INEC And Ondo Guber Election
The November 26 governorship election in Ondo State has come and gone, with Mr Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN) of the All Progressives Congress (APC) emerging the governor-elect. Mr. Akeredolu beat Mr Eyitayo Jegede (SAN) of the Peoples Democratic Party, who garnered 150, 380 votes, by polling 244, 842 votes.
The peaceful outcome of the poll has, once again, shown that a free and fair election is possible in Nigeria if politicians play according to the rules. It also shows that a firm and focused electoral umpire is imperative to ensure transparency and credibility in a political contest.
We, therefore, commend the candidates in the election for eschewing violence, which contributed, in no small measure, to the peaceful election, even though there were pockets of skirmishes. We commend the electorate for conducting themselves in an orderly and peaceful manner. The role of INEC cannot, of course, be overemphasised, as it stood firm against the antics of politicians.
Some have argued that Mr. Jegede of the PDP lost in the contest because INEC replaced his name with Mr. Jimoh Ibrahim, a factional candidate of the party. Some, notably interested politicians, have even accused INEC of deliberately doing so to help the APC win the election. This we find to fly straight in the face of the facts.
To put the record straight, the electoral commission had initially refused to acknowledge the Ali Modu Sheriff faction of the party and its primary that produced Mr. Ibrahim. Instead, it was there to observe the primary where Mr Jegede emerged and had thus listed his name as PDP candidate. This was until a federal high court, presided over by Justice Okon Abang, ordered INEC to replace him with Mr. Ibrahim. As a responsible organisation, the electoral body did the right thing by obeying the court.
Although Mr. Jegede and his party rushed to another high court in Akure to stop INEC from executing the judgement, the commission rightly went ahead. Some have criticised this action.
We agree that Justice Abang’s judgement was not only wrong but questionable. Yet, no court judgement should be merely wished away in any lawful society. That is why higher courts exist. Only those courts have the power to upturn such judgements or stop its execution, as the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court eventual did. It is not the place of another court having the same status, such as the high court in Akure, to do so. Failure to observe this basic principle accounts for the so-called conflicting judgements which has become the bane of our legal system.
INEC was wise not to be entangled in this legal cobweb. We salute Prof Mahmood Yakubu, INEC’s chairman, and his team for this. We also praise their courage for not succumbing to the blackmail that they were acting the script of the ruling party, the APC. We need such firmness to stop the abuse of court process in the name of conflicting orders.
There is also the argument that INEC should have postponed the polls once the appellate court reversed Justice Abang’s judgement, so as to give opportunity for PDP to campaign adequately. The proponents of this argument believe that was the only way the election could be fair, since Mr Jegede had only two days to campaign. Nothing could be more laughable.
While it is regrettable that Mr. Jegede did not have the opportunity to campaign, the fault came from no one but his party. INEC did not take Jegede to court to stop him. Neither did any of the contesting political parties. A faction of his party took advantage of the weaknesses of our judicial system and officers to frustrate him.
It is unfortunate, but that is the reality. And it would be wrong to blame INEC for not waiting for the PDP to be ready when it had set a timetable and almost followed it through, after apparently spending huge resources. It would be unfair to the other political parties too. They had all spent time and money and were ready to go. Asking them to tarry because one of their opponents was not ready would not be just. The referee in a race would not suspend a race after he has blown the whistle simply because an athlete couldn’t start at the same time with others. He certainly will not call for a repeat race because a leading athlete was slowed down by an obstacle. The same way an examination body will not suspend an exam because a brilliant candidate took ill.
In any case, if indeed the PDP believed it was unfairly disadvantaged, there was nothing stopping it from asking the court to stop the election. That would have been part of its prayers. It could have even done that after the judgement, considering how fast politicians secured court orders in the past. It is not too late to still approach the court now for a review.
But is there still room for improvement for INEC? Certainly! There are reports that vote buying is still rampant. There are unconfirmed reports that parties induced voters with money to vote for their candidates. This vice has stayed with us for too long. It is time we put a stop to it. Although we know INEC could do very little to stop this during election, it should however come up with an innovative system to prevent this in future elections, in collaboration with security agencies. Police authorities, in particular, should hand out strong sanctions, including dismissals, against their men who looked away while the offence was being committed.
We congratulate Governor-elect Rotimi Akeredolu for his victory. We, however, enjoin him to be humble in victory. He should realise that only about 16 per cent of the registered voters cast their votes for him, and much less percentage gave him victory. We congratulate the people of Ondo State for a peaceful and rancour-free election.
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