On The Osun Governorship Poll

Aregbesola-and-OmisoreDespite widespread public concerns of possible rigging and violence, the Osun State governorship election was successfully held last Saturday.

The All Progressives Congress (APC) incumbent Governor Rauf Aregbesola was overwhelmingly returned to office, recording 394,684 votes as announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) -over 60 per cent of the votes cast. His main opponent, Mr. Iyiola Omisore, of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) obtained 292,750 votes; quite impressive, but still a distant second. He was comprehensively beaten and has conceded defeat.

As expected and because of the huge stakes involved, the election was closely fought by the main contenders in a long, hard and often bitter campaign. Tension was high in the state and there was a real possibility of violence breaking out during the election. But it turned out to be quite peaceful and, by and large, the results reflected the electoral choice of the electorate. The observers adjudged the actual voting to have been free and fair.

Governor Aregbesola deserved to win the election. His performance in government has been quite impressive, with an astonishing development of infrastructure. His schools’ reforms have also been widely acclaimed as innovative. Despite reservations in some enlightened quarters, his populist and charismatic style of government earned him a huge electoral victory in the election. But he also campaigned very hard, leaving nothing to chance. He and the APC leaders had learnt some hard and useful lessons from the Ekiti governorship election, which Governor Kayode Fayemi lost to his PDP rival, Mr. Ayo Fayose.

In contrast to Governor Aregbesola, his opponent, Iyiola Omisore, had little or nothing to offer the electorate. When he was in office as deputy governor in the Bisi Akande administration, his record was really appalling. It included his determined and prolonged effort to organise Akande’s impeachment as governor. The source of the friction which paralysed the government was Akande’s refusal to meet his financial claims for a fraudulent contract Omisore had purportedly concluded with the previous military administration. I tried to resolve his differences with Governor Akande, but failed as Omisore wanted his financial claims met. In addition, there is still a considerable public speculation that he may have been involved, or implicated, in the assassination of the late Alliance for Democracy (AD) leader and Federal Attorney-General, Bola Ige, a case which has remained unresolved since 2002. Soon after, he defected from the AD.

Because of all these, public perception of him as a politician has been quite negative. His character, or lack of it, has not matched his lofty and remorseless political ambition to be governor of the state at all costs. He tried the Ekiti strategy of ‘stomach infrastructure’ but this did not work. He was rejected. His election as governor would have been a terrible set back for the state.

Though the election was largely devoid of any serious violence, this was due largely to the remarkable and commendable restraint shown by the electorate in the electoral process, particularly on the voting date. A week before the election, the PDP Federal Government deployed a large number of military forces, including the Police and the State Security Service, evidently to intimidate and harass the APC and its supporters. There were palpable fears that the security forces would be used to rig the election, which the PDP was determined to win, after its victory in the Ekiti State governorship election.

Scores of APC leaders, including its National Publicity Secretary, Lai Mohammed, were arrested on the eve of the election. What was even worse and totally unacceptable was the deployment by the PDP Federal Government of hooded armed men that were not even part of the regular armed forces of the country, with the clear intention of intimidating the electorate. This is reminiscent of Hitler’s storm troopers, the infamousSS, used by the Nazis to subvert democracy in Germany. Not a few innocent German heads were broken by Hitler’s SS men in his quest for absolute power in Germany. Are these not the men that former President Olusegun Obasanjo warned the nation about in his attack on Jonathan last year? Has he not been proved right in raising the alarm?

Those so arrested and detained by these armed men included my youngest brother, Folarin Fafowora, a member of the State House of Assembly. It was claimed that ballot papers were being stamped in his house. But the house was not even searched by the DSS in the first place. In fact, as he has since told me, he was riding an Okada in Osogbo when he was picked up by the DSS officials. He was only released on Tuesday after four days in illegal detention. I have asked him to sue the DSS for his illegal detention and denial of his rights. We cannot continue to have the security forces acting illegally so brazenly against innocent citizens. This is provocative and designed to subvert the electoral process in the state. But undaunted by the heavy military presence, the voters refused to be intimidated and cast their votes in a peaceful manner. They displayed admirable and exemplary courage that the voters in other states should show in future elections to restore electoral integrity.

Next year’s general elections, including the presidential, are crucial for the future of free and fair elections and the survival of democracy in our country. We cannot accept the continued use by the PDP Federal Government of military and illegal para-military forces to intimidate the electorate. That was why a substantial number of voters simply decided to stay away rather than risk intimidation and illegal detention by the security forcesincluding hooded and unidentified armed men. The role and use of security forces in future elections in our country should be clearly spelt out and defined by the INEC. Armed forces, regular or irregular, should not be deployed unless asked for by the INEC, or by the contending political parties themselves. When deployed, such security forces must be plainly neutral between the contending political parties.

The Federal Government cannot arrogate to itself the right to deploy its security forces anywhere in the country, except where a situation of emergency has been declared, and duly approved by the National Assembly. What happened during the election in Osun State was farcical, disgraceful and plainly illegal. The APC must ask the courts to pronounce on the legality, or otherwise, of the use of the military by the Federal Government during the elections when a state of emergency has not been declared. The Federal Government must not be allowed to unleash a reign of terror in the country, particularly during elections.

Even among senior military and security officials, there is a serious and growing concern regarding the deployment of armed soldiers in elections in our country as we saw during both the Ekiti and Osun states elections. These officers are concerned that the Army is being illegally used to determine the outcome of elections in Nigeria. This will inevitably lead to the military becoming more politicised and less professional. It is a road we have often taken in this country in the past with disastrous consequences. It destroys the professionalism and political neutrality of the military. There are enough security challenges for the military in our country without them being further dragged into the vortex of politics.

Now that he has been deservedly returned to power, Governor Aregbesola will be well advised to review and reflect on some of his controversial policies and strategies which have created divisions in the state. I refer here, specifically, to his education policy to which Christian leaders have raised strong and determined opposition. He may have good intentions on this issue, but there are serious concerns that he may have unwittingly fuelled religious tensions in the state. Osun state is multi-religious with both the Muslims and Christians living together peacefully for over a century. The governor must keep things this way and not create among the electorate the impression that the government is in support of one side or the other of the religious divide. His electoral victory would probably have been more comprehensive had the religious factor not crept into the consideration of Christians in the state, most of whom probably voted for Omisore, despite his several shortcomings and lack of electoral appeal.

In addition, the quality of governance in the state should be elevated. Governance is a serious business. It should not be handled in a cavalier style as is the case now. The governor must reach out to all sections of the civil society in the state, particularly the workers and teachers. No matter the support and attraction that a populist strategy may generate for the governor, sight should not be lost of the need to ensure that the state is not polarised economically, or religiously.