The last may not have been heard of the re-run election in Offa Local Government Area of Kwara State as the results of the exercise are now being contested by the opposition All Progressives Congress, writes Hammed Shittu
Contrary to the perceived tension that preceded the just concluded Offa local government council re-run election in Kwara State, voters’ turnout was encouraging as people of the ancient town came out en mass to elect a new chairman and Councilors for the council. The conduct of the re-run election in the council was as a result of the Court of Appeal tribunal ruling that ordered a re-election following the motion filed by the former chairman of the council under the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Hon. Saheed Popoola, challenging the lower tribunal that ruled in favour of the PDP chairmanship candidate in the election held on January 12, 2011, Hon. Abdulwaheed Segun Olanipekun.
Dissatisfied with the ruling of the lower tribunal, Popoola filed a counter motion at the Court of Appeal in Ilorin, asking the appellate court to set aside the ruling of the tribunal and uphold his election as chairman of the local government.
Leading two other judges, Chairman of the Appeal Tribunal, Justice Ibrahim Yusuf, dismissed the appellant’s appeal as unmeritorious. Other judges on the panel are E.B Mohammed and T.S Umar.
Yusuf said “It is crystal clear that the tribunal nullified the election on the basis of irregularities and non-accreditation of voters and that the judgment of the lower tribunal was not perverse.” The judge also lampooned the Kwara State Independent Electoral Commission for poor handling of the election. “The manner the commission handled the election was worrisome. It did a shoddy job. The two local government elections of October 30th, 2010 and January 12th, 2011 were conducted in violation of the state’s electoral law as amended.”
However, the re-run could have taken place a long time ago but for the recent Offa-Erinle violent communal clash. The development had prompted the state governor, Alhaji Abdulfatah Ahmed, to proclaim a state of emergency for three months in the two council areas of Offa and Oyun local governments. After the expiration of the emergency period, government ordered the newly reconstituted State Independent Electoral Commission, headed by Dr. Uthman Ajidagba, to conduct the re-run election on August 31, 2013 while other 15 remaining council elections were put to October 26.
But prior to the election, the leadership of the two parties in the contest, PDP and the All Progressives Congress (APC) went back to the drawing board to plan their winning strategies.
PDP leader and former governor of the state, Senator Bukola Saraki, and Governor Ahmed had led other PDP leaders in plotting the party’s winning formula for the elections. They were said to have dispatched their political foot-soldiers across the 10 wards of Offa for mobilisation. Also helpful for the party was the delivery of dividends of democracy to the people of the town during the three months of emergency and the rehabilitation of Offa General Hospital by the state government. These were believed to have served as part of the winning tricks for the PDP in the election. Day and night, all the nooks and crannies of the 10 wards were visited by party leaders to ensure victory for the PDP candidate, Olanipekun.
On their part, the APC leader and former governorship candidate of the defunct ACN in the last general election in the state, Mohammed Dele Belgore (SAN), was on ground in Offa to canvass votes for Popoola, the APC candidate. Belgore led other party supporters across the length and breadth of the affected 10 wards to canvass for votes.
Worthy of note is the fact that the State Independent Electoral Commission under the leadership of Dr. Ajidagba, also embarked on enlightenment programmes across Offa on the need for the people of the town to conduct themselves peacefully during the exercise. The security operatives in the state were also not left out in the sensitisation programmes.
However, the office of the chairman was a straight contest between Popoola of APC and Olanipekun of the PDP. As early as 9 a.m on the day of election, people were seen in large numbers coming out to participate in the election. Although there were complaints about shortage of election materials of about 100 ballot papers as against at least 500 across the polling centres which Ajidagba corrected.
Fully armed security men were drafted to ensure that there was no breakdown of law and order during the election, even though there was a bit of confusion from stakeholders as to where the results of the elections would be announced at the end of the exercise.
The APC candidate, who voted at Ojude Aponbi polling unit insisted the result should be declared in Offa, because anything short of that would be unacceptable to him. He also expressed satisfaction with the conduct of the election.
Also, the PDP candidate, who cast his vote at Esa 'A' ward, commended the peaceful conduct of the election and was hopeful of victory.
Announcing the results, Ajidagba declared Olanipekun as the winner with a total vote cast of 35,937 as against APC’s 20,161. Also, PDP won twelve Councillorship seats. “Since Olanipekun has satisfied the requirement of the law for having the majority of lawful votes, he is elected and returned as Chairman of Offa Local Government Council,” he said.
The chairman however noted that there were reports of attempted violence from some of the supporters of some political parties during collation at the ward levels which was brought under control by the law enforcement agents.
Commenting, Publicity Secretary of the PDP in the state, Alhaji Masud Adebimpe, expressed gratitude to God for the victory of the party and thanked the people of Offa for the maturity exhibited during the election.
But the protem chairman of APC, Comrade Shola Iji, said the result declared by the state Independent Electoral Commission was not the original result for the election. "We are not accepting the result because it was not an honourable result of Saturday election conducted in Offa.”
In his official reaction to the outcome of the election, APC’s Popoola also rejected the result and promised to challenge it in court. This, according to him, would assist in retrieving his mandate from the PDP candidate, Olanipekun.
Popoola who spoke to journalists in Ilorin said, “We are challenging the result as no one has declared it rather than the radio announcement that was heard which merely mentioned the PDP as the winner. We know that there is little or no difference between the PDP and KWASIEC and we have the conviction that come rain come sun, every election will be for the progressives in Offa.
"We had already known the intrigues of the PDP led KWASIEC since the announcement of the fixing of the time of the elections and God will not allow them steal our mandate,” he said, adding that in the records they had which was shared to all security agencies, the APC scored 11,526 votes while the PDP candidates scored 4,668 votes.
"We know our total voters’ register, voters are not up to 50,000, we are between 16,000 and 20,000, where did they get their own voters’ register", he queried, urging his supporters to remain calm as all lawful means would be used to retrieve his mandate
In the light of the prevailing situation, the release of the result by the state electoral body may not mark the end of the contest as the APC candidate has vowed to approach the court for remedy. This development will certainly create another phase of bitter rivalry between the PDP and APC in the state, the type that led to the re-run election in the first place.