Almost a year after its inaugural sitting in Osogbo, Justices of the Court of Appeal in Ibadan, led by Clara Ogunbiyi, on Friday declared candidate of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Rauf Aregbesola, winner of the 2007 governorship election in Osun State. The judgment brought to an end the Peoples Democratic Party government headed by Olagunsoye Oyinlola which had only a few months to the end of its tenure. The Osun trial will go down in the annals of election petitions in Nigeria as one of the most spectacular, but more significant is the fact that the verdict came in a season replete with legal upsets for the ruling PDP, and the ruling partyâ€™s fears about losing the South West in 2011 became more intense.
Aregbesola and his supporters went through perhaps the toughest circumstances of their time, and the acceptance speech delivered by the victorious Aregbesola after the judgement reflected the optimism which the legal triumph brought to the ACN in the South West.
He said: â€œToday is a day to treasure. Today is a day to toast. Today is a day to celebrate. Again, I congratulate you, the doughty and courageous people of our land! But I also congratulate the brave Judiciary for the umpteenth time, undoing the deliberate evil Maurice Iwu-led Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has done. I thank the Judiciary for doing a most patriotic duty of energizing our democracy by making our votes count, thus returning sovereignty to the people. This no doubt has mitigated the possible import of the General Olusegun Obasanjo motivated do-or-die politics.
â€œHowever, the big lesson the nation has to learn from the brazen licentiousness and untoward tendencies that were brought to taint the conduct of the affairs of the nation is the imperative for electoral reforms. The needless pains and terror visited on the Osun state people in the last 42 months and the threat to the collective integrity of the judiciary could have been averted had the Nigeria electoral system been attuned to the realities of our time and made to protect its own sanctity.
â€œThe debilitating lacuna of â€œsubstantial complianceâ€ in the Electoral Act 2006 has been stretched to its unholy limits thus providing safe haven for willing judicial collaborators. This obnoxious clause must go. Our recent experience has also shown that it has been easy for political gangsters to rape the electoral process because of the lax timing of the voting arrangements. If Nigeria is serious about checkmating ballot snatching, multiple voting, ballot stuffing and other forms of electoral malpractices, we must revert to the Open Secret Ballot system of 1993 whereby there would be synchronised simultaneous accreditation for all intending voters across all constituencies. Voting should commence and end simultaneously across all voting constituencies, counting done and results announced at the polling units. The results should be recorded both in manual and electronic format.â€
There had been palpable anxiety in the air long before the judgement which became complicated with the recent sour experience of the PDP from similar courts in neighbouring states. In Ekiti State, the Court of Appeal sitting in Ilorin had sacked the former occupant of the Government House, Segun Oni, and declared Kayode Fayemi of the ACN as the state governor.
While struggling to recover from the shock that characterised the loss of the state to the opposition, another blow was dealt the PDP in by the Court of Appeal sitting in Benin, Edo State which nullified the election of the former occupant of the Delta State Government House, Emmanuel Uduaghan, and ordered that fresh governorship election be conducted in the state within 90 days.
President Goodluck Jonathan and the National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Okwesilieze Nwodo, had openly expressed anxiety about the declining fortunes of the party. Reports had it that soon after Oniâ€™s sack in Ekiti, Jonathan and Nwodo met to review the fate that had befallen the party. They were said to be particularly worried over the Osun governorship tussle which was still pending at the Appeal Court.
According to reports, Jonathan was said to have complained bitterly to Nwodo that should the trend continue, it may be a Herculean task to post good results in the South-West, which was the first to openly endorse Jonathanâ€™s presidential bid for 2011.
Just days before the Osun verdict, Ogun State Governor, Gbenga Daniel, warned of the collapse of the PDP in the South-West. Speaking at the second stakeholders meeting and inauguration of Coordinators of the Goodluck Jonathan Presidential Campaign, held at his Aseludero Private Residence in Sagamu, Daniel pleaded with the PDP leadership to put its house in order.
â€œWe must tell ourselves the truth, we have not managed our victory well; the capacity of our party to manage crisis is nil,â€ he was quoted as saying. The governor, who is the South-West Coordinator for the campaign team, linked the fear of winning next elections to the loss of Ondo and Ekiti states to the opposition.
Regretting the removal of Segun Oni by the court, Daniel declared: â€œThe worst came recently when we legally lost Ekiti. What happened in Ekiti State is a shame for all of us, nobody expected it.â€ Thereafter he announced that in respect of Osun State, â€œwhat I am hearing is scary.â€
The governor admitted that the party had challenges and hurdles to cross to win impressively in the forthcoming elections, saying, â€œwe must not take things for granted; what we have on our hands is major; if we again lose Osun, PDP is gone; if we are not careful, that may be the end of our party.â€ He then appealed to all stakeholders to take a second look at the problems of the party in the region and find ways of resolving internal wrangling.
In a similar disposition, the PDP National Chairman, Okwesilieze Nwodo, insisted that the South West must remain in mainstream politics in the country, saying that the zone had much to gain by remaining in the mainstream politics through the PDP.
In a statement by his Special Assistant on Media, Ike Abonyi, Nwodo described the ACN as the winner of the 2007 gubernatorial election in Ekiti State as a temporary set-back, and urged PDP members to present popular candidates to ensure victory for the party in 2011 and beyond.
According to him, the South West, like every other zone, was very strategic to the party and every effort must be put in place by all to sustain it, adding that the party would reclaim Ekiti in subsequent elections.
Nwodo urged party members in the zone to unite and sustain the true position of the party in the region, and warned that â€œonly harmony and spirit of accommodation in the party can help them realise the dream and aspiration of numerous party members.â€ The chairman advised the PDP leaders to play an inclusive politics and give members a sense of belonging.
What later became the most memorable part of Nwodoâ€™s address was his claim that the ACN used forged documents to win the Ekiti Governorship election in the Appeal Court on October 15.
This view drew the ire of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) which soon reacted with scorn the following day.
Lagos ACN Publicity Secretary, Joe Igbokwe, said Nwodo was a shameless political turn coat who sees relevance as spewing tones of nonsense to please his masters.
â€œNwodo knows he is acting like a hopeless lifeline for Osun and indeed the South West PDP in his wild hallucination of a PDP take-over of the South West when the party is being sent packing after fraudulently stealing its way to power in 2003,â€ Igbokwe said in a statement.
Continuing, he said: â€œNwodo knows that the PDP is a dying and an unproductive cult, not only in the South West but the entire country and he feels he must sound reassuring to the members of the party but in a most awkward and specious way. We urge Nwodo and his ilk to wait for their deserved rustication from the badly messed Nigerian politics for that offers the hope for Nigeriaâ€™s redemption from the colony of locusts, which Nwodo heads and which forces him to make reckless and wild statements in the hope that he would remain relevant in Nigeriaâ€™s politics and so further his selfish interests. We are not in doubt that Nwodoâ€™s politics is ruled by the highest degree of selfishness and that is why he will, in his desperation to restore hope to his withering members in the South West, make a reckless and fictitious allegation on a fact most Nigerians are very much conversant with.â€
ACN National Publicity Secretary, Lai Mohammed, added that his own sting and pointed out that Nwodoâ€™s claim was a direct attack on the integrity of the judiciary and yet another indication that the PDP was a bad loser.
His words: â€œNwodo is not alone in this campaign. It is obviously a well-coordinated and multi-faceted strategy by the PDP. After all, Governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola of Osun State has suddenly realised that President Goodluck Jonathan and his Deputy are the candidates of the party in the South West, apparently in an effort to cajole the President to intervene on his behalf on the Osun case. Just like we had reason to warn against anyone, no matter how highly placed, to desist from seeking to influence the judgement of the Court of Appeal on Ekiti, we will like to warn here that no one should attempt to interfere with the Osun judgement as any such attempt will fail. Let justice be done, no matter whose ox is gored.â€
Mohammed said Nwodoâ€™s â€œcareless statementâ€ in the Ekiti matter was a crude attempt at intimidating the judiciary ahead of the judgement of the Court of Appeal on the Osun Governorship election petition.
â€œThis is not just about Ekiti, but about Osun State, and we know it,â€ Mohammed said, wondering why the PDP would think every party is like it in terms of using foul and fraudulent means to achieve electoral victory.
The PDP now has only Oyo State in its kitty in the â€˜wild wild westâ€™ and given the present tenor of politics in that state, the PDP may not be able to hold on to it in 2011 if it fields the incumbent, going by political analyses. The implication of this for whoever wins the PDP presidential primary between Jonathan or Atiku Abubakar could be more scary than the â€˜biggest party in Africaâ€™ has yet admitted.