Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Osun governorship election: A post-mortem

I have more than a passing interest in the welfare of Osun State. I may have been born and bred in Ibadan, Oyo State; however, my parents are both from the State of Osun. Thus, ahead of the August 9 governorship election in the “State of the Virtuous”, I carried out all my official assignments in the state with extra zeal and dedication. I had been involved in training of both poll officials and security agents, sensitisation of women groups as well as conduct of security threat assessment in the run up to the election. Though I was not physically on the field to observe the election, I monitored the media for the progress report and was part of the discussion panels on the poll on both the African Independent Television and Nigerian Television Authority.
I heaved a sigh of relief when the election was held without bloodshed and post-election violence. I was happy to see jubilation on the streets and not bonfire. I was glad to hear and read the congratulatory messages from President Goodluck Jonathan and the Peoples Democratic Party. These are signs that our democracy is taking firm roots.
Indeed, the run up to the poll was very rancorous. The campaigns focused more on muckraking, character assassination, uncouth comments and disparaging remarks than on developmental issues.   Of the 20 political parties that contested the election, only the All Progressives Congress and the Peoples Democratic Party ran flamboyant campaigns. The two opposing parties left nothing to chance. Millions of naira were spent on propaganda in the name of media campaigns. Door-to-door campaigns as well as mega rallies were held. Different poverty alleviation programmes and empowerment projects otherwise known now as “stomach infrastructure” were embarked upon, all aimed at inducing voters. Various food items were shared (rice, noodles, and sachet milk, to mention a few). However, at least two deaths were recorded. That of Pa Taiwo Ogundele in Ile-Ife in March and that of Tolu Adeosun in Ilesa in July.
It is the belligerent attitude of the political gladiators that necessitated the deployment of over 73,000 security agents by the Federal Government to secure the electoral environment. As had been seen in Ekiti and Osun states, the so-called militarisation which the APC chiefs have roundly condemned did not impact negatively on voter turn-out. Let’s take a look at the statistics.
Out of a total of 1,411,373 registered voters, 986, 117 of them collected their permanent voter card (i.e. 70.13 per cent). On the day of the election, 764,582 were accredited to vote. A total of 750,021 votes were cast while 32,700 were rejected ballots. The percentage turnout was put at 54.17 per cent. According to the Returning Officer for the election, Prof. Idowu Bamitale Omole, who is the Vice Chancellor of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, out of the 717,321 total valid votes cast, Rauf Adesoji Aregbesola of the APC scored 394,684 votes to defeat his main challenger, Iyiola Omisore of the PDP who scored 292,747 votes as well as 18 others. This invariably means that the incumbent governor got more than half of the total valid votes cast.
There are several high points worthy of note in the last Saturday’s governorship election in Osun State. All the preliminary observer reports I have read are unanimous in their commendation of INEC for conducting a transparent, peaceful and credible election. As it happened in the July 21 Ekiti governorship election, INEC recorded over 90 per cent prompt opening of polling stations. Indeed, it was reported that 96 per cent of the Polling Units started accrediting voters as early as 8.00 a.m. This means that INEC has largely overcome its perennial logistic challenge. The Commission not only had seamless deployment of men and materials, the retrieval process was also smooth as the results and the winner of the contest were declared within 12 hours of the close of poll in spite of the huge number of Local Governments (30) and the three-tier collation procedures (that is, Ward, Local Government and State).
Also worthy of mention is the various innovation adopted by INEC. These include the use of colour coding for ballot papers, the use of only Permanent Voter Card, the establishment of the Election Operations Support Centre to monitor deployment and troubleshoot, the Citizens Contact Centre and the use of social media to communicate with the public, the Voter Verification Platform to help voters locate their Polling Units, the establishment of Super Registration Area Centre to ease deployment of election officials and materials, the creation of voting points to ease accreditation at Polling Units with large voting population, and the blistering voter education campaign conducted by INEC, the National Orientation Agency, the civil society and the media.
Part of the high points is the professionalism and conscientiousness of the majority of the security agents deployed for the election. The yeoman’s job done by the civil society in terms of voter sensitisation and mobilisation as well as election observation is also praiseworthy. The Nigerian media also deserve kudos for the public education and information role they played during the electioneering process. The doggedness of the voters in not only trooping out to vote but in guarding their votes and making them count deserve applause.
To my own mind, there are a couple of areas in need of improvement. INEC needs to come out strongly to condemn and mobilise the security agencies to arrest and prosecute those who have engaged in electoral offences particularly acts of terrorism and vote buying. The impunity with which the political class in Osun and previously in Ekiti and Anambra carried out vote-buying in spite of the specific provisions of Section 124 of Electoral Act 2010, as amended, which criminalises the act, is worrisome. There is no gainsaying the fact that both the APC and the PDP are in breach of the constitutional and Electoral Act provisions on campaign finance. The Act in Section 91(3) puts a ceiling of N200m on campaign fund of governorship candidates. What the candidates of the two aforementioned parties spent on their campaigns is far in excess of this amount. We can’t continue to have the best election money can buy.
Another area in need of improvement is the welfare of security agents deployed for election duty. As observed by CLEEN Foundation in its preliminary report on the Osun gubernatorial election, “The provision of adequate welfare for security officials on election duty remains a pressing challenge. Most of the officers, especially those deployed from other state police commands, complained of poor accommodation and feeding arrangements. For instance, some officials deployed to the state on Sunday, August 3, 2014 slept in empty primary school buildings on their own mats and only received a token amount on Friday, August 8, 2014. This makes them increasingly vulnerable to compromise and should be addressed urgently.” The Foundation also expressed concern on the use of masks by some of the security agents deployed for election duty. I am equally uncomfortable with this development as this will make it difficult to identify any of the bad eggs among them who may want to abuse their powers. Lastly, as we approach 2015 elections, the political elite would do well not to overheat the polity. They should focus on salutary and developmental issues in their campaigns rather than engaging in hate speeches and inciting comments.