Just when many Nigerians were commending the Independent National Electoral Commission [INEC] and its Chairman Professor Mahmood Yakubu for rejecting the suspect demand of security agencies to postpone the governorship election in Edo State earlier scheduled for tomorrow, it was announced late yesterday that the election has indeed been postponed by two weeks.
Signs of trouble first merged on Wednesday afternoon when the Nigeria Police and the Department of State Services [DSS] issued a joint statement in Abuja. The statement signed by Don Awunah for the police and Garba Abdullahi for DSS said, “The Nigeria Police and Department of State Services wish to inform the general public that credible intelligence availed the agencies indicate plans by insurgent/extremist elements to attack vulnerable communities and soft targets with high population during the forthcoming Sallah celebrations between 12th and 13th September, 2016. Edo State is amongst the States being earmarked for these planned attacks by the extremist elements. It is in regard of these that we are appealing to INEC which has the legal duty to regulate elections in the country to consider the need for possible postponement of the date of the election in Edo State in order to enable security agencies deal decisively with the envisaged terrorist threats.”
At the time the announcement was made, INEC’s top officials led by its Chairman were holding a final stakeholders’ meeting in Benin City. Present at the meeting were a Deputy Inspector General of Police specially assigned to ensure election security, top DSS officers, Edo State Government officials, leaders of political parties in Edo State and an array of other stakeholders. All of them were set for the election and INEC announced that it had achieved 97% completion of its preparations. INEC was on the verge of removing sensitive election materials from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) while members of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) were already mobilized for the conduct of the election. The 19 candidates participating in the governorship election were also ready to go.
It soon transpired that the security agencies did not so much as intimate INEC before they made their joint statement in Abuja. They caught the election umpire totally off-guard. We were therefore very pleased yesterday when INEC announced that the election will go ahead on Saturday. This was a very courageous decision and was a very bold way of asserting the commission’s constitutionally guaranteed independence. All Nigerians heaved a sigh of relief that INEC had resisted ignoble interference with its duties by security agencies for suspected partisan motives.
We are therefore disappointed that after another round of meetings in Benin yesterday evening, INEC reversed itself and postponed the polls by two weeks. This is a very sad development and it portends danger for Nigeria’s democracy if the security agencies can willfully sabotage a scheduled election and force its postponement. It will be recalled that a similar thing happened last year when, on the eve of general elections, the National Security Adviser, military service chiefs and the Police Inspector General asked INEC to postpone the elections by six weeks due a planned military operation in the North East. All Nigerians believed then that the NSA and service chiefs merely did the bidding of the ruling PDP and bought more time for it.
This time too, there is every reason to suspect that the police and DSS are doing APC’s bidding because the ruling party is in danger of losing the Edo election. Days before this episode, a group of sponsored students had staged a rally in Benin calling for the election’s postponement. Governor Adams Oshiomhole personally received them and urged them on. If Nigeria could hold general elections last year, we do not agree that security agencies cannot secure Edo State alone for an election. We strongly condemn this postponement and we warn APC, police and DSS not to tread the same ignoble and ultimately futile path that PDP trod last year.