Saturday, June 15, 2019

Before the do or die in Osun

Before the do or die in Osun
September 24
09:56 2018
All Nigerians will be looking forward with bated breaths to Thursday this week, September 27, when voters in seven polling units of four local government areas return to the polls to decide the winner of Osun State’s inconclusive governorship election. The result of Saturday’s election, declared by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Osogbo yesterday, was the tightest ever seen in a Nigerian governorship election. 

If ever there was an election cliff-hanger, Osun was it. The state has nearly 1.7million registered voters, though half a million of them did not collect their PVCs, according to INEC. Of the 1.2million eligible to vote, about 700,000 did so, going by the tally of the candidates’ votes. Forty-eightpolitical parties put forward candidates in the election, so the ballot paper was very long and the party symbols quite confusing, especially for an illiterate voter who could not read the parties’ names. Now, a winning margin of 353 votes out of 700,000 is worse than a cliff hanger; it is better described as an abyss dangler.

Unfortunately for the PDP’s candidate Nurudeen Ademola Adeleke, known throughout Nigeria for his dancing prowess, he did not win the election outright because of a quaint provision in the Electoral Act. It states that if the margin between the top placed finisher and the runner up is less than the number of registered voters in areas where the election could not hold for one reason or another, the election must be declared inconclusive. Adeleke is not the first governorship candidate in Nigeria to suffer from this law. Owelle Rochas Okorocha in Imo suffered from it 2011 and again in 2015.Darius Ishaku in Taraba in 2015, Seriake Dickson in Bayelsa in 2016 and Abubakar Audu in Kogi in 2015 all suffered from this provision, in Audu’s case fatally. 

Okorocha of APGA led then Governor Ikedi Ohakim of PDP by a narrow margin of votes in 2011. That run-off was the most intensely fought election in this country but Okorocha prevailed. In Audu’s case, he had won the election for all practical purposes because his margin of 20,000 votes could not possibly be upturned by PDP’s Governor Idris Wada among the 42,000 registered voters in the areas to hold run-off election. This was because only about half of them were expected to vote.

In the present case of Osun, the number of registered voters to participate in the run-off election is 3,498, or more than ten times Adeleke’s winning margin. However, if what happened in the rest of Osun State is any guide, only about 60% of them, or 2000 are expected to vote on Thursday. Depending on the level of tension if the leading political parties go for broke and depending on the intimidating presence of security agents if the police and SSS decide to provide maximum security cover, the number could be far fewer than that. If, for example, 1500 people manage to cast their votes on Thursday, APC candidate Oyetola must get about 1,000 of those in order to overcome Adeleke’s lead.

What causes cancelling of elections in polling units which in turn could lead to inconclusive elections? There are many reasons. The most honest one could be logistics, if election materials fail to arrive at a polling unit in time for the election. Sometimes this is due to sabotage; in Anambra State six years ago, an INEC local government officer vanished and shut his phones. I think he was prosecuted for that. The most common reason however is when violence breaks out at a polling station. In the case of Orolu Local Government of Osun State last Saturday, armed thugs stormed three polling unitswounded INEC staff, snatched and carted away ballot boxes, which were later found in the bush. The clear motive was to reduce their opponent’s winning margin. Politicians usually have a very good idea of which places they will win and which ones they will lose, so thugs are unleashed at a polling unit knowing full well that INEC will cancel the election in that polling unit or even a whole ward or local government, depending on the level and scope of violence.

What is likely to happen when those areas vote again on ThursdayWe could glean some indications by looking at the geographical locations of the seven polling units in four LGAs that will participate in the re-run election. APC won two of the affected LGAs, Ife North and Ife South by narrow margins while it won Osogbo LGA by a wide margin. The suspicion therefore is that PDP agents caused the commotion in those three LGAs and if things remain the same, then APC is expected to win the re-run polls there with narrow to wide margins. On the other hand, PDP won Orolu LGA by a widemargin, and this is where three of the run-offs will take place. The assumption here is that APC agents snatched those ballot boxes and PDP could win these polling units by wide margins.

These calculations might hold true if other things remain the same. 

But of course things hardly ever remain the same. Now, police and DSS are usually able to blanket a state with security during an off-season election, as happened since the 2015 general elections in Kogi, Bayelsa, Ondo, Ekiti and Osun. If a re-run election involves only seven polling units, there could be as many security agents at those places as there are voters. While this is supposed to enhance security, in reality it could also create a tense atmosphere and ensure a very low turn-out of voters. This will reduce APC’s chance of overturning PDP’s lead.

PDP will be very wary of the likelihood of police partisanship in this matter. Remember what happened last week when, with three days to the election, police declared PDP’s candidate Adeleke wanted and said he should report to Police HQ to be charged with certificate fraud. Don’t forget, the police never declared Mrs. Kemi Adeosun wanted for certificate fraud. President Buhari, who saw the irony, publicly countermanded the Inspector General’s order, which would have amounted to open rigging of the Osun election.

Otherwise, PDP will go into the run-off election with a big psychological advantage, having finished ahead of APC last Saturday. Given the propensity of Nigerian politicians and voters to be with the winning side, that is no small advantage. It is especially poignant because Adeleke beat Oyetola last Saturday even though the latter’s party rules the state and at the federal level. The most probable reason is Governor Rauf Aregbesola’s sorry record in salary payment and piling up of debt. The APC-controlled Presidency tried to help by releasing N16billion to Aregbesola just before the election in order to pay salary arrears.

There are two other, very important factors to consider. All 48 parties that contested last Saturday’s election are to participate in the run-off. Logically, 46 of them have no reason to participate but INEC is allowing them to so that it does not have to print a new ballot paper. Both PDP and APC will be rushing by now to woo SDP’s candidate Chief Iyiola Omisore, who got 128,000 votes last Saturday. Omisore defected from PDP when he lost its ticket to Adeleke and the votes he got must be seen as anti-APC votes. The second factor is vote buying. In a situation such as the one at hand, votes could go for as much N100,000 instead of the paltry amounts that politicians paid in the wider election.

For APC and the Buhari Presidency, the possible loss of Osun on Thursday is a strategic nightmare. It could signpost the party’s electoral collapse in the South West in 2019, a scenario that for the first time this year, will give Presidency strategists sleepless nights. Trouble is, APC could rise to the occasion with Obasanjo-style do or die methods. 

This article was first published by Daily Trust


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