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EDO POLL: THE WINNERS, LOSERS AND LESSONS FOR 2015

By NBF News
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PATRICK OCHOGA reviews Saturday, July 14th governorship election in Edo State and writes that it will remain a reference point in the political history of the state. He looks at the losers and winners in a new development that essentially reframes the local political equation which now has Governor Adams Oshiomhole as the key political driver of that realm. LOUIS ACHI looks at the lessons derivable from the poll for the 2015 general elections.

The just concluded Edo State governorship election is widely perceived as putting to rest raging debates over who is in-charge of the state politically.

The outcome of the Saturday 14th governorship won by the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, has redefined the political permutations, landscape, philosophy and ideologies – including alignments and realignments of forces across the senatorial districts.

Edo Central, the once political strong hold of Chief Tony Anenih, was a no-go area for the ruling Action Congress of Nigeria. It undoubtedly parades prominent political heavy weights  in the country – namely Chief Anthony Anenih, former Board of Trustees (BOT) and chairman of the Nigerian Ports Authority; also a onetime national chairman of the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP); Chief Tom Ikimi, former foreign affairs minister and National Chairman of the National Republican Party (NRC), a present national leader of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN); Minister of Works, Mike Onelemenmen, late elder states man, late Anthony Enahoro, late  Admiral Augustus Aikhomu.

The senatorial districts have produced two governors of the state – late Prof. Ambrose Alli and Prof. OsariemenOsunbor. It also boasts of successful national and international business men, academicians, industrialists and a host of others.

But an analysis of the results showed that all of those who can be considered as political gladiators in the army of the PDP in Edo Central Senatorial District did not have their influence felt at all in the outcome of the results.

The impressive who-is-who in the party lost their polling booths, wards and even their various local government areas to the firing powers of the ACN.

LEADERSHIP SUNDAY recalls that there was so much apprehension and anxiety expressed by key stakeholders in the governorship election that the senatorial district will be the battle ground and a decider of who wins the governorship polls.

The excitement no doubt was occasioned by previous experience of the two main contending political parties in the state, the PDP and ACN, and of course the personality clash of the incumbent state governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole and Chief Tony Anenih popularly referred to as 'Mr Fix It'.

It was a fight of the mighty and events have now shown how the very mighty fell through the ballot box.

Amongst the very prominent leaders that lost out is Chief Tony Anenih who has earned himself the epithet, 'Mr. Fix It' in PDP circles but failed woefully to fix the party's bid to retrieve power for the second consecutive time. This scenario is most likely to bring down the curtain on state's party leadership.

The former chairman of the ruling party's Board of Trustees (BoT) though won his polling unit with one vote but lost his constituency, Uzenema-Arue, Uromi, in Esan North East Local Government Area, hitherto considered a PDP bastion, to the ACN by 1004 votes to ACN's 3,480 votes.

According to a presidency source, Anenih has, by the humiliating result of Saturday's election, lost his leadership position to Oghiadomhe, who is seen as more charismatic, dynamic and likeable but with a questionable leadership character.

Though, Oghiadomhe, the source argued, has never won election in his council judging from the last national elections that were held in the local government, his relationship with the presidency may have informed the decision to consider him for the position of a leader.

'I think we have seen the last of Anenih. He has been defeated yet again in his ward. What this means is that he has lost his leadership position with the PDP in Edo and even at the national level.'

He lamented PDP's heavy reliance on Anenih to wrestle the state from the grip of ACN, which eventually backfired, adding that although Anenih has played frontline roles in reconciliations at the party's national stage, Saturday's unexpectedly resounding loss marked the end of his Edo PDP reign.

It was a disastrous outing for the Chief of Staff to President Jonathan, Mike Oghiadomhe and the state chairman of the party, Chief Dan Orbih who could not salvage the situations in their polling booths, wards and Local government and by extension their senatorial Districts. Chief Oghiadomhe and Dan Orbih are both kin's men from Etsako Central Local Government Area of the state.

It was even more disastrous for the man in eye of the storm, General Charles Airhiavbere, (Rtd) whose story ended on that Saturday evening. Regrettably, the General was there to witness as the curtain closed to put an end to his political ambition for now.

He was said to have walked out of the Garrick School Polling Centre at about 6.15 p.m., head bowed. Whereas the counting of the last ballots in unit 21 of Ward 1, ended at about 7.15 p.m. before the crowd dispersed.

The last voter at Garrick cast her vote about 6.05 pm. The general raised no eyebrow, nor his agents. They were aware that accreditation was behind schedule for more than three hours. Then came the time to count the votes; the voters refused to go away.

They waited patiently and accompanied the polling clerk count the votes, beginning at unit 18 where the General polled 65 as against Oshiomhole's 360. The voters moved to unit 19 and the General against lost.

The drama continued as they moved to unit 20 where the general voted. He again lost, polling 32 votes to Oshiomhole's 257.  Summarily, Airhiarvbere scored 168 votes in his ward while ACN recorded a whopping 1,275 votes.

Meanwhile the event leading to this famous victory for the ACN was concluded by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) after an exercise considered as the freest and fairest contest on Sunday declared the incumbent governor and Action Congress of Nigeria candidate, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole winner in the July 14 Edo State governorship election.

Oshiomhole scored 477,478 votes ahead of the main opposition party candidate; People's Democratic Party (PDP) candidate, General Charles Airhiavbere (Rtd) with a score of 144,235. A breakdown of the results showed the ANPP candidate, Solomon Edebiri polling – 3, 642, Roland Izeobuku of the CPC- 2, 793, while the Labour candidate Mr. Andrew  Igwemoh  scored- 604, giving the NCP candidate , Paul  Orunmwese with a score of  540 and Frank Ukonga of the SDMP- 807 votes.

The returning officer, Professor Osayuki Oshodin, Vice Chancellor of the University of Benin, while announcing the results said that Comrade Adams Oshiomhole candidate of the ACN, having fulfilled the required provision of the electoral law has been declared winner in the Edo state July 14 Governorship election.

He said 'I OsayukiOshodin hereby certify that I was the returning officer for the Edo State governorship election held on the 14th of July, 2012… that Adams Oshiomhole of the ACN having satisfied the requirement of the law and scored the highest number of votes cast is here by declared the winner and hereby returned elected.'

A summary of the result indicates a total number of valid votes of 630,099, number of rejected votes 17, 599, total number of votes cast 647, 698 while total registered voters  are 1, 651, 099.

The ACN polling a total vote cast of 477, 478 won in all eighteen local government areas of the state. Comrade Oshiomhole won overwhelmingly in Edo Central local Government once considered as the PDP strong hold an indication that the grip of former BOT chairman of the PDP, Chief Tony Anenih on the Senatorial district is over.

The announcement which came at about 7.40 am yesterday threw the town into a wide spread jubilation and carnival of sort as residents despised the early morning rains to celebrate the victory. Residents were seen in rapturous mood displaying the broom and singing anti-PDP songs.

For the winner in the election, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole of the ACN, it was a time to do a reappraisal of the events just as it afforded him the opportunity to appreciate some key stakeholders in the exercise.

His victory at the polls according to political analysts and stakeholders in the state has catapulted him to the position of a leader to be consulted in the state.

Not wanting to use the word 'Godfather', observers of the political development in the state opined that with the emergence of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole as governor having defeated Chief Tony Anenih whom was considered as his major opponent, Oshiomhole remains a key rallying point now.

This view also stems from the fact that he remains the only credible and respected selfless person who fought for the emancipation of the people of the state by letting the people lead.

Addressing a world press conference at the festival hall, government house Benin City, Oshiomhole cautioned the electoral body to be cautious of some corrupt officers within the employment of the commission.

He further used the opportunity to show olive branch to a man whom he considered as 'the brain behind the underdevelopment of the state' Chief Tony Anenih, just as he dedicated the victory to Edo people.

According to him ''Let me begin by congratulating the people of Edo State, for being able for the very first time express their choice for the office of the governor of Edo State without the usual style of snatching of ballot boxes, thuggery and violent that characterizes the previous election.

It is clear that when people are sure of security, Nigerians, Edo people inclusive are clear that there is no alternative to democracy. I therefore believe that this victory is theirs because in a genuine democracy the people are actually the winners''

'The task now is for us to build on this and ensure that never again will anyone who is not elected, never again will anyone who is not a free choice of the people be imposed by any one for any political position''

'My impression about the election; I was very hard on INEC because I felt and I remain convinced that INEC cannot be excused for not being able to deliver voting materials to poling booths at a time designed by themselves given the fact that this was just a one state election and upon the all assurances we were given and knowing fully well that the materials were delivered from CBN to INEC office. There is no justifiable course Why INEC failed the people of Edo South by not delivering materials on time.'

He stated further that, 'I believe the resident electoral commissioner demonstrated a uncommon quality of leadership, he showed commitment to his duty and service to his father land.

I have no doubt in my mind that he conducted himself very respectably; the challenge however is that in the course of trying to ensure effective supervision of the election some of the people posted to Edo State are people who cannot be considered as proper persons to be posted to any sensitive national assignment because their lack of uprightness and level of integrity.'

'For all those people who have presided over elections that have been nullified by court of law there is no moral basis to keep them in INEC. For as long as we have those elements in INEC we are going to have the kind of things that happened yesterday morning.

'I believe Prof. Jega made the error of judgment in deploying Mr. IsmealIgbani, INEC commissioner  South-South, an officer and someone who has the history of presiding  over several rigged elections in this sub-region including Edo State in 2007 and therefore I hold Professor Jega responsible for this poor error of judgment  because he assured us that he will take full responsibility for the people he has selected, he cannot claim ignorance to that fact that Igbani has presided over elections that has been rigged in this sub-region and he ought to have resisted the temptation of asking him to supervise the election in Edo State.'

'So I believe IsmhealIgbani was responsible for these delays and it is line with his character and his disposition to electoral malpractices and I want to appeal to Professor Jega to save his own name by not deploying corrupt men like Ismheal to conduct elections, no matter where the pressure is coming from.

He must understand that whatever INEC does or fails to do, in the final analyses the buck stops at his desk. He must take full responsibility for the conduct and the misconduct of INEC officers.'

Speaking on the significances of his victory, an obviously elated governor said 'For the very first time Edo South, North and Central spoke in unity, which shows that all the efforts by some persons to whip up ethnic sentiments has been rebuked by the people of Edo State and I believe this will go a long way to sharpen future elections in this state; no one will contest election purely on the basis of ethic sentiments'' Edo people via their judgment has identified the people who were responsible for the kind of politics that characterized the state for a long time .'

Extending olive branches to some prominent stakeholders in state, particularly with a man now referred to 'former Mr. Fix It', Chief Anthony Anenih, the governor said 'I call on them to work with me. There is enough space for everyone and together we will take Edo to the next level.

'But let me put it on record that I appreciate him as an elder of our state who deserves respect from all of us. Of course the challenge of democracy includes battle of ideas and because it includes battle of ideas, sometimes the luxury of being too nice may not be present.

But let me assure him and all our people I appreciate you, I will continue to respect you even in the face of our fundamental differences in our political ideologies. He remains an elder of this land and he deserves our respect,' he said

However one among several factors that may have earned him the victory has to do with the people's perceptions about the act of governance.

It is agreed in some quarters that as a man who believes in persuasions and propaganda, Oshiomhole has been able to paint the major opposition party and its entire closest political rival in the state, the PDP, as evil and dictators. The outcome of the elections results perhaps shows that the people have bought into this perception, hook, line and sinker.

Again, this is not to undermine the role the traditional institutions among others played to ensure the victory of the Comrade Governor. For instance the Traditional institution was debilitating for Airhiavbere and the PDP and an extreme boost for Oshiomhole and the ruling Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) led government in the state.

Never a time in the history of the state has any traditional institution be so forceful in an open endorsement for a political party or candidate. From the Edo South to Central and North Senatorial districts, all traditional institutions were unanimous in their decision on the choice of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole as the anointed Oracle.

From the voice of Otaru of Auchi, Ikelebe 111, in Edo North whose stands was that the senatorial district will not accepts anything less than that office of the governor, through the Edo Senatorial districts and that which seemed to have climaxed the endorsement in the palace of the Oba of Benin, in Edo South.

Though there was mixed reactions from some sections of the society about the involvement of the traditional institutions in the political affairs of the state but the body language of these traditional rulers earlier simply attested to the fact that the oracles have spoken and the people decided along that line.

Lessons For 2015…
Certainly not a perfect outing, but the emerging perception amongst a wide variety of stakeholders and observers is that the Edo poll represents one of the best held in Nigeria in recent times.

As it were, the nation's intrigues-laden political space, civilisation suddenly became a work in quantifiable progress when the governorship election successfully held in thestate.

In the poll defined by gripping political drama, justifiable fears of violence spawned by the customary Machiavellian intrigues of the key opposition in the state – the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) – winners and losers emerged.

Incumbent Governor Adams Oshiomhole of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) was declared winner by Prof. OsayukiOshodi, the Independent National Election Commission's returning officer at exactly 7.40 am yesterday.

With votes counted from 18 local governments areas in Edo State, Oshiomhole garnered 477, 478 votes. His main rival, Major General Charles Airhiavbere (ret.) of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), scored 144,235 votes.

Oshiohmole's landslide victory has several novel dimensions. Perhaps a most significant feature of ACN's July 14 triumph is seen as a final proof of the political eclipse of ChiefAnthony Anenih, a foremost kingmaker in that political realm and former chair of the PDP's board of trustees.

By soundly defeating retired Major General Charles Airhiavbere, a formidable candidate hand-picked by Anenih, even in the duo's wards signals the long reign of 'Mr. Fix it' has ended.

The second is that even President Goodluck Jonathan's influence, after having campaigned personally for his party's flag-bearer in Benin City counted for little.The massive deployment of thousands of soldiers to major towns in Edo State on the president's order hardly deflatedthe electorate's passion as they trooped out and exercised their rights.

The third is that his victory sharply contradicts notions that electoral triumphs are unconnected to performance, a flawed construct that has held sway in many political arenas – from state to national levels - for too long.

It demonstrates that elected public officials who perform excellently like Governor Oshiomhole did, should habour no fears about been reelected.

What transpired in Edo State on Saturday also sends the strongest signals to Nigerians that they can indeed come and vote and ensure that their votes are not trifled or tampered with.

This represents the substance of what retired General Buhari of the Congress for Political Change (CPC) has consistently preached - and often mischievously misread. The responsibility of voters goes beyond voting and returning home. They must ensure that their choices are not altered illegally.

Another important point worth noting is that the electoral umpire rose to the occasion. Despite the warts and pimples, INEC must be saluted for their role in ensuring that a legitimate process played out and produced an outcome accepted by the people. The security agencies, notwithstanding the initial reservations about their brief, must also be commended for their role.

On July 14, one-man-one-vote played out and produced a populist result. This model clearly recommends itself as a benchmark for the 2015 general elections.

These positives are now seen as the minimum standards that can guide the 2015 general elections.The emerging consensus is that when voters vote and also protect their choices from being manipulated, genuine electoral outcomes can eventually replace the impunities of the past.