The October 20 governorship election in Ondo provides opportunity for INEC to perfect its act
The governorship election in Ondo State coming up this Saturday is yet another opportunity for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to showcase its preparedness for the onerous responsibility it shoulders. Coming so soon after that of Edo State, the Ondo polls would no doubt present obvious challenges to both the INEC and the security agencies.
If the conduct of Edo polls were any yardstick of INEC preparedness, then the commission is still far from being able to conduct a hitch-free election. For in that election, voting materials were not only in short supply, many of the sensitive materials got to the polling booths hours late. Among other numerous complaints was that election officials were not deployed in sufficient numbers in some polling units, prompting party agents to step in, while many prospective voters were disenfranchised, following the omission of their names or photographs in the voters’ register. It was even reported that some polling booths, located within a walking distance from INEC headquarters in Benin City, were not provided with voting materials until about 11am, while in some communities, there were conflicts over the ownership of polling booths. INEC cannot afford to repeat such display of incompetence in Ondo State this weekend.
Although the build-up to the Ondo election has not been as nasty as that of Edo state, the stakes are equally high even when the character of the contest appears markedly different. Unlike other elections where the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was dominant, the Saturday polls is more a contest between the Labour Party (LP) that is currently controlling the state and the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) that controls other states in the South-west. In the mix of course is the PDP which once ruled Ondo and would want to again “recapture” the Sunshine State. What all these suggest is that there is the need for all the stakeholders to recognise the importance of holding a peaceful and credible election and above all to respect the choice of the electorate.
Unfortunately, there have been allegations and counter-allegations that some parties had imported arms and ammunitions for use during the elections. The Police should take the allegation very seriously. Given its history, Ondo State has the potential to explode from a mere spark over a simple political argument. It had happened in the recent past during the Second Republic when contest for political power between the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) and the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) led to serious breakdown of law and order resulting in the loss of many lives and destruction of property.
Notwithstanding the posturing by the principal actors, one fact about the Ondo elections which also is true with all Nigerian elections is that it is not going to be fought on ideological platforms. The LP is not a typical ideology-based party of the left as the name suggests. It was and remains a vehicle with which Governor Olusegun Mimiko actualised his political ambition after being denied the PDP ticket at the 2007 polls. On the other hand, neither the PDP nor the ACN can also be described as an ideology-driven party by any stretch of the imagination. The ACN sole goal as evident by the statements of the party’s leaders is to bring the entire South West under one political umbrella. The PDP on its part may well be fighting for relevance.
Whatever happens, it is important for the politicians to allow the people of Ondo State to decide their destiny for the next four years. There should be no room for coercion and violence. As for INEC, if it can conduct the Saturday polls in Ondo without hitches, then Professor Attahiru Jega would have proved that the commission has indeed learnt useful lessons.