Osun: The weight of injustice, By Ibrahim Sarafa

#TrackNigeria: On Saturday September 22, 2018, Osun people woke up to the expectations of democratically electing a governor that would oversee the state for the next four years. Rauf Aregbesola was at the tail end of his administration as his constitutional two-term limit would lapse on November 26, 2018, making the election imperative.

As early as 7:00am, eligible voters were seen on the streets, trying to connect with their polling units, where they are to cast their votes. By 8:00am, queues were already formed in the various polling units and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) officials commenced the voting processes, possibly, after satisfying every laid down rules.

Electorate went through biometric verification of their Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs) and were able to cast the ballot for their chosen candidates. Though, 48 political parties fielded candidates for the election, there are only five candidates that are more popular among the electorate.

They are ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, Alhaji Gboyega Oyetola; Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate, Senator Ademola Adeleke; a former Deputy Governor and Social Democratic Party (SDP) candidate, Otunba Iyiola Omisore; two former Secretary to the State Government, Alhaji Moshood Adeoti and Alhaji Fatai Akinbade, who are the candidates of Action Democratic Party (ADP) and African Democratic Congress (ADC) respectively.

The expectations of the voters in the election was glaring in the manner they presented themselves and this ensured a violence-free incident in almost all the polling units in the state. Even though, vote-buying was a little bit of concern, there was, however, some decrease from the usual experiences from elections held in other parts of the state.

Given the level of coordination and less rancour by electorate, election was concluded in most polling units before the official time and as soon as it was time, presiding officers in most of the polling units wasted no time in collating and announcing the votes polled by each of the major contenders. The process went on into the night and Osun people stayed glue to their televisions and radios to hear official collated results from each of the local governments as they are been announced at the State Collation Centre in Osogbo, the state capital.

By 11:00am of Sunday September 23, 2018, official results from the 30 local government and area office had been collated, putting Senator Adeleke at a slim lead, polling 254,698 to APC’s Oyetola 254,345, leaving a difference of 353 votes. Before the PDP could roll out drums for its anticipated victory, the INEC Returning Officer (RO), Professor Joseph Afuwape, called for a short break, indicating that he would make a pronouncement on the result by 1:00pm when the break was supposed to end.

When he returned by noon, he shattered expectations of anticipated Osun people as he shockingly, declared that “Unfortunately as the returning officer, it’s not possible to declare anybody as the clear winner of the election on the first ballot,” explaining that total registered voters in the five polling units where elections were cancelled is 3,498 votes and that since the figure is higher than the difference between the leading candidate and the runner-up, “I, Joseph Adeola Afuwape, hereby, declare this election inconclusive,” the Vice Chancellor of the Federal University of Technology, Akure, pronounced.

His declaration evoked disbelieves and confirmed the alarm raised earlier by the PDP through the governorsip campaign spokesman, Mr. Olawale Rasheed, that pressures is being mounted on INEC to declare the election inconclusive and page way for rerun poll in a desperate bid to deliver victory for the APC candidate, Oyetola. Though, PDP protested the decision of INEC and threatened legal action to force the electoral umpire to declare its candidate winner, it, however, agreed to partake in the rerun poll that was scheduled to hold on Thursday September 27, 2018.

Since the rerun would only cover 7 polling units but spread through four local governments, INEC indicated that voters in Ife South Ward 8, Unit 10; Ife South Ward 7, Unit 12; Orolu Ward 9, Unit 3; Orolu Ward 8, Unit 1; Orolu Ward 8, Unit 4; Osogbo LGA Ward 5, unit 17; and Ife North LG, Ward 10, Polling Unit 2, Oyere II, should be prepared for a fresh exercise. However, indications that the rerun poll would be marred by violence played out barely 72 hours as hoodlums chased supporters of the PDP in affected areas in Orolu local government from their homes, with some taking refuge at the town’s traditional ruler palace.

Early on Thursday, report of widespread violence on perceived supporters of PDP and how thugs recruited from Lagos are preventing them from accessing their polling units and casting their votes filtered across the state. It was reported that voters used either wristbands or caps with an insignia of the Osun state government or tie a white handkerchief around their wrists before they are allowed into polling units to cast their votes. Journalists and observers were also not spared from the crude impunity that marred the rerun poll, forcing INEC to expressed on its official twitter handle, @inecnigeria that it “is disturbed about reports that accredited media and observers are being arrested or prevented from operating in some polling units. This is being taken up with the security agencies.”

Notwithstanding the violence and obvious disenfranchisement of eligible voters who favoured, INEC announced the APC candidate, Oyetola, whose tally of votes has soared to 255,505 against PDP’d Adeleke 255,023 votes after the controversial rerun poll. Afuwape announcement was met with fierce rejection by the PDP who protested the election as one of the worst days in the history of Nigeria and declared that it is a black day for the nation. “What we have witnessed in Osun shows clearly that the All Progressives Congress is not ready for an election and we are afraid that President Muhammadu Buhari will not hand over if he loses the election next year,” PDP National Chairman, Prince Uche Secondus said.

The PDP line of protest tallied with that of observers, as UK, EU and US teams in the appraisal of the rerun poll submitted that there were incidents of harassment and intimidation of voters. In the joint report read by the US Consul General, Mr. John F. Bray, the team of international observers noted that “The missions of the United States, European Union and the United Kingdom observed voting at polling stations in Osun today (Thursday). We witnessed what appeared to be incidents of interference and intimidation of voters and have reports of harassment of party monitors, journalists and domestic observers.”

Their findings was complimented by arrays of local observers, especially a civil society organisation, Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), which report concluded that the Osun rerun election ran contrary to democratic norms and standards. In the report signed by CDD Director, Idayat Hassan, it detailed the open partisanship of security agents and how voters and observers were denied access to polling units.

Excerpt from her report reads: “At Ajegunle Roundabout, which leads to Polling Unit 003, Ward 9, in the Orolu LGA, security personnel mounted barricades to obstruct observers and deny them access to the polling unit . Observers were arrested and taken to a nearby police station. A CDD observer, Kemi Busari, was arrested by the police on the pretext that he took pictures around a polling unit. CDD also observed attempts by the security forces to prevent some voters who allegedly belong to an opposition party from accessing PU012 in the Olode Ward 07 in Ife-South Local Government Area, even after showing their PVCs.”

But while this was going on, Osun people were lost and couldn’t believe their will would not be respected. Grave silence could be felt across the state and supporters of APC could probably read the mood of their environment that they couldn’t roll out drums for celebration just as it did when Rauf Aregbesola secured reelection in 2014. The unsettling atmosphere was audible enough that even a breastfeeding child could decipher that Osun people are disappointed that their rights in a democracy has just been snatched.

Since that brazen assault that altered the rights of Osun people to freely elect their leader, the people have struggled to understand why they deserved the experience that characterised the rerun poll. From the young to the old, they tried without answers on why their votes were only seen as for either APC or PDP and not the sacred rights democracy entrusted them. It was a heavy weight of injustice and that only the judiciary could ease it off their minds by serving justice.

Sarafa Ibrahim is a freelance reporter and writes from Osun. He can be reached via 08069085644

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