- We have no favoured candidate, says umpire
- PDP to sanction members of Sheriff-led faction
By James Sowole in Akure, Victor Olakitan in Ado Ekiti and Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja
Despite pressure from 21 of the 28 political parties and other prominent stakeholders for a shift in date, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), is unperturbed and going ahead with the election this morning to pick a new governor for the Sunshine State.
The election is holding on the eve of highly contentious and acrimonious struggle between Eyitayo Jegede of the Markafi-led faction of the PDP and Jimoh Ibrahim of the Ali Modu Sheriff faction on who is the authentic PDP standard bearer which the Appeal Court eventually resolved in facour of Jegede.
For most of yesterday, sensitive electoral materials were moved to the local government offices of the commission while security agents perfected strategies to ensure a hitch-free voting.
The three leading candidates for today’s election – Eyitayo Jegede of the PDP, Rotimi Akeredolu of the APC and Olusola Oke of the AD – were also involved in last-minute quiet house-to-house campaigns across the state.
However, the state’s Governor, Olusegun Mimiko alleged yesterday that “INEC and some forces within the ruling APC are out to prevent the emergence of credible candidate” in today’s election.
Mimiko, who was visibly angry, spoke in Akure at a press conference he addressed at the State International Event Centre (The Dome) adding that several measures had been put in place by the electoral body and some political players to the advantage of the APC candidate.
The governor said one of the ploys to realise the mission of those who were bent on manipulating the process in favour of the APC was the deployment of Professor Kayode Soremekun, who was the returning officer for the September election in Edo State to perform the same function in Ondo State.
“We have just been told that the same team of election ad hoc staff, which masterminded the largely controversial Edo election, has been sent to our state to deliver a pre-conceived result for Rotimi Akeredolu, the APC candidate.
“I have to state this here and now, that our people will not accept the method, men and process unleashed on Edo. We reject unequivocally the mission of this team to our State.
“The Edo team did not only call off collation by 9pm on election day, party agents, monitors and journalists were ordered out of the collation centres allowing for final subversion of the will of the electorates. We shall not allow such an ungodly process to be repeated in our dear state.
“For the avoidance of doubt, this ungodly process started when INEC, in flagrant disregard of extant laws governing elections, removed the name of Eyitayo Jegede on the basis of a Justice Okon Abang order that has since been declared as a fraud by the Supreme Court.
“We wonder why INEC could remove the name of a man who emerged from a party primary that was conducted in a free, fair and open environment and by legitimate organs of the party, where INEC itself was represented, with another from a process that is illegal, and by people not known to law and logic.
“INEC discarded all legal advice not to substitute Eyitayo Jegede by its own chosen consortium of lawyers”, he said.
The governor said INEC was being forced to subvert its processes, and imperil the Ondo election saying that the team it sent to Edo, which it is also sending to Ondo, is peopled by rabid supporters of APC who have displayed their brazen disdain for justice and fair play in the Edo election.
“I am by this asking you the good people of Ondo State to be vigilant and insist on the sanctity of the ballot. We must not allow any alteration of result either at the Ward Collation Centre or anywhere along the line.
“We are a proud people; we can make our choices for the good of our state. We need no manipulation of any kind to exercise our inalienable right to choose our leaders. We also do not want anything to remind us of the inglorious past of violence and bloodshed precipitated by injustice and impunity”, he said.
The governor said he as the Chief Security Officer of the state had met with President Muhammadu Buhari in the past two weeks to call his attention to the peculiar challenges being foisted on the state.
“I have also at all times called on our people to carry out their activities according to the laws of the land. I have discharged my responsibilities in the above direction to the best of my ability and want Nigerians to hold those who want to subvert the electoral system responsible for any negative development that may attend the planned rigging of tomorrow’s election,” he said.
INEC: We Have No Interest in Ondo Poll
Meanwhile INEC yesterday said that it has no interest in any of the candidates in today’s election contrary to Mimiko’s allegation.
The INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) in Ondo State, Mr Segun Agbaje who denied the allegation, said: “INEC is not protecting the interest of anybody or any political party contesting the election.”
Agbaje who spoke at the state headquarters of the commission said: “I don’t know any of the candidates contesting the election. I don’t know Rotimi Akeredolu, neither do I know Olusola Oke or Eyitayo Jegede. I am not from Ondo State and I have nothing to gain if the election is rigged.”
The REC insisted that the commission was prepared for the election, having distributed both the sensitive and non-sensitive materials to all the 18 Local Government Areas of the state.
Fayose Rejects Soremekun as Returning Officer
Also yesterday, Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State concurred with Mimiko that the appointment Professor Soremekun, as the Returning Officer by INEC is dangerous to the success of today’s election.
A statement signed by the governor reads: “Is Professor Kayode Soremekun the only Vice Chancellor in Nigeria? Is FUOYE the only federal university in Nigeria? Is Ekiti the only state where INEC can find Returning Officers? Definitely, INEC is up to a sinister game on the Ondo State election and it is obvious that the electoral commission is working with the APC.”
Fayose declared that evidently, democracy in Nigeria had suffered a serious setback and it will take the insistence and resistance of the people of Ondo State for their votes to count today.
“I therefore urge the people of Ondo State to be extremely vigilant.
When they come out today to cast their votes, they must stand by their votes. They must follow their votes from the polling stations to the ward collation centres, local government collation centres and the State collation centre.”
Fani-Kayode Warns INEC
Also yesterday, former aviation Minister, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode warned INEC against rigging today’s poll in the state.
Fani-kayode in a statement titled, “A Warning to INEC: Do Not Murder Sleep in Ondo State,” said: Adedeji Soyebi who is the INEC National Commissioner for the South-west is leading the team for the Ondo election while Professor Soremilekun is the Returning Officer.
“This is a dangerous combination. Both men are anti-PDP and Soremilekun is the same individual that was appointed as the returning officer for the Edo state 2016 governorship election. Sadly, we witnessed the havoc that he caused there. He shamelessly rigged the election for APC in Edo and he is under orders to do same in Ondo State today.”
PDP to Sanction Sheriff Faction
In a related development, the PDP has said that it would impose severe sanctions on Ali Modu Sheriff and his faction for all their actions intended to undermine the party’s interest.
The party said that it viewed the acts of desperation exhibited by the Sheriff group in trying to undermine the electoral chances of the PDP, especially with regard to the Ondo governorship election as the height of treachery which must attract sanctions.
Addressing a press conference yesterday, the Spokesman of the PDP National Caretaker Committee, Prince Dayo Adeyeye said the party had received information over plots by the APC to rig today’s governorship election in Ondo State by conniving with some officials of INEC.
“Democracy is under threat in Nigeria. APC is not going to allow free and fair election. Edo State was massively rigged; they are working to rig Ondo election.
“We don’t have confidence in INEC going to Ondo. INEC should now be called Partial National Electoral Commission (PNEC). People should tell INEC to do its work creditably. With a free and fair election, PDP is confident of victory in the polls,” he said.
AD Warns INEC, Security against Manipulating Process
The Alliance for Democracy (AD) yesterday warned INEC and security agencies against manipulating the results of today’s election in favour of any party, especially the ruling APC.
The Director-General of the Olusola Oke Campaign Organisation, Bola Ilori, said any attempt to manipulate the result of the election would be resisted by the good people of Ondo State, adding that the people of the state should be allowed to choose who rules them.
Ilori said: “While we as a party are prepared for the election, we will support anything that will aid the peaceful conduct of election. However, we will not fold our arms and allow our destinies to be determined by people who are not only political invaders but people who have subjected our people to untold hardship.
“We are also aware of plans to cause trouble in Akoko Land, Ondo South Senatorial District and other areas considered to be strongholds of AD. If President Muhammadu Buhari cannot deliver the dividends of democracy he promised the people, he should not cause chaos in the state. He should warn INEC and security agencies against enacting anything that can cause political crisis in the state.”