JJ Omojuwa: Ondo Poll And Akeredolu’s Next Challenge

The Independent National Electoral Commission certainly outdid itself in Ondo State, especially when measured against its recent consecutive inconclusive elections. Right from the distribution of electoral materials to accreditation and finally to the election proper, it was quite a swift and smooth transition of events. Is this an indication that INEC has finally woken up from its long time hibernation and negligence of its primary duties?

 The Peoples Democratic Party provided the most intriguing drama in the run-up to the Ondo polls even as the battle within the All Progressives Congress was more subtle, even though it led to strengthening of the Alliance for Democracy. The Ahmed Makarfi faction of the PDP produced Eyitayo Jegede while the Ali Modu Sheriff faction produced Jimoh Ibrahim. Both factions laid claim to the ticket to the governorship election. Hence, a court case which lingered on till hours to the Election Day. The situation at that point was a viable excuse for the PDP to put pressure on INEC to shift the election so as to have ample time to clear its court case and eventually make use of the postponement window to run campaigns. However, INEC stood its ground in the face of heavy pressure and ensured that the date picked for the election was uncompromised.

 INEC’s steadfastness will serve as a huge lesson to political parties going forward. The will of the people cannot be delayed because they (political parties) have refused to put their various houses in order.

 INEC undeniably, has worked properly on logistics and will do better in replicating the same on a larger scale towards the 2019 general elections. There is so much ground to be covered and one can only hope that the current INEC under the leadership of Mahmood Yakubu will rise up to the task.

 The just concluded election in Ondo State pitted seasoned politicians against themselves in a fierce battle for the seat of the governor. Olushola Oke of the Alliance for Democracy, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu of the APC and Eyitayo Jegede of the PDP were the top contenders.

 A little inquest into the background of Oke reveals that he had quite a good chunk of experience in politics which should ordinarily have been a good nudge to place him ahead of his rivals; however, his political instability might have been one of the major hurdles that stopped his emergence as governor because record clearly shows that he has cross-carpeted between three political parties. Oke left the PDP for the APC. However, after the APC’s controversial primaries where he came a close third, he joined the AD and started his campaign almost immediately. This flippant attitude is one of the biggest characteristics of Nigerian politicians and also is a major flaw in the Nigerian political system. Situations like this where there is the absence of political ideologies makes it so easy for politicians to move on to the next political party without fear of consequences or clash of ideologies and this is simply made is easy because Nigerian political parties are either built around men or transactional interests.

 Another candidate from the PDP, Jegede, is a member of the Council of Legal Education in Nigeria, the body responsible for setting standards for legal education in Nigeria.

 He emerged as candidate in the primary election conducted by the Makarfi faction of the party. The incumbent governor, Olusegun Mimiko, also paved the way for a smooth ride for him to take the ticket but a parallel primary by the Sheriff-led faction shortly after, challenged his legitimacy as the party’s candidate.

 He was substituted with Ibrahim on the order of the Federal High Court in Abuja. Jegede’s campaign had lit the entire state but was later drowned by legal battles. To everyone’s utter amazement, the Appeal Court returned Jegede as the authentic candidate of the PDP in the election. However, there was little or no time for him to campaign as he had spent most of the time fighting legal battles against Ibrahim and the Sheriff-led faction.

 The third contender to the seat, Akeredolu, who eventually emerged the governor-elect happens to be a man whose roots in the APC can be traced back to the days of the ACN as he ran for the seat of governor in 2012 on the platform of the ACN. Little wonder he was the most popular of the trio as he enjoyed much support from the crisis-ridden APC.

 The conduct of the election generally is one that has received lots of accolades from Nigerians, stakeholders and observers. The smooth conduct has equally shown that credible, free and fair elections in Nigeria are achievable as long as those at the helm of affairs are ready to carry out their mandated duties. The swift distribution of electoral materials is commendable up till the collation and counting of votes. It is a huge success for INEC as well as Nigeria and Nigerians.

 The election is over, the winner is basking in the euphoria of success while the losers are licking their wounds and heading back to the proverbial drawing tables to re-strategise. However, the most important thing that needs the highest level of attention is the post-election era where the reality of governance kicks in. There is so much work to be done in Ondo State as it is clearly evident that the incumbent government has failed to take on its mandated responsibilities heads on. Ondo State has slipped from a stable state that was well-known for making tons of fortune from its wealthy reserve of diverse natural resources to one that can barely pay salaries of workers. It is on record that the monthly wage bill of the state is N3.9bn, while it’s FAAC, oil derivation funds, Value Added Tax, Internally Generated Revenue put together is N1.3bn. So, basically, the state is running on a huge deficit. The outgoing governor has not only ensured that Ondo was relegated but also down-trodden as nothing is being done to either diversify the economy of the state or create revenue streams.

 The fact that the governor-elect is taking over from an incumbent who will now become an opposition figure is a pointer that the electorate actually want a change in governance. In as much as it is a required responsibility for the incoming governor to ensure that public funds that have been mismanaged or misappropriated by the outgoing government is probed, he is also expected to know that there really is no time for personal vendetta.

 The people of Ondo have spoken loud and clear. Their voices should be the sole focus of the incoming administration. Akeredolu should realise that the time for jubilation is actually limited because, upon inauguration, he is expected to hit the ground running in order to avoid dilemmas. This is the time to re-strategise on existing plans and also the time to inject new plans. This is the time to pick a credible team of seasoned technocrats and politicians who understand the ethics of leadership and good governance.

 INEC has done a very good job of ensuring a free, fair and credible elections. The security agents in their different areas of expertise have done an equally good job of forestalling trouble and post-election violence. The stage is set for change and every factor has worked in favour of the people of Ondo State. It is now left for the incoming administration to make good its promises to the electorate who gave all they had to ensure a change in government.

 One thing is certain, the government of Akeredolu will not enjoy the luxury of non-performance as the people of Ondo State are known for their active participation in governance. Technically, he cannot afford to not deliver at least a huge percentage of his campaign promises as he has enjoyed a huge amount of goodwill from his political party and most importantly, the electorate. He has no choice but to hit the ground running so, the time to make that a reality begins now.

This piece was originally published in Punch newspaper of 30/11/2016.