By Olatunbosunmomi Oyintiloye
Topmost on the agenda of the Federal Government for today is the conduct of 2011 elections to which various reforms have been targeted to make it an incontestable free and fair election. It is for this reason that those agitating for the renewal of Professor Maurice Iwuâ€™s term as INEC Chairman lost gallantly in their pro-Iwu push.
It is public knowledge today that Iwu has gone with the winds, having been booted out as the INEC Chairman. Though forcefully gone, the mess that trailed the elections conducted by the Iwu-led INEC in 2007 are yet to be fully cleared. Amongst the states affected by the 2007 messy elections conduct is Osun State, which, up till now, is awaiting justice through the countryâ€™s legal process.
It will be recalled that following the gubernatorial election in Osun State on April 14, 2007, INEC declared Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola, the PDP candidate, the winner with 426,666 votes as against Engineer Rauf Aregbesola, the AC candidate, whom INEC claimed polled 240,722.
Immediately the result was announced, there arose widespread protests and condemnation of the results across the State, as people wondered who cast such generous votes to the Prince that had failed to deliver in his first term of four years. They claimed if the electorate did, it must have been an endorsement of non-performance. But, they did not. So, how were the figures generated?
Though bewildered at the extent of the electoral fraud, Aregbesola, the AC gubernatorial candidate was notÂ completely suprised at the INEC announcements, as fillers coming in during the elections showed widespread electoral malpractices, violence, ballotÂ snatching, ballot stuffing, hooliganism etc.
Not willing to relinquish his people-given mandate to the dogs, he opted to challenge INECâ€™s results at the State Electoral Tribunal. If the verdict is given this month, it will probably be the longest election petition so far since 2007, having taken over three years to decide.
As the world awaits the verdict, I have considered it necessary to review the petitionâ€™s journey and travails so far and raise a couple of issues that will make us reflect on our democratic experience as a nation. Also in this piece, I will seek to draw attention to reasons why the results announced by INEC, giving victory to Oyinlola in 2007, were not credible.
It is often said that â€œit is not how long, but how wellâ€ This case of Osun State may have dragged for over three years, we should commend Aregbesola, AC and the good people of the state for not giving up on it, if only to prove the saying that â€œlies may have been running for twenty years, truth will catch up with it just in a dayâ€ The truth is that we still need to pay a lot of sacrifice as a people to get to our Promised Land. While all arms of government should play their roles as expected under the law, the Judiciary, no doubt, should braze up the more, as it remains the ultimate interpreter of the law and the last hope of the people.
Since the hearing of Osun State gubernatorial election petition commenced in 2007, it has passed through some turbulent weathers. While the Oyinlola-led PDP government played every game in the book to frustrate the petitioner (i.e. Aregbesola) or his case, the Justice T. D. Naron-led tribunal that first heard the case for about a year did not help matters.
It stands to reason that if INEC, as the elections umpire, robbed Peter to pay Paul as was the case in Osun State, an election tribunal must be seen to be giving both parties a fair hearing as required by the law. Such was not the case at the Naronâ€™s tribunal. Its bias was taken from the sublime to the ridiculous. Not only did he reject all documentary evidence, it turned down the application to call Andrian Forty, the forensic expert, to give evidence of his findings on the thumbs impressions on the election ballot papers and report of physical examination of election materials it ordered.
Amidst proven cases of its compromise with the respondents, the Naron-led tribunal gave a controversial verdict in favour of the incumbent governor in April 2008. Of course, this was quickly challenged at the Court of Appeal by Aregbesola. The Court of Appeal dismissed the tribunalâ€™s judgement as perverse on the ground that â€œAll the documents that the Petitioner/Appellant sought to bring to the tribunal were refused by the dismissal of applications, which ought to have been allowed in to enable the Petitioner/Appelant support the petitionâ€ Classifying the entire tribunalâ€™s exercise as â€œtainted with some illegality and substantive irregularityâ€, the Court of Appeal ordered that the petition be heard afresh before a newly constituted Osun State Governorship Election Tribunal. It was in response to this order that a new State Elections Tribunal led by Justice Ali Garba was constituted.
This, indeed, is a plus to our judiciary. To have the hope of the cheated rekindled by a higher court when a lower court has been pocketed by the political hawks is the best that can happen to litigants. To know that it is not all at the bench that compromise and trade their reputable names for money is, indeed, good news. To discover that there is still a high level of discipline in our judicial system is, indeed, gratifying. Efforts should be intensified to continually strenghten the judiciary, as the strenght of our democcracy is directly dependent on the srenght of the judiciary.
Those who have closely followed the hearing since the new Justice Ali Garba-led tribunal took over must have seen profesionalism at work. It admitted all the documents that were supportive of the appelantâ€™s petition and gave a fair hearing. It was shocking to discover at the hearing,Â that there were several cases ofÂ multiple voting in local governments and wards where Oyinlola claimed to have won. In many polling centers, there were no voting registers, neither was there any accreditation, all of which negate the provisions of the Electoral Act. In some places, such as Boripe Local Government Area, ordinary pieces of paper were used for election.
In addition to all this,total numbers of registeredÂ voteÂ in Boripe Local Goverment Area was 12,631, while the vote recorded for PDP alone was 14,497,Â a clear prove of the arbitriness of the results claimed and compiled as genuine by INEC on its papers. Exibits also revealedÂ many cases of irregular signatures of officials and highly inflated number of votes to give false victory to Oyinlola.
In not less down ten local governments, involving 511 polling centres, there were massive discrepances between the votes recorded in forms EC8A and the actual ballot papers counted in court and tendered as exhibits. As a matter of fact, there was no counting of votes and non announcement of results at the polling units of these local governments because in all, electoral materials such as ballot papers and ballot boxes were snatched, seized and later stuffed with illegal ballot papers thumb printed in favour of Oyinlola. Such ballot boxes_ with already thumb printed ballot papers_ were later returned and forcefully deposited at the collation centers and counted as valid votes. The ten Local Government Areas where these atrocities were carried out in the full glare of INEC officials and law enforcement agents are Atakumosa West, Ayedaade, Boluwaduro, Boripe, Ife Central, Ife East, Ife South, Ifedayo, Isokan and Odo-Otin Local Government Areas. So, in all these areas, unmerited votes were generously awarded to
Oyinlola by carefully selected crooks. Is this the democracy of our dream in Nigeria?
Perhaps nothing was more revealing at the hearing than the show of shame diplayed by Oyinlolaâ€™s witnesses. When they were being cross examined, their falsehood clearly manifested in their contradictory testimonies, uncoordinated facts and unintelligible assertions. At the end of the day, it was glaring that what took place on the disputed Local Government Areas on April 14, 2007 was not an election, but a carefully organised ploy to deny the people their sovereing rights through their votes. People were blatantly told, through massive elections rigging and shameless pronouncements of INEC, that their votes would not count. Unfortunately, the dramatis personae in this unenviable exercise are Oyinlola, PDP, INEC and the police. This is shameful.
If this Osun State experience is anything to go by, our democracy in Nigeria is shaky, as nothing suggests that some elements, out of their own selfish interest, are prepared to allow a natural evolvement ofÂ peopleâ€™s government, put in place by peopleâ€™s votes. In summary, apart from the fact that the 2007 election into the office of the Governor in Osun State was marred by violence and malpractices in the disputed areas, votes recorded were essentially fraudulent. Thus, the validity of the results is questionable, more so because there were many cases of disregard to the laid down provisions of Electoral Act, 2006. Going by these overwhelming facts, already proved before the tribunal, it is evident that Oyinlola was not duly elected by majority of lawful votes cast in Osun State. Rather, he was fraudulently imposed on the people of Osun State. As the world now awaits the tribunalâ€™s verdict, it is hoped that peopleâ€™s stolen mandate will be restored back to them, and Aregbesola will finally get justice. Then,
Nigeria will take another leap forward in its bumpy journey towards democratic excellence.
*OlatubosunmomiÂ Oyintiloye is the General Coordinator of Movement of Democratic Educators and Learners (MODEL)