In this analysis, BIYI ADEGOROYE writes that scary incidents in the current governorship campaign in Ondo State give reasons for concern ahead of the election
If the spate of violence, shooting and attacks on convoys of the candidates of the two major political parties in the Ondo State governorship election are anything to go by, the Sunshine State might be in for a season of long knives ahead of the October 10 election.
At least five persons sustained varying degrees of injuries Wednesday when the convoy of Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu (SAN) stormed Oba-Akoko in Akoko South-West and ran into the campaign team of Mr. Eyitayo Jegede, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governorship flag bearer. Video evidence showed that armed thugs decked in all manners of T-shirts firing sporadically in the community, causing no little scare.
No fewer than three vehicles in the convoy of Jegede, and equal number on the side of Akeredolu were badly damaged. Jegede himself was said to have been held hostage in the palace of the monarch of Oba-the Oloba, by hoodlums.
While the campaign organisations of both parties were reprehensible for their failure to foresee the dangers of having their rallies in the same Senatorial district on the same day, earlier, there have been series of attacks on party supporters in Aiyede-Ogbese community in Akure North Local Government Area, leading to machete and gun attacks and the burning of at least two houses of PDP members. Another version of the story accused the hoodlums loyal to Jegede (SAN), carried out the brigandage on the convoy of Governor Akeredolu, in the Oba Akoko incident. It claimed that Akeredolu and the APC campaign train were on the way to Ikare-Akoko in continuation of the local government campaign rally when the PDP struck the campaign train.
The branded campaign vehicles donated to Akeredolu campaign by Ambassador Sola Iji were some of the badly damaged vehicles while its driver sustained bodily injury and now receiving treatment at a government hospital.
In a statement, Samuel Fasua, Head, Media Research, Eyitayo Jegede Campaign Organisation called on President Muhammadu Buhari and the Inspector- General of Police Mohammed Adamu to urgently wade in, to save the lives of members of the public who are being prevented by the powers-that-be in Ondo State from belonging to political parties of their choice.
The development, observers said, was foreboding. Already, Social Democratic Party (SD), General Secretary in the state, Dr. Shola Agboola, has warned that the desperation of politicians for power preparatory for the election might be a replay of the 1983 bloodletting which climaxed the declaration of Chief Akin Omoboriowo of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) winner of that year’s governorship election.
Agboola warned that the “spate of killings, maiming, destruction of property and sporadic shootings to herald political campaigns has now become a matter of serious concern to us as individuals and a party. “We are, therefore, calling on the government and all concerned authorities to put an end to this potentially disastrous development. It is disheartening to note the unfolding replay of 1983 political brouhaha, emanating from the unwarranted introduction of a system of terrorism in Ondo State,” he said.
Card readers burnt
Observers have noted that another dimension to the battle was the untimely and suspicious fire incident at ICT Unit of INEC Headquarters in Akure, the state capital where about 5,141 card readers earlier scheduled for use in the election were incinerated. Though the Commissioner of Police in the state, Mr. Bolaji Salami has attributed the fire to a fault from the electrical socket, the incident did not go without the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state raising a conspiracy theory.
To them, the September 10 inferno, coming exactly a month before the election was more than a coincidence, rather as claimed by the campaign organisation of the PDP candidate, Mr. Eyitayo Jegede, it was part of a grand plan to rig the election in favour of the incumbent, Governor Akeredolu.
Though investigations into the causes of the fire have since commenced, as promised by Barrister Festus Okoye, National Commissioner, the commission towed the line of the police who attributed it to electrical surge. The commission is yet to state where card readers would be mobilised for the poll. However, the Ondo State chapter of then PDP expressed “great disappointment” stating that there were questions which INEC must clarify, especially as there were security officers on duty at the time the fire started.
It wondered why was the fire engulfed a container housing over 5141 card reader machine within few minutes Similarly, the Deputy Governor of the state, Agboola Ajayi who is the candidate of Zenith Labour Party (ZLP), described it as act of sabotage.
He wanted law enforcement agencies to investigate whether the intention of those responsible for inferno was to seek the postponement of the election or the cancellation of the use of card readers for accreditation. “The people of Ondo State are waiting patiently for the outcome of the investigation as they will not tolerate any ploy by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to subvert the wish of the electorate.”
Though he has visited the scene, Governor Akerdolu has been mindful of his action, even as he assured INEC officers of readiness to assist.: “Whatever you think we can do that will not be termed as being partisan because whatever we do now could be misinterpreted since we are in election period, but no doubt we have to come as government and not as contestants.
But APC in the state would not join issues over the incident, as the Publicity Secretary of the party, Alex Kalejaye urged the appropriate authorities to unravel what transpired in order to forestall a recurrence.
Though the Resident Electoral Commissioner in the state, Ambassador Rufus Akeju allayed the fears of the electorate, political parties and our stakeholders in the Ondo State that the fire incident will not affect the conduct of the election in any form neither will it lead to its postponement.
“Necessary arrangements have been put in place for the replacement of the damaged materials. Let me reiterate that our determination to conduct a free, fair, credible and successful election remains undaunted,” he said.
Squabble over rally venue
Interestingly, following the alleged failure of the state government to grant permission to the Zenith Labour Party candidate, Agboola Ajayi to use of the Democracy Park in Akure for the flag off of his campaign, ZLP yesterday held its campaign at Ore, in the Southern senatorial district.
This came weeks after APC held its flag off at the Akure Township Stadium with many of the party’s governors and national leaders in attendance, while the PDP conducted its initial campaign at the Democracy Park last weekend where its National Chairman, Prince Uche Secondus presented the party’s flag to Jegede. Dangers were said to have been averted at the occasion with as some thugs reportedly imported into the state complemented security arrangement. While that was being settled, besides the attacks in Akoko and Akure, danger might as well be in the offing in the South, especially with the notoriety of the area for militancy.
This is more so when earlier, a former governorship aspirant of the APC in the state, Isaac Kekemeke had boasted on video that his latent militancy and federal might, ‘especially the strategy used by the Kogi State Governor, Alhaji Yahaya Bello,” whose state not only shares boundaries with Edo and Ondo, would come handing during the polls.
He has, however, reconted saying such. Dr. Agboola of the SDP appealed to all affected parties and individuals not to contemplate any reprisal attack, stating that his party may not hesitate to vigorously demand from the Federal Government the declaration of state of emergency in Ondo State if only to stop further bloodshed until sanity prevails.
Speaking on the spate of pre-election violence, Sir. Mike Okiro, a retired Inspector- General of Police warned politicians against compromising the electoral process and integrity of the elections. “Politicians should avoid desperation, and must conduct their campaign according to rule of law. They have the capacity to sell their candidates to the people and must prevail on their members to avoid thuggery.
The police, in the same way, must be professional, non-partisan in their duties, but be will to arrest and prosecute perpetrators of electoral violence” he said.