By Kola King
The Osun State gubernatorial election which took place last Saturday in which Senator Ademola Adeleke of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) emerged victorious over the incumbent Governor Gboyega Oyetola of the All Progressives Congress (APC) was symbolic in many respects. If anything it was a dress rehearsal for the 2023 presidential elections. It was a high-stakes election that was billed to consolidate the position of the APC. Also, the election was symbolic in the sense that the APC needed a win to confirm its grip on the southwest ahead of the 2023 general elections. Besides the standard bearer of the APC Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu needed victory as bragging rights and to demonstrate to the party that he has what it takes to deliver to his core constituency, having delivered Ekiti State gubernatorial elections last June.
Moreover, since Tinubu had masterminded the victory of the party in the southwest both in the 2015 and 2019 general elections which saw the APC in the ascendancy in the southwest many expected him to pull off a political hat-trick in Osun. Since Ekiti was already in the kitty it was a given that Osun will fall into place too. However, it turns out that the party in power was defeated by the opposition. This time APC was out of luck. Adeleke’s victory seems to have thrown a spanner in the works.
Now both Osun and Oyo States are in the kitty of the PDP. The expected smooth ride in the southwest has hit stormy waters, as it were. As it is, Tinubu’s loss is a morale booster and a huge gain for PDP’s standard bearer Atiku Abubakar. This loss is a minus for the APC in terms of the cold calculus of power politics and the electoral arithmetic for the 2023 presidential elections.
In a way, the victory of Senator Ademola Adeleke of the PDP is a clear indication that the electorate holds the ultimate power to hire and fire their political leaders. The election was too close to call and expectedly it was a close race as the two parties were equally matched. Still, Senator Adeleke polled 403,371 votes while Governor Oyetola scored 375,027 votes. Adeleke outpolled the incumbent governor by 28,344 votes. PDP won majority votes in 17 Local Government Areas while APC won in 13 LGAs. Adeleke’s victory appears to be sweet payback since he lost out in 2018 to the incumbent by a razor-thin margin of 532 votes. Adeleke and his supporters believe they were robbed of victory in 2018 by the ruling party because he polled the highest number of votes among 48 candidates. However, he was not declared the winner because the margin of his victory was only 353 votes, against the background of the fact that 3,498 votes were cancelled. In fact, there was a rerun election since the election was declared inconclusive by INEC. The rerun took place in 7 polling units, namely Ife North, Ife South, Oshogbo, and Orolu local government areas. In desperation, the APC had to court Senator Iyiola Omisore who was then in the PDP because the rerun election was to take place in parts of the Ife constituency where Omisore holds sway. As it happened, Omisore delivered the rerun election for the APC which gave Gboyega Oyetola victory. Omisore has since ported to the APC and has moved up having been rewarded with the position of Secretary of the ruling party. Back in 2018, Omisore helped APC to secure victory in Osun but he failed to repeat the same feat this time around.
Once again the Osun election has demonstrated the fact that religion has not totally percolated into politics in the southwest. Despite a preponderance of the Muslim population, the people of Osun appeared reconciled to the Christian–Christian ticket of Adeleke and his running mate Kola Adewusi. However, according to reports, APC lost in predominantly Christian communities. It appears that the Christian community rallied their votes for Adeleke since the state had been ruled for almost twelve years by Rauf Aregbesola and the incumbent Oyetola who are both Muslims. The upsurge in youths’ registration for the Permanent Voters Card (PVC) and the widespread discontent could have contributed to the success of Adeleke as well.
Even so, there was also the factor of musician Davido who is the nephew of Senator Adeleke who campaigned vigorously for his uncle. While it’s difficult to measure the influence and impact of stars like Davido on the outcome of elections, still yet, it will be difficult to underestimate their impact on the electorate, especially the youths, judging by the outsize influence of their music on this critical segment of society. Part of the political mileage Adeleke earned was due to the cracks within the APC which pitted the Minister of Interior Rauf Aregbesola against his erstwhile godfather Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and Governor Oyetola. There was no love lost between both camps. Senator Adeleke has confirmed that aggrieved members of the ruling party worked for his success and victory at the polls.
Most of all, the election was adjudged free and fair, even though Governor Oyetola has told his supporters to remain calm, noting that he would respond after studying the results and consulting with critical stakeholders of the party. At any rate, his Special Adviser (Media) Ismail Omipidan has attributed the defeat of his principal to the fact that civil servants fell for the lies, antics, and propaganda of the PDP. According to reports, the civil servants and pensioners were being owed arrears of salaries and pensions payment, mostly debts the governor inherited from his predecessor.
Oyetola had inherited this huge debt from the Aregbesola administration of which he was a part since he served as Chief of Staff to former Governor Rauf Aregbesola. Even his critics acknowledge that he had managed to pay full salaries, unlike his predecessor who paid modulated salaries to workers during his tenure, due to the huge debt burden he had piled up for infrastructural development. Most of the allocations from the Federation Account are swallowed up by the huge debts, which are debited from the source, leaving the State with peanuts for the payments of salaries and pensions as well as capital projects. It bears repeating that Osun is in the bottom league in terms of internally generated revenue. Nonetheless, Oyetola has increased the state’s Internally Generated Revenue from 13. 8 billion naira in 2018 to 19.6 billion naira in 2020, the state’s Auditor-General, Folorunso Adesina disclosed. Moreover, Oyetola had taken steps to diversify the revenue base of the State, especially with the establishment of the first gold processing plant in Osun.
As it happened in the Ekiti elections, the pernicious effect of vote-buying was evident in Osun. As usual vote buying reared its ugly head in Osun elections once again. Generally, this speaks to the massive impoverishment of the people, despite twenty years of democracy. For a vast majority, the dividends of democracy remain a mirage, hence the resort to vote-selling by the people. There were reports that the two mainstream parties had devised new ways to influence voters by paying varying sums ranging from 5000 to 10,000 naira to the electorate. The vote-buying was done ahead of the elections, hence it was not pronounced on the day of the election. INEC and the security agents should step up their game in order to keep politicians in check.
Corroborating the vote-buying trend, a member of the House of Representatives, Bamidele Salam of the PDP stated that the governorship election is the most monetized in the history of Osun. Salam who represents Ede north, Egbedore, and Ejigbo federal constituency said massive vote-buying was perpetrated during the election. He said the election was a referendum on a sitting government and a verdict of failure. Speaking on a Channels Television interview programme, Salami said “The election of 2018 was won by Adeleke and the electorate decided to reiterate their decision in 2022 by voting for him.”
In the same vein, Yiaga Africa, an NGO committed to democratic governance, received and verified cases of voter inducement and bribery. For example, “Yiaga Africa received reports of acts of vote- buying perpetrated by agents of the APC and PDP in some polling units. For instance, PU 009, Akinlalu Commercial Grammar School, Ward 01 in Ife North. The party agents strategically positioned themselves by the voting cubicle to see how voters marked their ballots. In PU 003 Opp. Olomu Mosque in Osogbo, PDP party agents were seen handing out between N2000 and N5000 to induce voters. Also, in Disu Polling Unit 003, ward 7 in Orolu LGA, APC agents were seen distributing N4000 to voters who voted for the party while PDP party agents were seen distributing N2000 to induce voters.”
Again Yiaga Africa reports that the secrecy of the ballots was compromised: “In Ward 11, Unit 3, Palace Town Hall (old post office Iree) in Boripe, Yiaga Africa observed voters showing how they mark their ballot papers to APC party agents before dropping them in the ballot box.”
Apart from widespread cases of vote buying which is a great disservice to democracy, of which the mainstream parties are guilty, the election was adjudged peaceful as voters went about their civic duty without let or hindrance. Besides INEC continues to demonstrate impressive capacity and impartiality in the conduct of the election. Little wonder Election Observers and Yiaga Africa commended the electoral body for the smooth election process, saying the Bimodal Voters Authentication System (BVAS) machine was effective and where there were challenges and the machines malfunctioned, INEC swiftly replaced them. The security agents were also commended for their impartiality and the professional manner in which they handled their brief. Generally, the election was peaceful, free and fair, and to a large extent, the outcome reflected the will of the people. The people have spoken.