Monday 25 July 2022

Reflections on Osun governorship election......By Nick Dazang

The Osun State governorship election  of Saturday, July 16, 2022 was presaged by a welter of huge expectations by stakeholders. As the last in the series of off cycle/season governorship elections, it was expected to give us a definitive inkling of, and provide a viable assessment of the preparedness of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to conduct free, fair, credible and inclusive elections in 2023. As the second governorship election conducted following the enactment  and implementation of the Electoral Act 2022, it was expected to be a significant improvement on the conduct of the Ekiti State governorship election conducted almost a month previously.

It was expected that it would provide a propitious opportunity to further test the reforms and the new technologies and innovations introduced by the Commission such as the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System, BVAS, and the continued fidelity and fortitude of the INEC Election Results Portal, IReV. INEC was determined to send a loud and clear message to Nigerians and the international community that the superlative performance it rendered in Ekiti was not a fluke or flash in the pan.

On the part of the political parties, especially those in reckoning – the All Progressives Congress, APC; the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP; and the Labour Party, LP – this was a time to secure a foothold in Osun with a view to either taking the entire state electorally or registering such a performance that would assure each one of them the minimum 25 per cent of the votes cast in the presidential election to meet the requisite national spread.

For Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu who had  always touted his hold on the politics of the South-West geo-political zone and whose cousin, Adegboyega Isiaka Oyetola, was in another grudge match with the eventual winner, Adeleke Ademola Jackson Nurudeen, his was more than a huge expectation. It was a gargantuan expectation. He needed it as a stepping stone to the presidency. He also needed it to entrench his beloved cousin and to emblazon a statement on the political firmament of his formidability. In spite of the incidents of thuggery and bellicose rhetoric by contenders which preceded the election, the Osun State governorship election was defined by calmness and peaceful conduct by all stakeholders. Observers and the media were unanimously agreed on this and they lauded the security agencies for their civility, decorum and professionalism.

YIAGA AFRICA, which deployed 500 trained stationary observers and 32 mobile observers in the election, enthused that there was “significant improvement in logistics management for the Osun 2022 governorship election”. Personnel and election materials such as the BVAS, voting cubicles and ballot boxes, were said to have been deployed early in a majority of Polling Units, PUs, such that at 7.30 am, INEC officials had arrived at 78 per cent of the PUs across the state. By 9.30 am, 96 per cent of the PUs had commenced accreditation. This is a superior performance over the Osun State governorship election of 2018 when at the same time on that Election Day, INEC recorded 91 per cent commencement of accreditation.

The Media and sundry observers reported improved setting up of PUs to facilitate access for Persons With Disability, PWDs, and the presence of assistive materials such as Braille and magnifying glasses for the PWDs. Further sheen and credibility were added to INEC’s onerous efforts by the fact that the winner emerged from the ranks of the opposition. Senator Adeleke trounced an incumbent seeking re-election on the platform of the ruling APC. If INEC gave a virtuoso performance in Osun State and the incumbent governor was given a bloody nose, the APC presidential flagbearer, Asiwaju Tinubu, received the equivalent of a concussion. 

But the Osun governorship election, sterling and shimmering as it was, was not devoid of ugly incidents and shortcomings. Vote-buying and selling remain a major challenge. Even though the anti-corruption agencies made a number of arrests, they pale in significance considering how widespread vote-buying and selling were and the novel tricks invented to perpetrate it. Secrecy of the ballot was reportedly compromised in a number of PUs. Thugs also allegedly intimidated voters, particularly at Iragbiji Ward 4 in Boripe Local Government area.

These challenges notwithstanding, the Osun governorship election was re-assuring. The Commission and all stakeholders in the electoral process should consolidate on the remarkable successes of the Edo, Ondo, Ekiti and Osun governorship elections. INEC should do a thorough and dispassionate review of all its recently conducted elections (off cycle governorship elections, FCT Area Council and bye-elections) with a view to learning lessons and factoring them in the 2023 general elections. In doing this, due attention should be paid to further improving holistically on securing the process, logistics, training and the new technologies and innovations introduced. 

More accent should be placed on hands-on training of ad hoc staff. There should be more engagement with stakeholders, particularly with the National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, and the National Union of Road Transport Workers, NURTW/National Association of Road Transport Owners, NARTO. If possible, their senior officials  and the security agencies can be co-opted or embedded in the INEC Situation Room on Election Day with a view to trouble- shooting in states where there could be challenges. Funds permitting, it will be judicious to carry out mock demonstrations/exercises with the BVAS across the six geopolitical zones. This was done when the Smart Card Reader, SCR, was introduced in 2014. The demonstration (of the SCR) elicited robust support and acceptance by rural folks. In the case of the BVAS, such a demonstration will help dispel suggestions and lurid and hair-raising conjectures that it will not work in certain jurisdictions.

Even though we have witnessed a vast improvement in the performance and functionality of the BVAS, the Commission should ensure that all its ICT Staff in the states, who are most likely to serve as Registration Area Technical Support Staff, RATECHS, during the general elections are well trained and proficient on how to use and trouble-shoot glitches on election day. This is key since in a general election the RATECHS will be thinly spread across the country. Additionally, all the Registration Area Officers, RAOs, stationed in the 8,809 wards across the country should be trained to master the use and application of the BVAS. This should put the Commission in a more comfortable place and to respond to glitches as they will surely arise  on election day.

*Dazang, a former director in INEC, wrote

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