The sacking of Gboyega Oyetola of the APC as governor of Osun State is a clear warning to prospective election riggers that the judiciary is more than determined to fix the wrongs in the nation’s electoral processes, writes Olaseni Durojaiye
The verdict of the Osun State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal, sacking the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the 2018 Osun State Governorship Election, Alhaji Gboyega Oyetola and affirmed candidate of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Senator Ademola Adeleke as the rightful winner of the election has no doubt opened a new vista in the history of governorship elections in the country.
Historically, it is not the first governorship election result announced by the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) to be upturned. That credit belongs to Mr. Peter Obi. He had contested the 2003 Anambra State governorship election on the platform of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). Upon the completion of the election, INEC had pronounced Dr. Chris Ngige, candidate of the PDP in the election as winner.
In what turned out a landmark judgment, the election petition tribunal sacked Ngige and pronounced Obi the actual winner of the election. The Appeal Courts sitting in Enugu, Enugu State went ahead to affirm the verdict of the tribunal and Obi thus assumed office afterwards.
After the Obi experience, there had been other cases, including that of the Ekiti State governor, Kayode Fayemi; his then Osun State counterpart, Rauf Aregbesola and later, a former Edo State governor and now the National Chairman of the APC, Adams Oshiomhole. They were all beneficiaries of judiciary’s benevolence.
The election that has now been nullified was indeed a hard-won victory, given the maneuverings, deft political moves and manipulations that the ruling party allegedly deployed in the days leading to the re-run, which the tribunal described as illegal in the first place.
And because two of the polling units in which the re-run election took places were perceived as strongholds of candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) Iyiola Omisore, who came a distant third in the election, APC stalwarts immediately moved in on him and eventually struck a deal with him to deliver the two units for their party.
Sources had alleged that in the high-wire politics that culminated in the deal, the APC had agreed to offset a substantial part of the SDP candidate’s campaign expense. He was also alleged to have been promised a soft-landing in his prosecution by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for his alleged role in the DasukiGate saga. THISDAY could however not independently confirm this.
Eventually, Omisore played along with APC and ensured that the party won resoundingly in the two units in his Ife North Local government, even though it was the PDP that first approached him for collaboration in the election.
However, the verdict of the Osun State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal stands out on two fronts. First, it will certainly throw up for debate and legal interpretations, the practice of inconclusive governorship election in the nation’s electoral system. Second, it sounded a strident note of warning to election riggers.
No doubt, this is a welcome development at a time when inconclusive governorship election was fast becoming the new normal in the conduct of governorship elections in the country even as many commentators lamented the inconsistencies of INEC in declaring governorship election inconclusive, bearing in mind the breakdown of the last governorship election in Ogun State.
In declaring Adeleke the rightful winner of the #OsunDecides, the tribunal made two far-reaching decisions with huge prospects for sanitisation of the nation’s electoral system. Interestingly, this is what commentators, observers and pundits have all along been advocating.
The tribunal declared that the re-run conducted on September 27, in seven units in the state was unconstitutional and unknown to the law. The majority judgment read by Justice Peter Obiara also deducted the number of votes collated during the re-run from both the APC and PDP and consequently deducted over 2000 votes from the votes of the ruling party and over 1000 votes from the votes of the PDP. Thereafter, it declared Adeleke of PDP, who had scored the highest number of votes in the initial election as the winner.
Prof. Joseph Fuwape had said the election was inconclusive, because 3,498 votes were cancelled as a result of ballot box snatching that occurred in some polling units during the election.
The Justices further held that the returning Officer of the election, Fuwape, who is the Vice Chancellor of the Federal University of Technology Akure, Ondo State, who cancelled the results in the seven affected units after the announcement, had no powers to have done so.
Though the verdict of the tribunal is likely going to be tested as the APC appeared poised to appeal the decision at the appellate court, as it stands, however, the interpretation is that the judiciary having had its image severely battered in recent time appears ready to redeem itself by playing its constitutional role of interpreting the laws of the land without biases.
Needless to say the decision is also a good one for the Judiciary. The verdict signposts the determination on the part of the Judiciary to play its part in the quest to fix the nation’s electoral system. This could glean from the declaration that returning officers have no powers within the ambit of the law to declare election inconclusive, because elections were cancelled in some units due to irregularities. Until the Appeal Court rules otherwise this is a welcome development and capable of sanitising the nation’s electoral process.
Some analysts interpreted the ruling as an admonition to politicians to approach elections with the aim of campaigning for votes legitimately as against resorting to underhand tactics that undermine the credibility of electoral process, which was what characterised the Osun re-run elections.
Analysts further maintained that by ruling that re-run elections are unknown to the law was an unambiguous warning to unscrupulous politicians, who have perfected the act of disrupting voting exercise when the tide is against them in anticipation that a re-run would afford them a second chance to undo what went against them during the first ballot.
The verdict of the tribunal also marks the return of the PDP to the political hemisphere of the South-west given that the party would now control both Oyo and Osun States, if the latter finally went its way. Before now, the APC controls all the six states in the South-west geo-political zones after it uprooted the PDP from Ekiti State.
While it is remains to be seen how the APC reacts to the verdict, it is certainly not a good one for the party. Those who hold this view argued that unless a superior court rules otherwise on the status of re-run elections, the party will lose five of the six states where governorship elections have been declared inconclusive even if the re-run elections goes ahead as planned for yesterday by the INEC.
The states where INEC earlier declared elections inconclusive include Adamawa, Bauchi, Benue, Kano, Plateau and Sokoto. According to the results so far released by the electoral umpire, PDP leads in all but Plateau State.
Quite unexpectedly, some pundits have also posited that the verdict of the tribunal will serve as a fillip to the resolve of the PDP standard bearer in the 2019 presidential election to challenge the results as announced by INEC.
But more importantly, the verdict was coming at a time when many observers are miffed with the many flaws associated in the nation’s electoral system such that they have continued to call for it to be fixed. Could this be a reaction to the call?
Is the judiciary ready to lead the process of fixing the problems associated with the nation’s electoral process? The answer lies with time, master of the fears and worries of the mortal. Nevertheless, the concern is valid considering that the laws allow for a testing of the tribunal’s verdict at the Appeal Court.