By OMONIYI SALAUDEEN
By the present standard of electoral system in Nigeria, last Saturday’s governorship election in Ondo States will remain a reference point for a long time to come. Contrary to the pervasive fear of violence on the day of the election, the poll went peacefully and credibly too. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) made good its word to make the election a model for other future elections.
Though not entirely without some initial logistic hiccups, all observers commended the electoral umpire for a job well done. The civil society groups, including Transition Monitoring Group (TMG), the National Association for Peaceful Election in Nigeria, the Centre for Human Rights and Ethics in Development and Justice and Equity Organisation which monitored the election in a communiqué issued after the election described the poll as the most credible in the country in recent times. They said the election was peaceful and devoid of any malpractice.
They, however, expressed reservation for the heavy presence of security personnel which they claimed actually scared away eligible voters. But a Non- Governmental Organisation, Cleen Foundation, on its part, maintained that the conduct of the security officials during the election complied substantially with the Electoral Act 2010. The interim report signed by Chinedu Yves Nwagu on behalf of the Foundation noted that there were crises in some areas where there was a large turnout of voters. The communiqué reads in part; “People were initially afraid of extreme thuggery with mercenaries from neighbouring states. This contention was, however, discarded in the minds of the people through our sensitisation and also assuring them of their safety, as security agents have been mobilised to take charge of any eventuality”.
Plus to Jonathan
Despite the defeat suffered by the PDP, President Goodluck Jonathan demonstrated an unusual statesmanship by congratulating Governor Olusegun Mimiko for his victory in this election. This was as a radical departure from the past where the ruling party more often deployed federal might to subdue the opposition to achieve victory at all cost. The scenario that played out in the Southwest in the 2003 general elections during the regime of former President Olusegun Obasanjo is a familiar story. Under the mighty power of the Federal Government, the entire six states but one in the region went to the PDP in just one swoop. Perhaps, with the same mindset, Ondo story wouldn’t have been different. But Jonathan eschewed that culture of impunity and allowed the election to go according to the wish of the electorate. This is obviously a plus for the present administration’s commitment to leave a legacy of credible electoral process for the country.
According to the Senior Special Assistant to President on Media, Dr, Reuben Abati, “the fact that he has never abused the enormous powers of the presidency to influence the outcome of elections shows that he is a man of his words, a committed democrat and a President who believes in the rule of law and the supremacy of the will of the people.
The President had said at the Democracy Park in Akure, Ondo State on October 13, 2012 during the campaign for this election: “What we can guarantee the people of Ondo state is that the commitment of this present administration to ensure that Nigeria continues to remain high in the comity of nations in terms of how we select our leaders remains constant. It is going to be one man, one vote, one woman, one vote, one youth, one vote.”
He added: “I was told that some people are mobilizing thugs from everywhere, if they like they can go to anywhere to bring thugs, the Federal Government will not allow any thug to come out that day, and if you know you are a thug or your child is to be used as a thug, carry them away from Ondo state, because government will never tolerate any rubbish. It will be free and fair election and nobody will frustrate the commitment of government to project Nigeria truly and nobody will allow thuggery.” This was a promise well kept. The hope of Nigeria is that the government will keep up the tempo of this performance till 2015 general election.
Party reactions and controversies
Certainly, the electoral system in Nigeria can be better, if the will to make things work is there for every stakeholder. And the first step towards that realization is a positive change of attitude. To an average Nigerian politician, election is free and fair only when a party wins an election. When the case is contrary, it is no election. That exactly is the scenario now playing out in the two major leading opposition political parties in Ondo State- the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Already, they are raising dusts over the conduct of the election, in spite of the general acceptance of the poll as most credible in the recent past.
In the case of the ACN, hardly had the voting process come to an end when its National Publicity Secretary began to raise an alarm over some perceived irregularities. In a statement issued in Akure, the state capital, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, alleged irregularities in some localities in the state, citing Idanre and Okitipupa. In Idanre, for example, the party said thugs on motorcycles were harassing voters and agents of the opposition. The statement reads in part, “There are also reports of stuffed ballot boxes being moved to polling booths with the protection of Labour Party thugs. In Owo, a state government Commissioner has been arrested by soldiers after he was found with weapons. The widespread insecurity has led to apprehension by voters, and there is the need for security agencies to urgently deploy additional security to the affected areas. Many agents of the Action Congress of Nigeria whose names were forwarded to INEC were not given accreditation tags in several polling units across the state, raising fears that ACN agents may not be able to monitor the election. INEC must immediately remedy the situation. Though election materials have been distributed to many polling units across the states, they are yet to get to several polling units, more than one hour after the election ought to have commenced.”
Not unexpectedly, no sooner than the INEC announced the result and declared Governor Mimiko as the winner that the ACN raised its objection based on its earlier reservations. If its candidate, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu (SAN), makes good his threat to challenge the result of the election in court, then this may just be the beginning of another litigation battle.
The PDP in its own case is a little divided over the matter. While its national leadership, following the example of President Jonathan, has congratulated Mimiko for his victory, the state chapter of the party has refused to accept defeat. Instead, they have condemned the national leadership for congratulating Mimiko on his re-election. In a statement by the party’s Director of Publicity in the state, Mr. Ayodele Fadaka, the PDP said the party’s national leaders have created the impression that the election was free and fair. The statement reads, “This flurry of messages, particularly by our kith and kin in the PDP without due consultation with us at the state level to know what went wrong has the potent tendency to misconstrue our position and the actions we intend to take on this matter. We take serious exception to the obvious lack of camaraderie in our party and the indecent haste of certain functionaries to fall on each other in congratulating a man who essentially is a beneficiary of a compromised election. It is important to place on record that the avalanche of the security provided for the election was lethargic and absolutely in contrast to what obtained in Edo State.”
He Fadaka added, “We will contest the result of this election and we assure our people we will get victory and Mimiko will leave government the same way he came. As far as the PDP in Ondo State is concerned, the battle has just begun and victory is certain, let whoever so desires continue to congratulate Mimiko but we will battle him legally.”
Implication for Yoruba politics
Campaign for this election was literally more of warfare between the ACN and the ruling Labour party in Ondo State than mere electoral contest. The national leader of the ACN, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, particularly raised the stake high so high that he openly declared the support he gave to Mimiko while his litigation battle at election tribunal lasted. They wanted Ondo State to come into their fold at all cost so that the whole of Southwest would be under one umbrella and the consequently facilitate full realization of economic integration of the region. In apparent disregard of democratic ethos, they threatened to take over the state by all means and at all cost. And so they went with the entire arsenal in their kitty to conquer Ondo and then humiliate the incumbent governor. But Iroko stood tall, firm and unbeatable. With all the negative propaganda, Tinubu and his ACN were roundly and convincingly defeated. While the Labour Party won overwhelmingly won with 260,199 votes, the ACN came last with 143,152 votes among the three leading contenders as the PDP came second with 155,961 votes.
There are several lessons for people to learn from the ACN’s defeat. One, rejection of the party and its national leader has confirmed the people as the ultimate sovereign. They alone decide who governs them. No matter how good your idea is, it is only the electorate who can decide who to trust as a leader. Second, the idea of economic integration which became an issue during the electioneering was a mere obsession. And they over pushed it. With Ondo election, Yoruba politics can never be the same. Least of all, the defeat has robbed off Tinubu of his toga of Yoruba leader. And it is a signal of what to come in the future in the future elections.
Now that Ondo has sustained itself as impregnable fortress against ACN’s incursion, other states like Oyo, Osun and Ogun states must begin to prepare for a tough fight in the future election. At the appropriate time, they will meet force with the LP. And Mimiko will certainly pay them in their own coin.