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Edo Poll: Complicating A Simple Matter By Louis Odion

September 15, 2016

When someone first alerted yours sincerely that Wednesday afternoon (September 7) that the much-awaited Edo 2016 governorship poll would be shifted, I thought it was the most insensate idea to propose. Yet to be fully dismantled at the iconic Sam Ogbemudia Stadium was the giant canopy under which President Buhari stood barely 24 hours earlier in what was thought to be the final mega rally to rouse the Edo electorate to vote APC in the scheduled September 10 election.

Elsewhere in Benin 24 hours earlier, the Markafi-led faction of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had also staged a "grand rally" in a hall.

Barely an hour after Buhari's jet took off that Tuesday evening, the chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, landed the Benin airport aboard Arik Air’s Boeing 737 aircraft from Abuja into the waiting arms of his henchmen right at the tarmac.

Besides, for days, columns of troops in battle gears had been mounting the customary "show of force" round key urban centres across Edo State to scare prospective troublemakers. Even as the police headquarters in Abuja announced the deployment of a whopping 25,000-man contingent for the exercise.

Against this backcloth, one would think INEC had passed the point of no return as far as the September 10 date was concerned. Alas, what eventually prevailed were the words of the police and the DDS that the election be deferred to September 28.
Typically, the blame game followed next between the security agencies and INEC.

Given the hazy circumstances, some commentators were inclined to smell conspiracy over the postponement. On the contrary, I see tardiness on the part of the relevant state institutions. The controversy could have been avoided if each one was alive to its duty.
My first take-away is that the biggest casualty is perhaps no other than President Buhari himself. That the commander-in-chief could grace a rally and twenty hours later the security services would suddenly wake up and say the election could not hold leaves the dark impression that he was denied the benefit of proper pre-briefing on the security situation. Which is a monumental scandal indeed.

From what is now known, it is clear the security agencies had become aware of the security concern much earlier. Contending interests had raised the alarm on the infiltration of the state by undesirable elements. Last week, the security agencies only hinted on possible Boko Haram strike on soft targets in some locations across the country including Edo. But before then, their attention had been drawn to clear and present threat posed by political desperadoes in Edo.

For instance, apart from rampart reports of some identified party leaders being caught conducting voters' registration illegally in their private residences, the Edo State Government had accused the five PDP states in the South-South sub-region of planning to bringing militants to storm the state and unleash mayhem on the D-Day, particularly in Edo North and Edo South, considered the strongholds of the sitting APC.

The cold calculation behind such ploy should be understood. By Edo's electoral map, whereas the Bini-speaking Edo South accounts for 56 percent of the close to 2 million registered voters, Edo North boasts of 29 percent as against the Esan-speaking Edo Central with 15 percent and is perceived the only comfort zone for PDP.

While addressing the rally for the factional candidate of PDP in Benin penultimate Tuesday, visiting Governor Nyesom Wike, who has built a fearsome reputation as a jungle expert since his rise on the political scene in Rivers State, was quoted as urging the faithful to "follow them bumper-to-bumper" on the D-Day. (I am told that is a coded statement.)

The puzzle then: wasn't Buhari brought into the loop on the sit-rep before his trip to Benin that Tuesday?

Two, given that the security agencies were alerted to the threat weeks ahead, how come nothing seemed to have been done by way of preemption? Or, are the militants mightier than the combined strength of our security services?

To begin with, it should not be the remit of the Inspector General and the DSS boss to directly address the nation on the security threat to the election. Their observations ought to be directed to the National Security Adviser who should have briefed the president even days ahead of the pre-scheduled rally in Benin. Therefore, if a world press conference would be held to break such weighty news to the nation at all, the host should be the INEC chairman, possibly flanked by the IG and the DSS boss.

Instead, what the nation was confronted with penultimate Wednesday was a fait accompli of sorts. Ironically, whereas the security chiefs, through their respective spokesmen, were busy raising the red flag at a packed news conference in Abuja, the INEC chairman was holding court simultaneously with the parties and other stakeholders in Benin and it was decided that the elections should proceed.

If further evidence of official dereliction is still required on this matter, the level of complicity can be measured with the harvest of arrests made in the belated raids carried out in the past few days. By the account of the police themselves, no fewer than 54 suspected militants from the Niger Delta were rounded up within three days from various locations in the Edo South. Dangerous items including AK-47 rifles and N9m cash were allegedly found on them.

Tellingly, some of the arrests were made at a 2-star hotel located near the Benin airport belonging to the Igbinedion family. Following their arrest, Chief Gabriel Igbinedion, one of PDP's surviving godfathers, reportedly made a spirited attempt to secure their release from police detention, pleading they were guests invited to his 82th birthday celebration. What a loyal host the Esama chose to be. But the puzzle is: when did AK-47 become an ornament to be brought to an Owambe (Obitos in Bini) ceremony? Was it for a 82-gun salute or what?

Clearly, the financial burden the postponement invariably inflicts on everyone is better imagined. Not only INEC will have to incur costs; the parties themselves have to shop for additional cash to fund the extended campaigns. Hundreds of election observers, some of whom came from abroad and had already arrived Benin, had to alter their itinerary.

Part of the initial argument raised against the September 10 date was that it coincided with the day Maths was to be written in the ongoing General Certificate of Education (GCE) exams. Now, fresh protest has been made that subjects like Physics are to be written by some students on September 28!  Added to that is a significant fixture on the cultural calendar of the Bini Kingdom. September 26 had been pre-scheduled for the coronation of a new Oba.

The Benin palace had earlier deferred to the political authority by fixing the epochal event more than two weeks after the date INEC originally announced for the poll. Given the hurly burly that usually defines the polling process, holding election barely forty-eight hours after the crowning of a new Oba would be considered culturally anomalous, if not abominable, by the Bini traditionalists. Now, the palace has to endure the inconveniences of making new arrangement for another date.

Again, tardiness was on display when INEC unilaterally fixed September 28, a working day, as the new election date. I am reliably told that the authorities at the Dennis Osadebey Avenue in Benin City were not consulted before the announcement. Yet, the concurrence of the state government is required to declare not only that Wednesday a holiday but also the preceding Tuesday, to allow workers who registered in their villages ample time to relocate from the urban centres.

Not surprising, apparently unable to think up new lines to woo voters, the two main parties in the race have since resorted to trading pure insults and bile for the remaining days. Never in history has Edo witnessed an election which language was this vile. Surely, uncommon season breeds rare creatures. Suddenly, some strange masquerades are beginning to slither out of the raven. Emerging from his political hiding, Lucky Igbinedion, widely acclaimed as a failed governor in the past, finally summoned courage few days ago to publicly endorse his erstwhile sidekick and factional PDP candidate, Osagie Ize-Iyamu. He was quoted as boasting that, come September 28, there shall be rejoicing in the household of the Igbinedions.

Well, it is left for Edo voters to decide who will gnash their teeth in electoral sorrow on that day!

The transformation of an ice-cream vendor

If additional exhibit was needed to prove that ex-President Jonathan's so-called "transformation agenda" was more about filling the pockets of a select few than fixing the country, the ongoing unraveling of his wife's closet should suffice.

At the last count, bank accounts bearing more than $22m cash have been traced to Mrs. Patience Jonathan, the mercurial First Lady whose biggest contributions to nation-building (?) would undoubtedly include the corruption of English language itself.

Her signature tune: "This blood that you people are sharing (shedding), diaris God o!"

While the nation would seem busy all the while laughing itself to stupor at Mrs. Jonathan's grammatical infelicities, emerging reports however suggest she was quietly smiling to the bank with sacks and sacks of dollars.

In what should open a new chapter in larceny, the immediate past First Lady and self-proclaimed "Mama Peace" had allegedly opened two accounts with Skye Bank with $15m in the names of her houseboy and driver even though she remained the sole signatory to both and sole beneficiary of the wealth therein. To say nothing of another wondrous N10b hotel resort in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, which was inaugurated in April 2015, barely five weeks to her husband's ignominious exit from office.
Dazed by the sheer grandeur of the hospitality paradise named Aridolf Resort Wellness and Spa, not even the upscale London Financial Times could conceal its own adulation after the commissioning. Its most flattering description: "The (hotel) is an unlikely monument to kitsch... In the lobby, Louis XIV furniture is accompanied by bowls of plastic fruit, faux Dutch landscapes and a grotesquely gaudy chandelier.

"The Aridolf... is symptomatic of how superficial progress has been in addressing the festering sense of marginalization in the region, which remains desperately impoverished despite benefiting from a tide of petrodollars in recent years."

But in truth, the Aridolf could not have been captured in the asset declaration form filled by Mrs. Jonathan either in 2007 or 2011. Regardless of the effrontery of hack writers to rehabilitate history while the Jonathans were in power, no one could deny that Patience started life in the humblest of circumstances in Port Harcourt. For a woman who started married life as ice-cream vendor in the garden city of Port Harcourt, hers must now go down as one of the most dramatic flights from abject penury to staggering opulence in recent memory.
Before her husband's foray in public life, her last known official address was the Bayelsa civil service. (In an unprecedented act of sycophancy, Governor Seriake Dickson would at some point breach all known rules by promoting her Perm Secretary in the Bayelsa civil service in absentia while she was First Lady).

Even if she did not touch her pay cheques all her working life, there is no way all her savings could have paid for even the sand-filling of the swamp where Aridolf is erected. So, the puzzle: how much gold or barrels of crude oil did she sell to come by the hotel? As First Lady, one malfeasance she was often accused of was merchandising access to her husband. Could Aridolf possibly be part of the proceeds of that racket?

Ever so forthright, Mama Peace did not deny ownership of the fat Skye bank accounts. On the contrary, she, without shame or fear of God or man, has slammed a N200m suit on her bankers for, according to her, divulging the details of what she assumed was a confidential banking relationship.

Audacious still, she blamed the "mix-up" of her name with those of her aforementioned domestic aides on the bank. But she conveniently chose to be silent on how she continued to service and draw on the accounts without her BVN in consonant with the rule imposed when her husband was president.

If nothing at all, the unraveling of Mrs. Jonathan also clearly speaks to the complicity of the regulatory authority. Holders of small accounts could be excused. But it is quite indefensible that Skye Bank incubated Patience's multi-billionaire travesty for so long until the bubble burst. To the public, banks often make a song and dance of "know your customer" engagements. How come a driver and a houseboy fronted for the First Lady in her accounts for so long without any alarm bell ringing anywhere? Whose thumbprint was taken or passport photograph entered? Each time a demand was made on the accounts, were the picture, signature and thumbprint cross-matched?And now the most cynical emotional blackmail - Patience's publicists are saying that the bulk of close to $1m she raked up on her VISA Platinum Credit Card was on medicare abroad. But, pray, whatever happened to the endless list of hospitals often touted on NTA those days as "transformed" to glittering centers of medical excellence under Jonathan? Are we now to believe it was all lies to also swindle the nation?

In the early days of the Yar'Adua administration, the story is often told of how Jonathan was thoroughly "marginalized" as Vice President, practically left with little or nothing to "eat".  Then, the usually caustic Patience was said to have famously lamented: "All they leave my husband to do in office is reading newspapers."

By going on a binge after Jonathan providentially ascended the throne as president in May 2010, perhaps Mama Peace was only trying to make up for the deprivation of those early days.

Wherever she campaigned for PDP last year, she never tired to say her husband must retain the presidential seat because "I don't want to be carrying food to my husband in prison o". (An poignant innuendo at Buhari's penchant for slamming long jail terms on politicians perceived to be corrupt in his first incarnation as military law-giver).

Now, with the torrents of filth cascading from her closet, we can only join Mama Peace in prayers that her worst fear doesn't become a self-fulfilling prophecy.