The September 22 governorship election in Osun State has come and gone, but not the ripples it generated in the political space. The margin of victory and defeat between the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, Mr Gboyega Oyetola and his closest rival, Mr Ademola Adeleke of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), was a mere 472 votes and that was after a re-run held on September 27, as Mr Adeleke was ahead of him with 353 votes in the main election.
Understandably, the PDP and its candidate have since protested against INEC’s decision to declare the main poll inconclusive. They argued that the first result met the constitutional requirement for declaring a winner. While many respected lawyers have diferred on this with them, quite a few have taken their side. The argument by the PDP and its supporters was that Section 179 (2) (a) (b) of the constitution clearly gave two conditions for declaring a candidate winner in a gubernatorial election. By the provision of this section, the candidate only needs to have “the highest number of votes cast at the election; and … not less than one-quarter of all the votes cast in each of at least two-thirds of all the local government areas in the state.” Thus, many have faulted INEC’s Manual for Election Officials 2015 which says that the margin of win “between the two leading candidates” must be “in excess of the total number of registered voters of the Polling Unit(s), where elections were cancelled or not held, otherwise the election should be declared inconclusive.
Interestingly, the Supreme Court had ruled on a similar issue in the case between James Faleke and INEC in 2016. The apex court affirmed that the provisions of INEC’s Manual were, in fact, in harmony with the concerned section of the constitution. It says since some votes were cancelled, that could affect the outcome of the election either way. Also the result “did not cover the totality of votes cast in all the designated polling units in the state”, as the constitution requires. It declared that “INEC is the only body in the position to determine or decide during an election when Section 179(2) of the Constitution 1999 (as amended) has been met,” adding that “to hold otherwise, would lead to anarchy”.
This newspaper is aware of complaints by some groups and individuals in which they alleged double standards against the electoral umpire in its handling of the Osun governorship poll in comparison to an earlier election in a Bauchi senatorial district. They accused INEC of announcing a winner for the Bauchi poll even though the cancelled votes were more than the margin of win, while declaring Osun poll inconclusive whereas the scenarios were similar. Nothing could be farther from the fact.
For the record, Yahaya Gumau of the All Progressives Congress (APC) was declared the winner with 119, 489 votes, after defeating the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) who scored 50,256 votes. The margin of win between the two leading candidates was thus 69,233 votes. This is clearly more than the cancelled votes, which stood at about 68,000 votes. Therefore, we find no similarity between the Bauchi and Osun examples.
International observers who monitored the election praised INEC for a job well done. They commended the work of INEC leadership during both elections just as they blamed political party supporters and security agencies for widespread incidents of interference and intimidation of voters, journalists, and civil society observers.
We commend INEC for stemming the tide of vote-buying in the Osun election, away from the widespread practice in the earlier Ekiti gubernatorial election. The rearrangement of the voter’s cubicle and the ban on the use of mobile phones around the area were innovative in this regard. Even the PDP copied this example in its presidential primary, an exercise that has been considered to be largely free, fair and credible, although its leaders earlier condemned the election body for the initiative.
However, notwithstanding the performance of INEC in the election under review, it is our considered opinion that the electoral umpire ought to learn its lessons from perceived mistakes. The body must also bear it in mind that a lot more work needs to be done ahead of the general elections in 2019. We urge the electoral body to carry out its duty in a manner that will be acceptable as credible. Anything less will detract from the gains so far achieved as the nation strives to entrench democratic ethos in the polity..
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