The governorship election in Ondo State is scheduled for Saturday, October 10, 2020. There are similarities and differences in the Edo and Ondo elections and lots of lessons to learn by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC. With technology, we should never have a situation of ballot snatching and manipulation of election results again in our electoral history as a nation. What the recent election in Edo State has taught us as a people is that we can have credible elections if INEC and the security agencies are determined to achieve that. Thus, by all estimates and reasonable expectations, Saturday’s election should be a marked improvement on the Edo experience.
INEC has already identified the flashpoints for rigging, especially the remote areas with difficulty of access. Thus, there should be no difficulty in working with the security agencies, election monitors, observers, and the civil society organisations, to frustrate the plans of riggers and manipulators. This is very crucial, as it is always in the interest of democracy to know the true choice of the people in every election. In this election, the incumbent governor is battling for a second term in office, with serious political intrigues between him and his opponents. The race for Alagbaka Government House is certainly between three main political parties, the ruling All Progressive Congress, APC, the leading opposition People’s Democratic Party, PDP, and the Zenith Labour Party, ZLP. Things have been relatively peaceful until the recent interviews by the major players, which have all contributed to the tension within their camps.
It has been a total turn around for the governor, who had hitherto managed to cage his emotions in the run-up to the campaigns. In the interviews that I listened to, it would seem that he lowered his guard and threw caution overboard, to attack his opponents. This should not be the case at all; His Excellency should reflect the maturity of his office and bring his age and experience to bear on his emotions. Ondo people generally are known to be very principled so it cannot be the case that the governor would claim ignorance of the political inclination of the people that he governs. It has been a positive record for him so far, in towing the path of the rule of law, especially in relation to the defection by the Deputy Governor. There is absolutely no reason to depart from that noble cause, whether or not the people of Ondo State would want him to return as governor. It should be a personal choice for the governor, to leave a legacy of principled campaign devoid of violence and thuggery, no matter the provocations. For whatever reason, Governor Akeredolu must by now have come to grasp the nature of the people of Ondo State, ever militant, resilient and daring. That is exactly the way they are and I see that a lot even in the governor himself, from his career as a Senior Counsel, to his reign as President of the Nigerian Bar Association. He must therefore allow the atmosphere of plurality to blossom and for the people to be the ultimate decider of who would win the poll on Saturday.
The candidate of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, Mr. Eyitayo Jegede, SAN, has so far proved not to be a small fry at all, combining his amiable and gentle disposition with so much energy and stoicism. As a Senior Counsel and former law officer (Attorney-General) of the State, Mr. Jegede cannot afford to be associated with any form of brigandage at all. I mean we all expected some epic legal battle from the 2015 governorship election which he lost, but he took a decision to leave it to God, he went to church for thanksgiving and took everything in his stride. It is a huge credit to him that for the past four years until the recent campaigns, nothing untoward was heard concerning him, whilst the governor held sway. Having shown so much endurance and equanimity for the past four years, why should it be so difficult to conduct a peaceful campaign? Why should any blood be shed for this ambition? If we kill the same people that we hope to rule over after the election, what moral justification do we then have to prosecute criminals? This was why I became alarmed when I read of violence and destruction of property in the course of the recent campaigns. It is not worth it at all. The people of Ondo State should not give in to external opportunists and instigators, to kill and maim themselves.
The incumbent deputy governor, Mr. Agboola Ajayi, successfully challenged his boss openly and he defied all political permutations to push ahead his own agenda for the number one office. He moved from the ruling APC, to the PDP and finally landed in ZLP. There were threats of impeachment and all manner of political permutations, but he weathered them all to remain in the race so far. He enjoyed the goodwill of the people of Ondo State, who stood by him against any form of persecution or witch hunting. In particular, he benefitted immensely from the integrity and independence of the judiciary, which stood on the side of the rule of law in the aborted impeachment schemes. It is therefore a surprise that the one who rode on the platform of justice and the rule of law, would be associated with any attempt to subvert the will of the people or any other form of violence or impunity. The Deputy Governor should rein in his supporters and reciprocate the good gesture of the people of Ondo State, by ensuring that from now till Saturday and even beyond, nothing untoward is associated with his camp. It will be a great disservice, if Mr. Ajayi seeks to climb to power through any means other than peaceful campaigns and credible polls.
There is thus no reason for violence or bloodshed in the coming election in Ondo State. The institutions of democracy, such as the law enforcement agencies, the Courts and indeed the Tribunals, are all up to the task. So, anyone who feels shortchanged in this process should be courageous enough to activate the process established by law for the ventilation of such grievances. Like I have always said, if the courts in Nigeria will do what they should do, politicians will fall in line and if the rule of law is allowed to prevail, impunity will become buried for good. Indeed, if judges practice their trade purely according to law and their conscience, corruption would have long ended in Nigeria. In the build up to the Ondo governorship elections, a lot of scheming took place, leading to a hasty request from the House of Assembly of the State to the Chief Judge to set up an impeachment panel to investigate the Deputy Governor and expectedly, to recommend his removal from office. This was not to be however, as the courageous Chief Judge of the State tore through the letter from the House of Assembly. By the time the Speaker got the response from the Chief Judge, all of them came to terms with the futility of that effort. So, for the first time in the history of Nigeria, a deputy governor is contesting for the office of the governor whilst still in office as deputy to the governor, who himself is a candidate in the same election. And if this has been accepted and allowed to endure, there is no reason to go back on this path of peace, by introducing violence and thuggery into the whole process. Let the three leading candidates talk to their supporters, but if they will not do so, then the voters in Ondo State should readily identify the camp that is involved and punish such with their votes on Saturday.
The real challenge however in the coming Ondo political space is INEC, which has been saddled by law to midwife the processes to produce governors. So far, INEC has indeed shown some semblance of neutrality and even threatened to bite, with the recent declaration that it would not hesitate to cancel elections in any location where violence, thuggery, ballot box snatching and disruption of voting take place. Like the courts, if INEC could just play by the rules, wield the big stick and maintain its neutrality, voting will become a pleasant experience in Nigeria. There is therefore a big onus on the electoral umpire to let the votes count in the coming election in Ondo State. Let INEC use this unique occasion to show the world that we can do things right. Since the focus is just on one single State, it should be easy to deploy manpower, resources and technology, to deliver free, fair, peaceful and credible elections and improve upon the Edo experience. The electronic portal for election results should be maintained and properly monitored, such that even before the end of Saturday, we can tell who would win the election.
By now, INEC should have a firm grip on the schemes of desperate politicians, in order to eliminate all their pranks. Election materials should arrive early, card readers should function optimally and all electoral officers should show diligence, neutrality and independence. This has to be so, as we now need to change the narrative of our electoral history, to respect the will of the people and erase the culture of judicial governors and tribunal leaders. Let the people be given the opportunity to truly determine who should govern them. So, the ultimate challenge for the coming election goes to Mr. Akeredolu, SAN, Mr. Jegede, SAN, Mr. Ajayi and indeed all the contestants. We will hold them accountable to the people of Ondo State and indeed Nigeria, should they allow their supporters to smear the integrity of the election. They should all just CALM DOWN, learn to ‘be calming down’, so that we can truly entrench a political atmosphere that will become conducive for true democracy to thrive and endure, but if they would not, let their names become prominent on the list of Western countries for visa ban. By all means, the election on Saturday should be an improvement on the Edo experience. May God bless Nigeria, in this season of restructuring!
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