Mimiko and his wife during the last election
Ahead of the October 20 governorship election in Ondo State, the 13 political parties in the contest recently met with the Independent National Electoral Commission and agreed on strategies for a peaceful poll. Ndubuisi Ugah, who attended the dialogue, reports
Preparation and apprehension are developing towards a climax ahead of the October 20 governorship election in Ondo State. The countdown has elicited a lot of political rivalry, particularly, among the major political parties. And the media has underscored the tension-soaked build up with reports of political tantrum from the various political camps.
From the Labour Party, which is the ruling party in the state, to the Action Congress of Nigeria, and the Peoples Democratic Party, it has been one report of confrontation after another. Though, the Independent National Electoral Commission has stated its readiness to conduct a free and fair election, observers, particularly, political chieftains and party supporters, have expressed their scepticism over the commission’s ability to conduct a fair poll – as did the commission at the July 14 governorship election in Edo State.
Rising to the Challenge
Vice President Namadi Sambo, while inaugurating the PDP National Campaign team for the Ondo State election recently, said, “In line with the promise of President Goodluck Jonathan, the Ondo State governorship election will be transparent. It shall be free and fair. The election shall be on the basis of one man one vote, one woman one vote, one youth one vote.”
It was against this backdrop that the office of the Special Adviser on Inter-Party Affairs in the Presidency decided to organise a one-day sensitisation workshop for the various stakeholders in the election to sensitise them on the need to adhere to the rules of the game and eschew violence.
The well attended event took place at Royal Park Lane Hotel and Suites, Akure. The workshop was attended by executives and candidates of the 13 political parties contesting the election, which are ACN, Allied Congress Party of Nigeria, All Nigeria Peoples Party, African Political System, Better Nigeria Peoples Party, Change Advocacy Party, Congress for Progressive Change, Labour Party, National Conscience Party, National Solidarity Democratic Party, People for Democratic Change, Peoples Democratic Party, Peoples Progressive Alliance, and representatives of civil society organisations.
Besides the overall objective, the workshop also deliberated on how to provide a conducive atmosphere for a free, fair, and credible election.
To set the ball rolling was the chairman of the occasion, Lt. Gen. Alani Akinrinade (retd), who in his opening remarks, stressed that when an election is not free and fair, democracy is eroded because bad and unwanted leaders are foisted on the people.
“Election must be a true reflection of the people’s collective wish. All democrats must stand up to salute President Goodluck Jonathan when he unequivocally pledged his commitment to the principle of one man, one vote and an electoral system in which every vote counts,” Akinrinade declared.
The convener of the workshop, Senator Ben Obi, who is the Special Adviser to the President on Inter-Party Affairs, had earlier set the template for the discourse. He stated that the objective was to come up with far-reaching recommendations to ensure free and fair elections that would be accepted to all. He urged politicians to educate their supporters on the need to adhere strictly to electoral rules during election.
In his address, the chairman of INEC, Professor Attahiru Jega, urged all contestants and stakeholders to adhere to the rules of the game and observe strictly the 2010 Political Party Code of Conduct by shunning anti-democratic practices such as intimidation of aspirants and rigging.
Jega, who was represented by the National Electoral Commissioner in-charge of Political Parties, Hajia Amina Zakari, said: “It is our hope as a commission that as we build confidence among stakeholders, we can begin to deepen the culture of tolerance in the political and electoral processes in Nigeria.”
While urging all contestants and stakeholders to shun politics of bitterness, the INEC boss promised a free and fair election in the state with the cooperation of the security agencies.
She stated that INEC was truly independent and not being interfered with from any quarter.
On his part, the keynote speaker, Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, said the election would be a test case for the country’s capacity for free and fair elections. He reminded participants that electoral contests and free and fair elections were simply a matter of establishing trust between the people and the government, saying this trust is vital for true democracy and national development.
Governor Olusegun Mimiko, who is seeking a second term on the ticket of Labour Party, emphasised the principle of one man, one vote and urged the people of the state to protect their votes on the election day.
But the PDP governorship candidate, Mr. Olusola Oke, who was represented by his running mate, Mr. Saka Lawal, condemned the denial of air time to opposition parties by public electronic media houses in the state. He also alleged series of attacks by the LP against members of the PDP, adding: “We in the PDP, we are not violent, but the sitting government ever since has not learnt anything from us. Over the last one month, we have been to 203 wards; we have visited about 350 communities.
“We were at Idanre, we got police permit, but the SA to the sitting governor led thugs to attack our members. If not for the timely intervention of the Commissioner of Police, that rally would have been aborted.”
The ACN governorship candidate, Mr. Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, represented by the vice-chairman, South-west of the party, Senator James Kolawole, noted that the consequences of not conducting a free and fair election were huge. He maintained that the state had a sophisticated citizenry, which makes it mandatory to ensure free and fair election in the state.
Kolawole said the ACN will not tolerate and promote any form of violence.
There were goodwill messages from development partners, DGD-UNDP, Dr. Mourtada Deme, and Robina Namusisi, the Country Director, International Republican Institute.
The speakers, stakeholders and participants appreciated the workshop and its intentions. The governorship candidates and stakeholders pledged their unflinching commitment to the tenets of free and fair elections.
In particular, all the governorship candidates, their political parties and supporters pledged to eschew violence and extreme language in their campaigns. They urged INEC to be impartial in its conduct of the election and pledged their cooperation to ensure fairness so that the results will be acceptable to all.
At the end of the day, it was resolved as follows:
*That participants believe in the sanctity of Nigeria as a nation. The participants reaffirmed that Nigeria was greater than individuals and transcended any political party. It was, therefore, resolved that the country and the welfare of the people should be the first consideration of all.
*That the will of the electorate as expressed in the Ondo governorship election must be respected by political parties and other relevant stakeholders.
*That political parties, politicians and all stakeholders should strive to promote free and fair elections. Consequently, there must be mutual respect and tolerance among political parties for a conducive electoral process;
*That unbiased electoral process leading to free and fair election is a sine qua non for credible and free election. It was further resolved that the will of the people must be respected. Consequently, INEC should eschew bias in its operations so as to provide a level playing field for all parties. Similarly, it was resolved that the police and security forces should not be partisan during elections, whilst ensuring that order prevails.
*That all governorship candidates should play leading roles in providing a free atmosphere for free elections where the votes of the electorate count. Political parties should enlighten their supporters on the need to shun electoral malpractices and destruction of lives and properties.
*That the use of violent language and physical intimidation must be avoided and discouraged by all political parties.
*That the media must play a profound role in the governorship election through adequate and accurate coverage and avoid provocative reporting.
As the October 20 date draws closer, the world will be watching to see how the political stakeholders in the Sunshine state adhere to their own agreements.