THE common refrain from the Prof. Attahiru Jega-led Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, is that it is doing all within the confines of its powers to conduct a credible governorship election in Osun State on August 9. Certainly, a majority of the electorate expect nothing below the bar of excellent performance from INEC.
But a recent decision it took in respect of its Resident Electoral Commissioner in Osun, Ambassador Rufus Akeju, to wit, that he should go on ‘leave of absence for his own safety’, gives the impression that the Commission is rattled by the baseless opposition some politicians in the state mounted against the person of the REC. It does appear this is not the same INEC that vowed some months ago not to prevent Akeju from conducting the governorship election if those alleging he was partisan did not present unassailable evidence. This strange turn-about from the leadership of the electoral body does suggest, in spite of its claim to the contrary, that those who bayed for the blood of the REC have inundated it with irreproachable evidence.
It should be recalled that the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, began the illogical call for the redeployment of Akeju. The governorship candidate of the party in Osun, Senator Iyiola Omisore, had in 2011 asked a court for an injunction to stop Akeju from conducting the election of that year in Osun.
The prayer was granted. INEC did not contest the injunction and was even making arrangement for the court’s order implementation. Quite strangely, the same PDP immediately went back to the court to ask for a stay of execution of that injunction it has sweetly won earlier. Justice Babs Keuwumi who presided over the case was so pole-axed that he described the request as ‘bizarre’, wondering why the plaintiff (PDP) in that court was doing what the appellant (INEC) in the Appeal Court should expectedly undertake.
Last February when Jega came to Osogbo for a stakeholders’ parley, a drama of opposition against the REC was staged by the PDP and Labour Party. They asked that the REC be redeployed.
The other parties did not join them. But in his response, Jega strongly posited that the Commission would do their bidding only when credibly substantiated evidence was produced against the REC. He added that the Commission was not one to change its officials based on mere allegations. The INEC chair was clear in his submission that nothing would be done to Akeju without believable proof of the allegation levelled against him.
This explains why the sudden change of decision on Akeju by the leadership of INEC is absurd and confusing. As rationalised last week by Jega’s Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Kayode Idowu, Akeju is just on ‘leave of absence’ for his personal safety. Is it that there are threats to Akeju’s life because he will conduct free and fair election? Is the new REC, Mr. Olusegun Agbaje, going to conduct a less credible election? Who are the people threatening Akeju’s life? Is Mr. Agbaje’s safety assured? If Agbaje is going to conduct a free and fair election, will the same threat not be transferred unto him?
Let it be said that INEC fools no one with its strange behaviour and its even stranger justification. Discerning Nigerians know too well that INEC has just done the wish of the PDP, which has noisily repeatedly asked that Akeju be prevented from conducting the August 9 governorship election in Osun.
Regardless of its advertised faith in Akeju and claim of his still being the substantive Osun REC, the Commission has just in a different way revealed that it does not trust the man. In the same outlandish manner that it has granted the wish of the PDP and its inverted poltroons, the Commission has equally condemned Akeju. The Commission, like those whose wish it has oddly acceded to, sees Akeju has a threat to the coming election. Is the case about the REC’s retention in Osun not still in court? Why the weird decision and breaking of coconut on the head of the REC?
Similarly, INEC should know that nobody except the troubled PDP believes the humbug that the Commission’s request for Akeju to proceed on leave of absence was ‘his contribution towards ensuring the credibility of the state governorship election’.
So Mr. Akeju is so daffy that he deliberately stains his integrity and honour in order for the election to be credible? Indeed, it is strange that a body which trumpets its decision to do right in the conduct of its duties care less about keeping its words with regard to not lifting a finger against its officials without irrefutable evidence of partisanship or wrongdoing. If political parties are involved in ‘intense partisan acrimony over his person’, should he be so unfeelingly made to suffer for their nervousness?
The question remains, can INEC still be trusted to conduct a truly credible election in Osun? If it commends itself for its outing in Ekiti, will it not strangely turn around to perform below acceptable standards in Osun in a few weeks to come? Will INEC not give in to pressure from the PDP to overlook riggings when they are perpetrated? Jega and his men should note that the Osun electorate will not accept any strange behaviour from it during and after the governorship election.
JIDE ELUYEMI, a public affairs analyst, wrote from Ille-Ife, Osun State.