On Saturday, the electorate in Ondo state will decide with their votes who will be the occupant of Alagbaka Government House in Akure for the next four years. Though 17 candidates will slug it out at the polls, it is widely believed that the contest will be a three horse race involving the incumbent governor, Rotimi Akeredolu of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Eyitayo Jegede of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Zenith Labour Party (ZLP) candidate, Agboola Ajayi, who is the incumbent Deputy Governor.
Interestingly, if Akeredolu wins on Saturday, he will be the second person to win his re-election bid in the history of the state. The first person to achieve that feat was Akeredolu’s predecessor in office, Olusegun Mimiko, who served from 2008 to 2016.
It is instructive to note that Ondo State is one of the seven states that have off-season governorship elections in Nigeria. It will also be the second state to be holding election in the Covid-19 era after the comparatively successful Edo gubernatorial election last month.
Sadly, rhetoric and actions of some of the political actors in the state in the build up to the election is seen by political observers to have fallen below expectation. First, last month, a mystery fire gutted the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) office in Akure, destroying 5,141 Smart Card Readers. There is no denying the fact that this was a clear act of sabotage perpetrated by some overzealous if not disgruntled persons. Secondly, there have been several clashes between supporters of APC and PDP in the state. All the time the clashes happened, both parties had pointed accusing finger at each other for instigating the clash.
Recently, Residents of Oba Nla, Oba Adesida road, Arakale, and Oja Oba areas of Akure, the Ondo State capital, were thrown into confusion following a clash that ensued between supporters of APC and PDP which resulted to many injuries. Residents and passers-by in the areas had to run for safety while vehicular movement was halted during the clash.
Also, recently five persons reportedly sustained injuries when the convoy of Governor Akeredolu had a brush with the campaign train of the PDP candidate at Oba-Akoko in Akoko South-West where some APC supporters allegedly started attacking the PDP followers. It has been a tale of bloodletting and violence anytime the supporters of the two parties clashed in Ondo. This, we insist, is unacceptable as the nation expects a follow up to the good example of Edo State.
It is, however, gratifying to note that the three major candidates have signed a peace accord ahead of the poll. The accord was facilitated by the National Peace Committee chaired by the former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar. The signing of the peace deal eased tension in the state even if temporarily as the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) had earlier predicted that the governorship election will be marred with violence majorly in riverine areas of the state.
This Newspaper commends the conduct of INEC and security agencies in the conduct of the Edo election. The decision of the electoral body to introduce a dedicated public election result viewing portal, known as “The INEC Result Viewing (IReV) was a game changer in the Edo elections. The nation expects a repeat in Ondo state.
President Muhammadu Buhari has been commended for not deploying federal might to assist his party win the election.
Remarkably, the president and the APC promptly congratulated the winner of the Edo election. That singular has become a positive reference in the conduct of elections in the recent past. This is how it should be. And Nigerians believe that for any reason, that lofty standard must not be allowed to fall. Going forward, it is our wish that free, fair and credible elections should be the norm in the country. The people should be allowed to determine who governs them at all levels.
In view of the foregoing, we call on INEC and security agencies to maintain the same neutrality in the Ondo Elections these weekend. Politicians found trying to circumvent the electoral process through vote buying, thuggery or brigandage should be arrested and made to face the full wrath of the law. On the part of the people of the state, they have a right to insist that their votes must count. They owe themselves a duty to play their constitutional role in strengthening democracy in the Sun Shine state.
In our opinion, there is no alternative to imbibing the culture of free, fair and credible elections. This is a legacy President Buhari has promised to bequeath to Nigerians who expect nothing less.