This Saturday, August 9, the people of Osun State will be going to the polls in a governorship election that has generated so much controversy over the last one year. Although 20 political parties are fielding candidates for the election, the field appears to have narrowed down to just the trio of incumbent governor, Rauf Aregbesola, of the All Progressives Congress (APC), who is seeking re-election, Senator Iyiola Omisore of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Alhaji Fatai Akinbade of the Labour Party (LP).
Understandably, the polity is heated up, a situation worsened by the sometimes unguarded utterances of some of the candidates and their parties. On several occasions, the politicians have left the issues to engage in mudslinging and making unfounded allegations. Along the line too, violence also crept in, resulting in physical confrontations between party supporters.
While PDP accuses APC of floating an army of thugs ominously known as State Boys, the APC insists the PDP candidate is the one maintaining an army of snipers who sometimes appear in masks at public events. Things even became more heated following the shocking outcome of a similar election in neighbouring Ekiti State, where incumbent governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi of the APC, lost woefully to the PDP candidate and a former governor of the state, Ayodele Fayose.
With the ripple of that PDP victory in Ekiti sending shivers through the entire political system in the country, the APC, which otherwise seemed to have a firm grip of the South-West states, is determined not to take the voters for granted. In order to forestall a repeat of the Ekiti scenario in Osun, the APC is striving not to leave anything to chance. The PDP, on its part, has seen new possibilities in Osun and wants to push its foothold in the South-West a notch higher.
However, whether or not we would have a free, fair and transparent election in Osun this Saturday is the collective responsibility of a handful of stakeholders, namely: the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the police and other security agencies, the presidency, the candidates and their parties and, most importantly, the Osun electorate.
We hold INEC chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, to his word that the Osun State election would be a marked improvement on those of Ekiti and Anambra States – both of which have been touted as being among the best that the electoral agency has conducted since the advent of the present democratic dispensation.
INEC must ensure early arrival of election materials, avoid leakages and ensure that its personnel – both permanent and ad-hoc staff – live above board and are properly trained. Above all, INEC must not only be fair, it must be seen to have treated all candidates in this election with equity and transparency. Whatever lapses were noticed in the Ekiti election must be corrected and not allowed to recur in Osun.
The candidates, including the eventual winner and the losers, must have the interest of the state, the people and the country at heart in their reaction to the result of the election. They and their polling agents must not cry wolf where there is none.
We urge them to borrow a leaf from Fayemi who, despite his alleged reservations about the results declared by INEC in Ekiti, toed the path of peace to avert post-election violence in the state.
Whoever is not satisfied with the outcome of the election will not do himself and the polity any good by taking the law into his own hands, or inciting his supporters to so do. Losers should not declare the results unfair and unacceptable simply because they did not win. Even if they have any reservations, the civilised thing to do is to approach both the election petition tribunal and the courts. No one should resort to violence or any manner of self-help.
With the massive deployment of police operatives, reservations are already being expressed on the seeming militarization of the state. We believe the large presence of police and other security personnel is justifiable, given the apparent threat to law and order generated by the seeming campaign of calumny and physical skirmishes that have been witnessed in the state so far. Moreover, we believe the only way we can maximize the advantages of the present staggered elections is by concentrating resources (especially, security personnel) to secure the process and guarantee the safety of every participant.
However, the police and security operatives must resist the urge to see themselves as an arm of the ruling party. The police should protect, and not intimidate, the voters and opposition politicians. A situation in which one party is allowed to bring in all its party chieftains to hold its mega rally, while the other party’s chieftains are tactically kept off the state to indirectly sabotage the opposition, is unacceptable. The police must ensure a level playing field for all. Anything outside of this brief might leave other candidates with no other option than to resort to self-help. That would then be the recipe for violence and breakdown of law and order.
Much as we believe that nobody in this election would really want to lose, we must not lose sight of the fact that only one of the 20 contestants would be governor. But while the PDP must not get carried away with its victory in Ekiti and, therefore, decide to bend the rules to impose itself on the Osun electorate, the APC must also understand that there is nothing stopping what happened in Ekiti from genuinely repeating itself in Osun. So, whichever way this weekend’s election goes, the candidates must not lose sight of the fact that the interest of Osun, its people and Nigeria at large must always take preeminence.
Most of all, however, the people (the electorate) must use their votes wisely and refuse to be used by any group to foment trouble. May the best candidate win.