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Ondo’s Election of Hope: As INEC, stakeholders list priorities

Nigerians have been expressing apprehension that activities of the operatives of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and security agencies, especially during off-season elections have been at the root of electoral malpractices in the country. Acts of shameful obscenity, brutality, thuggry, and outright intimidation of voters by operatives of our security agencies, as well as disgustful acts of some Returning Officers, most of who, unfortunately, are top members of the academia, have set Nigeria’s democratic process on a backward journey, writes MALACHY UZENDU.

But with improved level of neutrality and transparency of electoral conduct witnessed in Edo State during the last governorship election, which templates were rekindled by Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, INEC Chairman and IGP Mohammed Adamu, the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), there are high expectations that if they walk their talk, then Nigeria is on a sure path to electoral sanity and political progress.

When in 1993, Prof. Humphrey Nwosu, then chairman of the National Electoral Commission (NEC), introduced Option A-4, which immediately restored sanity into the political space, Nigerians never believed again that the kind of political malfeasance which took place in certain parts of the country, will ever occur. But, it took the singular act of the annulment of the June 12, 1993 Presidential Election to rubbish all the gains made in that era. Thereafter, conduct of elections have degenerated in quality that not even the 2015 Presidential Election which produced the first time a sitting president would concede to electoral defeat, even with the myriad of electoral malpractices of that election, rekindled any hope.

Of course, the 2019 general election was adjudged both by the international and local press, observers and voters, as the most pathologically and ineptly conducted election ever since 1993. That election resurrected almost all aspects of degeneracy that had characterized our nation’s general and off-season elections. There were brazen and shameless deployment of fully-armed security personnel, who went about engaging in ballot box snatching, ballot box destruction and intimidation of voters. Still and video evidence of these atrocities were substantially captured, forwarded to the national leadership of the security agency caught in the act, with petitions to back such, but all these were pronounced as acts pepertrated by “fake personnel and operatives”. Similarly, several of the nation’s top academia, who are usually engaged by INEC as Returning Officers, not only put indelible shame on their families, but, desecrated the very essence of academics in the country.

For a police or military officer to be captured live on tape, behaving like a lunatic because of an election, is not just most despicable but goes to the destruction of every essence of integrity of such security apparatus. For such an agency to be involved in brutal act of broad day light murder, passed off as act of political thugs, cries to God for vengeance, even against the unborn children of such devilish security operative.

When juxtaposed with a situation where a university professor would so shamelessly request for “ruler, additional ruler; light, more light, additional light; water, more glasses of water” and all those subterfuge because his devilish persona was battling with his conscience, goes to tell how a little pot of porridge could go to disembowel a gentleman, an academic. But, all those happened. Up till now, nobody has been charged to court. Institutions whose duty they were to maintain law and order, moved on as if nothing untoward happened, while Obasanjo’s ‘do-or-die’ style of politics bestrode the nation’s political landscape like a colossus.

It was therefore great and glory relief last Monday when Prof. Yakubu and IGP Adamu, reiterated their resolve to replicate the wonderful outcomes of the governorship election in Edo state a fortnight ago. In Edo state, the political gladiators perfected all their tricks, hatched their plot, engaged in their usual subterranean negative subterfuges, and oiled their arsenal of political destruction, but all those were completely frustrated by the INEC and the Police. Edo state presented the fact that ‘where there is the will, there is always, a cock sure way’. All the gerrymandering by political never-do-wells, including the naira and dollar-wielding buffoons holding top political offices, were punctured.

During last Monday’s INEC/Political Parties Stakeholders Meeting in Akure, Ondo State, both the INEC and police bosses were not mistaken in their commitment to ensure that a credible, free, fair and transparent election held in Ondo state on Saturday. If there were anything comparable with the tinder straightness of a stick of cigarette, it was the resolve of both gentlemen to bequeath a good name to their personalities and integrity to their work. They were heard ‘loud and clear’, that it was no longer business unusual. It was not in any doubt that they meant to change all those negative mindset which push the politicians to desperation. They did not mince words; they did not speak with any semblance of water in their mouth. All those who were at the Dome Center, Akure, where the meeting took place, were convinced they were relating with gentlemen. There were no subterfuges; the pronouncements were crystal clear without innuendoes or anything more.

Prof. Yakubu and IGP Adamu had declared respectively: “we cannot afford to fail; we will maintain the neutrality witnessed in Edo”. In particular, Yakubu said he had spent two days evaluating the report submitted to him by his field officers on the lapses noticed at the Edo governorship election, which he told everyone, he was poised to ensure such lapses never occurred in Ondo, stressing that he was happy with what he got, insisting that the voters will determine the outcome of Saturday’s Ondo governorship election.

He said: “Every vote will count. The commission will not take any action to the advantage or disadvantage of any political party. We have reviewed the successes of the Edo governorship election and we are determined to improve on it. We have identified 16 areas of improvement and employed additional 104 ICT experts to respond quickly to Smart Card Reader malfunctioning, and fully briefed the security and anti-corruption agencies so as to improve on the gains made so far”. He listed the 16 areas to include logistics, prompt response to Smart Card Reader hitches on Election Day, the menace of vote-buying during elections and compliance with COVID-19 protocols.

“To fast-track the physically challenged to fully participate at the election, the INEC boss explained that “we shall be deploying magnifying glasses and brail ballot guide to assist the physically challenged.

“Our commitment is to ensure that the choice of who becomes the next Governor of Ondo State is entirely in the hands of the voters. I wish to assure all eligible voters that every vote will count and only the choice made by the people of Ondo State will determine the outcome of the election. I want to assure political parties and candidates that we will remain focused on our processes and procedures,” he stated.

He capped up his speech when he announced that “we shall continue the use of Zee-Pad for uploading results of polling units on I-rev”, a polling-booth-by-polling-booth ICT platform created by the commission for independent verification of the results of collated by returning officers. He urged Nigerians who would like to view the election results real-time through the platform to register on the website for accreditation.

“This technology was first deployed in the Nasarawa Central State Constituency bye-election and, most recently, in the Edo State Governorship election. The same technology will be deployed for the Ondo State Governorship election this Saturday,” he stressed.

Analysts were in agreement that the ‘Edo Wonder’ came about as a result of the deployment of ICT to independently monitor the outcome of any unscrupulous academic engaged as Returning Officer, who had recently added to our headache on electoral vices.

The Resident Electoral Commissioner in the state, Amb. Rufus Oloruntoyin Akeju, reeled out detailed statistics for the election. According to him, “the delimitation data of the state are as follows – number of polling units 3009; Registration Areas 203; LGAs 18; Registered Voters 1,822,346; PVC collected/distributed 1,478,460; PVC remaining uncollected and in our custody 343,886”.

He added that all the non-sensitive materials had been received, while the sensitive materials which are already in the vault of the Central Bank of Nigeria in Akure, will be received and distributed on Thursday, October 8th “in the presene of party agents and security personnel”. He equally provided detailed protocol for voting in line with the COVID-19 protocol of the NCDC, especially in keeping with social distancing and wearing of face mask.

He reiterated: “We can’t afford to fail because the consequences are overwhelming. Everything required statutorily have been put in place for the voters to vote seamlessly have been put in place. Vote buying and selling are also banned, while those caught will be prosecuted. Nobody will be rewarded for impunity,” he stressed. He urged party chieftains to positively play roles expected of them by avoiding actions or statements that can precipitate crises, just as he advised parents to advise their children to avoid engaging in acts of thuggery and violence.

On his part, the IGP, Adamu, reaffirmed the assurances of political neutrality, stressing that security threat assessment have been conducted for the state. According to him, 33,783 Police personnel have been deployed for the election. He said the military will be deployed only to secure inter-state boarders, while the police airwing will provide air surveillance before, during and after the election.

Adamu sent strong signals that the Police and other security agencies were determined to arrest and prosecute political recalcitrants. He mentioned Akoko and other flash points areas that will not be allowed to erupt in violence, as well as listing the dos and don’ts formulated for political leaders and security personnel, stressing that they should neither approach the polling unit with uniform personnel or with clothes showing any party emblems.

He warned that people who attempt to threaten public peace in any manner, come around polling units with arms, or who are found in any electoral breach, shall be apprehended and prosecuted.

The Director-General of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), Brig-Gen. Shuaibu Ibrahim, said he had already addressed the corps members enlisted as ad-hoc personnel on the need for them to abide by the rules, reiterating the appreciation of the NYSC for the confidence reposed on them by allowing corps members to continue to serve during elections, stressing they would be guided by the relevant laws and maintain neutrality.

The chairman of the Ondo State Council of Obas, Kabiyesi Olugbo of Ugbo, Oba (Dr.) Fredrick Eniolorunda Obateru Akinruntan, Okoro Ajija I, pleaded with the IGP on the positive roles he played in ensuring a free and credible election in Edo State and pleading with him, “don’t limit your good work to Edo state alone. Bring the good work to Ondo state. You made Nigeria proud. Internationally, it was never believed that Nigeria can do a credible election. I extend same to the INEC chairman and the DG-NYSC”.

To the political parties, he urged them to talk to their followers to eschew peace. “Fighting each other, destroying some of your property, we don’t want it please. If you don’t obey the IGP, they will come to your house and pick you. We only want what happened in Edo to be repeated here. We warn you not to engage in any untoward act. We know how to pick anyone who is planning to forment trouble,” he said.

The Director-General of the National Orientation Agency (NOA’s) representative said they have drawn up a synergy with the security agencies and political parties to ensure a hitch-free election in the state.

On their part, representives of political parties, who are mainly the party chairmen and or the deputy governorship candidate of the respective political parties, were in agreement that the election is not a do-or-die affair. “Let us try as much as possible to be peaceful during this election”. The chairman of the Zenith Labour Party, Hon. Akinlaja, said he had come with trepidation and fear until he listened to the IGP. He added: “We have a victim in Idanre. Our member, wearing our face cap, was murdered. Our Woman Leader’s house was raided. That’s why we couldn’t continue with our rally today. The perpetrators were reported to the police and those people are walking the streets freely”.

Fatai Adams, the representative of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), accused the All Progressives Congress (APC) of desperation, appealing to the security agencies to guarantee neutrality. He claimed that the “PDP are being attacked around the state by the thugs of the APC”, calling on the IGP to ensure that the reports already incidented, are properly processed and acted upon.

The state’s SDP state chairman, accused unnamed political party of “trying to cause confusion during the collation of results” and urges the police to assist and ensure that none wins election on technicality.

On their part, the Allied Peoples Movement (APM) through their deputy governorship candidate, expressed worry that posters of smaller political parties were being torn, even though the perpetrators who are known, were reported to the police and nothing are being done against them”. The All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) gubernatorial candidate, spoke in the same direction, while the APC state chairman, vehemently denied the allegations of his party sponsoring thugs in the state as alluded especially by the PDP. Absolving his party of any form of plot to cause political mayhem or breach of the peace, he reiterated that the people of Ondo state know the way to go, appealing to both the INEC and the security agencies to maintain neutrality.

*Peace Pact

Ahead of the election, Tuesday, the political parties and governorship and deputy governorship candidates of the political parties fielding candidates at the election, signed a peace pact factilitated by the National Peace Committee, headed by former Head of State, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar and emeritus Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, John Cardinal Onaiyekan. Although this appears to be mere formality as it had of the badly rigged elections, this symbolic gesture, which is more of moralsuation, is already having its positive impact in that it is gradually beginning to get on the membranes of the political actors, who see such as no longer mere routine, but something they should live and act.

Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Eyitayo Jegede of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Agboola Ajayi of the Zenith Labour Party (ZLP), and other candidates signed the peace pact pleding to shun violence during the election and avoid actions that may undermine the peace accord.

The signing of the peace accord was witnessed by INEC chairman, the IGP and traditional rulers from the state. Others in attendance were Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar, the Sultan of Sokoto; Most Rev. Matthew Kukah, Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese.

Akeredolu said the Saturday election will be peaceful and urged INEC to ensure that the election is free, fair and credible.

If they walk their talk, then Saturday’s elections will be one of the smoothest and peaceful election now evolving in the country. With assurances by President Muhammadu Buhari to bequeath a desirable electoral process for the country before he leaves office in 2023, it is hoped that the shenanigans of political actors would be cut short by strict adherence to the letters of the Constitution and the Electoral Act, especially by INEC ad-hoc workers and the security agencies. These two remain the weakest line in the nation’s strive to entrench a culture of a free, fair, transparent and credible election. All hope is not lost, given what transpired in Ondo. By the grace of God, Nigeria has arrived on the path to political progress.

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