Today is exactly a month to the July 14 governorship election in Ekiti State and as expected, the political atmosphere of the mainly agrarian state is already charged with politicians across the divides pointing accusing fingers at one another alleging plans to subvert the exercise.
While the incumbent Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has been accusing opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) of planning to use federal might to rig the process in favour of its candidate, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, the APC said it had evidences suggesting that the ruling party was making arrangements to use state powers to intimidate and blackmail electorate to vote for its candidate, Professor Kolapo Olusola Eleka.
Many political observers believe that the stage is being set for an epic battle because of the belief among the APC that the 2014 governorship election in which Ayo Fayose defeated incumbent Fayemi was manipulated by then PDP Federal Government in favour of its candidate and that the forthcoming exercise is payback time.
There are also fears that the not-so-cordial relationship between Fayose and President Muhammadu Buhari on the country's political developments may have prepared the ground for the so-called powerful cabal at the presidency to use the election to take their pound of flesh from the Ekiti governor.
But as politicians dominate the media space with these accusations, further heating up the polity in an election that is expected to show the likely outcome of the 2019 general elections between the second-term-seeking APC and the PDP that is hoping for a come back, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), has given the assurance of a free and fair poll.
The commission said it was preparing for an election that would not only be transparently free and fair but that the outcome would reflect the political aspirations of the Ekiti people and that none of the contestants would have preference over the others.
Speaking through the state's Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), Abdulganiy Raji, INEC said it was ready to deploy Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in the conduct, monitoring and protection of the ballots to prevent the process from being manipulated by anybody.
It said the notion that the exercise will be rigged runs contrary to the reality on ground as the body was fully prepared to ensure a hitch-free exercise that would further strengthen the electoral system as a major pillar of representative democracy.
The REC who was represented by, Ajayi Olusola, the Electoral Officer in Ido/Osi local council during a sensitization programme involving global partners and local politicians said it would be difficult for anyone to tamper with the outcome of the election given the security of the process.
He told the electorate to go and get their Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) adding, "Your vote is your power and let me tell you that your votes will surely count. INEC is not partisan; we are fair to all parties. We are going to monitor the voting electronically. No one can rig election with the kind of ICT we have put in place and we are going to monitor the activities of parties to ensure that we have a peaceful poll."
Specifically, the commission said the results of voting at the polling units level would be transmitted electronically to a collating portal to forestall incidences of manipulation of figures and hijacking of results sheets.
While this assurance looked good and convincing about the noble intention of the electoral umpire, there are still fears that the election may turn out, like many others before it, as poorly conducted and fraught with irregularities making it a subject of litigations at law courts.
In fact, the electoral commission had never been short of good promises and "adequate" preparations whenever an election was to be conducted in Nigeria only for the outcome of many of the exercises to be contrary to the expectations of the people.
Interestingly, various electoral bodies in Nigeria, because of the peculiarities of the country's political situation and the antics of desperate politicians have, over the years, been introducing innovations to make the votes of the electorate count.
During the aborted Third Republic, several innovations were made into the country's electoral system including the popular Option A4 where, during the emergence of a candidate in a political party, an aspirant has to get the nod of party faithful at the ward, council and state levels before he can be deemed fit to fly the flag of his party.
There was also the Open Ballot System where voters either lined up behind their preferred candidates or put ballots in boxes specifically marked for candidates. In the two systems, the counting was done immediately after voting and the results announced to the voters who waited behind to witness the process.
Desperate politicians however found a way around the system by forcibly hijacking the result sheets on the way to the collation centres. The system also exposed the identities of voters thereby compromising confidentiality and also encouraged open buying of votes.
Other innovations were also brought into the system through the Electoral Acts especially since the commencements of the current democratic dispensation and many of them were either dropped or improved upon by amendments to the Acts to further strengthen the electoral process towards making the votes count.
The most profound of the innovations was however the deployment of ICT through the introduction of the Permanent Voter's Cards (PVC) which had an embedded data information of individual voters to prevent impersonation and voting by proxy through fingerprints identification and use of Card Readers.
The process of accreditation that was introduced to prevent ghost voters and over-voting and protect counting of ballots was also improved upon to remove rowdiness at polling centres during and after the exercise.
Although the new process had hiccups because of other factors like the workability of the Card Reader and its handling by INEC ad-hoc staff, it promised to prevent identified manipulation techniques of desperate politicians who nonetheless were still looking for other ways to subvert the system.
Critics of the 2015 presidential election alleged that while the deployment of the Card Reader was total in the Southern states, its use was hardly observed in the Northern parts of the country thereby making northern voters to rely on the old order and providing opportunities for their politicians to subvert the new system.
However with the pledge by the INEC and the determination of the electoral body to conduct a hitch-free exercise on July 14, all eyes are now on Ekiti as the election will provide an opportunity for the commission to make a statement on its preparedness to conduct a transparent poll across the country next year.