In Osun, It’s Getting Close to the End

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Gboyega Oyetola and Ademola Adeleke

Ibrahim Sarafa writes that the decision on who rules Osun State should not be subjected to the whim of electoral officials

It is nearly one year that Osun people went to the poll but they are left at the mercy of the judiciary to determine who got their mandate to lead the state for four years. From polling units, the faith of Osun people shifted to the court rooms after interference weighed heavily on the announced result.

Eligible voters in Osun state– grandparents, people in wheelchairs, artisan and civil servants, even students–came out and endured the scorching sun on September 22, 2018, to cast their votes for the governor of their choice. But they woke up the following day to be shattered. They were left with many questions than answers when the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared the election inconclusive.

It was a decision that stirred more controversy than any reasonable justification. Even when INEC eventually tabled why it took that step, it stood in conflict with the constitution of the country. Elections are constitutional matter and every process in its conduct should conform to the country’s legal document.

As a conscious citizen, I reached for the constitution to better understand the scenario playing out. Before INEC ruled the Osun governorship election inconclusive, two candidates; Senator Ademola Adeleke of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Gboyega Oyetola of the All Progressives Congress (APC), were leading in the contest for the top political office in Osun state. Collated results from the 30 local government areas put the votes polled by Adeleke at 254,698 and Oyetola at 254,345, giving the PDP candidate an edge with 353 votes.

Unimaginable violence, intimidation, inducement were unleashed on Osun people but they stuck to their choice of Senator Adeleke. Even on live television, everyone was stunned as to how 1000 votes mysteriously disappeared from the PDP tally in Aiyedade local government. Despite all the manipulations and violence, the people spoke so loud and their choice was Senator Adeleke.

From the results, it was glaring that a winner had emerged. This was so because Senator Adeleke had fulfilled the clear provision of Section 179(2)(a) and (b), that prescribed condition for a governor to emerge. In an unambiguous term, it stated that for a candidate to be deemed to have been duly elected as governor “(a) he has the highest number of votes cast at the election” and “(b) he has not less than one-quarter of all votes cast in each of at least two-thirds of all local government areas in the state.”

With the official results, elections had held in the requisite two-third of all local governments in Osun state, and Senator Adeleke had majority of the votes casted. That is the position of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (as amended) and clearly, Senator Adeleke fulfilled the requirements of the constitution from the collated results of September 23, 2018. Surprisingly, INEC had a different idea and easily, clinched to it manual and guidelines to declare the election inconclusive on the technicality of ‘undecided’ election in seven polling units.

We must get something straight here, the constitution is supreme and binding on all persons and authorities, including INEC. Its supremacy is better established in Section 1(3) that “If any other law is inconsistent with the provisions of this constitution, this constitution shall prevail, and that other law shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void.” Quite simple and straightforward, yet, INEC decided otherwise.

This stirred so many questions, including the power of the State Returning Officer of INEC to cancel results of the seven polling units. Obviously, the results of the September 22, 2019, election had fulfilled the clear provision of the constitution (as amended) and the opinion of INEC manual and guidelines cannot override a clear constitutional provision.

As experienced in Osun governorship election, INEC had relied on its guidelines to reject the registration of some political parties in 2002. Late Chief Gani Fawehinmi whose party was among those rejected on the basis of not meeting the requirements of INEC guidelines, contested the decision as unconstitutional and his arguments were upheld by the Supreme Court, which stated that political parties must be registered in accordance with the constitution, and not INEC guidelines. With this apex court decision, it is evident that the constitutional provision, not INEC manual or guidelines should have been applied on the Osun governorship election.

This was reinforced in the case of INEC Vs Musa (2003) 3 NWLR (PT.806) 72 at 157 for the principle that “where the constitution sets the condition for doing a thing, no legislation of the National Assembly or of a State House of Assembly can alter those conditions in anyway unless the constitution itself as an attribute of its supremacy so allowed.” It is not only confusing but a dangerous affront on the constitution, which provisions are clear enough on how a governor should emerge in an election.

In essence, INEC goofed and that denied Osun people the reflection of their will. I don’t believe that its manual and guidelines qualified as laid down process in Section 9(1) of the constitution by which the constitution can be altered, hence, it is grave injustice for Osun people that their mandate is subjected to the whim and caprice of electoral officials and not the constitution. Not even Electoral Act talk less of INEC manual and guidelines can supersede, or seek to add to, or subtract from, or amend clear constitutional provisions.

But we all saw what happened and that agitated the quest for justice. From the tribunal to an appellate court and now the Supreme Court, the tone has been the same– establish the superiority of the constitution and give Osun people justice. Osun people should decide their governor, not the manipulation of compromised electoral officers.

It’s worth emphasizing, too, that just as the constitution is supreme to every other legislation or guideline, the will of the people is above any other interest or opinion in a democracy. This is more reason why the quest of the people for justice deserves a thorough look and fair resolution.

The protest of Osun people as canvassed in Senator Adeleke’s appeal before the Supreme Court must be seen as more than a demand for individual justice but that of the people. It is a democratic outcry, demanding that justice be actually done– and a clear message that the supremacy of the constitution and the people’s will cannot be manipulated for personal benefit. The justices of the apex court have been called upon to adjudicate and the whole world is waiting with bated breath to see how it goes. The Osun governorship tussle presents a bigger test for our judiciary, as the world awaits the Supreme Court verdict.