The people of Osun State will today vote to choose their governor for the next four years at 3,010 polling units and 755 voting points across the 30 local government areas of the state.
The over 1.2 million people who had collected their Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs), representing 74.14 percent of the total number of registered voters in the state, will determine the fate of about 48 candidates of the various political parties jostling to take over the leadership of the state from the outgoing governor, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola.
The build-up to today's election had been tension-soaked and crisis-ridden within the political parties of the top contenders for the number one seat in the state . However, it is hoped that the exercise would be hitch-free and credible, considering the fact that it will serve as in-road to the 2019 polls.
LEADERSHIP Weekend learnt that although the state has about 1,682,495 registered voters, only 1,246,915 had collected their PVCs and are eligible to vote, leaving a balance of 435,015 voter cards uncollected by their owners.
Barring any unforeseen circumstances, the election will be a five-way contest among Isiaka Gboyega Oyetola of the All Progressives Congress (APC); Senator Ademola Adeleke of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP); Alhaji Fatai Akinbade of the African Democratic Congress (ADC); Alhaji Moshood Adeoti of the Action Democratic Party (ADP), and Senator Iyiola Omisore of the Social Democratic Party (SDP).
However, despite all the political brickbats, politicking and intrigues among the major political parties, the state was very peaceful yesterday with the heavy presence of security personnel at every nook and cranny of the state.
Also, ahead of the governorship election, there is tight security around the headquarters of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Osogbo, the state capital.
LEADERSHIP Weekend learnt that there had been a high number of security operatives in the area since the commission began the distribution of sensitive election materials to the INEC offices in the 30 local government areas of the state.
Our reporter observed the heavy presence of armed policemen, including members of the Counter Terrorism Unit, positioned strategically around the INEC office to avoid any attack on the building.
Meanwhile , Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) Josak Habila has warned governors and other politicians alleged to be in the state to respect the Electoral Act and stay away from election areas or face arrest.
Habila and the coordinator of the joint security taskforce for the election gave the warning while answering questions during separate meetings with observers from the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI) as well as the United States Mission at the state police command headquarters in Osogbo.
The leader of the delegation, John Tomaszweski, had asked him what the police would do about some governors said to be in the state.
While answering the foreign observers, the police boss said, "I do not know if there are governors in the state. Maybe, they came to give support to their members and friends but they must know that they are not to be found anywhere elections are going on.
"They should also respect the restriction of movement because anyone caught breaking the rules will be dealt with no matter how highly placed."
He also warned against vote buying, adding that the ban on the use of mobile phones as well as the deployment of six uniformed security agents per polling unit were meant to address that situation.
The DIG also hinted that no fewer than 28,000 security operatives, comprising personnel from the police, Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS), Nigerian Prisons Service (NPS), Nigerian Customs Service (NCS), Directorate of State Services (DSS) and the military had been deployed in various flashpoints in the state.
According to him , a Police Mobile Force unit (PMF), comprising 63 operatives and 10 patrol vehicles, has been deployed to each of the local government areas of the state to forestall any breakdown of law and order.
While denying allegations that too many security operatives were deployed to the state, Habila said: "Remember there was a lot of outcry, allegations that Ekiti was an army of occupation and police brought in a large number of people to intimidate and prevent people from voting. That was not true. Those who were in Ekiti saw that just the needed security was deployed. There was no overflow of security."
"For this election, we decided to deploy lesser than the number during Ekiti. One of the reasons for this decision was that Osun has been known to be peaceful. In the last two years, Osun has been one of the states with the lowest crime rate. Secondly, we ensured we deployed the minimally required, because we do not want to waste human and material resources."
The police chief added that the security operatives would do their jobs professionally.
"We will not occupy any place to intimidate or oppress anyone. We are as ready as ever to ensure that this election is peaceful.
"We have learnt lessons from previous elections and so we want to see, on Saturday, a civil and helpful security - a security that will give an insight of a more improved security come 2019 general elections."
According to DIG Habila, the security operatives would not only protect the process but also vulnerable public facilities in Osun State as a whole, adding that the restriction of movement in the state would commence by 12am.
Speaking on other logistical preparedness, he said there were standby boats in contiguous states like Ondo and Ibadan, in addition to helicopters deployed for the election "so we can do ground to air communication," adding that the security agencies would give their best to ensure the success of the election.
"This election is for Osun people, not Ondo or any neighbouring state. They do not have business coming in. That is why we will lock down the state so that those who want to come in can let us know their reason.
"I have visited various parts of the state to access the presence of policemen and the tempo. We have done threat analyses in the past and updated them on arrival for this election.
"So far, the state has been peaceful. Pre-election activities, including campaign and rallies, went on peacefully. I expect Saturday's election to be peaceful too.
"We want to create a very conducive atmosphere for people to come out and cast their votes. We intend to add quality and uphold the integrity of the election. This is about the last stand-alone election and we want to give it the best," he said, warning that the police were ready to arrest those who breach the law.
Meanwhile, media organisations covering the governorship election have been warned not to report election results until INEC releases the official results.
The Resident Electoral Commissioner in Osun, Segun Agbaje, said this while addressing journalists at the commission's headquarters in Osogbo yesterday.
Agbaje said journalists would be compromising the crewporting unsubstantiated results, stressing that media platforms should not be in a hurry to declare the results.
Announcing voting process, Agbaje said that accreditation and voting would go on simultaneously between 8am and 2wwwpm today during the election while only those in the queue at 2pm would be allowed to vote.
According to him, the electoral body has released phone numbers for complaints of any kind on today's poll.
The state INEC boss gave out phone numbers through which the electorate, media and the general public could lay their complaints. He said the situation room of the commission would be receiving complaints through 08168963080, 07057789656 and 07086575910.
He assured that the smart card readers had been enhanced for optimal performance and that 996 of them had been reserved as backup.
Agbaje noted that out of 1,246,915 registered voters, a total of 435,015 PVCs (or 25.86 percent) are yet to be collected by their owners and are being kept in the INEC strong room at the state office in Osogbo.
"The commission has no plan whatsoever to give the uncollected PVCs to any political party. The Commission's Smart Card Readers are not also designed to favour any political party. I therefore strongly advise all stakeholders in the Osun State governorship election, especially the political parties' leaders and contestants, to desist from making unguarded utterances and unfounded allegations.
"It should be noted that the commission has perfected plans with the security agencies to decisively deal with anyone engaging in any illicit act, particularly the notorious act of 'see and buy' as it is called in the local parlance during the election," he said, warning that the electoral umpire would deal with anyone engaging in vote buying or selling, in accordance with the Electoral Act.
He debunked speculation that card readers had been designed to favour some political parties, just as he advised journalists to ensure investigation of allegations before publishing them.
Also, the European Union, United States of America and the British government have expressed their commitment to credible elections in Nigeria.
At a joint press briefing addressed by the European Ambassador to Nigeria, Ketil Karlsen, in Osogbo, the trio said they had seen improvement in INEC's performances over time.
According to them, they are supporting INEC, all political parties, security agencies, the National Assembly and other stakeholders to ensure that credible election becomes the order of the day in Nigeria.
Karlsen called on the electorate in Osun to come out enmasse today to exercise their voting rights and for the political parties to play the game according to the rules.
INEC, EFCC Unite Against Vote Buying
Meanwhile, INEC has warned that vote buyers and their potential customers run the risk of being arrested and prosecuted if they attempt to ply their trade at the Osun State governorship election holding today.
A statement issued by INEC chairman's chief press secretary, Rotimi Lawrence Oyekanmi, said the decision was the outcome of a meeting between INEC and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) at the latter's new headquarters in Abuja on September 20.
Prof. Yakubu, who led a team of national commissioners to the meeting, affirmed that INEC was worried about the vote buying and selling phenomenon and had already taken a number of steps to address the menace.
He explained that while the incidence of ballot box snatching and kidnapping of INEC officials had reduced significantly due to a number of strong reforms INEC had put in place to strengthen the electoral process, the vote buying and selling phenomenon was posing another worrisome challenge.
Yakubu said, "We are here as part of our consultations with critical agencies that are connected to the electoral process. We have undertaken a number of innovations to strengthen the electoral system and, these days, you hear less of ballot box snatching and kidnapping of INEC officials. But as we solve one problem, another one is coming up.
"Of immediate concern is the election we are holding on Saturday (September 22) in Osun State and it is going to be the last major election before the 2019 general elections. We have taken steps as a Commission, but we need the support of the EFCC in this respect. Vote buying and selling is earning a bad reputation for our democracy, for our elections and we thought we should visit national institutions like the EFCC because you have the powers under the law to arrest, to investigate, to prosecute and to help us, so we can stem this ugly tide of vote buying and selling."
The INEC chairman lamented that the Commission had also recently observed increasing inducement through electronic transfers, whereby money is transferred into the accounts of some voters in order to influence their decisions on election day.
"We believe that you have both the law and the capacity on your side to help us in this respect," he told his host, imploring it to monitor campaign finances of political parties and their candidates.
"As we go into the elections proper in 2019, we also need your support in the area of campaign finance and spending by candidates. The law has prescribed limits as to what candidates can spend in elections but we need the enforcement of these laws. We don't want the moneybags to determine our democracy. We want the votes of the people to determine who wins in our elections," he said.
Mr. Magu, who shared the INEC chairman's worries, said: "There's indeed a lot of concern about vote buying and selling. There's also a lot of concern about the possibility of moneybags trying to derail our democracy and democratic process. We have the mandate to monitor money transfers and we are collaborating with the banks. We have the mandate to arrest, investigate and prosecute and we are going to use the Osun governorship election as a test case."
The anti-corruption organisation's boss also appealed to Nigerians to support the EFCC in the fight against corruption.
"One way to fight corruption is to stop vote buying and stop voter inducement in elections so that democracy can survive," he said.
PDP Alleges Creation Of Fictitious Wards, Allocation Of Votes
Meanwhile, the PDP yesterday alleged that the ruling APC had connived with INEC to create illegal polling units in Osun State.
The national publicity secretary of the PDP, Kola Ologbondiyan, at a press conference in Abuja alleged that INEC had created 12 electoral wards in Ila Local Government Area and allocated over 4,000 votes in a ward called Iperin.
He said, "It will interest you to know that just as we are preparing for the Osun election, we have been able to bust one of those fictitious electoral wards created for APC to rig election.
"Ila Local Government has 11 electoral wards, but ahead of tomorrow's (today's) election, INEC has created an imaginary 12th ward for Ila and allocated over 4,000 votes for that ward, and that ward is called Iperin.
"What they have done is to create two wards in Iperin, instead of one; allocated votes for both wards including the original ward and the fictitious ward."
Ologbondiyan described as strange that an electoral body would collude with a political party with the intention of generating votes that would make them win an election.
He said, "The PDP is making an outright demand that INEC withdraw this fictitious electoral ward from its database. We have also directed our members to continue to monitor the devious plans of APC and INEC during Osun election.
"We have a situation room in Osun and we also have our men on ground; this is a photocopy of INEC checklist. Ordinarily, if INEC of delineating constituency, where two or three wards share name, they will give it the numeral figures ; like this Iperin would have been Iperin 1 and Iperin 2, but what we have in this situation is Iperin, Iperin.
"And to also showcase the fact that this is a deliberate plot, we discovered that the figures allocated to the two Iperin wards are different, one has over 4,000 votes, the other has over 2,000 votes.
"In all, where they would have had 2,000 votes, they want to generate 6,000 votes. We are not yet aware of the number of local government where this is currently happening. But like I said earlier, the PDP is determined in this Osun election to dismantle all the rigging plans and all the rigging plots of the APC ahead of the 2019 elections."
PDP Is Crying Foul Over Impending Defeat - APC
However, the APC Campaign Council for the Osun Governorship election has described PDP's allegations as a manifestation of the fear of impending defeat.
Chairman of the Media Campaign Committee and Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, in a statement, noted that PDP and its chorus singers had resorted to such flimsy and unsubstantiated allegations because defeat is now staring the party's candidate in the face.
"The PDP and some of its top members have accused INEC, the police and other security agencies as well as the NYSC of all sorts of things. They have made allegations of thuggery and rigging against the APC. None of the accusations has been substantiated. If only the party had invested its energy in preparing for the election, it may not have become so jittery.
"Unfortunately, the die is cast and the PDP has seen the handwriting on the wall, hence the party's slip into the panic mode.
"On our part, we have confidence in the various institutions saddled with the responsibility of ensuring a successful election in Osun State. We have no need for thuggery or rigging because the people are solidly behind us," he said.