OPINION: From Election Battleground To Tribunal

Omisore-and-Aregbesola-360x225In this write-up, TUNDE ODESOLAexamines the contention at the Osun State Election Petitions Tribunal, which is considering the outcome of the August 9 governorship election in the state

The name of King Solomon is synonymous with riches. Unimaginable wealth. He is famous too for having the most numerous wives and concubines. But the most profound reason why many remember him today is the wisdom in his judgment on the two ‘mothers’ who laid claim to a newborn. The king’s application of wisdom in the dispensation of justice made the knotty controversy look so simple. In an age lacking the advantage of DNA technology, only the application of wisdom such as Solomon’s could unravel the mystery presented by the inconsolable ‘mothers.’ Solomon’s judgment made the resolution of the conflict look awesome just as the masterstroke of genius generally makes otherwise complicated endeavours look simply extraordinary.

The three-member Osun State Election Petitions Tribunal headed by Justice Suleiman Ambrusa has commenced hearing into the 800-page petition filed by the Peoples Democratic Party’s candidate in the August 9, 2014 governorship election, Senator Iyiola Omisore. The PDP is the 2nd petitioner in the case.

The most dominant talking point during the countdown to the governorship election was the alleged militarisation of the election process. Apart from allegations and counter allegations by various political parties over attempts to rig, monetise and sponsor electoral violence – all components of Nigerian elections – the deployment of several thousands of security personnel for the election was a subject of condemnation and litigation by the ruling All Progressives Congress.

A few days to the election, the Minister of State for Defence, Senator Musiliu Obanikoro, in an interview in Osogbo, justified the deployment of armed security personnel in the Army, police, Department of State Service, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, Nigerian Customs Service, Nigerian Immigration Service, among others, for the election. A confident Obanikoro said the deployment would check the violence and rigging purportedly being planned by the ruling APC. Debunking the insinuation that the massive deployment of armed security personnel for the election was a reflection of President Goodluck Jonathan’s plan to wrest the South-West from the grip of the APC at all cost, ahead the 2015 presidential election, Koro, as the minister is popularly called, said only the guilty were afraid. He contended that there was no need for the APC to be afraid if it did not have skeleton in the cupboard.

He said, “We won’t allow them to rig. We know their game. Why are they afraid? We want to create a conducive environment for registered voters to come out, vote and return to their homes safely. This was how they complained in Ekiti but the Ekiti election turned out to be free and fair. Not a single shot of bullet was fired in Ekiti. We are going to achieve that in Osun too. We will not allow them bring in thugs from other APC states.”

Barely four days to the election, armed DSS operatives, in a convoy of 30 vehicles, traversed Osun communities which included Osogbo, Iwo, Ilesa, Ode-Omu, Iwo, Ikirun, Ejigbo, Esa-Oke, Atakumosa, Iragbiji, Eripa, Ada, Iree, Ila, Ede, Okuku, among others.   The operatives, some of whom wore masks, fired gunshots into the air, creating panic among residents.

The 1st respondent and incumbent governor of the state, Rauf Aregbesola, and his party faulted the deployment and action of the security operatives to Osun, alleging that the action was a ploy by the PDP-led Federal Government to capture Osun by all means. A few days to the election, the spokesperson of the Osun APC, Mr. Kunle Oyatomi, said the Osun governorship election remained the most militarised in the history of the country. His counterpart in the PDP, Mr. Bola Ajao, however, supported the deployment of armed security operatives, saying it was a step in making the election violence-free and credible.

Basically, the desirability or otherwise of the security deployment tore Osun’s political class along party lines with the leadership of the PDP at the national and state levels supporting the action while the APC national and state leaderships vehemently condemned the action.

The state Chairman of the PDP, Alhaji Gani Olaoluwa, said his party went to the tribunal to challenge the violence and rigging that characterised the election. In the petition before the tribunal, Omisore and the PDP prayed the tribunal to dismiss the victory of Aregbesola on the ground that his election did not meet certain conditions required by the Electoral Act. Averring that the grounds of the petition are known to the law, Omisore and the PDP told the court that the election was marred by violence in 17 local government councils of Ayedaade, Atakumosa-East, Boripe, Ede-North, Ede-South, Ejigbo, Ifelodun, Ilesa-East, Ilesa-West, Irepodun, Irewole, Iwo, Obokun, Olaoluwa, Olorunda, Oriade and Osogbo. Paragraph 22 of the petition contended that the scores of Aregbesola in the aforementioned councils were unlawful. The petitioners stressed that the scores collated in forms EC8C and EC8D were illegal.

But the APC, which is the 2nd respondent, averred that the 1st petitioner “is not qualified to be elected as governor having not been educated up to at least School Certificate level or its equivalent.” Also, the 2nd respondent contended that Omisore was not duly nominated to contest the election on the platform of the PDP. It further stated that Omisore did not score up to 25 per cent of the lawful votes cast in each of the 30 local government councils of Osun State and thus did not satisfy the provisions of the Constitution and the Electoral Act.

Omisore alleged that the Resident Electoral Commissioner of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Osun State, Ambassador Rufus Akeju, manipulated voter registration in favour of Aregbesola and the APC – a claim which the APC denied. In a response to the claim of Omisore and the PDP, Aregbesola averred that at no time was an order of court granted that Akeju should not carry out and or participate in the voter registration exercise, saying the 2nd petitioner “voluntarily discontinued an action it brought seeking to restrain the 3rd respondent from allowing the said Ambassador Rufus Olawatoyin Akeju to participate in the voters registration exercise in Osun State.”

Aregbesola maintained that the petitioner and his party made “copious allegations against security agencies in many paragraphs of the petitions without joining the security agencies as parties to the petition, adding that “all the paragraphs wherein the petitioners made allegations against the security agencies were liable and ought to be struck out.”

On the allegation that the 3rd respondent, INEC, recruited some officials of the Osun Youth Empowerment Scheme as ad hoc members for the election with a view to manipulating the outcome of the poll in favour of Aregbesola and the APC, the ruling party said OYES members were not agents of any organisation loyal to the governor or his party. “The Osun Youth Empowerment Scheme is an interventionist programme of the State Government of Osun, creating a volunteer scheme to reduce unemployment among youths in the state irrespective of political affiliation,” it said.

Paragraph 24 of the petition alleged that Aregbesola, on the day of the election, sponsored an advertisement on the Osun State Broadcasting Corporation, Osogbo, canvassing for votes. But the APC, which denied the allegation, stated that there was no time, as claimed by the petitioner, when the National Broadcasting Corporation imposed a fine on the radio arm of the corporation for alleged misconduct. The party prayed the court to strike out the paragraph on the grounds that the necessary party was not joined in the petition even as it debunked the allegation that the secretariat of the Osun PDP was vandalised.

Commenting, the PDP deputy governorship candidate, Chief Adejare Bello, said the real winner of the election would soon emerge. Bello, who stated that the petition was an expression of the right of the opposition party, stressed that there was nothing wrong in the party seeking redress at the tribunal. He said, “There should not be any misconception about (our party) approaching the election tribunal to shed light on some anomalies. The Electoral Act, as amended in 2010, has spelt in clear terms that the election petition tribunal has 180 days to dispense petitions before it. The Appeal and the apex courts also have a span of three months each to dispense such cases if it gets to those levels. Until all these avenues are explored, the people cannot say who won the election.”

Osun State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Chief Sunday Akere, said the PDP petition was absurd and laughable because none of PDP agents at ward, local and state levels reported any act of violence before, during or after the election.

Akere said, “They were the ones, who called in security forces to come and ensure security during the election. All their polling agents in the 3, 970 polling units of the state signed the results of the election. None of them made a complaint of electoral violence. At all the 332 wards in the state, all their agents signed. At the collation centres of the 30 local government councils, all their agents signed. Their petition is dead on arrival.”

Osun State Chair, APC, Biyi Adelowo, said the election process secured by the heavy presence of the security forces checked rigging and violence even as he commended INEC’s enlistment of the services of the Vice Chancellor, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Prof. Bamitale Omole, and a host of lecturers, who participated in the collation of results that were transmitted live.

The state publicity secretary of the PDP, Ajao, refused to sign the election result at the state collation centre, Osogbo. He said the result of the election was not acceptable to the party, alleging malpractices by the APC.

But the Commissioner for Finance, Budget Planning and Implementation, Dr. Wale Bolorunduro, said: “This petition will expose how not to abuse the judicial process. This is an election where they brought over 100, 000 genuine and fake security officials into Osun. This is an election in which they brought Resident Electoral Commissioners for each of the 30 councils of the state. The only place where there was misdemeanour was Ife, where Omisore won. There was no polling unit where there was no armed security personnel. If there were armed security men given specific instruction to be hostile to us, where would we get the room to parley with INEC or the EOs? The party that cannot rig in the election was APC.”

Special Adviser to Aregbesola on Environment, Bola Ilori, said: “The party’s National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Osun Commissioner for Tourism, Sikiru Adetona, Commissioner for Sports, Stephen Kola-Balogun, and Commissioner for Justice and Attorney General, Wale Afolabi, were arrested along with several party leaders during the election. Chief Isiaka Adeleke could not vote because he was being trailed.

An independent monitor, who participated in the election, Bola Alawode, said resort to the tribunal by the PDP confirmed the futility in the deployment of tens of thousands of military and paramilitary personnel by the PDP-led Federal Government to secure votes and voters. He said, “The petition, no doubt, questions the integrity of INEC and the popular wish of the masses. But the tribunal must strengthen the electoral process by ensuring that the rule of law prevails in the determination of the case.”

Another monitor, Sola Ahmed, said the tribunal should look into the allegations raised by the petition dispassionately, not minding the result of the poll.

He said, “The tribunal must not be swayed by emotions. It must deliver justice in the matter.”

Meanwhile, the Ambrusa-led panel was dissolved on Monday while another three-member panel has been instituted.

Will Solomon come to justice in the Osun election petition tribunal?