OPINION: If Uncle Bola Were Here…..By Kunle Famoriyo
At last, the D-Day for the Governorship election in Osun State is very much around the corner. Come Saturday, August 9, 2014, the electorate will be going to the polls to exercise their franchise. The occasion will provide for the people another golden opportunity to either renew the mandate given to Ogbeni Rauf Adesoji Aregbesola four years ago or decide otherwise should they find him wanting.
That is the beauty of Democracy – a Government of the people, by the people, for the people. If Uncle Bola Ige were here with us today, he would have led the campaign for the emancipation of Democracy and all the democratic norms as he deploy his best diction, in the belief that only the best is good for the State of Osun. Uncle Bola would have taken all the pains in explaining even to the man in the remotest village that Democracy is a system of government, particularly in the advanced world, which has given the people that singular power to decide their fate by themselves. It is virtually thirteen years ago that the Cicero of Esa-Oke and first civilian Governor of the old Oyo State, Chief Bola Ige, was brutally shot dead in his Bodija, Ibadan bedroom by yet to be identified gunmen.
Uncle Bola, as he was fondly called by his teeming admirers all over the country was, as at the time of his assassination, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation. That Uncle Bola was a politician of no mean stature is not debatable. He also knew the inside out of the law. No wonder, therefore, the finesse that he injected into the national polity whilst he was around. Uncle Bola would always work for the best as far as Democracy was concerned. Just a little over a decade after the passage of Cicero, however, the million-dollar question here in Nigeria, has continued to be whether or not the local Democracy is yet at par with what is obtainable in other civilized parts of the globe.
Is Democracy in Nigeria free and fair? Is Nigeria’s Democracy a system govern by the rule of law, and not by individuals? Are all citizens equal under the law in Nigeria and no one is discriminated against on the basis of their race, religion, ethnic group, or gender. Is Nigeria a nation where no one may be arrested, imprisoned, or exiled arbitrarily. And if you are detained, do you have the right to know the charges against you, and to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to the law? What of the freedom of movement? Can you move freely unmolested? In a true Democracy, anyone charged with a crime has the right to a fair, speedy, and public trial by an impartial court. Is it the same in our clime here? Uncle Bola would always tell anybody who is ready to listen that the norm in civilized societies is that true Democracy cannot be said to reign where a government is put in place by the force of gun, or under any duress whatsoever.
For democracy to be truly worth its salt, he would explain, it must be sustainable and anchored on transparency, representation, pluralism and accountability. It is all these that have called to question the new trend militarization of the national polity, with particular focus on the conduct of elections under heavily armed soldiers and stern-looking policemen with security sniffer dogs as witnessed recently in the Ekiti Gubernatorial election. Uncle Bola would not have wasted a moment in describing as an aberration the militarization of electoral process under whatever guise. Now that the much-awaited Osun Governorship poll is around the corner, Nigerians have another opportunity to witness the level of democratic development in the nation. What actually are in the offing for the electorate in Osun State? How prepared are the stakeholders and particularly the electoral umpires as underscored by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)? Is INEC truly independent? Will INEC assure the citizenry of a free and fair election? And will the vote actually count? These are some of the pertinent questions that Uncle Bola would have readily directed at those concerned without mincing words.
Only a few days ago, the INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner for Osun State, Mr. Olusegun Agbaje declared at a forum in Abuja that the state will not be less militarized during the scheduled governorship election as it was the case during similar election held on June 21 in Ekiti State. Agbaje had anchored his pronouncement on what he tagged the heightening security situation allegedly being caused by inflammatory utterances of politicians in the state. The REC pointedly accused some politicians in Osun State of seeing election as a do-or-die affair. Agbaje, while participating at the “Nigeria civil society situation room dialogue, organized by the Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC) with support from the UK Department for International Development (DFID), explained at that forum that as at the last count, no fewer than 19 political parties are fielding candidates for the August 9, Osun Governorship election. He said that one of the political parties, the PDM withdrew from the race leaving only 19 candidates.
According to him, more than 742, 000 Permanent Voter Cards, PVCs have so far been distributed out of a total of over 1.2 million PVCs. He added that the INEC headquarters would still supply about 149,000 PVCs later in the month stressing that that the Temporary Voters Card (TVC) shall not be used. The REC debunked allegations by the All Progressives Congress (APC) that the INEC was disenfranchising its members in the collection of PVCs ahead of the election. His words: “The issue of whether INEC is asking people which party they belong to does not hold water as the allegation is laughable, they should come forward with proof, because we know that our staff have been trained to be apolitical and if any person tries that, such a person is playing with his job.” Agbaje explained that the commission has produced a very credible register of voters for the conduct of the polls arguing that the process led to the Automated Finger Print Identification System (AFIS) which is a method employed to rid the register of multiple registrations.
He further stated that results from the AFIS revealed a total of 37,273 multiple records while valid registration after the AFIS phase 1 was 1,318,120 a reduction of 2.75 percent. The REC insisted that the total number of registered voters in the state is 1,407,222. On the issue of photochromic ballot papers, he said what the commission has done to forestall such allegation is to discard all the old inks and get new inks from the headquarters. However, allegations are rife all over the place of dirty tricks by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its flagbearer, Iyiola Omisore to win the Osun election by all means. One of the allegations is the purported unwritten instruction to INEC to play according to the interest of PDP if they want to get their wages.
According to the rumour mills, INEC has all the names and ID of members of PDP and their supporters plus voters card of those that sold theirs for one bag of rice and five thousand naira. INEC reportedly has the directive from PDP-led FG to delete every other voters data from INEC system in order to disqualify them or stop them from voting. Just as the case of Ekiti election, many voters will not be accredited because they will never find their names on INEC data a development which sources said will give only PDP members and their supporters with other ID they bought from hungry voters access to vote. INEC will allow little percent of neutral valid voters to vote knowing that their vote cannot surpass that of PDP candidate. This plan which was allegedly used in Ekiti was revealed out of ignorance by PDP members in Osun State. If Uncle Bola were here, he would have tasked INEC to see its role as sacrosanct, and therefore endeavour not to engage in double standard through connivance with any of the parties.
Members of the security forces, at the same time, would have been enjoined to strive to be seen to be agents of law and not agents of particular political parties as they are being mobilized for electoral duties, even though the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is unambiguous on expectations from the Military. The Constitution has defined roles for the military under any circumstance and it is doubtful if election supervision or monitoring comes under the purview of the armed forces.
Meanwhile, the gladiators have been engrossed in election campaigns to sell themselves to the electorates across the state with Ogbeni Aregbesola’s massive campaign network believed to be the most visible, not only in the major cities, but all the nooks and crannies of the state. Even though, on the paper, INEC said that 19 candidates are contesting the election, observers see the contest as mainly one between Ogbeni Aregbesola of the ruling APC and Iyiola Omisore of the opposition PDP. Alhaji Fatai Akinbade of the Labour Party (LP) and Olusegun Akinwusi of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) are merely coming up as spoilers as shown by their outings. One thing that is not in doubt is that wherever Ogbeni goes, his campaigns have always been greeted with tumultuous, clamorous and cheering crowd of supporters who have not pretended to endorse the man whom they always refer to as the peoples Governor as their right choice.
Aregbesola, in effect, has also used the fora to showcase his array of achievements within the almost four years that he has taken up the mantle of office. They cut across virtually all sectors, is it in the area of Agriculture, Education, Infrastructural Development, Health, Urban Renewal, etc., Ogbeni has got good stories to tell while the people have readily scored him above-average performance. Iyiola Omisore, on the other hand, has been going about to sell himself to the people in what his campaign organization tagged door-to-door strategy. However, it is generally believed that the noticeable disunity in the PDP house coupled with the grassroots support which Aregbesola has, with time, mobilized across the state are some of the undoings of the PDP flagbearer.
Another noticeable negative factor within Omisore’s train is the campaign of force as against that of appeal to the sentiment of the electorate. One thing is obvious, wherever Omisore has gone to campaign, his loyalists have always left in their trail deadly encounters and vandalization of the campaign billboards and posters of Ogbeni Aregbesola. Alas! Only last week Friday, a gang of miscreants believed to be IBK boys of Omisore Governorship campaign team struck in Ilesa. The gang was reportedly sighted brandishing cutlasses and shooting astronomically, in the process of which citizen Tolu Adeosun, a member of All Progressives Congress (APC) in Ward 9 Ilesa East was shot dead in front of his house around Osun Ankanra in Irojo immediately he was identified by one of the miscreants as APC member. They threatened to kill more APC members. The late Tola Adeosun was said to have held naming ceremony for his new born baby just a day earlier. A similar tale of terror in Ile-Ife sometimes ago when PDP members reportedly engaged the APC in a deadly brawl leading to destruction of properties worth several millions of naira is still fresh in the minds of Osun political watchers. Hoodlums left in their trail the destruction of several campaign billboards of Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, the incumbent Governor whose Campaign Train has visited many towns across the state with no one dead.
But the last straw on Omisore and his PDP in Osun is the reported rejection of an offer to the renowned Masked-musician, Bisade Ologunde, aka Lagbaja, by the Iyiola Omisore Campaign Organisation to perform at the grand reception of President Goodluck Jonathan’s scheduled visit in Osogbo, Osun State. Media reports had it that the award-winning Afrobeat artiste, had been approached to thrill supporters of Senator Iyiola Omisore, ahead of the August 9 governorship election. In his response to the offer, Lagbaja was quoted as saying that “even though the court of the land discharged and acquitted you (Omisore) in the murder case against the former Minister of Justice in Nigeria, the late Cicero of Esa-Oke and foremost nationalist, Chief Bola Ige, I have deep-rooted innermost conviction that you are culpable in the death of my mentor and benefactor.” “If you offer me all the allocation of Osun State during your four-year-tenure,peradventure you win (which I seriously doubt), I will not perform for Iyiola Omisore governorship election,” Lagbaja was further quoted as saying. The camp of Omisore is yet to confirm or deny making the offer.
Needless repeating the obvious that Lagbaja has acted in the true spirit of Omoluabi. Definitely, if Uncle Bola were here, Lagbaja knows for sure where the Cicero would have queued. Meanwhile, Governor Rauf Aregbesola has called on politicians in the State of Osun to ensure that peace reigns before, during and after the August 9 governorship election in the state. He made the appeal during the just-concluded Eid-el-fitri celebration during which he specifically cautioned his supporters against violence during the election. He also enjoined natives of the state to pray for peace during the polls saying he would not tolerate violence and acts that could affect the peaceful co-existence of the state.
Aregbesola also urged religious leaders in the state to pray fervently for the success of the election. While advising the people not to be intimidated by the antics of some politicians whom he said were after their selfish interests, Ogbeni Aregbesola said he is believing in God and the overwhelming support of the people of the state to be victorious at the poll. The APC flagbearer submitted that he has done much to make life more abundant for the people of Osun State. He remarked that it is in good life that the people can enjoy their existence, stressing that if the essence of life is for human beings to live well then peace, which is the only guarantee of happiness, must be the watchword for all and sundry.
If Uncle Bola were here, these, definitely would also have been his exhortations to the people. Uncle Bola would have further urged the electorate to be wary of the wolves now on the prowl distributing money, rice and kerosene as inducements for the Permanent Voter Card (PVC). They are only out for ulterior motives, Uncle Bola would have said as he queries the money bags rhetorically where were they before now!
Kunle Famoriyo was Liaison/Political Assistant to Late Chief Bola Ige (SAN).He is now the Publicity Secretary of Afenifere Renewal Group(ARG).