Come Saturday, the people of Osun State will go to the polls to elect who will govern them for the next four years. Coming so soon after the Ekiti State gubernatorial election in which the incumbent governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi of the All Progressives Congress (APC), was defeated by Mr. Ayodele Fayose of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the stake in the Osun election has suddenly become very high as the two leading parties test their strength in preparation for the 2015 general elections. Challenging Governor Rauf Aregbesola of the APC is a former Deputy Governor of the State, Chief Iyiola Omisore.
The campaigns leading to the election, assuming we can use that word to qualify what has transpired in the state in the last one month, have witnessed threats of violence and all manner of intimidations. Yet violence and intimidation during election have no place in civilised society. We therefore enjoin the two candidates and their supporters to conduct their affairs before, during and after the Saturday election in such a manner that would be no room for coercion and violence.
As for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the message is simple: If the commission can conduct the Osun State polls without hitches, as it did in Ekiti State two months ago, then Professor Attahiru Jega would have done a lot to restore the trust of Nigerians not only in his stewardship but also in the capacity of his commission to deliver on credible elections next year. We hope INEC can use the Osun State election to make another statement that it is not beyond its capacity to have people cast their ballots, count the votes and then make them count.
It is particularly important for INEC to use Saturday’s election to further test its preparedness for the challenges that would come with the 2015 general elections. Experiences with recent elections (outside of Ekiti State), reveal that voting materials were not only in short supply, many of the sensitive materials arrived the polling booths hours late in many places. Among others, there were complaints that election officials were not deployed in sufficient numbers in some polling units, prompting party agents to step in, while many prospective voters were disenfranchised, following the omission of their names or photographs in the voters’ register.
However, we must also sound a note of caution in that election is a process and not an event. To that extent, the role of the security agencies is very critical. For instance, as much as INEC conducted itself creditably in the course of the Ekiti State election, we cannot say the same of the military whose men practically behaved like an army of occupation. In the case of Osun State, it is the Police that should be watched, especially since Mr Jelili Adesiyan, the Minister of Police Affairs, is an interested party in the election.
We therefore call on the president to ensure that state power is not deployed for partisan purposes. Even when his party has a stake in this election, the president should remember that he is most importantly the president of the country and not just a party man. We call on him to impress it upon the Minister of Police that he has a responsibility not to use his office to precipitate any crisis in Osun State by deploying the Police to promote partisan interests. In similar vein, we consider last week’s show of force by those said to be officers of the Department of State Security (DSS) to be very unhelpful. Such evidently partial acts cast doubts on the credibility of elections and ultimately put peace and even democracy at risk.
At the end of the day, the people of Osun State deserve the right to elect the candidate they deem most fit to govern them for the next four years. May the best candidate win.