Edo State government appears to have beaten a tactical retreat from its plan to reconstruct the state office of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC following the alarm raised by the major opposition party in the state, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, accusing it of an attempt to compromise the election umpire six months to the governorship election in the state in which the governor, Godwin Obaseki would be seeing re-election. Following the PDP’s upbraid, the government, in a seeming volte-face, claimed “error” in the publication.
In a statement about 24 hours after the PDP’s outcry, special adviser to the governor on media and communication strategy, Crusoe Osagie said the government actually planned to renovate the office of the Edo State Independent Electoral Commission (EDSIEC) and not that of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in the state. Osagie, said “The advert on Monday had an error, as it had carried that the renovation/reconstruction was for INEC instead of EDSIEC. The correction has been made in an addendum to the advert in the April 29 editions of the same papers”.
In the contentious advert, the state government had called for tender for the “Renovation/Construction of Office Building for Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) at Kilometre 6, Sapele Road, Benin City, Edo State”. The statement was however silent on the allegation by the PDP which obviously drew government’s attention to the “error” in the advertisement but made a veiled reference to it by urging the general public “to take note of the changes and disregard any information insinuating motives aside those contained in the advert”.
Political observers believe the government did a rather poor job at damage repair. They were quick to point out that if there was a mix-up in the names – INEC and EDSIEC, what about the address? The office of the Edo State Independent Electoral Commission (EDSIEC) is located along Oko/Ogba Road while the main office of INEC is by Ramat Park along Benn-Auchi Road. Though sources close to INEC tried to distance the Commission from the raging controversy, it is however common knowledge it once operated temporarily from the Kilometre 6, Sapele Road building now in contention when its office was taken over by flood and many of its properties were destroyed.
In its swift response to the publication, the PDP described the development as “ungodly alliance and collaboration” and demanded an immediate investigation and empanelling of an Independent Judicial Commission of inquiry into the circumstances that informed government’s decision to renovate/construct the INEC office building in Benin through the Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development. In the statement signed by its state publicity secretary, Chris Nehikhare, the PDDP said “The Independent Judicial Commission of Inquiry must ascertain: 1. Who approached who? Was it EDSG or was it INEC? 2. What demands were made? 3. What promises were extracted?”
The party said its call was predicated on the fact that in less than six months, INEC would be conducting a gubernatorial election whereby Obaseki of the APC would be a key player. “Edo PDP is saddened and dismayed that Governor Obaseki’s government has now resorted to “bribery” in an attempt to get a second term at all cost. The situation is yet another manifestation of leadership failure and insensitivity of the Governor Obaseki-led APC administration to the plight of Edo people at critical moments. It is unacceptable for a government that is struggling with providing palliatives for its citizens, helping businesses stay afloat, and running an efficient and effective government, to continually divert state resources to the detriment of its people”, Nehukhare stated.
Condemning “unequivocally, the attempt by Governor Obaseki to bribe, compromise, coarse, intimidate, corrupt and manipulate INEC by the renovation or construction of its office building in Benin City”, the PDP said It is even more ludicrous for Obaseki to ignore the optics of such a venture, adding that “Such anti-people antic from government is symptomatic of a leadership that has not only lost focus, but has lost touch and, certainly, the confidence of the people he was elected to serve”. The PDP accused Obaseki of desperation to get a second term such that he had thrown caution to the wind by pursing extraneous issues that have no direct benefits on the lives of the people.
The party warned that INEC, as an independent body, should not allow itself to be compromised by accepting gifts from desperate state governments so close to elections. Blowing hot and cold at the same time, the PDP was however quick to add that “from our investigation, it was discovered that INEC doesn’t have an office in the address advertised. This is just another avenue to fleece our state treasury. This APC administration is reputed to be a haven of corrupt individuals, treasury looters, certificate forgers and election riggers”.
Describing the action of the state government and INEC as “unfortunate, reprehensible, treacherous and scandalous”, Nehikhare said the party’s primary focus remained the welfare of the citizens whom it noted were passing through a very difficult and harrowing experience as the state government had allegedly failed to reach the most vulnerable Edolites whose survival directly depended on daily incomes in the markets, shops and streets.