On Sept. 19, the nation’s electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), proved book makers wrong by conducting what has so far been termed as one of the freest and credible elections in the country.
The election was devoid of the usual violence and conspiracies to steal the mandate of the electorate to chose who governs them.
INEC, in just 24 hours delivered a verdict from the Edo polls, that returned incumbent Gov. Godwin Obaseki of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), for a second term in office.
That day, Edo, The Heartbeat of the Nation, was calm and the fear that the state would experience bloodletting was doused by the conduct and carriage of most of the political stakeholders, before, during and after the governorship polls.
Months before the exercise, following the utterances from political gladiators, Edo was almost torn apart, as hoodlums masquerading as party loyalists, fought at the gate of the palace of the Benin monarch.
The Oba of Benin, Ewuare II, had prior to the incident, said that he would call his sons, Obaseki and his main challenger, Pastor Osagie Ize Iyamu, to a peace meeting, in order to ensure violence-free election in Edo.
The Oba did. With the National Peace Committee, led by former military Head of State, Abdulsalami Abubakar, and Bishop Matthew Kukah, its secretary, following immediately after, a peace accord was eventually signed, setting the stage to what came out of Edo.
The questions now are: After Edo what next? Will INEC do an encore in the next election already scheduled for Ondo State on Oct. 10? Will the votes of the Ondo State electorate count and will it also be non-violent?
INEC already knows that all eyes are on it and that if it achieves the same feat as it has done in Edo, it would have fully restored credibility in the nation’s electoral system.
In Edo, INEC used its newly created Z-pad, a technology-driven visual portal to upload all results collated at the polling units to a central portal to remove any act or attempt to manipulate the outcome of the results at the various collation centres.
The Z-pad was akin to the strategy adopted by then Chairman of the National Electoral Commission (NEC), Prof. Humphrey Nwosu, for the June 12, 1993 Presidential Election.
The Commission mounted a bill board at the commission’s headquarters in Abuja, where collated results were published in quick sequence.
Available results showed that Chief MKO Abiola, the presidential candidate of the Social Democratic Party was coasting to victory before the election was annulled.
The Z-pad adopted by INEC for Edo governorship election worked as the usual cobwebs which hitherto festooned the dusky beams of form EC8, the document for the recognised manual transmission of results, were removed.
INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, on Sept. 23 began a three-day visit to Ondo State to assess the preparedness of his men to replicate the feat in Edo.
He assured Nigerians, especially Ondo State electorate that the Commission was fully ready for Oct. 10.
The reassurance has been a soothing balm to the people, after a wild fire on Sept 10, torched more than 5,000 card readers for the polls stacked in containers in the state INEC office.
“We have already recovered. Unfortunately, we lost 5,000 smart card readers, but we recovered by getting the prerequisite number of card readers from the neighbouring Oyo State, and they have been delivered.
“They have arrived, been charged and configured and are ready for the election on Oct.10, in Ondo State.
“ We will use the Z-pads to upload results on election day real-time and we have moved those Z-pads from Edo to Ondo State for the election.
“So, the same preparations that we made for Edo, we have also made for Ondo State, so we are prepared for the election,” he said.
Yakubu said he would also meet with the council of traditional rulers, security agencies, and officials of the Commission in the 18 local government areas of the state for the purpose of the election.
“This is the first visit. We are still coming back a week after for the main stakeholders’ visit and the signing of the peace accord,” he said.
INEC achieved success in Edo, but remaining on top is usually a major challenge for persons and institutions that must be exposed to tests.
It is expected that the umpire will not relax as it must gather all information on what transpired in all previous elections, assess what went wrong in some instances and do its possible best to correct them.
Available records showed that Edo has 2.21million registered voters, 1.73 million qualified to vote, as 483,796 persons failed to collect their voter cards.
The winner emerged with 307,955, votes, while the state’s population from a 2014 estimate is five million.
Obviously, it was not 100 per cent success in Edo as there were still cases of poor voters’ turnout, intimidation by the presence of 30,000 police men, harassment of mostly female voters and various allegations of vote-buying.
Various groups, politicians, diplomatic community and ordinary Nigerians have hailed Edo polls and want its lessons to spread to Ondo State and other subsequent polls.
The U.S., which had issued a no visa order on any person that could undermine the Edo polls, on Sept. 24, endorsed the processes that led to a successful Edo polls.
The country lauded INEC and the security agencies on the positive roles they played during the election, which it said, strengthened democracy in the country.
It called on all stakeholders, including INEC, political parties, and the security agencies to improve the electoral process during the Oct. 10, Ondo State governorship election.
“The United States remains concerned with reports of some violence that did emerge during the election, and reports of vote-buying and intimidation of both voters and civil society domestic observers.
“We will continue to encourage all stakeholders, including INEC, political parties, and the security services to improve the electoral process in the upcoming Ondo State governorship election.
“As a democratic partner of Nigeria, the United States remains committed to working together to achieve our mutual goals of peace and prosperity for the citizens of both countries,” it said via the Facebook page of the United States Diplomatic Mission to Nigeria.
The U.S. stressed the need for all Nigerians and other stakeholders to give its support in anyway, to make the system better for posterity.
Analysts recall that former President Goodluck Jonathan, demonstrated statesmanship and sportsmanship after the 2015 Presidential Election as he put a call to President Muhammadu Buhari to prevent endless tussle at the election tribunal and usher in peace to the electoral space.
Buhari had since built on this by making sure that there was improvements in conduct of elections so that the opposition, no matter who, has the hope that victory can come its way.
Nigeria cannot afford to disregard the already established principles; the country should continue marching forward. It can never be late. (NANFeatures)
**If used, please credit the writer as well as the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)