Ahead of the September 19 governorship election in Edo State, the Independent National Electoral Commission says it has insured all its staff and the 20,974 ad hoc staff that will be deployed for the exercise. It said a comprehensive insurance had been put in place for them and those who would serve in the October 10 governorship election in Ondo State. INEC’s National Commissioner and Chairman of its Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, told Sunday PUNCH in an interview on Saturday that the election officers would be insured against deaths and other election hazards.
There have been apprehensions from within and outside the state that the election, which holds on Saturday, may be marred by violence. This had prompted INEC, security agencies, prominent individuals and organisations to sue for peace.
No fewer than 14 political parties would participate in the election, but the two major parties in the state; All Progressives Congress and Peoples Democratic Party, continue to accuse each other of planning to foment trouble during the exercise.
The Oba of Benin, Oba Ewuare II, had on September 2 chastised the candidate of the PDP, Governor Godwin Obaseki; that of the APC, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, and some other party chieftains over the pockets of political violence and tensed political atmosphere in the state.
In a meeting with the candidates, their running mates and other stakeholders at his palace, the monarch described some of their utterances and activities during the electioneering as immature.
Many previous elections across the country have been marred by violence, during which some election officers were killed.
But in a bid to assure its personnel of its commitment to their safety in the forthcoming election, Okoye said the staff members of the commission were already insured but that the ad hoc staff would be insured.
Okoye said, “All the ad hoc staff engaged by the commission for the purposes of the Edo and Ondo governorship elections will be covered by insurance and it’s a comprehensive insurance covering deaths, accidents and other election hazards. It’s a group insurance that covers every individual given a contract by the commission as ad hoc staff. The staff of the commission are already covered and there is no need to cover them a second time.”
The National Commissioner also said most of the ad hoc staff had been trained, except for Collation Officers who are usually trained three to four days to the election.
He said corps members would be deployed as Presiding Officers and students of federal tertiary institutions as Assistant Presiding Officers. While promising that each of them would be given a contract and their allowances paid promptly, he added, “We plead with them to always supply their correct details and account numbers to prevent late payment from the bank.”
He added, “The commission will deploy a total of 20,974 election officials in Edo State. We have 18 Local Government Areas in Edo State, so there will be 18 Local Government Collation Officers; 192 Registration Area Collation Officers, 263 Supervisory Presiding Officers and 2,627 Presiding Officers.
“The commission will also engage a total of 13,557 Assistant Presiding Officers and 3,259 Presiding Officers (Voting Points) and we will also engage not less than 841 Reserves. There will be one Returning Officer for the election. There are 2,627 polling units and a registered voter population of 2,210,534. Our training programme has been robust and we are confident that our trainers have done a good job.
INEC had said out of the 2.2 million registered voters in the state, only 1.72 million collected their permanent voter cards, while 484,000 persons who did not collect theirs would not vote.
Mahmood meets Obaseki, Ize-Iyamu, others Monday
Meanwhile, INEC National Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, will on Monday hold the last stakeholders meeting in Benin, the state capital, while the ad hoc staff would be deployed on Friday prior to their resumption on Saturday. He noted that non-sensitive materials had been deployed to the Registration Areas already.
Okoye said, “The commission will deploy the ad hoc staff to the Registration Area Centers on Friday, September 18, from where they will be deployed to the polling units at first light on Saturday. As a prelude to the election, the Chairman and National Commissioners will hold the last stakeholders meeting on Monday and sign and the political parties and their candidates will sign a peace accord on Tuesday.”
Yakubu had said on Thursday that the National Peace Committee, INEC and every conscientious Nigerian had been concerned about the fear of violence in elections.
APC, PDP clash over alleged influx of thugs, arms purchase
Meanwhile, the PDP and APC in Edo State have again accused each other of importing thugs into the state as well as purchasing arms for their supporters ahead of the election.
The two parties had been pointing accusing fingers at each other over the threats of violence in the election.
The Publicity Secretary of the PDP in the state, Chris Nehikhare, who spoke on behalf of the PDP Campaign Council, alleged, “We have just been alerted that 10 Hummer buses left the Ojo Military Cantonment in Lagos for Auchi, Edo State this (Saturday) morning. This is one out of over 10 of such calls we have received in the last 48 hours.
“We are liaising with the relevant security agencies to ascertain the missions of these persons flooding the state. We advise members of the public to watch out for persons whose presence and activities in their neighbourhood are suspicious and report same to the police and other law enforcement agencies.”
He therefore called on security agents to ensure that voters were insulated from harm before, during and after the election.
In its response, however, the APC in the state said it had also received reports that the PDP was amassing arms across the state and that it had lodged thugs in some parts of the state.
The Chairman of Edo APC Media Campaign Council, Mr John Mayaki, said in a statement on Saturday, “We want Obaseki to give Nigerians assurance that Edo State will not degenerate into a full blown crisis-riddled state by answering to the following reports that we have received concerning the elections. Youths in Edo have informed us of the mass concentration of arms currently stored all over the state for the elections.
“We also have reports of mass infiltration of thugs and PDP militants who have been lodged in hotels within the state and border towns. Fake personnel in security uniforms have also been spotted all over Edo State, some of them in bars and joints.”
LP open to alliance, gov candidate declares
Meanwhile, the candidate of the Labour Party in the election, Dr Isaiah Osifo, said on Saturday that the party was open to alliance with any party in the election except the APC, which he described as lacking “good politics.”
Speaking at a press briefing in Benin, Osifo noted that the APC governorship candidate was undergoing a trial in court.
The party’s National Secretary, Julius Abure, however, called on the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), to use the Edo election to begin electoral reforms in the country, adding that without the support of the President, the APC would not win the election.
In its response to Osifo’s statement, Mayaki accused the Labour Party of receiving “heavy bribes” from the PDP to divert attention from its failings and the incompetence of its candidate.
APC, PDP bicker over N1.7m election scam, N100m arms purchase
The APC has also accused the governor, Obaseki, of allegedly disbursing N1.7m to Election Officers across the 18 Local Government Areas of the state on Friday in order to win the election.
Mayaki also said it received details of how the governor spent over N100m for the purchase of arms and that his deputy, Philip Shaibu, took the contract for the supply and distribution to thugs.
“The disbursement was done on Friday, and it confirms our earlier revelation he has N5bn budget earmarked for election rigging and vote commerce,” he added.
In his response, Nehikhare described the allegations as baseless and the author’s imagination.
He said, “I think the allegations are not only baseless but senseless as well as irresponsible and a fabrication of the imaginative mind of the sponsor. Our party or candidate is not involved in any electoral fraud because we have the support of Edo people. What we want is for INEC to conduct a free, fair and credible election.”
Obaseki, Kwankwaso commission Hajj Camp in Benin
Meanwhile, Obaseki and a former Governor of Kano State, Rabiu Kwankwaso, have inaugurated the state Hajj Camp in Benin, with a charge to Muslim faithful in the state to turn out en masse to vote for the PDP.
Kwankwaso hailed the governor’s performance across all sectors, noting that his landmark achievements in the first term would earn him a reelection.
Kwankwaso said, “This is the time for all of us who have our PVCs and are eligible to vote to come out en masse and ensure that we cast our votes for the PDP. I equally appeal to all of you especially those from the northern part of the country to ensure you cast your votes for the PDP come September 19, 2020.
Obaseki thanked the Muslims for ensuring peaceful coexistence with people of other religions in the state, saying the peace enjoyed in the state had led to the development witnessed in all the Local Government Areas. “We should see our strength in diversity and as a government, we are for all Edo people,” he added
The Onojie of Ewu, His Royal Highness, Razak Ojeifo lll, commended the governor for building the Hajj Camp for Muslims, adding, “You are a man of your words; you promised to build this Hajj Camp for Muslims in Edo State and you kept to your word.”
The Chairman of Edo State Pilgrims Welfare Board, Sheikh Ibrahim Oyarekhua, also assured the governor of the votes of Muslims in the state come September 19, 2020.