Thursday, August 21, 2014 1:41 pm
Allegations and counter-accusations fly across the camps of PDP and APC after the Osun governorship election
Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola beamed with excitement as he was handed his certificate of return by the Independent Electoral Commission, INEC. While the governor-elect and his supporters were relishing their victory at the Osun State governorship polls, his adversary was updating his legal arsenal in preparation for a fight at the tribunal.
In fact, he blamed the former resident electoral commissioner (Rufus Akeju) for causing his defeat. He added that, although Akeju was replaced before the election, the commissioner had done enough damage to ensure victory for Aregbesola and APC. It was for this reason that the party in the state said it would head for the tribunal.
Among other things, Senator Iyiola Omisore, flag bearer of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, alleged that the election failed to meet acceptable minimum standards. His case was helped a few days later by allegations by the Directorate of State Security Services that the All Progressives Congress, which won the vote, had offered graft to DSS men to allow the party to rig. Rather than bolster Omisore’s case, however, questions now being asked revolve round why a supposed intelligence agency became too overt to a point that politicians attempted to bribe its personnel. The blame, in the view of political watchers, lies in the manner the DSS men and other arms of the security organisation were used during the election and the previous ones.
Irrespective of where the pendulum swings, the debate arising from the governorship elections so far conducted in some states in Nigeria has almost overshadowed the perceived success recorded by INEC. For many observers of the Nigerian electoral process in recent times, the electoral umpire has done well in conducting elections with minimal disputes, thuggery, ballot box-snatching, and other heists.
The relative calm that characterised the polls conducted by the Professor Attahiru Jega-led INEC, in the view of analysts, was possible because of the deployment of battle-ready soldiers, commando-like policemen, mask-wearing personnel of the DSS and anti-riot personnel from the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps. Those who kick against the deployment of crowds of security personnel argue that the presence of too many security officials indirectly affected the voters, thus tainting the process.
Professor Farancis Fagbohun, for example, believes that saturation of Ekiti State with security operatives, in a way affected the outcome of the election. “If they want to guard against malpractices, they don’t need the number of soldiers that were deployed in Ekiti. My friends in Ekiti said they had to pack some of their belongings and flee to Akure with their families for the weekend when some leading members of the APC were being picked up. I’m not saying that is an excuse for the failure of a particular party. Whatever the motive, what happened in Ekiti was militarisation of election and it is not good for our democracy.” The senior lecturer, department of Local Government, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, told a daily newspaper that while it is important to draft in security personnel to curtail the excesses of hoodlums during polls, the essence of elections, the very basis of democracy, could be circumvented if the security arrangements are done out of proportion.
Yet, many more have considered the relapse to overdrive by the federal government in deploying gung-ho security personnel to Ekiti as a veil to carry out a hidden agenda. This category of people considers the excessive use of soldiers in Ekiti as needless in normal circumstances. But because of the ruling party’s interest, the Presidency does not hesitate authorising the use of maximum ‘protective’ force during elections. Ibrahim Zakirullahi, chair of the Transition Monitoring Group, notes that party interest, for instance, was at the heart of the inordinate use of the military during the 21 June governorship election in Ekti State. “We know that the Federal Government, which is in charge of the military and all other security forces, has vested interests. There is no way we can say the security forces were there only to maintain peace. While there was the need to ensure security given how volatile the country is now, the amount of security forces that was deployed in Ekiti was abnormal. We never expected that amount of soldiers,” he said. Although he had warned that his organisation would not accept a further deployment of troops to Osun State for the gubernatorial election which held on 9 August, government drafted in reinforced units of the different security agencies.
In defence of the use of intensive security apparatus to deter prospective troublemakers, President of the Voters Assembly, a non-governmental organisation, said he prefers a peaceful conduct of polls occasioned by military presence to a atmosphere of rancour and ballot-snatching, in the absence of soldiers and others. “It is the level of tension in a place that determines the number of soldiers that would be deployed there. If everything had been stable from the outset, nobody would call for security agents. With the level of tension that was hovering in Ekiti before the election, one would think that we would be carrying dead bodies on the street on the day of election. But because of the heavy deployment of security agents, there was nothing like that.” Although he observed that this was an anomaly in a democratic setting, he opined that soldiers and their counterparts from other agencies were on hand to nip incidences of violence in the bud.
With the recent replication of the wanton use of the army, SSS, police, NDLEA, the FRSC in Osun, the cry against the militarisation of the electoral process has become even more stringent. In his evaluation of the conduct of the Osun State electuion, former Lagos State government, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu described the practice as an abomination, that is capable of spelling undesirable consequences for the country’s democracy. “What happened in Osun was abominable. The massing of the military and over sixty thousand security men to intimidate and harass a peaceful people is the sign of an unsecured government and party. It is a pre-condition to manipulate and perpetrate electoral fraud. Under any democracy, there can be no moral or political justification for the security armada against our party leaders and followers in Osun. The implications for our democracy foretells of dire consequences,” he said, noting that exposing soldiers to such assignments is inimical to democratic norms.
True, reports have emerged of rights abuses and intimidation of some politicians. In major towns of Osun – Osogbo, Ede, Ile-Ife, Ilesa and Ikirun – hotels were invaded and searched without warrants. Men of the DSS and the military intruded into the privacy of those who lodged in such hotels. The officials who swashbuckled into selected hotels left many seething with fright. Worse still, opposition figures the security people arrested only regained freedom after the election.
Another twist is also emerging in addition to the debate on the propriety or otherwise in drafting detachments of security forces to election zones. Some Nigerians question the President’s constitutional powers in unilaterally dispatching troops without the consent of the National Assembly. Femi Falana, a renowned rights campaigner, described the president action as unconstitutional. “Even in the North-East region, a state of emergency had to be declared by the President to justify the deployment of members of the armed forces as part of the extraordinary measures he was required to take to restore law and order pursuant to section 305 of the constitution.
“Even then, the President had to seek and obtain the approval of the National Assembly for the said deployment for a specific period of time.”
The senior advocate advised the fedreal government to equip the police to enable it perform its constitutionally sanctioned responsibilities which are now being usurped by other agencies. Quoting relevant sections of the 1999 Constitution, Falana called on the government to find a suitable means of maintaining law and order anywhere elections are holding in the country.
The contention had been a subject of intense debate in the lower chamber of the National Assembly. During the heated debate, which polarised the House of Representatives along party affiliations, members called for an amendment of the Electoral Act to curtail the President’s powers to warrant the involvement of the military in elections. Femi Gbajabiamila and Samson Osagie, Minority Leader and Minority Whip respectively, in their separate contributions said the objective of blanket movement of soldiers and other forces to states during elections was extra-constiutional and against the principles of fair play. In dismissing the argument calling for the use of the army, Osagie, for example, noted that “Election is not war; it’s a civic activity. Our regular security agencies, particularly the police, could be deployed for election duties and it stops there.”
While the election in Osun was not war, the contestants went about it in war-like fashion and it showed in the security arrangements. The grubby appearance of some security agents gave so much hint about the infiltration of fake security operatives to the state. Some of the alleged impostors were seen in sandals, tattered uniforms, balaclavas, and in fatigues not approved by the police or army. Many of such officers were present in Osogbo, the state capital, Ile-Ife and other towns.
However, APC also threatened to use hunters and African mesmerism, Agbekoya-style, against PDP’s hoodlums, a development which made many critics to wave off the former as a pot calling the kettle black.
This, again, brings to fore how politicians capitalised on the uncoordinated and excessive use of security to feather their electoral nests. Days after the poll, a protest by policemen for “settlement” was reported in the state. While the police top hierarchy said it paid its men before their deployment to Osun, many gaps were left as to who the employers of the protesting ‘policemen’ were.
Another dimension to the issues of the Osun election was the allegation that PDP withdrew N11.5 billion for the election and gave it to their men, Omisore, Kashamu, Obanikoro and the party, hoping they would upstage the APC, an attempt that failed.
Clearly, the Osun election, in the months ahead will still continue to generate acrimonious debates.