THERE is desperation in the political space of Edo State. Blackmail and intimidation have been freely deployed against public policy and legal obligation in order to gain what vested interests might have taken as electoral advantage.
The critical victim of this extreme measure is the Continuous Voter Registration, CVR, in the State that is provided for in law to take place ahead of the scheduled July 14, 2012 governorship election, and which the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, has unilaterally suspended until after the election.
No one, not even the Commission, has contradicted the claim by the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, that the decision by the Commission to suspend the exercise was not done in consultations with the political stakeholders in the State.
Although the decision was announced by Professor Attahiru Jega in his opening remarks at a meeting with the stakeholders on Friday, May 18, 2012 in Abuja, one is still at a loss why Jega did not make it an agenda issue for discussion so that a consensus could be reached on it towards reaching an acceptable decision.
That development is what has continued to question the propriety of the Commission's decision. Shouldn't the Commission have sounded out the political stakeholders and weighed their positions against the provisions of the Electoral Act?
In fact, rather than douse the tension and "the charged political atmosphere and the serious threat to law and order" as claimed by the Commission, the decision to suspend the exercise until after the election has now created a potential legal basis for disadvantaged parties to proceed against the outcome of the election.
The point must be made that the Commission, in unilaterally taking the decision to suspend the critical pre-election prerequisite, would appear to have pandered to the whimsical strategy of Oshiomhole of making the wild allegation of a plot by the PDP and the Commission to manipulate the voters registration.
He did not stop at making the unsubstantiated allegation; he had also mobilised protesters to march on and lay siege to the INEC office in Benin. In that process, a death was recorded and several people were injured. But significantly, an INEC official was manhandled, beaten and recorded on camera for being in possession of Direct Data Capture Machines, DDMCs.
Oshiomhole's claim was that the man, acting the script of the PDP, had been secretly registering fake voters ahead of the commencement of the exercise. He had latched on the "arrest" of the INEC official to reinforce his party, Action Congress of Nigeria, allegation the previous day, Sunday, May 13, 2012, that the PDP and the Commission had perfected a plot at a meeting in Abuja to mutilate the Edo voter register.
The allegation by Oshiomhole with regards to the apprehended INEC official with DDC machines was treated by the Commission as very critical even though it did not rush to make a statement about it. Initially, I had thought there was a quiet concert between Oshiomhole and Jega, perhaps because of their union background, to allow the Comrade- Governor run rings round the PDP, put the party on the spot and succeed in demonizing it.
Certain actions and inactions had given rise to this notion. For instance, why did Jega unilaterally announce the suspension of the CVR without allowing the matter to be discussed first at the stakeholders' meeting? Why did he shy away at the meeting from mentioning the siege to the INEC office in Benin by Oshiomhole and his co-protesters comprised of drivers and ruffians?
It is possible that the Commission was at the point, when it appeared to be vacillating, yet to be availed with the outcome of its investigations into the incident. The silence of the Commission while the investigations lasted was quite worrisome. It had tended to give credence to Oshiomhole's allegation of criminal complicity between the Commission and the PDP. But now, not anymore!
The Commission has now come up
with an official statement, which was published as paid advertorial in, at least, three national newspapers (Vanguard, The Nation and Saturday Sun all of May 26, 2012) wherein it confirmed that the official allegedly manhandled by Oshiomhole and his co-protesters was in its employ and how he happened to be in legitimate possession of two DDC machines as of the time he was apprehended near INEC office in Benin on Monday, May 14, 2012.
The statement signed by the Commission's Secretary, Abdullahi A. Kaugama said that the "person allegedly caught with the DDCM is a bona fide staff of INEC. He is an Assistant Executive Officer at the Igueben Local Government Area office of the Commission". The Commission said: "He duly signed for, and collected two DDCMs and other training materials from the ICT Unit of the INEC State Office in Benin City for the training of National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, members and INEC staff shortlisted to serve as Assistant Registration Officers, AROs, during the CVR exercise."
Determined to fully account and expose Oshiomhole's dishonesty and desperate political antics, the Commission had further stated that: "He (official) had used the DDCMs and other materials for training the officers drawn from three Local Government Areas, namely: (i) Esan North, (ii)Esan Southeast, and (iii) Igueben. The training started on Friday, May 11th and ran till late on Saturday, May 12, 2012, at the Local Government Council Hall in Uromi, Esan North East Local Government Area.
"Similar training held at Fugar (for Etsako Central, and Etsako East), Auchi (Etsako West and Akoko Edo), Afuze (Owan East and Owan West), Abusu (Orhionmwon and Uhunmwonde), Ekpoma (Esan West and Esan Central), Okada (Ovia South West and Ovia North East) and benin City (Oredo, Ikpoba Okha and Egor)".
According to the Commission: "Investigations showed that he was returning with the DDCMs to the INEC state office in Benin City at about 8.10 am on Monday, May 14th, when he ran into protesters who had laid siege on the entrance to the premises. Apparently sensing danger from the protesters, he was advised by some co-staff to take shelter for a while in the adjoining Court of Appeal premises, where the protesters eventually tracked him down and manhandled him. Forensic examination of the DDCMs found with him revealed the data of only a handful of corps members who were registered with the machines, apparently as part of the training practical(s)".
But while I commend the painstaking efforts by the Commission to put the lie to Oshiomhole's claim and thus expose his dishonesty, I still believe that the decision to suspend the Continuous Voters Registration until after the election is patently wrong and unjustifiable, especially in the face, letter and spirit of Section 9(5) of the Electoral Act as amended in 2010.
By that decision, the Commission had, because of Oshiomhole's unsubstantiated allegations, shenanigans, morbid fear and desperation, disenfranchised thousands of Edo people and residents who have turned 18 years since after the last registration/election in the State from being captured and accommodated in a register that would have been updated for use during the July 14, 2012 governorship election.
Is Edo State sitting on a tinderbox because of this massive and widespread disenfranchisement occasioned by the CVR suspension? Is a potential conflict due to the inherent infraction of the electoral law brewing? Time will tell.
How the disenfranchised persons, political parties and the Commission will react to this breach of the provision of the Electoral Act if the issue goes into the judiciary arena for litigation.
Mr. JOHN AINOFENOKHAI, a political analyst, wrote from Benin, Edo State.