A News Analysis by Emmanuel Oloniruha, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)
Unarguably, peaceful and credible elections are essential tools for democracy to thrive.
Political analysts believe that peaceful and credible polls stimulate positively on the people, the economy, democracy and good governance.
They, however, identified the broad consequences of electoral violence to include diminished trust in democratic processes and institutions, undermined civil and political rights, ranging from disfranchisement through deprivation of citizens’ or groups’ rights to vote and be voted for.
While the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has, at different occasions, expressed its preparedness and determination to ensure that the Saturday Edo governorship election is credible, the commission, like every other stakeholders, has also not held back its worries about issue of violence in the state election.
With the reports of violence and attacks that characterised campaigns of political parties as well as “unguarded utterances by some political actors involved in the Edo election, INEC had in August, threatened to suspend the election process if the actions of political actors lead to a breakdown of law and order.
INEC National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Mr Festus Okoye, announcing the threat, said that the commission had observed with deep concern, the escalating levels of violent actions and incendiary statements by political parties, candidates and their supporters, in the run up to the elections.
“These actions include destruction of opponents’ campaign materials such as billboards, violent campaigns and use of offensive language.
“It is important for political parties, candidates and their supporters to keep in mind that there are extant laws and regulations that must be adhered to, during campaigns.
“The commission will not shirk its responsibility to enforce the rules of the game.
“Consequently, parties and candidates must, on no account, underestimate the resolve of the commission to enforce the rules and regulations and apply appropriate sanctions against those who choose to break them.
Okoye said that political parties must realise that Edo and Ondo State governorship elections are taking place at a time of a global pandemic and the commission will work to observe and comply with all health and safety protocols issued by the commission and health authorities.
He said that with the pandemic taking its toll on the citizenry, the people of Edo and Ondo State must be saved from the burden of violent elections.
“Political parties must remember that Edo and Ondo State governorship elections have strict constitutional and statutory timelines and threats of violence or actual violence can disrupt those timelines and create a constitutional crisis,’’ Okoye said.
However, observers have commended various interventions and moves put in place to engender peace before, during and after the state elections.
Few of these interventions include stakeholders meetings organised by the INEC, Civil Society Organisations and, most important, the peace meeting organised among political parties and their candidates by the Oba of Benin, Omo N’Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, Oba Ewuare II, as well as the signing of peace pact organised by the National Peace Committee (NPC).
The meeting of Oba with candidates and leaders of political parties in his palace in Benin on Sept. 2 sued for peace and urged them to emulate the action of former President Goodluck Jonathan in 2015 when he lost to President Muhammadu Buhari.
The monarch, noting that elections are not a do-or-die affair, said politicians must note that they have only Edo to call their own and, thus, must do everything to protect it from disintegration.
“Edo politics have been in the news for quite some time now for all the wrong reasons. We have sleepless nights for quite sometimes now because these are all our people; these are people of the same stock, from the same body. There is nobody that is a stranger to each other,’’ Oba Ewuare said.
In another move to ensure that the Saturday election is peaceful, the NPC, led by its chairman and former Head of State, Gen. Abdulsalam Abubakar, on Tuesday, made the candidates for the election to sign a peace accord with pledge to abide by the rules and regulations as stipulated in the electoral law.
Abubakar, who said “Edo deserved peace’’, noted the NPC was in Edo to support this process, and not just signing the peace accord by all candidates but to encourage all to accept the result no matter the outcome.
“As you are aware, since 1999, every election in Nigeria has been conducted with various degree of violence.
“The tension and anxiety associated with election necessitated the setting up of the NPC who is to support peaceful election process and enthrone culture of peace.
“The gubernatorial election in Edo is only a few days away and we want peace during and after the election.
“We want to see Nigeria as a place where people come out peacefully during election and cast their votes without deprivation, intimidation and coercion.”
Abubakar said that by signing the peace accord, the candidates were committing themselves to ensure that peace reign in Nigeria and Edo before, during and after the election, reminding them that violators of the accord would put their integrity on the line.
He said while INEC had assured Nigerians of its readiness for credible election in Edo, it behoved on the people to do the right thing by desisting from selling their votes, vote buying, selling their rights, conscience and freedom.
Abubakar called on all stakeholders to use the Edo election as a test for future elections in the country.
The Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto and the co-convener of NPC, Most Rev. Matthew Kukah, urged the candidates not to see the signing of the accord as a mere ceremony, but to ensure peace.
INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, commending the efforts of the NPC, reiterated the commission’s commitment to conduct credible election in Edo.
Yakubu said that the ultimate objective of INEC was to ensure that the choice of who becomes the next governor of Edo would be in the hands of the voters.
“The commission shall not take any action to the advantage or disadvantage of any political party or candidate.
“Our focus is on our processes and procedures. Nothing more,’’ he said.
Yakubu said that the commission was also aware of the concern expressed in some quarters about the neutrality of INEC staff, in particular, the ad-hoc staff engaged for election duty.
“We have heard allegations that some ad-hoc staff were recruited in such a manner as to compromise the election.
“In response, the commission deployed two national commissioners who reviewed the process for strict compliance with the guidelines for such recruitment.
“I want to assure you that all categories of ad-hoc staff have been vetted.
“The integrity of the process will not be compromised and there will be no partisan infiltration.
Yakubu appealed to all political parties, candidates and their supporters for peaceful conduct, assuring them that their votes would count.’’
He said that INEC was determined that no one would benefit from impunity or rewarded for bad behaviour such as vote-buying, ballot box snatching and stuffing, multiple voting, hijacking and diversion of election materials, disruption of collation, falsification of results, attack on INEC officials or compelling them to declare unofficial results.
The Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, who had deployed 30,000 police personnel for the election, said that Edo would experience the best-conducted exercise in the country.
Adamu, represented by the Deputy Inspector-General of Police in charge of Research and Planning, Adeleye Oyebade, advised the candidates to go back to speak with all their supporters about the accord that they had signed.
Adamu assured the public that the police would remain professional in ensuring that the election was peaceful.
On his part, the incumbent, who is the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governorship candidate, Gov. Godwin Obaseki, assured the electorate that he was fully committed to the contents of the accord as well ensuring that the election was violence-free.
The governor urged the peace committee to ensure that the political actors would not only sign the accord, but to persuade them to see the need to ensure peace in the state.
The All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, Mr Osagie Ize-iyamu, promised to talk to his supporters to conduct themselves in a manner to achieve peaceful poll.
“We will do our best to ensure that the election is peaceful.
“We support free, fair and credible elections. We believe that is the only way that we can sustain our democracy.
“We want to assure all our dignitaries that, by the grace of God, the election is going to be very peaceful. We thank you and we are grateful,” Ize-Iyamu said.
A member of YIAGA Africa’s board, Ezenwa Nwagu, described the accord as necessary, following the previous narrative that suggested the drums of war in the election.
Nwagu expressed optimism that next Edo governor emerge would through credible and peaceful election.
While elections are seen as the largest administrative undertakings in democratic societies with a major financial burden on all stockholders, political actors should know that the consequences of electoral violence are enormous on the government, the society and the people, some analysts note.
All are, therefore, expected to promote peace in Edo as election-related violence will not only squander available resources but cause destruction of communities and infrastructure with negative economic and development impacts on the nation.