The just-concluded gubernatorial elections in Osun State showed one of the beauties of democracy – that is, the people-power to freely elect their leaders at the polls. Despite a pocket of roguish disturbances, vote-buying and inducements, more conspicuous was the courage of dissatisfied people to floor an incumbent; the umpire showing ability to officiate fairly and improve one election after the other, and the democrat in Mr. President to graciously concede to the will of the people. Indeed, the Osun poll was far from perfect but the lessons are heartwarming ahead of the 2023 general elections.
The people of Osun did not disappoint. Freely and in an orderly manner, at least in most parts of the state, they cast their votes for preferred candidates of 15 political parties, among which Senator Ademola Adeleke of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) won. Stakeholders are unanimous that the election as a whole was an improvement compared to earlier off-cycle elections. Amid insecurity and apprehensions in the buildup, Osun had a larger mass turnout of 42.37 per cent of electorates and 50,000 votes more than 2018 record, compared to Anambra (10 per cent), Edo (25 per cent), Ondo (32.8 per cent) and Ekiti (36.74 per cent).
Suffice to add that Adeleke’s victory was far from accidental; rather, a symbolism of the peoples’ tenacity to make a political statement. At the first time of asking in 2018, Adeleke lost in controversial circumstances to the incumbent Governor Gboyega Oyetola, after a run-off election, in which a lot of Adeleke’s voters were allegedly denied access to the polling booths to vote. He won the first round of the election but lost the second round with less than 400 votes. Adeleke was to lose the court case at the Supreme Court in split decisions which ran up from the trial tribunal to the apex court.
The 2022 election presented another opportunity and Adeleke defeated the incumbent governor, in an election that INEC has been praised for. The positive response of the people of Osun to Adeleke’s poignant charge was another demonstration that the people can no longer be taken for granted even by the incumbent and the godfathers. In fairness, the electorate deserve a lot more than officeholders that would make highfalutin promises, deliver little or nothing and expect reelection as compensation. Not again! And that is the only way to return political powers to where it belongs – the people.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has shown that beyond keeping the voters’ registration platforms open, it can scale up preparedness to make votes count in a free and fair process. It is to the umpire’s credit that out of the 827, 218 accredited for the election, 99 per cent were able to cast their votes satisfactorily and as well watch the results transmitted promptly.
The winner, Adeleke, underscored the significance of the new Electoral Act 2022, saying “I would’ve lost if Buhari had not signed the amended Electoral Act.” He is right. The outcome is the margin of difference between the Electoral Act 2010 and the 2022 Amendment. Unlike the old Act that was scandal-prone, its amended version has legalised card readers, and voting is now measured only by the number of accredited voters, not manual voters’ register. Further enabled by the amendment, INEC has improved on the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) technology to efficiently identify voters, coupled with the digital transmission of results via the INEC Electoral Results Portal. All of these are channels erstwhile explored by vote riggers and powers of incumbency to manipulate the peoples’ will, promote democracy by court orders and subsequently discourage people participation. Technically, it is a new dawn for a credible electoral process.
Similarly, President Muhammadu Buhari showed character expected of a democrat. It is commendable that he, contrary to the hesitation in signing the Electoral Act 2022, promptly congratulated the winner from the opposition party. At a time members of the ruling party in the state were still dazed by defeat and finding reasons to reject the outcome, Mr. President’s sportsmanship doused all tensions, as he had done in recent elections. The democratic spirit is an extension of similar grace President Goodluck Jonathan bequeathed to Buhari in 2015, following the admission that no political ambition of anyone is worth the blood of any Nigerian. Such noble affirmation is a demonstration of inherent dignity and grace that all politicians should emulate however inconvenient the electoral outcome may be.
The foregoing positive review and snippets of political maturity notwithstanding, Osun election also showed the oddly familiar criminal acts of vote-buying, violent disruption of the process and inducements that were recorded in some parts of the State. It is disgraceful that some political elites actually shared monies and offered branded foodstuffs to seduce electorates. Deployment of security agencies did very little to curtail the malpractices and a reason to demand stiffer sanctions in accordance to the enabling rules.
Clearly, a one-state scenario is rarely a sufficient benchmark upon which to build optimism for a general election. However, Osun showed that INEC has improved and there is still room for improvements ahead of 2023. INEC must keep turning the pages on the current analogue culture and poverty of electoral values.
Remarkably, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) conducted its 2022 elections on the same day Osun went to the polls and the former creditably deployed digital-balloting system that brought even more positives to the body. Until INEC reaches a similar height under a sound data management process and cloud-based solutions, it cannot stop improving itself and the process.
Lastly, the political elites, especially candidates of least popular political parties, all have their work cut out by the Osun experience. It is regrettable that the final outcome in Osun showed that about 40 per cent of the total of 1.95 million registered electors actually voted in the guber poll, which was decided by a difference of 28,344 votes. Meanwhile, none of the candidates of the other 13 political parties won a local government or anything substantial compared to the two dominant parties. These are indications that street endorsements and social media followership would amount to nothing without loyalists coming out en masse to vote for their preferred candidates on Election Day. As the 2023 elections approaches, more determined candidates must further engage with the people, persuade them to do more than complaining behind the scene and actively participate in the change process that they so desire. As Osun has hinted, it is now more in the hands of the people to determine their fate and open a new chapter for the country.