Osun: A Tale Of Militarised Poll
The deployment of troops in Osun State during the August 9 governorship election generated so much controversy. Before and during the poll, security agents were on the prowl. Many chieftains of the All Progressives Congress (APC) were arrested. But, there was no harassment of voters on poll day. EMMANUEL OLADESU, who monitored the exercise, revisits the role of security agents during the exercise.
Osun State governorship election will linger in the memory of stakeholders for some time.
Throughout the campaigns, there was never a time I thought that the poll will not be free and fair, despite the combative approach adopted by the two major political parties-the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). But, two days before I embarked on my journey to Osogbo, the state capital, I started nursing some fears. On Tuesday, my mother-in-law said she was troubled by what she had been reading in the newspapers about preparations for the poll. I and assured her that all was well.
I woke up on Thursday and prayed as my in-law had advised me. Then, I set out.
As I was entering Ibadan, my elder sister called on phone. Where are you? She asked. Without waiting for my reply, she said: “I know you are in Osogbo or about to leave Lagos for Osogbo. The campaigns there have been hot. Please, try to protect yourself. When Oyinlola and Aregbesola were fighting some years’ back, some people died. But, now, the two of them are friends. So, be careful. Oju l’alakan fi nso’ri o.”
But, these feelings paled into a figment of hyperactive imagination when we got to Ikire, the border town. To the surprise of three of us in the car- our photographer, Dayo Adewumi, a colleague from another media house, and I – there was no roadblock manned by soldiers or policemen. Hawkers of dodo Ikire, roasted chicken, oranges and other fruits were going about with their hawking. The first roadblock was at Gbongan, near Ode-Omu. Four soldiers were there for the routine stop-and-search duty. They were polite. “When are you coming from?” one of them asked me. “From Lagos sir,” I replied. “Who are you?”he asked again. “We are reporters,” I replied. Reporters from where? I answered that we were from The Nation.“Oh, that is the newspaper writing about us. What is inside your boot?”. “Bags and books sir,” I replied. After inspecting the boot, he smiled. “You are going for election. Go. Drive carefully,” he said.
There was no roadblock at Ode-Omu. There was none at the Ede junction. The next roadblock we came across was at Osogbo, some five hundred metres to the State Secretariat. Stern looking soldiers stopped us. We greeted them politely. That elicited a bright smile from one of them. “Who are you?” he asked. “We are journalists”. Then, he asked: “Show me your ID card”. We obliged. After inspecting out boots, he asked us to go. “Write something good about us o. We are here o”, he said.
Four hundred metres from the first road block was another one. We saw few cars on the queue. One by one, they were asking them to move. When it was our turn, the car was checked. Then, the question from one of them: “What have you come to do here?”. I responded that we have come to cover the election as journalists. The soldier smiled and asked us to go.
Driving by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on Osogbo/Gbogan road, a detachment of soldiers and policemen was at the gate. But, there was no roadblock in the front of the office. Residents were carrying out their legitimate business. Commercial motorcyclists and drivers were moving without molestation. On getting to the Goodluck Jonathan for 2015 Support Group office, there was a huge crowd of party supporters. The group was holding a press conference on the proposed poll. That was few hours after the APC national Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, had finished addressing the media in the state capital. Policemen and soldiers were on guard at the PDP campaihn office.
Suddenly, there was commotion. A PDP youth sighted a Television Continental reporter and descended on the poor guy. “Who sent you here? What do you want here? I know your mission. It won’t work”, he barked as he was raining blows on the reporter. Promptly, soldiers rescued him. But, other PDP boys insisted that the boy should be punished for coming to cover the event. When soldiers could not persuade them to stop harassing the reporter, they took him into their van and drove off.
Night was falling. So, we headed for the hotel already booked for us on Osogbo/Ikirun road. At the popular junction before the Freedom Park, we were stopped by soldiers. They were friendly. In few seconds, they dispatched us. When we got to the hotel, we encountered a problem. Many soldiers and policemen were lodged there. In hush tones, the securitymen started to protest that they were lodged together with reporters. Later, the manager came out to tell us that the hotel booking for us had been cancelled, advising us to seek accommodation elsewhere. Through the help of The Nation’s correspondent at Osogbo, Soji Adeniyi, we managed to secure rooms in Yetimama Hotel, a stone throw from the popular Orita roundabout, Osogbo. The room allocated to me was an eyesore. It was dirty. But, for that night, there was no alternative.
On Friday, the state was peaceful. More indigenes had trooped into the towns and villages. Many PDP and APC stalwarts from across the federation had also come to give solidarity to Iyiola Omisore and Governor raud Aregbesola. Last minute mobilisation and strategy meetings were being held across the 30 local governments by politicians. At the APC Situation Room, Okefia, party chieftains were busy holding meetings. Throughout the eve of the election, soldiers and policemen were parading the streets of Osogbo and other towns. But, there was no reported case of molestation. At noon, a rumour spread like a wildfire in the social media. “Have you heard that some people have started thumb printing at Gbongan? Have you heard that some people have been arrested with ballot boxes in Ede?”, a right activist who had come to observe the election asked on phone. I told him that the only way to know is to go to the police command and seek for clarification. Police spokesperson, Folasade Odoro, told reporters that it was a fabrication. In the afternoon, the Resident Electoral Chairman, Olusegun Agbaje, addressed reporters at the INEC office, saying that the poll will be free and fair. He said he had assurance from security agents that policing would be done with patriotism and sense of responsibility.
The opposite was the case at night. Around 9.30 pm, a lawyer, Kunle Adegoke, called to inform me that there was fire on the mountain. “I don’t understand this democracy anymore. APC leaders are being arrested by soldiers and police. Call their leaders to confirm”, he said. Some of the leaders contacted complained that soldiers had stormed Ede with an intention to abduct Senator Isiaka Adeleke, former governor of Osun State. The former governor did not allow them to enter his premises. As they fired shots, his security aides also fired shots. After about five minutes, they left. Confirming the onslaught, Adeleke said that the soldiers who attempted to invade his premises covered their faces.
At 10 pm, Adegoke called again. He said that there was commotion in Ilesa. “The Commissioner for Agriculture, Wale Adedoyin, has been arrested by police. Tijani Oladosu has been arrested. Policemen are still surrounding the residence of Senator Bayo Salami in Osogbo. A legislator in Ife/Ijesa has escaped into the bush, but they are harassing his wife, children and other people in the house. The Attorney-General and Justice Commissioner, Wale Afolabi, has also been taken away. Call Alhaji Lai Mohammed for details,” he said. I called Mohammed’s number. It was going. But, the APC spokesman did not pick his phone. Another APC chieftain later called to say that Mohammed himself had been arrested. “When chieftains of the ruling party got wind of these arrests, some of them fled from home for safe locations in the night. If they wait, they may not participate in the election tomorrow”, he said. The police denied the arrest that night.
However, the detained chieftains were released around 11.am on poll day. Shortly after she was accredited by polling officers that Saturday, the deputy governor, Mrs. Grace Tomori-Laoye, reflected on their ordeal. she said. “I did not sleep throughout the night. A lot of our members, APC members, were harassed, molested, and picked up by the police. In Oba-Oke, the monarch called me that the town was in turmoil. The youth leader was picked. There were attempts to arrest Senator Adebayo Salami. In Ede, there were attempts to arrest Senator Isiaka Adeleke. Two commissioners were arrested. A party chieftain, Owonikoko, was also picked. I called the police. The police denied. Some people are threatening to disrupt voting. The policemen were tying ankara on their ankles and they said that they covered their faces”.
The legislator from Ile-Ife, was agonising in the bush where he was hiding. He said on phone: “ Hired policemen had chased APC members into the bush in Ijesa area. I can’t reveal where I am now. I escaped into the bush. Many of our leaders are in the bush; wounded. We don’t know whether they are policemen or fake police”. Also, Adeleke who was interviewed on the Osun State Radio, protested the assault on his residence. “I had relocated from my house to my mother’s house to vote. At 1 am on the eve of the poll, a van containing military men, SSS, police with AK 47 came to my house. I was taking my bath. They said I should open my gates. I said no. They started shooting. Five minutes later, they left. They covered their faces”.
After Adeleke, the Agriculture commissioner was also on air. Narrating his ordeal, he said: “Around 9.15 pm, some people were banging my gate in my house at Ilesa.They said I should open the gate. I reported to the SSS. The SSS said that I should not open. After 15 minutes, one of them jumped the fence into my house. They said that, if I don’t open my door, they will blow up my house. They said they wanted to interrogate me at their office in Osogbo.” In Ila, former APC Interim National Chairman Chief Bisi Akande annoyed. “An old man of over 80 years was seized at Ifedayo local government and dropped at Osogbo. We have called his children to go and pick him up,” he said. Then, the lamentation by Afolabi, the chief law enforcement officer. “They took my car key from me and pushed me inside the police station. Iam a lawyer and chief law officer of the state. I met the Agriculture commissioner there. They asked me to write a statement. SSS interrogated us. I didn’t have any incriminating material in my car.”
When news about the arrest got to Aregbesola, he cried foul. He told reporters that a flawed process had heralded the poll. “The problem is not with the people, but with the institutions charged with the conduct of the election. Not all security agents maintained neutrality. The crackdown on APC leaders was unwarranted. They were molested, brutalised and incarcerated. Their crime is that they are chieftains of the APC. Osun is under the siege of the gun. What does the Federal Government want? Do they want to force their candidate on the people or they want the people to exercise their right to vote. They want to stage a civilian coup in Osun.”
However, the molestation of key APC leaders did not prevent people from coming out to vote. Indeed, voters were not molested. In fact, the victimisation of party leaders stopped on the election day. The only person who was assaulted was Adeleke. But, for the second time, he escaped being arrested by the police, although his aides were whisked away.
The election, generally, could be said to be free and fair. In all the polling centres I visited, there was no complaints about the peculiar mistakes of INEC that characterised the 2007 elections. From 8 am to 4pm, movement was restricted across the state. Voters stormed polling units for accreditation without the fear of intimidation by thugs. Owing to the huge turnout, accreditation could not be completed at noon. Prospective voters who came late were not allowed to join the queue by polling officers and security agents. Ahead of the poll, sensitive and non-sensitive polling materials had been deployed to the local governments by the INEC. There were no complaints about shortage of voting materials, late coming by polling officers, absence of accreditation materials, lack of voters’ register and harassment and molestation of voters by security agents. Also, there was no case of ballot snatching by thugs.
However, selected party agents had an axe to grind with the INEC. They complained that they were not allowed to monitor voting by INEC officials and security agents. The affected agents did not have identification tags. To douse the anxiety, Agbaje, directed some officials to issue tags to the agents. The REC later explained to reporters at Ilesa that the non-issuance of tags to the agents was not deliberate. Agbaje said: “ I have received calls from party leaders on the complaint. Many party agents did not show up with their tags. They did not go to the polling booths with tags. We have directed that the specific electoral officer should return to the INEC Office to release the tags to them.”
Reporters assembled at the INEC office as from 7.30 pm for the results of the poll. For seven and half hours, there was suspense. That was between 12 midnight on Saturday and 7.30 on Sunday, when the people anxiously waited for the announcement of the final result by the Chief Returning Officer, Prof. Bamitale Omole, the Vice Chancellor of Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife.
One after the other, the Local Government Collation officers were returning to the office from 30 local governments. Many of them looked tired. Hours before that, there were jubilations in many parts of the state, particularly Osogbo, Ede, Iwo, Ejigbo, and Ilesa. Based on the reports of APC agents, party chieftains were also in celebration mood. But, the celebration of the governor’s victory was suspended, following the delay by the university don. At 1.51 am, Omole, came to the collation office. He was accompanied by the INEC National Commissioner, Ambassador Mohammadu Wali, the National Commissioners for Election Operations, Nuhu Yakubu, Osun State Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) Olusegun Agbaje and his Ondo State counterpart, Akin Orebiyi. He called the collation officers to announce the results before submission to him. As the COs begun to submit the results one after the other, there was no panic and no eyebrow was raised by any of the political parties’ representatives.
However, tension rose when it took Omole a long time to announce the winner. Party leaders from far and near bombarded the electoral agency with phone calls and text messages. Suddenly, the rumour of likely malpractice and distortion of the final result at the final collation spread like a wild fire. Many had kept vigil as they were glued to television sets monitoring the collation. Aregbesola, who had returned to the Government House, Osogbo from Ilesa, where he had gone to cast his vote, was restless. Some chieftains even wanted him to declare himself winner, as the late Chief Moshhod Abiola did, when the electoral agency suspended the release of the June 12, 1993 presidential election results. At the APC Situation Room, a party chieftain shouted: “I suspect a foul play. It appears that they wanted to rig the election, even at this stage.” Another said: “We must act fast. These people can do and undo.”
When the rumour spread to the final collation centre that midnight, many people were enveloped in anxiety. Reporters, security agents, party agents and others were discussing in hush tones. “Is it true that there is an order from above putting the announcement on hold,” a party chieftain, who was visibly worried, asked. There was no answer. One of the chieftains of a smaller party alleged that a notable PDP gladiator from the Southeast had advised the Federal Government to deploy more troops to curtail any violent reaction, if the PDP candidate, Omisore, was declared winner. In hush tones, people started discussing the misleading statement in the social media by a former minister that PDP chieftains and followers were also celebrating victory. This further heightened the tension. But, a rights activist, Comrade Amitolu Shittu, told reporters that the state would be on fire, if the loser is declared winner. “No responsible government at the centre will allow that”, he said.
Many reporters also swarmed the APC agent at the collation centre, Hon. Oladosu Rasak. He looked pale. When I approached him to react to the delay, he noted that the submission of results by 30 LGA COs could take time because of the distance between some local government headquarters and the state capital. But, Rasak agreed that the delay in final collation was suspicious. Asked to react to the allegation that the PDP candidate may be declared winner, he said: “I have had that too, but how it can be possible is what I don’t know.” Another APC chieftain, Ajibola Famurewa, a member of the House of Representatives, who strolled into the collation centre around 12 midnight, said: “At this stage, it is too late to rig. We will wait for the pronouncement by the chief returning officer. I tell you, we have our facts. we are winning 23 local governments.” But, Information Commissioner Hon. Sunday Akere, was not worried. Exuding confidence, he said: “We have voted and the people have decided. We know the result already. We are only here for validation and affirmation by the INEC,” he said.
Around 7 am on Sunday, reporters and party agents were running out of patience. Some of them claimed to have graduated from “Great Ife.” “All we are saying, give us the result,” they chorused in protest. Omole was not indifferent to their protest. He urged them to exercise more patience. “I thank you for your patience. Give me two minutes to round up and announce the result, “ he said.
The OAU Vice Chancellor was not unaware of the suspicion of the INEC by stakeholders. Apparently, he wanted to verify the results before releasing the correct figures. The old teacher shunned the calculator and opted for manual calculation. The manual calculation was done for almost three and half hours. During that suspense, anxiety and tension had had heightened. But, when he declared Aregbesola as the winner, the tension fizzled out in seconds. Chieftains of the APC and smaller parties embraced.
The drama had not ended. The PDP agent at the collation centre, Hon. Bolu Ajao, stirred controversy when he rejected the results by refusing to sign the result sheet. “We have notified the commission about the lapses in the election. We have issue with the integrity of the process. Our candidate is in the best position to take an appropriate action,” he told reporters.
After the verdict, security men assembled immediately, waiting for the next order. In droves, they left the INEC office, singing and dancing. In five minutes, the roadblocks were dismantled.
According to the result, the governor, who won convincingly in 22 local governments, scored 394,684 votes, beating his main challenger, Omisore, who polled 292,747 and second runner-up, Fatai Akinbade, who got 8,898. Omisore won in eight councils. There was celebration in town on Sunday. Commercial motorcyclists drove round furiously. Women trooped out with brooms, the symbol of the ruling party. A large crowd converged to celebrate at the Freedom Park, Osogbo.