By Ibrahim Sarafa
On Saturday September 22, 2018, Osun State people woke up to the dawn of great expectations and hope of better days ahead; this was the day they were going to exercise their democratic franchise of electing a governor that would oversee the state for the next four years as stipulated by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Governor, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, who was at the tail end of his administration as his constitutionally stipulated two-term limit would lapse on November 26, 2018, thus making the elections imperative.
As early as 7:00am, eligible voters were seen on the streets making their way to their various polling units where they are to cast their votes. By 8:00am, queues were already seen formed and INEC officials were on hand to commence the voting processes, that is, voters’ accreditation through verification of Permanent Voter Cards (PVC) by the Smart Card Reader Machines deployed by INEC.
Officially, 48 political parties fielded candidates for the election, but in actuality, there were only five major candidates that were seen as serious contenders in the electoral contest.
These are: the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate; Alhaji Gboyega Oyetola; Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate; Senator Ademola Adeleke; a former Deputy Governor and Social Democratic Party (SDP) candidate; Otunba Iyiola Omisore; two former Secretary to the State Government, Alhaji Moshood Adeoti and Alhaji Fatai Akinbade, who are the candidates of the Action Democratic Party (ADP) and African Democratic Congress (ADC) respectively.
The expectations and determination of the voters in the election was glaring in the manner they presented themselves and this ensured a violence-free exercise in almost all the polling units in the state. Even though, reported cases of vote-buying was a bit of concern, there was, however, significant reduction from the usual experiences from recent past gubernatorial elections held in other states of the country, notably Edo, Anambra and particularly Ekiti state.
Given the level of coordination and comportment by the electorates, election was concluded in most polling units before the official closing time of 2:00 pm and as soon as it was time, presiding officers in most of the polling units wasted no time in collating and announcing the votes polled by each of the major contenders. The process went on into the night and Osun people stayed glued to their television and radio sets to hear results of officially collated scores from each of the 30 local governments as they were being announced at the State Collation Centre in Osogbo, the state capital.
By 11:00am of Sunday September 23, 2018, official results from most of the 30 local government areas had been collated, putting PDP’s Senator Ademola Adeleke ahead with comfortable lead of over 5,000 votes before the INEC State Returning Officer (SRO), Professor Joseph Afuwape; called for a break in the exercise to allow more results to come in.
Upon resumption from the break and collation, the figures started to change amidst consistent and stern protests of wrong computations of figures by the PDP State Agent; Mr Dele Adeleke, despite these protests which were aired live on all major TV stations, Professor Afuwape kept on overruling the protested figures and went on to collate the figures thereby reducing PDP candidate’s lead to a slim margin of win, having polled 254,698 to APC’s Gboyega Oyetola’s 254,345, with a difference of 353 votes, elections in 7 polling units out of the total of 3,010 Polling Units in Osun State were also cancelled by the Professor during the collation.
Before the PDP could roll out the drums for this expected slim victory, the INEC State Returning Officer (SRO), Professor Joseph Afuwape, called for another short break, indicating that he would make a pronouncement on the result by 1:00pm when the break was supposed to end.
When he returned by noon, he shattered the joyous expectations of Osun people as he shockingly, declared that; “Unfortunately as the returning officer, it’s not possible to declare anybody as the clear winner of the election on the first ballot.” Explaining that the total registered voters in the seven polling units where elections were cancelled due to incidences of over-voting and violence is 3,498 votes and that since the figure is higher than the difference (353), between the two leading candidates, “I, Joseph Adeola Afuwape, hereby, declare this election inconclusive,” the Vice Chancellor of the Federal University of Technology, Akure, pronounced.
His declaration evoked shock, anger and utter disbelief not only in Osun State but across the entire nation! Months, weeks and days prior to the polls, the PDP had expressed great fears and doubts about the neutrality of INEC officials and impartiality of security personnel before, during and after the polls and this very strange decision by the SRO simply confirmed these fears!
Indeed, earlier before the declaration by INEC SRO, the PDP through its governorsip campaign spokesman, Mr. Olawale Rasheed, stated that intense pressures was being mounted on INEC to declare the election inconclusive and pave the way for a rerun poll in a desperate bid to deliver victory for the APC candidate, Gboyega Oyetola. Despite series of irregularities, manipulations, and illegal deductions of votes scored by the PDP candidate which resulted in the reduction of well over 13,000 votes from his total votes tally, thus necessitating the rerun! Though, PDP, through its national and state party organs, protested the decision of INEC and threatened legal action to force the electoral umpire to declare its candidate winner, it, however, agreed to partake in the contrived Rerun poll that was scheduled to hold on Thursday September 27, 2018.
Since the contrived Rerun would only cover 7 polling units but spread across four local governments, INEC indicated that voters in Ife South Ward 8, Unit 10; Ife South Ward 7, Unit 12; Orolu Ward 9, Unit 3; Orolu Ward 8, Unit 1; Orolu Ward 8, Unit 4; Osogbo LGA Ward 5, unit 17; and Ife North LG, Ward 10, Polling Unit 2, Oyere II, should be prepared for a fresh election exercise on the 27th of September, 2018. However, indications that the rerun poll would be marred by violence played out barely 72 hours to the new date as hoodlums chased away, brutalized and arrested resident PDP agents, voters and supporters in the affected areas in Orolu local government area from their homes, with some taking refuge at the town’s traditional ruler’s palace.
Early on Thursday, the contrived rerun day, widespread reports of violent attacks on perceived supporters of PDP inundated the airwaves; TV, Radio and social media handles. This included how thugs recruited and imported from Lagos were preventing voters from accessing their polling units and casting their votes across the 7 polling units of the scheduled contrived rerun exercise!
These were reported and later corroborated by oral and video evidences where ONLY voters with either wristbands or caps bearing the insignia of the Osun state government or who tie a white handkerchief around their wrists were allowed into the polling units to cast their votes. Journalists, local and international observers were also not spared from the crude impunity that marred the contrived rerun poll, forcing INEC to express on its official twitter handle, @inecnigeria that it “is disturbed about reports that accredited media and observers are being arrested or prevented from operating in some polling units. This is being taken up with the security agencies.”
Notwithstanding the clear acts of violence, mayhem and obvious disenfranchisement of eligible voters who favoured PDP, INEC still proceeded to accept “results” from the polling units and announced the APC candidate, Gboyega Oyetola, whose votes tally had soared after the contrived rerun sham to 255,505 against PDP’s Ademola Adeleke’s 255,023 votes. Professor Joseph Afuwape’s announcement was met with fierce rejection by the PDP who declared the contrived rerun ‘election’ as one of the worst days in the history of Nigeria’s democracy and called it “a black day for the nation”.
“What we have witnessed in Osun shows clearly that the APC is not ready for a free, fair, credible and transparent election and we are afraid that President Muhammadu Buhari will not hand over if he loses the general elections slated for next year,” PDP National Chairman, Prince Uche Secondus stated.
Incidentally, the PDP lines of protest and condemnation tallied with those of all local and international election monitors and observers, such as the UK, EU and US teams in the appraisal of the contrived rerun poll submitted that there were incidents of harassment and intimidation of voters. In the joint report read by the US Consul General, Mr. John F. Bray, the team of international observers noted that “The missions of the United States, European Union and the United Kingdom observed voting at polling stations in Osun today Thursday 27 September, 2018. We witnessed what appeared to be incidents of interference and intimidation of voters and have reports of harassment of party monitors, journalists and domestic observers.”
Their findings were complimented by an array of local observers, especially a civil society organisation, Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), which report concluded that the Osun rerun election ran contrary to democratic norms and standards. In the report signed by CDD Director, Idayat Hassan, it detailed the open partisanship of security agents and how voters and observers were denied access to polling units.
Excerpts from the report reads “At Ajegunle Roundabout, which leads to Polling Unit 003, Ward 9, in the Orolu LGA, security personnel mounted barricades to obstruct observers and deny them access to the polling unit . Observers were arrested and taken to a nearby police station. A CDD observer, Kemi Busari, was arrested by the police on the pretext that she took pictures around a polling unit. CDD also observed attempts by the security forces to prevent some voters who allegedly belong to an opposition party from accessing PU012 in the Olode Ward 07 in Ife-South Local Government Area, even after showing their PVCs.”
Another report by the Situation Room Election monitoring group (page 37) wondered why INEC having cancelled votes cast in the 7 polling units in the election of 22nd September due to violent acts, would turnaround to accept votes from same PUs from even worse acts of electoral violence and malpractices?
But while these brazen and reckless affront on constitutional democracy was going on, Osun people were in shock, dazed and stupefied and couldn’t believe that their will, freely expressed at the first ballot on 22nd September, would not be respected. In addition, it was obvious even to the blind, that the contrived rerun election was simply a ploy to upturn a clear victory earlier given to their preferred candidate, Senator Ademola Adeleke!
Grave silence could be felt across the state and supporters of APC had probably read the mood of their environment such that they couldn’t roll out the drums for celebration just as it did when Rauf Aregbesola secured reelection in 2014. The tense atmosphere was palpable and fears of a mass revolt against perceived electoral heist and injustice carried out in a crude and most barbaric manner in the full glare of the world; could be allowed to stand! However, patriotic leaders of the opposition PDP led by the Candidate himself; Senator Ademola Adeleke reached out to their teaming supporters and appealed to the citizens to remain calm and law abiding while they seek legal redress at the Election Petition Tribunal.
Since that brazen impunity and inglorious perfidy contrived by INEC officials in collaboration with the APC and its federal and state governments apparatchiks which brutally violated the fundamental rights of the citizens of Osun State to freely choose who their governor after the eight locust years of record-setting financial indebtedness, pain and misery of Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola administration; the entire citizens are asking; “When will justice come?”
The elderly and retirees owed years of pensions, the masses pauperized by their government’s failed policies, the students with their schools shut down for seemingly endless months, the sick and infirmed with no access to quality healthcare, civil servants owed years of salary arrears, all are asking; “When will justice come to Osun State?”
President Buhari along with his campaign train on his visit to Osun and at an interactive session with all the traditional rulers from across the state, admitted openly that his APC struggled at the last gubernatorial election and that they had had to use a lot of “resources” and managed to win using “Remote control”. One begins to wonder why he had to remind the people of Osun the still very sore pain and anguish of the controversial election.
But the reminding may be divine.Three takeaways are discernible.First,democracy sustainability demands a reversal of the rigged outcome.Two,cleansing national conscience is impossible without restitution.And third,the political class in power at the centre should use the case at the Tribunal as a national cleansing avenue by ensuring non-interference in the adjudication process.
Let it be clear, 2018 Osun State gubernatorial election is different! There is unanimity of global opinion from elder statesmen, human rights bodies and activists, civil society groups, international observers, electronic and media organizations, and the electorates, on the demonstrated injustice that was the contrived rerun election of 27 September 2018. This injustice must not stand!
––Ibrahim Sarafa,a freelance journalist sent this piece from Osogbo,Osun state.
Pix: governor Gboyega Oyetola.jpg