Reminiscent of developments that strewn the aftermath of the 2007 general election in Ondo State, battle for the control of the state has continued with the filling of petitions by five political parties, challenging the return of Dr. Olusegun Mimiko of the Labour Party as winner of the October 20 Gubernatorial Poll. James Sowole reports
Twenty one days after the release of the gubernatorial election result conducted on October 20 in Ondo State which returned the incumbent, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko of the Labour Party (LP), as the validly elected amongst over 12 other candidates, battle for the control of the state continued penultimate weekend as five of the other candidates had filed in petitions.
While four political parties and their candidates had filed in their petitions at the Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal against the emergence of Mimiko, the Accord Party and its candidate filed a petition challenging their alleged exclusion from the contest. The parties and the candidates that had filed against Mimiko are the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) which fielded Mr. Oluwarotimi Akeredolu; Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which had Chief Olusola Oke as its standard bearer; the Peoples Democratic Change (PDC) and its candidate, Mr. Victor Oluwafemi Adetusin as well as the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) whose flag-bearer was Mr. Soji Ehinlanwo.
The filling of the petition confirmed further, position of the aggrieved political parties and their candidates, who had been pointing accusing fingers, particularly at the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as having colluded with the LP and its candidate to rig the election. Though, several political observers and election monitors commended the conduct of the election and the Federal Government's demonstration of its commitment to ensuring free and fair poll, the aggrieved political parties and their candidates berated INEC for what happened on the day of the election.
Despite the position of many that the conduct of the election was an improvement on the July 14 governorship poll in Edo State, stakeholders submitted that there were many grounds yet to be covered in the conduct of future elections just as they offered several suggestions on how to improve in future exercise.
Therefore, most allegations contained in the petitions filed at the tribunal were directed at INEC and its officials. Like what happened in the aftermath of the 2007 general election, the issue now dominates discussion in many parts of the state.
Of the five petitions, the one filed by the Accord Party (AP) was unique because the party's protest bothered on the alleged exclusion by INEC from the poll. The issue of the exclusion had earlier become a subject of litigation between the commission and the party when INEC released the list of cleared candidates and their parties for the election.
AP candidate, James Olawale alleged that INEC deliberately omitted its name and logo of his party from the ballot paper and this automatically prevented him from participating in the election. Olawale and the party claimed that the omission of the logo on the ballot paper used for the October 20 election was contrary to the provision of the 2010 Electoral Act.
The petitioners insisted that INEC sent three of its officials to monitor its primary held on August 1, 2012 but still excluded its candidate from the list of contestants. The party, therefore, prayed the tribunal to order INEC to nullify the election, which returned Mimiko and conduct fresh poll that would allow Olawale participate. But whatever happens between then and now, the party has expelled Olawale for challenging Mimiko's victory.
The ACN and its candidate, Akeredolu, in the petition filed a day after the AP had sent in its own at the tribunal located within the premises of the Akure High Court, alleged that the election was fraught with many irregularities.
In the 190 paragraphs and 403 pages petition, Akeredolu submitted that Mimiko was not duly elected by a majority of lawful votes. HeAkeredolu said the election was invalid by reason of corrupt practices and or non-compliance with provision of the Electoral Act 2010 as amended.
The ACN legal team of 20 lawyers was led by the former Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Chief Akin Olujimi SAN, Lasun Sanusi SAN while other lawyers include Wole Aina Edward Odugbesan, Kola Olawoye, Charles Titiloye, Victor Olatoyegun and Michael Lana among others.
Akeredolu alleged that the voters register used for the election was falsified by INEC to ensure victory for Mimiko, adding that some named political office holders in the state also connived with security agents and INEC staff to rig the poll in favour of the LP candidate. Also in the petition were allegations of ballot box hijacking, ballot box snuffing, massive multiple thumb printing of ballot papers by LP agents.
The petitioners alleged that the election was marred with irregularities, non compliance with provisions of the Electoral Act and that there was glaring violence, malpractices and allocation of votes for LP, as well as the creation of secret unit and collation centre where the electoral fraud was perpetrated. The ACN further alleged that LP deployed cash and materials to induce voters throughout the state.
ACN, which listed 117 witnesses, pleaded all video clips, report of local and international observers and the media, fingerprint experts, medical reports and election materials used in the conduct of the poll.
On their part, PDP and Oke listed Mimiko, LP, INEC, Resident Electoral Commission for Ondo State, Mr. Akin Orebiyi, and the Returning Officer, Professor Biyi Daramola, as respondents.
Oke, who deposed to a 1,480-paragraph statement contained in the 248- page petition, averred that Mimiko's election was invalid by reason of corrupt practices and non-compliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act. He also said Mimiko, who is the first respondent, was not duly elected by majority of the lawful votes cast at the election, alleging also that the election in most polling units and wards in 15 out of 18 local government areas in the state where election took place was marred by violence, intimidation, harassment, ballot box stuffing and ballot paper snatching.
He mentioned such local governments as Ese-Odo, Irele,Odigbo, Ile-Oluji/Okeigbo, Ondo West and Ondo East where the irregularities were rampant. Other local governments identified are Akure South, Akure North, Idanre, Ifedore, Ose, Owo Akoko North East, Akoko South Est and Akoko North West.
Based on several allegations contained in the petition, Oke sought among others, eight reliefs from the tribunal. He sought an order setting aside the purported election and return of Mimiko as governor of Ondo State based on the election conducted on October 20.
Oke also sought a declaration that having regard to lawful votes cast on the election, it was him (Oke) and not Mimiko that scored the majority of lawful votes cast at the election and also secured at least 25% in more than 2/3 of the 18 local government areas in the state and ought to have been declared winner of the election.
He is also seeking an order declaring him winner and returned as governor of Ondo State, having polled majority of lawful votes cast and achieving 25% in at least 2/3 of local governments in Ondo State. Alternatively, Oke sought a declaration that the governorship election is null and void having been marred and vitiated by massive rigging, widespread substantial non-compliance and corrupt practices.
As a result, he sought an order nullifying the governorship election and directing INEC to conduct a fresh governorship election in the state within a period determined by the tribunal.
Like the Accord Party, PDC and its candidate, Adetusin in the petition claimed that the absence of its party logo on the ballot paper made him lose many votes to the LP candidate whose party logo was similar to that of the PDC.
Adetusin alleged in the petition that INEC, which is one of the respondents deliberately and wrongfully, omitted his party's logo, which was similar to that of the LP and which made many voters who ordinarily, would have voted for him to wrongly vote for the LP candidate.
In the 34-page petition filed by his counsels led by Yinka Orokoto, Adetusin said those votes credited to the LP candidate are his votes and should be counted for him and returned as winner of the election. The petitioner, therefore, sought an order of the tribunal annulling the election and the return of Mimiko as winner of the election. Otherwise, he sought an order of the tribunal to conduct fresh election in all the polling units, wards and local government areas of the state at the time that the tribunal decides.
For the CPC, Ehinlanwo and his running mate, Mrs. Damilola Oluyemi, they have substantial evidence that there was massive violation of the Electoral Act and irregularities in respect of the election that would not make them accept its outcome.
In the petition filed on their behalf by Mr. Segun Ogodo, the CPC and its candidate which have as respondents, Mimiko, the LP, INEC, Orebiyi and Daramola, prayed the tribunal to correct the anomaly and declare the poll result as null and void in view of the obvious flaws in the process.
"As we indicated throughout the governorship campaign, we wish to restate our avowed commitment to the promotion of strong democratic ideals in our dear state and beyond. In our march to make the state a reference point in good governance, we will remain extremely focused, undaunted and determined.
"We believe that by the grace of God, our state will surmount the current setback through the strong collective will of our people to ensure that truth, justice and fair play triumph. We urge our people to remain steadfast in this struggle as it is not just a fight to liberate our state from an unpopular government but it is also a struggle to guarantee a brighter future for our children," the petition reads."
While the public awaits Mimiko's defence and that of his party, the battle in Ondo has obviously shifted to the tribunal and that is where attention would be directed for a long time from various interests in the state until the cases are completely dispensed with.