CRPP) in Edo, and a political group in the state, Edo is in Safe Hands, commended the EDSIEC for the conduct of the election but advised that they should improve in future elections. State chairman of the CRPP, Dr Samson Isibor, said: “ We want to commend the governor and the EDSIEC because this election is the freest and fairest we have ever witnessed in this state. When the PDP was in government in the state, we never held any local government election and that is why we are surprised that they are protesting..”
On his part, Edo State chairman of Edo In Safe Hands, Washington Osifo, admonished the PDP to distinguish Oshiomhole from the EDSIEC, saying the party should not castigate “a man who has always acted and is still acting with the provisions of the law and constitution of the Federal Republic.
He added, “Therefore, we will resist any attempt by any group or party to distract the Comrade Governor. As a mass based organization with structures across the length and breath of the state, we hereby place all structures at alert. Anyone trying to foment trouble will meet the wrath of the people. We are appealing to everyone to follow the path of peace in the interest of our state.”
Speaking on behalf of the new local government chairmen at their swearing-in, on Monday, Mrs Lucy Omagbon, Chairman Ovia North East Local Government Area, assured that they would work to ensure the development of their local government areas.
Oshiomhole, at the occasion, apologised for the late arrival of materials for the polls and condemned the PDP’s attack on his government.
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