Ajayi, Akeredolu and Jegede, the three main candidates in Ondo governorship election

Ayorinde Oluokun/Akure

Contrary to apprehensions of the past few days, Akure, the capital of Ondo appears calm and quiet as the people of the State are getting set to go to the polls to either renew the mandate of their sitting governor or choose another person that will lead them for the next four years.

The Ondo State Government had on Thursday declared Friday a work- free day to enable workers, especially civil servants, get ready for the performance of their civic responsibility.

Nevertheless, economic activities were in full bloom in the capital city as residents go about their normal activities. But all the hotels have been fully booked since Thursday evening, with security operatives, observer groups, media personnel, politicians and staff of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC as the guests.

About 1,478,460 are on the register to vote in the election which will hold across 203 electoral wards and across 18 local government councils of the state.

Though there will be 17 party logos on the ballot, the three major candidates who are expected to earn most of the votes are Governor Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN) of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), who is seeking re-election, Eyitayo Jegede(Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) and Deputy Governor Agboola Ajayi(Zenith Labour Party)..

There are also fears that politicians may have imported hundreds of politicians into the capital city. And there are fears that the clashes among political thugs which characterised the campaign may repeat itself during the election, thus leading to the disenfranchisement of many.

Tight Security

However, to demonstrate their capacities to rein in any untoward activity, well kitted security operatives made up of soldiers, the police and officers of Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, NSCDC, paraded the city in what is described as ‘show of force’ on Friday afternoon.

The police had earlier indicated that it will deploy 30,933 conventional police personnel and 2,850 special agents for the election. The police deployment would be complemented by an additional 3,500 manpower to be drawn from other security agencies while the military will be engaged for the purpose of securing the state’s borders.

In addition, the Nigeria Police Air Wing will provide air surveillance, according to Mohammed Adamu, the Inspector General of Police who announced the measures.

He said added that security deployment was intended to protect the personnel and assets of the INEC, the electorate and residents of Ondo State in general before, during and after the election.

Adamu said that the rationale for the deployment was drawn from the experience garnered at the recently-concluded governorship election in Edo State and proactive response to the outcome of intelligence analyses gathered on Ondo State’s governorship elections.

On Friday, the Inspector-General of Police had also ordered the restriction of vehicular movement from 11:59 pm on Friday to 6 pm on Saturday, in Ondo State.

In a statement by the Force Public Relations Officer, DCP Frank Mba, on Friday, the order is part of efforts by the Force to ensure effective coordination of public order and safety during the gubernatorial election. ​

“The IGP reiterates that the vehicular restriction order, among other things, is aimed at preventing political actors and trouble-makers from freely engaging in unpatriotic acts – circulation and use of illicit arms and hard drugs, movement of political thugs from contiguous States to Ondo State and disruption of the electoral processes, etc – which are inimical to the dictates of the electoral laws,” Mba said in the statement.

INEC Commitment To Free, Fair Election

INEC was fine-tuning its preparations for the election with the movement of electoral materials on Friday. But speaking on Monday in Abuja,  INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu told members of staff of the Commission to  consolidate on the INEC’s recent achievement Edo by ensuring that every single vote cast in the election is accounted for.

Yakubu said, “We must consolidate on our recent achievement and account for every single vote cast on Oct. 10, in a transparent manner which will ensure that only the choice of the electorate prevails.” “I implore all of you to resist any form of temptation and let your individual actions be guided by the extant laws and good conscience.

Fears/Apprehensions

In spite of these promises, civil society organisations that have been on ground in Ondo State for the past two weeks have been expressing different apprehensions about INEC preparations and other issues that may affect the credibility of the election.

The Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), for example, urged INEC to  ensure that voting materials arrive at the polling units on time, taking into consideration the not too favourable terrain of some parts of the State.

CDD Director, Idayat Hassan, said this should also be considered in terms of collation of results. “These factors will have to be considered in the aspect of reverse logistics, especially with respect to collation of results. INEC should, therefore, consider the nature of the terrain in some parts of the state, especially the riverine and mountainous nature of some Local Government Areas.”

The group also urged the Commission to find ways to mitigate the effect of the largely partisan disposition of transport unions, including the National Union of Road Transport Workers and the Motorcyclists’ Association.

According to Hassan, the partisan posture of the unions could pose challenges which might create credibility and logistics problems for the entire process.

INEC’s reliance on The NURTW for transportation of electoral materials, CDD said this might create a problem for INEC in the area of getting materials to all voting areas in the state.

The Centre therefore advised INEC to “prepare back up plans just in case there is a system failure in its logistics deployment as a result of the partisan disposition of the transport union.”

Speaking in the same vein, YIAGA Africa, a Civil Society Organisation, also asked INEC to ensure that the contractual agreement with the NURTW for movement of election materials for the Ondo governorship poll was not compromised.

Co-chair of YIAGA Africa, Dr Aisha Abdullahi, at a press conference in Akure, noted that INEC should ensure all vehicles to be used in deploying election materials and personnel were deployed to the Registration Area camps 24 hours before the commencement of polls.

Abdullahi,  aid the fact that some leaders of NURTW have been reported to have endorsed some of the candidates standing for the Saturday election raises doubt about their neutrality.

“Although INEC has shown readiness to deploy its officials and materials early to the polling units, Yiaga Africa is concerned with the commission’s reliance on members of the NURTW to transport election materials and personnel to the polling unit.

“Yiaga Africa fears that partisan and compromised NURTW members will deliberately cause delays in the commencement of polls in some battleground LGAs by either refusing to deploy or give reasons to delay the process ,” she said.

In addition, YIAGA Africa also asked INEC and security agencies to devote special attention to notorious blind spots in riverine communities of Ilaje and Ese-Odo local governments known for election rigging, and perennial logistics challenges posed by activities of militants in the region

YIAGA urged INEC to collaborate with the security agencies, especially the police to arrest and prosecute any NURTW member who violated the contractual agreement between INEC and NURTW or make any attempt to undermine the election.

“To ensure early commencement of polls in those areas, INEC should ensure adequate logistics preparations, coupled with heightened security deployment to protect the materials and officials.

“It is important for the commission to increase its oversight in those areas to ensure consistency in the application of election guidelines.

“This is consistent with the call made by Yiaga Africa in its 2016 Ondo observation findings and 2019 Bayelsa governorship election on the conduct of election in riverine communities.

“INEC should ensure the early payment of the allowance of adhoc officials for the election.

“All Supervisory Presiding Officers (SPOs) must be tasked to ensure payments are processed a night before the election,” Abdullahi said.

Governors As Invaders

On its own part, the Transition Monitoring Group which is a coalition of over 400 civil society organisations warned that relocation of some governors to Ondo State to support candidates of their parties  constitute a threat to the peaceful and credible conduct of the election.

Briefing journalists on Friday, the Chairman, Transition Monitoring Group, Dr Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, said the governors could use their immunity to get involved in malpractices like vote-buying, intimidation and could also sponsor political violence.

She said, “TMG condemns the practice of governors from other states that have invaded Ondo State and refused to leave after campaign has ended.

These governors who travelled and sponsored their political expedition with the meagre resources of their states may constitute a threat to free and fair election by taking advantage of their immunity to be involved in election malpractices like vote-buying, intimidation of security operatives and sponsorship of political violence. All invading governors should leave since campaign has ended.”

However, the hope is that like it happened in the Edo governorship election about three weeks ago, the apprehensions and fears will come to naught tomorrow.