Osun voters return to the ballot box tomorrow to elect a new governor. It is the second governorship election the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will be conducting in a space of just two months. In June, Prof. AttahiruJega’s INEC conducted a fairly successful election which produced a shocking result for the national opposition party, APC, whose candidate and sitting governor, Dr.KayodeFayemi, was seeking a successive second term. He lost to PDP’s Ayodele Fayose, himself seeking a return to office after his October 16, 2006 impeachment and removal from office
Typical of Nigerian elections, the APC alleged “massive rigging” by President Goodluck Jonathan who had vowed to retake the state it lost in the 2011 election to old ACN, now a major partner in the new APC coalition. However, the APC governor differed from his party leadership and, instead, conceded defeat. He promptly set up a transition programme to facilitate a seamless succession. The APC defeat in Ekiti, therefore, set the tone for a keen electoral contest in neighbouring Osun. Here as in the former, it will be mainly a two horse race between APC’s Rauf Aregbesola and PDP’s Iyiola Omisore, a former deputy governor and senator. In spite of being fingered in the 2003 assassination of a former minister of justice and federal attorney-general, Chief Bola Ige, Omisore is quite popular in the state and the PDP is hoping he will deliver a second victory in a row for it. If that happens, it will be a remarkable come-back for a party which in 2003 was wiped off the slate completely in the South-west.
The APC, on its part, has vowed to not allow in Osun the “brigandage” that happened in Ekiti. Addressing a “mega rally” on Wednesday in Osogbo, the Osun state capital, national party leader, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, said the party would leave no stone unturned to retain the governorship. Speaking for his PDP few days earlier, President Jonathan said the Osun vote “will be one man, one vote; one woman, one vote; one youth, one vote”, warning that “who calls himself a thug and finds himself in Osun (on polling day)will be dealt with according to the law.”
The stage is set for an evidently titanic contest. INEC, however, believes it is up to the task. Addressing a stakeholders forum last Saturday in Oshogbo, Jega said confidently, “We have prepared adequately and meticulously to ensure that the election is free, fair and credible. We have paid a lot of attention to the training of our staff and ad hoc staff to use and we will protect members of the National Youth Service Corps we normally use. We have put measures in place to protect lives and property and to ensure that voters exercise their franchise in a peaceful environment.”
Jega hoped to leverage the innovations he introduced in the Ekiti election which included different colour coded ballot papers for the local governments and serially number result sheets. “Our hope is to make sure that Osun election is the best poll so far conducted and everyone should come out to perform their civic duty peacefully,” he declared. Ensuring that voting is peaceful is the task of the police. And this falls to acting Inspector General Sulaiman Abba who was appointed only last week by President Jonathan to replace retired IG Mohammed Abubakar, believed to have had a relatively successful tenure. He helped to deliver the clean poll in Ekiti. On his part, the new man has promised to “protect the integrity” of the Osun poll. He said every voter should feel “free and secure” to vote, but warned that security forces would be both “on land and in the air”, watching out for thugs.
Two successive, fairly transparent and generally acceptable, governorship elections, in the usually volatile South-west will be a huge morale booster for INEC going forward into 2015 when national elections, including the presidential one, will take place. But it’s not all INEC’s burden. The participating political parties and their candidates are expected to play by the rules of the game. This implies the loser should be gallant in defeat and the winner gracious in victory. An election should not and must not be a “do or die affair”.