As Osun Decided

By Abiodun Omonijo
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Our walk in the democratic line has been a very dramatic one with many shocking, beautiful, tragic and ecstatic scenes. As some would complain and condemn the current democratic dispensation in Nigeria and make mouthwatering allusions to the military era, other still our democratic experience is better than others, Kenya for instance, where the minutest land issue snowballs into a political fiasco of national proportion.

Two consecutive elections have however added a different tincture to the Nigerian politic. Electoral irregularities and the long span of litigations over them was the genesis of some states in the Federation having their elections at other dates different from the "general elections". That time-breakaway was in itself thought not to be a very good idea in some quarters at the onset, but it would look like the affected states are beginning to set new examples and tell new stories about Nigerian elections and politics as the world focuses on them one at a time.

The first election that struck such example was the June 21, 2014 gubernatorial of Ekiti state Southwest Nigeria. In the first place, it reminded us soundly that it is not the right of any incumbent officer to gain a reelection in office. Secondly, that a lost incumbent officer would congratulate his opponent on such victory was a civility never experienced in our political history before. Kayode Fayemi did that. Thirdly, it was one of the most peaceful elections the country had ever conducted before it. Again, but quite irrelevant, the victor, Ayo Fayose holds the record of defeating incumbent governors, twice.

On the not-so-good side of the Ekiti election, it would go down as the resurfacing of the shameful tradition of political parties coercing electorates with material things in order to obtain their support and secure their votes. An art cleverly copied, beautified, expanded and used on a grand scale in the Osun state gubernatorial election.

My perspective in this piece focuses more on Ife Central Local Government Area before the election and Ilesa during the election. The first being the base and residence of the candidate of the People's Democratic Party (PDP), Senator Iyiola Omisore and the latter being hometown to the incumbent governor and candidate of the All Progressive Congress (APC), Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, the major contenders for the office.

In the runoff to the election, the whole of Ile-Ife was simply agog with the shouts and campaign posters of the PDP candidate. Typical of the average Nigerian, it would observed that most people who supported Omisore in the ancient city did so probably for no other reason than that he is "their son" and it was Ile-Ife's turn to govern the state. Almost at no point would one find anybody wear a campaign shirt of the APC. Any one who did risked been attacked. Meanwhile, PDP supporters probably wore no other cloth outside ones with Omisotre's portrait.

As I had never seen before, a good traffic of people and vehicles patrolled Omisore's street daily. They were indeed, spectacles to behold. And everywhere, there were shutouts of the party's election slogan, "Te e s'oju e, sara!", meaning, "print on it, sara!--(just an exclamation)". One was forced to have the impression that this man had won already.

By the way, the politics of "feed to capture" went on on both sides of the major divide. The state disgracefully swam with bags of rice, bottles of vegetable oil, packs of fufu and other items, all bearing the name and portrait of the "benefactors".

And the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC), prepared for the big day, this time, by recruiting students of the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, as ad hoc staffs in addition to the regular National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) members.

On the eve of the election, as INEC personnel, permanent and ad hoc staff were deployed to their respective wards with election materials in other to make for early commencement of activities the following day, things turned bad for the personnel deployed to the Ward 5, Isokun area of Ilesa West Local Government Area of the state. As they testified, it was very late into night and were busy sorting electoral materials given to them when suddenly, they alleged heard sporadic gunshots outside Zumratu Primary school, Isokun where they were lodged.

As some of them fled through the windows and made their way into neighboring compounds with sustained injuries in varying degrees, men of the State CID stormed the building, open fire on the floor before the personnel and on the ceiling above them, sending an unspeakable shockwave through them all. The policemen then arrested everyone in sight and took them straight to the state capital, Oshogbo where they were detained. Efforts by the Electoral Officer in charge of Ilesa West LGA , Mr Fafesobi E.O only got them out the following morning to commence their national assignment straight from the prison cell.

The D day finally came, the people turned out in good numbers, ballots were cast, counted and results announced. But more drama played out away from the political permutations which everyone looked out for, and those constitute the major lessons, not just for elections but for the country at large.

At Ilesa, I was impressed by the consciousness and turnout of the electorates, but more so, by the old and elderly. Funny enough, Ilesa is still a town where people, young and old, still wave at flying aircrafts with enthusiasm as if it were from heaven. But seeing the old people really expectant for political change was memorable. Sadly though, their political education was relatively poor. Speaking with polling officers after voting time, they affirmed that some of these elderly people did not fully understand how to cast their votes properly, and some of them folded the ballot papers in manners that rendered their ballots void after the ink smeared the paper.

This tells us that political parties and the Electoral Commission have a lot to do in terms of political education and not limit announcements to election periods alone.

Further more, these 'senior citizens' as I would like to call them have, expectedly, spent their youth serving the society in numerous ways, but as widely known, lots of them are not well taken care of by the society. They suffer anomalies such as their pensions not been paid when due, poor health care etc. They deserve more than ever before, the dividends of democracy. This is therefore a clarion call for governments to create and accelerate gerontological oriented policies as necessary parts of their administration.

Time and again, it has become obvious that the reason Nigeria's security forces abuse their fellow citizens is as a result of a transfer of aggression. Take a situation where a policeman was drafted from his unit base in Kwara state to police an election in Osun state without given any allowance in advance. He has to sleep in the open cold air to protect election materials and go hungry all day because he has no money on him. Yet, he has a family to feed at home.

Meanwhile, he sees his superior officers and other agency chiefs on the same assignment lodge in comfortable hotels and have regular meals. How would he feel? This was the story of an officer of the Nigerian police I spoke with. The same goes for the army.(See my article: #EkitiDecides--My Ordeal). The conclusion is simple; Nigerian Security personnel are not happy doing their jobs. That being the case, how then can they function well without pouring out unnecessary aggression on the people they are employed to protect?

The matter however came to a head at the Ilesa West INEC office, when after voting, student ad hoc staffs from OAU were asked to leave and come back on Monday for their pay. They protested vehemently, and as if the policemen and women were awaiting such moment, they joined in the shout at the LGA Electoral Officer, Mr Fafesobi E.O. They jostled him and rained abuses. "Una no dey fear sleep for hotel, we dey sleep inside cold for outside and you still no want to pay us...", a policeman angry said. As I have always maintained, If we must get the anything meaningful from our security forces, against terrorism and for overall security, it's time for all Nigerians to unite and fight for their welfare.

The regular practice of INEC is to secure the services of Corppers in the country polling officers, which has led to the lose of countless such life when elections turn violent. But for Osun state election, INEC extended its hand to recruit students of OAU in addition. What brought about that, I cannot say for now. The students were duly trained and got ready for the job. They began to get disgruntled also when matters of their welfare came up. At first, they all complained that they were recruited at Ile-Ife and were dispersed to various places within the state for a three day training without any mobilization fees, no accommodation, no feeding, nothing at all.

In effect, they had to travel through and fro Ile-Ife to their respective towns of assignment each of the three days on their own account, spending well over N3000 in all at the end. On the third and final day of their trading, they were then paid N4,500. "When they gave me that money, my head rang", a lady posted to Ikire said.

For the election, they were reportedly all lodged in Primary school facilities at their various towns of assignment with no provision whatsoever except the mats provided for them to sleep on, and few bags of sachet water in some cases. To make matters worse, they were told to return on Monday for their payments after the election was concluded on Saturday. They was where hell broke lose.

Students ad hoc staffs in INEC offices across the state defiled the police presence, in some cases, closed down the entrance to offices and vehemently demanded that their money be paid that night before they leave. It was then that disgruntled police officers also joined in the demand for theirs. Anyway, by some special magic, money was brought very late into the night and payment began, even till the early hours of Sunday.

The critical questions to be asked at this point are that; is it the case that INEC does not prepare adequately for its staffs during elections? If so, why? Are there no enough resources in the country to conduct elections? Or better still, if INEC releases enough funds, what happens to them before they get to those they are meant for? Is anybody outsmarting the Commission and its employees somewhere?

Now and very importantly, if Nigerian youths have been so cheated in their service to fatherland, where then is the incentive to keep being patriotic?

For better conducts of elections, INEC needs to address the several issues raised here and Nigerians need to monitor more closely.

Successful elections are a joint responsibility.

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