As Ondo goes to the polls

ON Tuesday, ten of the 17 governorship candidates participating in Saturday’s election in Ondo State signed a peace pact to ensure violence-free election, with a promise to accept its outcome. Among the signatories were the candidates of the three major parties participating in the election, namely Rotimi Akeredolu of the All Progressive Congress (APC), Eyitayo Jegede of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Agboola Ajayi of the Zenith Labour Party (ZLP). The event which took place in Akure, the state capital, was facilitated by the National Peace Committee headed by former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar. Dignitaries at the ceremony included the national chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Yakubu Mahmood; Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Abukabar Saa’d; Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Dr. Hassan Kukah; former Bishop of Abuja Diocese, John Onaiyekan and traditional rulers, among others. According to the the former Head of State, who joined the session via Zoom, the peace accord was aimed at enabling the electorate to feel secure while exercising their franchise in an atmosphere devoid of chaos and fear.

To say the least, the atmosphere in Ondo State ahead of the election has been patently lawless and chaotic. The campaign season has been characterised by mudslinging, fisticuffs, assaults, arson and brigandage. Only last week, violence erupted in Ipele in Owo local government area of the state as political thugs clashed. No fewer than ten persons sustained injuries while 20 vehicles and several motorcycles were burnt. From Owo to Ondo, and from Akure to Okitipupa, the campaigns have been characterised by serial acts of lawlessness by political thugs while the candidates and their supporters traded blames. The campaigns, in all respects, have been less than stellar.

As we noted with respect to the Edo State governorship election which was conducted last month, some players resorted to crude insults during campaigns, elevated inanities over real issues, and replaced logic with sophistry, and some of the characters extended their verbal assaults to the judiciary and the media with a deluge of unsubstantiated allegations of conspiracy to manipulate the poll. Sadly, the infractions we noted ahead of the Edo governorship election have been replicated in multiple folds in Ondo State. In this regard, the security agencies, including the Nigeria Police, Department of State Service (DSS), National Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and the Nigerian military have a bounden duty to ensure that Saturday’s governorship election in Ondo State takes place in a free, fair and just atmosphere where voters exercise their franchise without fear or trepidation. Unless they maintain eagle-eyed vigilance, unscrupulous politicians would simply deploy political thugs with a view to manipulating the outcome of the election.

On its part, INEC, cognizant of its serial failures and the little respite given to its name and image during the conduct of last month’s governorship election in Edo State, must approach the election as a referendum on its integrity and professional competence. It must be conscious of the verdict of history in everything it does. In particular, it must ensure that election materials get to the nooks and crannies of  the state early enough, and that its rules are applied strictly before, during and after the casting of votes. It must assert its authority and resist interference in its duties from any quarters. Voters, on the other hand, must be conscious of the realities of the Covid-19 pandemic while exercising their franchise. They must abide by the safety guidelines issued by the authorities. We wish the people of Ondo State the very best as they elect their governor for the next four years.

 

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