The Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party in Edo State, Tony Aziegbemi, tells ADEYINKA ADEDIPE why the local government election held in the state should be applauded
What is your take on the claim by the opposition APC that last Saturday’s local government election was a sham and that figures had been prepared before the exercise?
I am surprised that they are making such an allegation. The Edo State Independent Electoral Commission rolled out the timetable for the election, and it spelt out activities that peaked with the conduct of the election on September 2. From what I have seen, those timelines were adhered to and it was the other political parties that tried to distort the exercise by making a fuss about things that were not on the timetable. I also know that election materials got to all the 4,519 polling units in the state, though it was late in getting to some. People voted, results were collated and announced. Did these other political parties campaign? The labour leaders came to handover the party’s flags to the 18 local government chairmanship candidates of their party. They didn’t bother to go to all the local governments. Governor Godwin Obaseki led the campaign in the 18 local governments and after that the chairmanship candidates led the campaign in the wards and the councillors election did the same at the units. We ran the campaign as if what was at stake was bigger. The other parties didn’t do any of that. In some places, some of these parties didn’t even have agents. They knew they were not prepared, they knew they would be overwhelmed and for the first time in the history of PDP in Edo State, the party had the 18 local government chairmen and the 192 councillors. The PDP should be given a pat on the back for the feat under the guidance of Governor Godwin Obaseki.
Your party was alleged to have used thugs to intimidate supporters of other parties and that only members and supporters of your party were allowed into a particular unit in Egor and Upper Sakponba, how would you respond to that?
There are 4,519 polling units in the state and if what you said actually happened in five to 10 polling units, that does not invalidate or distort the outcome of the election. However, I doubt that it happened because we didn’t need to do that. We knew we had mobilised the people enough and that we were going to win the election. I think the opposition is crying wolf where there is none. I doubt the claim and I will request they come out with evidence to buttress this.
What would you say about the three sets of results declared at Etsako West local government?
Edo State is part of Nigeria and it is governed by a constitution. I can tell you that those people that announced themselves as winners and parading themselves as council chairmen will be prosecuted in the state. Everyone knows that EDSIEC is in charge of the LG election. The returning officer at the different wards announced the result at that level for the councillorship elections. It was only the EDSIEC chairman, in line with the provision of the EDSIEC Act, who could declare a person as chairman of a local government after the election. So, for anyone to declare themselves as the winner of a chairmanship seat, they will be prosecuted. The videos are in the public domain and I will personally see that they are prosecuted. The law will take its course.
Are you saying your party got this landslide solely on the strength of the campaign you ran?
Absolutely, the governor took the campaign very seriously. The process we took to get to where we are is unbelievable. The governor met with all the aspirants who bought forms. He also pleaded with those that didn’t get the ticket to still work for the party. They were about 1,000 persons and due to their meeting with the governor, they went back to work for the party in their wards. Imagine the effect that would have. The other parties didn’t have the luxury to mobilise that committed number of persons. I think the governor also felt that it was good to speak to the aspirants to see how people were reacting to the things he was doing in the state and to get their opinions about his administration. I think it is clear that the majority of Edo people have given him a pass mark, going by the result of this election.
The alleged 100 ballot papers per unit were said to be inadequate and a ploy by the PDP in conjunction with EDSIEC to rig the election, what do you make of that claim?
When people say some of these things, is it that they don’t look at data? We work with data and everything we do in this government is intentional. EDSIEC decided on what they wanted to do. As a party, we think the turnout of voters in any election in this state has hovered around 20 to 25 per cent. For instance if you have 500 registered voters in a polling unit, at 25 per cent, you have over a 100 turning out for the election. That has been the trend. I am sure EDSIEC looked at that data before taking that decision. I am also sure that the SPOs are always around to add more papers if it was necessary. EDSIEC must have done its mathematics before taking that step. However, I am not sure that 100 ballot papers were released to every polling unit. Also, there would have been no need to take extra ballot papers to polling units which may get into the wrong hands.
Would you say the election was free and fair if your party had lost?
I think PDP has been known to be very open with itself and the people of Edo State. People can recall that on February 25 when we had the presidential and National Assembly elections, we lost and we accepted the result. We didn’t say it was rigged or that the Independent National Electoral Commission didn’t do the right thing. I also expect the opposition party to do like we did and accept the fact that they lost the election. I am sure if this local government election is done 100 times, we will get the same result.
Do you think your call to the other parties to join your party in moving the state forward will be accepted knowing they might want to seek redress in court?
The electoral law envisaged this and has backed losers to go to court. So, my suggestion does not stop them from exhausting all the processes laid down in the Electoral Act. However, that is not to say we can’t offer an olive branch. We cannot say we have won so you people can go to hell. Having won, we are also saying they can come on board, bring their ideas since that is what they would have done if they had won. If we are not doing the right thing, they should let us know because ultimately, it is about the welfare of the Edo people. So, I am saying if they have any brilliant ideas, they can talk to us. The election has been won and lost, it is now time for governance, and despite the fact that some candidates will still go to court to challenge the results, at the end we want the best for our people. If another party wins future elections, I can tell you that the PDP will join hands with that party to make Edo better.
Were you worried that the election results were collated manually?
I think EDSIEC was constrained. They didn’t have their own BVAS and there was no way they could have got from INEC as some political parties had subpoenaed INEC to bring the BVAS used for the general elections to court. I think they were constrained; they would have loved to use BVAS for the election.