Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Imperative of a peaceful and credible Ondo governorship election

It is 48 hours to the fourth off-cycle governorship election the Independent National Electoral Commission will be conducting after the 2015 general elections. In November and December last year, INEC conducted governorship elections in Kogi and Bayelsa states. Then, on September 28, 2016, it was the turn of the Edo State. On Saturday, November 26, it shall be the lot of the people of the Sunshine State of Ondo to vote their next governor who will take over the leadership mantle from the medical doctor-turned politician, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, popularly known as Iroko. Mimiko is serving out his second term having got judicial victory on February 23, 2009 almost two years after the April 2007 election in which INEC declared former Governor Olusegun Agagu as the winner. Both Justices Garuba Nabaruma and Umaru Abdullahi panels of the Electoral Petitions Tribunal and Appeal Court respectively had reversed Agagu’s victory and declared Mimiko the rightful winner of the 2007 governorship election.
Ahead of next Saturday’s poll, a lot of preparations had been made by different actors and stakeholders. INEC had cleared 25 candidates for the election. However, 22 of the lot could be classified as “Pretenders” or “Also ran” while only three are real Contenders. The three-horse race is among the candidates of the All Progressives Congress, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, SAN also known as Aketi; the Alliance for Democracy, Olusola Oke and Jimoh Ibrahim of the Peoples Democratic Party. I can tell my readers for free that the next governor of Ondo State will be a lawyer. This is because the topmost three are all lawyers. Ironically, the three of them carry an albatross. Their nominations were contentious and rancorous.
There were all manner of allegations of substitution of genuine delegates and vote buying at the September 3 APC primary election in the state. This has pitted some party chieftains against the National Chairman of APC, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun. In fact, the fallout of the APC primary was the defection of Oke, one of the aspirants who lost to Akeredolu, to the AD. Within weeks, Oke was able to pull the necessary political strings and after intense behind-the-scene horse-trading was nominated by the party as a replacement for the party’s initial candidate, Akin Olowookere. The nomination of the PDP has been the messiest. The case is still in court even a few days to the poll. INEC had initially recognised Eyitayo Jegede, SAN as the party’s candidate before the judgment of Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court Abuja compelled the commission to recognise and accept the nomination of Jimoh Ibrahim.

The replacement of Jegede has led to street protests in Ondo and the Senator Ahmed Markarfi faction of the PDP to which Governor Mimiko camp belong to had written to INEC seeking the postponement of the November 26 election. Mimiko himself had twice met with President Muhammadu Buhari seeking his intervention in a matter that is purely intra-party affair. It remains to be seen whether INEC will yield to this curious demand. As far as I am concerned, I do not think the PDP has a cogent reason to call for the shift of the election. The Supreme Court, as recently as in the election petition matter of Kogi election of November 21, 2015 had pronounced that people’s votes are to the party and not the candidate. That being so, even if Ibrahim wins next Saturday’s poll and Jegede is later affirmed by the court as the rightful candidate of the party, the former would have to leave the seat for the latter.
That was what happened in the case of Celestine Omehia and Chibuike Amaechi in Rivers State in 2007.
Any shift in the date of poll, so close to the Election Day, will impact negatively on the electoral process. Apart from the enormous financial cost to the candidates and other stakeholders, the Court of Appeal has adjourned the case sine dine that is indefinitely. The Nigerian constitution in Section 178 (2) is very clear that governorship election has to be held not earlier than 150 days and not later than 30 days to the end of the tenure of the incumbent. Thus, election cannot be postponed indefinitely without courting a constitutional crisis. Part of the electoral reform the civil society has been advocating is for pre-election matters to have a timeline for adjudication. It is quite sad that because politicians are unable to resolve their issues amicably internally, we now run a democracy by court order.
As part of the preparations, there have been a lot of campaigns by the political parties and contestants and it is heart-warming that there have been no serious security breaches during the campaigns. To the best of my knowledge, there have not been any death or destruction of property.  Only inter party skirmishes had been reported. The media has been awash with news of the campaigns and advertorials, posters, and jingles. Last Sunday and Monday, November 20 and 21 respectively, Channels Television and other Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria stations with support from the International Republican Institute and the United States Agency for International Development held debates for some selected candidates and their running mates.  It was interesting to hear the candidates of the PDP, AD and Social Democratic Party defend their political nomadism which some people termed “political jumpology” given the fact that they have changed political parties in their bid to be the governor of the state.
On the part of INEC, the commission has accredited observers, journalists and party agents; conducted a lot of voter education; published list of candidates; trained poll officials (INEC is deploying 16,723 personnel for the election); configured the smart card readers; distributed Permanent Voter Cards; activated the Inter Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security; procured sensitive and non-sensitive election materials and held several stakeholders’ meetings. The accredited observer groups had also trained and deployed their members while also complementing INEC’s voter education exercises. The Nigeria Police had pledged to deploy 25,000 personnel for the election. It was reported on Monday, November 21 that security agents arrested a suspected “political thug”, Oluseun Ade, with three guns and five cutlasses.
As the 1,660,055 registered voters in Ondo State get to elect their new governor next Saturday, my appeal goes to INEC to do all within its power to deliver a credible election. It behoves the Ondo electorate, political parties and contestants to eschew violence and other unbecoming acts that can mar the election. May the best candidate win!
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