What a Close Shave

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Nseobong Okon-Ekong and Segun James write that despite the seeming blight which attended the supplementary governorship election in Osun State, it was a close call for both the candidates of the All Progressives Congress and the People’s Democratic Party

The outcome of the recent governorship election in Osun State has wide implications and outstanding lessons for the all parties involved. For the All Progressives (APC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), the two main contenders for control of power in the state, it was a close shave. The PDP candidate, Senator Ademola Adeleke nearly had it, having won the highest number of votes in the first ballot. But it slipped out of his hand when the exercise was declared inconclusive election by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The electoral umpire saved the APC flag-bearer, Adegboyega Oyetola from imminent defeat with that singular pronouncement, giving him the opportunity to gird his loin once again.

Osun was a testy period for leading candidates that contested for the governorship ticket of both the APC and the PDP. With the acrimony that attended the governorship selection of the two parties, it did not need a soothsayer to predict that the two parties will go through the election, managing all kinds of crises. Sensing that he might lose the primary to Adeleke, veteran politician and former deputy governor of the state, Senator Iyiola Omisore, exited the PDP with his loyalists to populate the Social Democratic Party (SDP). Apparently, Omisore was not happy to leave the PDP, he was forced to quit a party he had put in so much for and had a sense of entitlement to lead it in the state. Omisore’s popularity in the state was so much that many political pundits placed him second behind the APC’s Oyetola. In fact, not a few thought Omisore could spring a surprise win.

 It was, therefore, not much of an astonishment to those who had been following political development in Osun State that at the critical moment when his support for either Oyetola or Adeleke could be the decider in the supplementary election, Omisore chose to go with the APC against his former party the PDP. More than anything else, his decision was his pound of flesh painfully extracted from the PDP for the way the party denied him the opportunity to be its governorship candidate.

Omisore was not the only governorship aspirant who haboured a grievance against the PDP. There was Dr. Akin Ogunbiyi, who alleged that he was robbed of victory during the PDP primary held on July 2. Ogunbiyi lost the primary by seven votes to Adeleke. Though, he refused to quit the PDP, he refused to plough his energy and resources into the party’s quest to win the Osun governorship contest.

For the APC, Osun was the test case for the party’s adoption of direct primary, which allows every card carrying member of the party an opportunity to have a say in the choice of candidates going into an election. A couple of leading APC chiefs, particularly the former Secretary to the State Government, Alhaji Moshood Adeoti moved out of the party with his supporters. The differences among the APC contestants for the governorship was so sharp that those who lost to Oyetola, the party’s eventual flag bearer bluntly refused to reconciled to him and the party, despite several entreaties. However, in many instances, the APC leadership adopted an arrogant posture, refusing to parley the aggrieved erstwhile members. Adeoti proved to be the APC’s nemesis in the election, by holding on to his stronghold of Iwo and garnering close to 50,000 votes, which if it had gone to the APC, would given the party victory in the first ballot. This was the most glaring example that the APC went into the Osun State governorship election as a divided house.

Among his many ‘sins’, three years into his second term, Governor Rauf Aregbesola ran the state as a ‘sole administrator’. He refused to appoint commissioners and other key members of the state executive council. Since these appointees usually represent different power blocs, local government areas and ethnic groups, their inclusion in government usually serves to give the blocs or groups they represent a sense of belonging in the government of the day. By not leaving such appointment till it was rather late in the day, Aregbesola lost a huge chunk of good will.

Of course, there is the well-known matter of staggered or delayed payment of salaries to civil servants. In a state where government employs over 70 per cent of the work force, interruption to the regular monthly pay to workers leads to a major setback in the populace, with far-reaching implications.

Aregbesola was also accused of giving all the jobs to ‘Lagos people’, by which his accusers meant that he favoured more his friends and business associates who reside in Lagos. They complained that if these persons were indigenes of Osun who reside in Lagos, they would not mind, but to give a job that Osun indigenes are qualified for and could handle to outsiders was something they could not stomach. However, sources close to the governor claimed that his watchword was excellence and the need to leave a lasting legacy. They attested that he had earlier given certain road construction jobs to Osun indigenes, but they were shoddily done or not done at all. Aregebesola himself was barely condoned, having been ‘imported’ from Lagos where he was an influential commissioner in the administration of the former governor of Lagos State and National Leader of the APC, Senator Bola Tinubu.

Boastful and proud, Aregbesola is often quoted as saying that he is as large in Lagos as he is Osun. But, the fact that the governor lost some local governments to the PDP in his Ijesha homestead and had margin of his party’s win seriously narrowed in others lent credence to the assumption in some quarters that the governor was not in support of the party’s candidate, Oyetola and did not vigorously campaign for him. Oyetola was not Aregbesola’s candidate. Oyetola was allegedly imposed on the APC by Tinubu, though this is arguable. But there was a stiff resistance within the party, not only against the governor, but Tinubu, who is believed to be controlling the affairs of the state from his Bourdillon Road, Ikoyi-Lagos home. Oyetola was also hated because he was believed to be a relative of Tinubu.

Tinubu’s growing infamy reached an annoying level in the heat of the politicking when he was reported saying that Oyetola was richer than Osun State  and does not need the state’s money.

As if to show Tinubu and Aregbesola that they had the will power to call their bluff, the people of Osun came out in their numbers to vote. The result of the first ballot was a rude awakening to the APC. Shocked beyond words that its candidate was trailing behind by 353 votes, they quickly rallied back and secured Omisore’s support in the supplementary election to secure an eventual victory. But the margin of votes was still very small compared to the supposed advantage usually credited to a ruling party.

However, the PDP did not entirely have its nose bloodied in the contest. Perhaps, the party and its candidate were too surprised at how well it performed that when it came to making the final push to secure the vital win, it relaxed and allowed the APC the opportunity to strike a gainful deal with Omisore, while the PDP went to bed, rejoicing that it had already won. What the PDP should have known was that its initial win was a protest by the Osun people against the administration of Aregbesola and whatever it stood for.

While the Osun election exposed the weakness of the smaller parties, it also showed how the enigma of one individual can turn around the fortunes of a less fancied political party. That was what Omisore’s entry into the SDP proved in Osun State. The party was struggling in Osun before Omisore moved in with supporters and gave the sleeping horse a shot in the arm. Revived and reformed, the SDP horse in Osun sprang into life and galloped far and close to the mark.

Like with the June 12, 1993 presidential election when the word ‘annulment’ was introduced into Nigerian political lexicon, the September 22, 2018 governorship election in Osun has popularized the word ‘inconclusive’. Despite this seeming blight which attended the supplementary election, the INEC has been largely commended for conducting a good electoral process. Election observers also gave similar commendation to the security agents for keeping to the terms of their brief during the election.

QUICK FACTS:

*Forty eight political parties presented candidates for the Osun State governorship contest

* The election was declared inconclusive by INEC after the first ballot and a supplementary election ordered in seven polling units

*The two leading candidates, after the first ballot were Senator Ademola Ademola Adeleke of the PDP and Adegboyega Oyetola of the APC. Adeleke led with 353 votes

*In the supplementary election, the critical support of the SDP candidate Omisore who came third in the first ballot was needed to sway the win in favour of either Adeleke or Oyetola. Omisore supported Oyetola, thus helping the APC candidate to win

*Oyetola polled 255,505 votes, while Adeleke of the PDP garnered 255,023 votes.

*Adeleke earlier won the first ballot with 353 votes after polling 254,698 against Oyetola’s 254,345.

*Both the APC and the PDP were seriously fractured from crises emanating from their governorship primaries

*There were four female governorship candidates, representing different parties in the election