AFTER almost three months of campaigns laced with violence, mud-slinging and exchange of brick-bats among the major contenders, there is tension in Edo State as the governorship election holds tomorrow.
No fewer than 35,000 security personnel, including 31,000 policemen, have been deployed to ensure safe and credible exercise.
Some stakeholders, yesterday, harped on the need for an election devoid of rigging and violence.
Indeed, there was tight security around the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, Benin City, for the better part of yesterday which caused gridlock at Ring Road, the City Centre and adjoining roads, including Airport Road, Sakponba Road, Sapele Road, Akpakpava Road and others.
As the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, commenced movement of sensitive electoral materials, which arrived on Wednesday evening, a police Armoured Personnel Carrier, APC, was parked at the entrance of the Bank. Only journalists with identity cards were allowed into the premises to witness the movement of sensitive materials.
At the time of filing this report, 11 trucks had been loaded and driven out of the CBN premises while the dispatching exercises continued. Of the 2,210,534 registered voters, only 1,735,910, who collected their permanent Voter's Cards, PVCs, are eligible to vote in tomorrow's election.
Distribution of sensitive election materials
Addressing Journalists at the premises of the CBN, the Head of Voter Education and Publicity, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Edo State, Mr Timidi Wariowei, said the distribution commenced with the farthest local government areas.
"So far, we have loaded about 11 local governments. We started from Akoko-Edo, Etsako Central, Owan East and Owan West among others
"Some have gone and others are completely loaded and are sorting out their security escort and very soon materials will move to all the local governments.
"From the local government, the materials will move to Registration Areas Centres, RACs, and from the RACs they will move to the polling units and voting points on Saturday morning.
"As you can see, we are fully ready for the election. This is the high point of our preparation, that is moving the materials from the CBN to local government areas", he said
The materials arrived at the CBN office on Wednesday and they were inspected by Wariowei and party chieftains.
Security agencies in show of force
To show their readiness, security agencies yesterday carried out its last joint exercise before the election tagged "Operation Show of Force" which is to alert Edo residents of the security agencies preparedness for election.
Not fewer than 70 patrol vehicles loaded with fully armed men from the various security agencies paraded strategic streets and roads across Benin City.
The Police Public Relations Officer, Chidi Nwabuzor, who spoke to news men during the exercise, restated the agencies' commitment to ensure that the election was peaceful, fair, free and credible
He urged voters to come out en mass on Saturday and vote as their lives and property would be protected.
Some of the security agencies that participated in the exercise include the Nigerian Army, Police Mobile Force, Nigerian Police Force, Nigerian Customs Service, and the Directorate of State Services (DSS).
Others were the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps, Nigerian Air force, Federal Road Safety Corps, the Nigerian Correctional Service, Nigerian Immigration Service, and the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency.
The exercise commenced from the police command Headquarters through Sapele road, Country home road and Ugbo road.
Other routes covered were the GRA, Adesuwa road, Ihama road and the entire stretch of the Airport road, Akenzua road, Ehaekpen street, TV road, Five junction, Uselu-Lagos road, Upper Mission road and the ring road.
IGP orders restriction of vehicular movement
Also, the Inspector General of Police, IGP Mohanmmed Adamu, has ordered the restriction of vehicular movement "from 11:59 PM on Friday, 18th September, 2020 - 6pm on Saturday, 19th September, 2020," Frank Mba, Force Public Relations Officer, Force Headquarters, said yesterday
He said: "The IGP notes that the restriction order is informed by the need to prevent the free flow, circulation and use of illicit arms and hard drugs and checkmate the movement of political thugs and touts and other criminally-minded individuals especially from contiguous States from hijacking and disrupting the electoral processes.
"He enjoins citizens to go out en-mass on the day of the election and vote, noting that the Police and other security agencies have been sufficiently mobilized to provide a safe, secure and conducive environment for the election.
"While regretting any inconveniences the restriction order may cause the citizens, the IGP enjoins the citizens to see the restriction as part of necessary sacrifices towards the enthronement of democracy.
"He, however, warns that the Force will not sit idly-by and watch citizens who may want to engage in any criminal act - violent and destructive acts, snatching of ballot boxes, vote buying, vote selling, hate speeches, and other act(s) capable of compromising the electoral processes. '
With over 30,000 security operatives, there must be no rigging, violence - ADP
With the deployment of 31,000 police personnel to Edo, the Action Democratic Party, ADP, said Nigerians would not accept anything less than a credible poll and called on the Federal Government and President Muhammadu Buhari to ensure that free and fair elections are conducted not only in Edo but also in Ondo State.
ADP National Publicity Secretary, Prince Adelaja Adeoye, said ensuring credible polls in Edo and Ondo will show Buhari's loyalty and readiness to leave good legacy to Nigerians as he departs power in 2023.
The party also called on the United Kingdom, European Union and United States of America to increase the penalty against election riggers.
The party said: "There should be no excuse whatsoever, for the Edo election slated for Saturday September 19 across the 18 local governments in the state not to be peaceful, owing to the fact that over 30, 000 security forces are deployed for the election, which should be adequate to guard and guide the people and their franchises.
"The expectations of Nigerians, in many of the elections, conducted by this administration, fall short of the tradition of free and fair elections, that brought President Buhari in 2015, adjudged to be the finest transition of power. Nigerians will be happier, if the President can clearly instruct all those saddled with the upcoming elections, to conduct an election that will not bring disrepute to this government."
ADP noted that it is not a good tradition where "at every election Nigerians will be afraid to exercise their franchise because of the fear of violence, 'Federal Might,' and other funny political behaviour by the government in power," and commended the United States for slamming sanctions on election riggers. It called on the United Kingdom, European Union, and others, to increase the consequences and sanctions for election riggers in Nigeria.
Obaseki hails Buhari's call for peaceful, transparent poll
Meanwhile, Governor Godwin Obaseki has said that President Buhari's call for a peaceful and credible governorship election in the state is a re-assuring tonic that will boost voter turnout tomorrow.
Mr Crusoe Osagie, Special Adviser on media and communications strategy to the governor, said this in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), on Thursday in Benin.
"We thank the president for his quick intervention urging the security agencies to maintain neutrality in the discharge of their duties on election day and that INEC should also be balanced in its conduct of the election.
"Although the people have been apprehensive but President Buhari's directive to that effect has doused the tension. It has helped to boost the peoples' confidence to massively troop out on Saturday to vote.
"The president is the leader of the All Progressives Congress but he is first president and father of all. His call for safety and security of everyone before, during and after the governorship election is the assurance that will ginger the people to massively come out on Saturday."
Buni tasks stakeholders on peaceful exercise
The Governor of Yobe State and Chairman of the All Progressives Congress, APC Caretaker/Extraordinary National Convention Committee, Mai Mala Buni, has appealed to electorate in Edo State and all stakeholders to avoid issues that are inimical to peace in tomorrow's poll.
Buni, in a statement by his Media Spokesman, Malam Mamman Mohammed, said APC had earlier directed its supporters to shun violence and any activity that contravenes the provisions of the electoral law.
"I urge APC supporters including those from opposition parties to support the Independent National Electoral Commission to conduct a fair, credible and acceptable election.
"The people of Edo State should be allowed to elect a leader of their choice and, the people's wish should be respected.
"We are optimistic that the security agencies would check the excesses of trouble makers, protect the electorates and their votes" Buni said.
He urged party leaders to refrain from making inciting and inflammatory statements capable of breaching peace because "as leaders, we should avoid statements capable of over heating the polity and creating tension. No responsible leadership should preach violence."
Wike urges US, UK to name election riggers
In like manner Governor Nyesom Wike has urged the United State (US) and United Kingdom (UK) to name the Nigerians both nations have slammed travel ban for promoting rigging of elections in Nigeria.
The Rivers State Governor during Thursday's media focus in Port Harcourt, on the governorship election at hand in Edo State, said publishing names of the indicted politicians would positively change negativities in the nation's electoral process.
Wike who is also Chairman, Peoples Democratic Party National Campaign Council for the Edo election, also urged President Buhari and all stakeholders to ensure that Saturday's election instils public confidence in Nigeria's electoral process.
He alleged: "The agenda of All Progressives Congress is to win at all cost for us to go to the tribunal. That is why Edo people must be vigilant. I must commend the United States and the United Kingdom for the Visa ban placed on election riggers in the country.
"They should go ahead and publish their names so that a lot of things will change in our electoral process. Election rigging is worse than armed robbery. So whatever sanctions that can be imposed will be highly welcomed by the PDP"
He then appealed to "Everyone that loves this country ensure that the September 19, 2020 election is credible, free and fair. The Police and the Independent National Electoral Commission should show Nigerians that they can support credible elections.
"INEC should ensure result sheets are not in the hands of individuals. Security agencies should not whisk away collation officers and later bring them back with cooked results. Complete manipulation of the electoral process causes violence. No politician will cause violence if the Police and INEC do not compromise."
APC commends residents for support during campaigns
Meantime, the APC has commended Edo residents for their peaceful conduct, support as well as turnout during its campaigns across the 18 Local Government Areas of the state.
Retired Maj.-Gen. Cecil Esekhaigbe, the Director-General, Edo APC Campaign Council, gave the commendation during a news briefing in Benin yesterday.
Esekhaigbe also commended security outfits for ensuring peace during the campaigns in spite of pockets of violence experienced.
The APC Campaign Council, however, urged security agencies to double their efforts and ensure peaceful election to boost the series of peace pacts signed so far starting that of the Oba of Benin, Oba Ewuare II and ending with the General Abdulsalami Abubakar-led national peace panel.
Edo APC Campaign Council Spokesman, Mr. John Mayaki, in an interview said: "We are still worried about the spectre of violence, particularly from the increasingly desperate Obaseki side. We are encouraged by the Police security arrangement cover for the election. We call on the Police and other security agencies to implement the plan to the letter.
"Our people must be safe to cast their votes in a secure atmosphere and every vote must count. For us, this election will be a carnival, not a war. Saturday will be carnival and picnic for democracy. We just want the authorities to secure the process.
"Violence can be totally curbed if the police can go and flush out the thugs imported from Rivers, Delta, and others. Some hotels like are housing these thugs. Ask around in Benin. Although they will be nullified by the police if they try anything untoward on election day, better is prevention than a cure."
PDP storms INEC headquarters, demands assurance of credible polls
The leadership of the PDP, yesterday visited the INEC headquarters, Abuja to demand assurances of credible and transparent governorship elections in Edo and Ondo states.
Addressing newsmen, National Vice Chairman (North) of the party, Senator Suleiman Nazif, said the assurance of free and fair polls is sufficient for the PDP to head to the contests in confidence.
He said: "We have come here as a matter of urgency to demand for free and fair elections in Edo and Ondo. There is the need for us to come and get first hand assurance that the elections will be free and fair.
"We are all aware of what happened in Kogi, Osun, Bayelsa, Kano and the rest of them and we thought it wise to come here today to insist and demand that we have free and fair election. That is what the Peoples Democratic Party is requesting and demanding.
"We have had a lot of assurances but at the same time, it is one thing to assure us and it is another thing for us to go and hear that something else is happening. So we don't know what you are going to tell us today.
"People are concerned and worried about the way elections are being conducted in Nigeria. We believe that it is high time that the right thing is done and that is why we have come here to demand nothing other than free, fair election."
National Chairman of the party, Prince Uche Secondus, noted that the outcome of similar exercises in some states in the past leaves the PDP with no option but to insist on transparency in the conduct of the elections.
"We are deeply worried and in pain because of our past experience especially those of Kogi and Bayelsa. We are worried because the country is in crises, crises in economy, crises in the area of security, virtually in all facets of the life of the nation and the only way out of all these crises is to conduct free and fair elections which will at least, reduce the tension in our country today," Secondus said.
The PDP boss also cautioned security agencies against allowing themselves to be used to manipulate the processes, saying though, their role of providing security is not questionable; past experiences, he noted, leave their professionalism in doubt.
Responding on behalf of INEC chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, National Commissioner, Election Observation and Party Monitoring Committee, Professor Antonia Okoosi-Simbine pledged the readiness of the commission to conduct free elections in both states.
"The commission is aware of your fears and we will do our best to deliver on free, fair, credible and safe elections," she assured.
We're closely monitoring the poll - NBA
The Nigeria Bar Association, NBA, said it is closely monitoring activities leading to the governorship election in Edo State.
NBA First Vice President, John Aikpokpo-Martins, disclosed this on Thursday during an interview on Channels Television's Sunrise Daily in Abuja.
"The NBA does not have the resources to follow up from the beginning to the end. As an association, this particular team was set up to observe from tomorrow till the election will be over; that is to say to the announcement of the result."
Speaking on the possibility of violence in the polls, the legal practitioner said there have been allegations of "threat to violence but not actual violence yet."
The NBA leader said the allegations and counter-allegations do not automatically translate to violence on the election day.
Aikpokpo-Martins, who is also an indigene of Edo State, said the state does not have a history of violence in elections, although he admitted that the political atmosphere is tensed with the "temperature very high."
"The security is very tight now. There are a lot of soldiers, a lot of policemen on the streets. I am very sure that will dissuade merchants of violence from going out to disrupt the election in a violent way," he said.
Vanguard News Nigeria.