April 23 local government elections conducted in Ondo State was largely boycotted by the All Progressives Congress and other opposition parties.  PETER DADA writes on the exercise and what the boycott may portend for the opposition parties and future elections in the state

On April 23, 2016, the Ondo State Government conducted a local government election where the chairmen and councillors were elected to all its 18 local government areas.

The ruling Peoples Democratic Party won all of the chairmanship seats and 202 out of 203 councillorship slots leaving only one for the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria at Ward 9 in Akure North Local Government Area.

Political analysts expressed the belief that the election would have been more interesting and well contested if the main opposition party in the state, the All Progressives Congress had participated. The APC boycotted the election, claiming the poll would not be free, fair and credible with the composition of the members of the election umpire, the Ondo State Independent Electoral Commission.

Apart from the APC, another opposition party, the Social Democratic Party, did not participate in the election. The state chapter of the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties was also opposed to the conduct of the election.

But in spite of the boycott by the major political parties, 14 parties participated in the election. Some of the parties that took part in the election included: the Labour Party, Accord Party, Allied Congress Party of Nigeria, Peoples Party of Nigeria, Alliance for Democracy, Progressive Peoples Alliance and African Peoples Alliance

Others were: the Advance Congress of Democrats, Democratic Peoples Congress, Democratic Peoples Party, Peoples for Democratic Change, and Peoples Democratic Movement.

Political analysts pointed out that the fear of some of the opposition parties for boycotting the election was born out of the fact that the history of local government elections in Nigeria showed that the ruling party had always come out victorious in all the positions contested for, leaving none for the opposition.

Also, according to pundits, absolute victory for the ruling party in a state in a local government election seems to have become part of the political culture of Nigeria; no matter how unpopular the ruling party is in the state.

The chairman of the Ondo State chapter of the APC, Mr. Isaac Kekemeke, said the party decided to boycott the election for certain reasons. He explained that party was law abiding and understood the principles of democracy but did not want to join the illegality he alleged was being perpetrated by the ruling Peoples Democratic Party led by Governor Olusegun Mimiko.

Kekemeke argued that there was a subsisting case on the issue of local government election in the state at the Supreme Court, noting that despite that, the government still went ahead and conducted the election. He said such an election could not be credible in any way.

Kekemeke said, “We said it that members of the ODIEC are card-carrying members of the Labour Party with Mimiko. How could such a commission conduct a credible election?”

However, the APC attempted to stop the election at the Federal High Court but all its efforts were futile as the court struck out its prayers and gave the ODIEC the go-ahead to conduct the election as scheduled.

The opposition party had approached the court on the grounds that there was no authentic voters register available for the conduct of the election, saying the register to be used for the poll had not been reviewed since the last general election as required by the law. For this reason, the APC wanted the election stopped by the court but it failed to achieve this.

After the result was announced, the APC chairman alleged that the figure of the result was inflated. According to him, such a figure could not come out from an election characterised by a low turnout of the people. He alleged that the result announced by the ODIEC contradicted what actually happened on the election day.

“We have the evidence that the result announced was not the actual result. For instance, in a polling unit where we had 15 people that voted, the ODIEC announced 35,000. You can see the level of illegality being perpetrated by the government. Many people did not come out to vote and yet the government wanted to tell the whole world that the election was credible,” he said.

Still not satisfied with the court’s ruling on the election, the APC insisted on its ‘no retreat, no surrender’ position, as it vowed to  continue using legal means to challenge the conduct of the poll at the court, even after the newly elected chairmen and councillors had been inaugurated and had assumed office.

Similarly, the leadership of the SDP expressed lack of confidence in the ODIEC, saying the commission could not, in any way conduct a free and fair election as it was allegedly not independent of the ruling party that constituted it.

The state chairman of the party, Korede Duyile, said prior to the election that, “the SDP believed that as a principled political party, it was steering clear of the election believing that it would be more of an appointment exercise than an elective process.”

In the same vein, the CNPP also opposed the conduct of the poll as it was of the opinion that the government was not financially buoyant to organise such a state wide exercise in the light of the economic challenges facing the state currently.

In a statement issued by its chairman, Ayo Isijola, faulted the decision of the state government to conduct the council election in the light of “the prevailing poor state of the economy that had rendered the state government machinery incapable of regular payment of state government workers salaries.

“It is also highly suspicious and ill-timed for the government to conduct a reasonably free, fair and credible local government election in just a few months to the governorship election,” Isijola said.

On the contrary, the Director of Media and Publicity of the PDP in Ondo State, Mr. Ayo Fadaka, in his reaction, said the election was free, fair and credible as proper arrangement was made by the state electoral commission to make the exercise successful.

He faulted the insinuation of partisanship on the part of the members of the ODIEC as he said the commission was composed of people of integrity who were non-partisan and were successful in their various fields of human endeavour before taking up the job of LG election umpire in the state.

He said, “The people that make up the ODIEC are thorough-bred professionals that have their integrity intact. None of them can be regarded as political jobbers because you cannot hear their names in any of the political parties

“The PDP has a legacy of organising a free and fair election. We know the legacy of the government of the APC for the nation. We now see how the legacy is working. We can see the inconclusive elections everywhere in the country that the INEC (Independent National Electoral Commission) is operating. To this extent, I make bold to say that Governor Mimiko as the Chief Executive Officer of the state has no desire to impose any candidate or his party on the ODIEC .

“People came out massively to vote for their candidate on the day of election, and the people voted for us.  Mr. Governor does not believe in self-help. We worked and we got the result. We did not rig, if we had rigged as alleged we would have won all the councillorship seats but we lost one. As far as we are concerned Saturday’s election was fair and transparent.”

But the chairman of the ODIEC, Prof. Olugbenga Ige, said the election was well conducted without any hitch.

Ige confirmed that there was no record of violence or electoral malpractices reported to his office during the election.

He said, “We promised the people of Ondo State that a free and fair election would be conducted and to the glory of God we were able to do our best,”

Meanwhile, there have been mixed reactions about the election. While some lauded the boycott by the opposition, others described the decision as not democratic enough.

Another political school of thought said the local government election would have served as a litmus test for all the political parties preparing for the next governorship election slated for November 26, 2016.

The exercise was however a commendable one to a political analyst, Mr. Yemi Adegun, who said one unique thing about the election, was the orderliness at the polling centres as voters exercised their civic duties without intimidation or molestation.

He said, “If the larger elections were like this in Nigeria, then, we have developed democratically. This is the first time there would not be violence in an election in Ondo State. I am not interested in whoever is declared winner but the way and manner the exercise was conducted was commendable.”

In the view of Mr. Ojo Odenusi, a legal practitioner, the exercise was a mere selection rather than being an election because the voters were, according to him, the people who were allegedly induced with money by the state government. He added that the election was not a true test of popularity of the PDP since the major opposition party did not participate.

“ It is difficult to use this election to judge the next governorship election, because we all know that the APC did not participate, many people did not take part and the government ‘settled’ those that went out to cast their votes on that day. But it will be a different ball game on November 26, when the governorship election will take place, “he stated.

Another analyst, Joe Olamona, blamed the APC for not participating in the election. He said if the opposition had participated it would have been a pre-test for it against the next governorship election.

He said, “If the APC had participated in the poll, it might lose some of the local governments but its participation would have also exposed some other things and it would have known where and where to work on more ahead the governorship election. Hence, its non-participation is a minus for the party.”

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