The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will meet Thursday in Benin to deliberate on the request by the Department of State Services (DSS) and Nigerian Police for the postponement of the September 10, 2016 gubernatorial elections in Edo State.
Rotimi Oyekanmi, the Chief Press Secretary to the INEC National Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, confirmed last night that the commission whose national commissioners were already in Benin City, the state capital, for the election would meet to consider the security agencies’ request.
Citing security concerns, the DSS and the Police had, after a closed door meeting between the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mr. Ibrahim Idris, and the DSS Director-General, Mr. Lawal Daura, in Abuja yesterday, had advised INEC to consider shifting the election to a future date.
“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,” the security agencies said in a statement by the Force Public Relations Officer (FPRO), DCP Don Awunah, and Mr. Garba Abdullahi of the DSS.
But in a swift response, the INEC expressed surprise at the advice and said it was unaware of any security threat to the election, particularly when it had just been assured by the Inter-agency Security Committee on the ground in Benin City, the state capital, that all was well.
“As regards the position of the Police and State Security Agencies, we like to say that we were not informed and therefore not part of that decision in Abuja. Nobody told us, the INEC Chairman is here along with all the national commissioners and we were not informed about it. We just heard the news like every other person else,” Oyekanmi said Wednesday.
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the main challenger in the contest, has also opposed the proposition by the security agencies, calling on President Muhammadu Buhari to put them in check.
The security agencies, however, insisted that Edo State was one of the states targeted by extremist elements for attacks around the proposed election date.
They said similar threats were made during the Labour Day and Democracy Day celebrations in May as well as the Ed-el-Fitr holidays in July 2016 but the security agencies were able to disrupt and thwart the insurgents’ plan.
They said while they recognised the importance of the election, the security agencies would not take chances and allow the peace of the country to be disrupted.
“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,” the police and the DSS said.
The electoral body has, however, said it was at sea on why the security agencies made the request when their representatives overseeing security for the election in the state had rest assured it that they were ready to secure the poll on Saturday.
Oyekanmi said contrary to the fears over security, the Inter Agency Committee on election security had given an undertaking to secure the exercise.
“The funny thing is that we are still in Benin City, we have concluded a final stakeholders forum during which the Deputy Inspector General of Police, Joshak Habila, gave his word that everything is ready; that the police is ready and that they are going to deploy about 25,000 men for the Saturday’s governorship election in Edo State,” he said.
Oyekanmi, who explained that the top echelon of INEC management team was in Benin City where a final meeting of the stakeholders’ forum was held yesterday, expressed surprise that the police raised concerns about security moments after giving guarantees through DIG Habila.
Some of the INEC leadership already on the ground in Edo State include the national chairman Mahmood Yakubu, Amina Zakari, Muhammed Leky, Ambassador Lawrence Nwuruku, Soyebi Adedeji, representatives of the police and DSS and the 19 candidates contesting in the election.
“He gave assurances about adequate security for the election, only for us to hear of news filtering in that security agencies addressed a press conference in Abuja, saying that they cannot guarantee security for the election. As I speak we are planning to meet with the civil society organisations and other stakeholders to determine how we are going to respond to it,” the INEC chair CPS said.
The CPS said that the DIG who represented the IG on the inter agency committee on election security, including the new commissioner of police, Edo State Command, attended the stakeholders’ meeting and gave assurances that security agencies would provide security, warning all trouble makers and potential trouble makers that if they make any trouble they would be promptly arrested and prosecuted.
“It was on that note that we ended the meeting but now we are hearing a different thing, so obviously something may be going on that we were not part of,” Oyekanmi said.
Expectedly, the opposition PDP came out smoking against the security advice, calling on Buhari to rein in the security agencies.
“President Muhammadu Buhari should caution the security agencies to desist from doing anything that will jeopardise this forthcoming gubernatorial election in Edo State and direct them to provide security for the exercise,” Prince Dayo Adeyeye, Publicity Secretary of the party’s National Caretaker Committee, said wednesday.
In a statement yesterday by Adeyeye, the party said there is no way the state, which successfully hosted the president during the APC rally without any hitch could now become so insecure to warrant a postponement of the election.
Puncturing the security concerns excuse by the police and DSS, it said it was hogwash having regards to the fact that INEC recently conducted a ‘hitch free’ senatorial by-election in Borno State, which was a high-point of insurgency in the country without objection from the security agencies.
“It is lamentable to hear from these same security agencies that the election cannot be held in a state where in less than 24 hours, the president and all the APC leaders and members had an uninterrupted rally,” it said.
Incidentally, Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State was also up in arms against the postponement move as he told INEC not to postpone the defeat of the PDP by shifting the date of the election.
According to the governor, who is a member of the All Progressive Congress, “The APC is ready for the election this Saturday and that was why we held our mega rally on Tuesday and after that rally our people across the state became more committed, more dogged and ready for the Saturday election.”
He, however, said security being a critical factor in an election must be taken seriously. “If on their own they are calling on INEC for postponement, I am sure they must have their reasons because they are experts in it. If you recall, we raised the alarm that the PDP had planned to import thugs from neighbouring states to help them unleash mayhem on our people because they are not prepared for the election,” he said.