As expected, there have been varied reactions from the victorious and the losers in the judgment of the Osun governorship election petition tribunal delivered last Friday. The tribunal had in a split decision of two to one, declared ex-governor Gboyega Oyetola of the All Progressives Congress (APC) the winner of the election, and not Ademola Adeleke of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, who was declared the victor by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.
While celebrating the verdict, Oyetola and members of APC said the verdict was a confirmation of their assertion that the PDP rigged itself into power in the July 16 election. There is still the prospect of the verdict being overturned as the PDP and Adeleke had indicated that they will appeal the judgment.
But this has not moderated celebrations and effusive congratulatory messages by members and chieftains of APC to Oyetola. Some APC members had also celebrated their victory with processions in some parts of the state with the assurance that it is only a matter of time before Oyetola will return to the office for his second tenure.
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On the contrary, the verdict has been greeted with protests, outright rejection, and cries of foul play from the camp of PDP. Indeed, some members of the party had also embarked on protests in Osogbo, Ede, the hometown of Governor Adeleke, and some other towns in Osun State last Saturday. On his part, Governor Adeleke had in a broadcast calmed the frayed nerves of his supporters, assuring that he will do everything possible to ensure that his stay at Osun Government’s House in Osogbo is not cut short after a few months.
He assured that his lawyers have already initiated the process of appealing the tribunal’s judgment with the assurance that he will not allow his mandate to be stolen.
“We have not done anything wrong. We won clearly with a wide margin. Local and foreign observers hailed our election as the best in recent Nigerian history. Be rest assured that by God and Man, justice will be done. Our mandate won’t be stolen. I urge you to remain calm. We should not take the law into our hands. We have appealed the judgment and we are sure of victory by the Special Grace of God,” Adeleke told his protesting supporters in a statement last Saturday.
Reverberations Beyond Osun
But just like the PDP and Adeleke, many Nigerians also did not anticipate the judgment. This was because the election in which Adeleke scored 403,371 votes across 17 of the 30 Local Government Areas (LGAs) of the state to deny Oyetola the opportunity of a second term of office was generally believed to be one of the most credible to be conducted by INEC in recent times.
This was because it was conducted with the use of the Electoral Act 2022 which some stakeholders have described as a ‘game changer’ in the conduct of elections in Nigeria as it gave statutory backing to the use of technology and innovations by INEC.
Two of such innovations deployed for the Osun election and also Ekiti poll held weeks earlier were the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) and the Result Viewing Portal, IReV.
The BVAS was designed to read Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) to authenticate voters and also for uploading pictures of result sheets (Form EC8A) to the INEC portal, IREV from the polling unit. The two innovations were designed to eradicate vices associated with Nigerian elections like over-voting through massive thumbprinting of ballot boxes and manipulation of results sheets at collation centres among others.
The unexpected defeat of the incumbent governor of Osun by the opposition candidate was taken by many as proof that with the BVAS and IReV innovations, INEC has found solutions that will ensure that future elections will always reflect the wishes of the people as expressed in their polling units.
Analysts said the faith that with the Electoral Act 2022 and the BVAS technology, votes will count in the general election scheduled to kick off with the presidential poll on 25 February drove the high turnout witnessed during the Continuous Voter Registration, CVR, which took place between June 28, 2021, and July 31, 2022.
However, the tribunal’s verdict, as indicated in comments that have greeted it, has thrown cold water on the enthusiasm of some of those already getting ready to vote in the general election. It also reawakens the fears of some that the device is susceptible to hacking by outside influences.
Road To Annulment of Adeleke’s Victory
In annulling the victory of Adeleke, the tribunal had accepted the pleadings of the APC that there was massive over-voting in the election. The party argued that while the number of people accredited to vote and the total number accredited voters is taken from the physical BVAS machine and written on form EC8A and thus, expected to rhyme, the contrary was the case in the certified results of the election it got for some polling units for INEC.
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The APC had thus argued in some polling units, the number of voters was more than the number of persons accredited to vote using the BVAS.
The APC called among its witnesses at the tribunal a statistician and forensic examiner, Samuel Oduntan who pointed out the irregularities between BVAS accreditation figures and input into form EC8A in many voting units. The APC also alleged that in some polling units BVAS was not used, allowing irregularities to take place. Oyetola had through his counsel tendered election results from Ede North, Ede South, and Osogbo local government areas to back up his claim.
In its majority verdict, the tribunal noted that Adeleke, the PDP, and INEC agreed during proceedings at the tribunal that there was over-voting on the BVAs report as alleged by the petitioners while also dismissing the claim by INEC that the report was not synchronized.
It noted that the BVAS report initially issued to the petitioners clearly indicated that there was over-voting in the result declared by the INEC.
But according to the judges, the two candidates benefited from the over-voting. The tribunal further noted that the Electoral Act stipulated that where there is over-voting, the result for the said unit should be cancelled, adding that “it is the duty of the tribunal to deduct invalid votes from lawful votes.” The tribunal thus went ahead to cancel 181,540 votes recorded in the 744 polling units across 10 local government areas of the state. This led to the loss of 112, 705 votes by Adeleke and 60,096 votes by Oyetola.
The cancellation effectively reduced Adeleke’s votes from 403,371 to 290,266 while Oyetola’s votes also dropped from 375,027 to 314,921.
BVAS, INEC ON TRIAL
The tribunal declared Oyetola the winner of the election and asked INEC to withdraw Adeleke’s certificate of return. While it is expected that case will go all the way to the Supreme Court, the verdict left many Nigerians confounded with many predicting that it is a bad omen for the forthcoming elections.
Ex-Kaduna Central senator, Shehu Sani described it as ‘a dangerous omen for the 2023 general polls,’ in a post on his verified Twitter page. Sani, a member of PDP added that “the people’s mandate (was) beheaded by judicial voodoo.”
“@inecnigeria must clarify issues on BVAS. Over-voting in the Osun State election as noted in the judgment of the Osun tribunal puts BVAS under scrutiny. Were the results a function of computation or corruption? Nigerians need an answer to this poser before February polls,” Jaymie Bright wrote.
However, sources who spoke to this newspaper said such assertions arose from an improper understanding of the judgment and role of BVAS in the tribunal’s decision.
The argument was that as was intended with its deployment, the BVAS machine was instrumental in the detection of over-voting in the election as Oyetola was able to prove that there was over-voting with the use of the device in court.
“This is like a warning to INEC and party officials who want to engage in malpractices ahead of the forthcoming elections that with BVAS, the practice of massive and fraudulent thumbprinting of ballot papers is over. It is only the votes of those accredited by the BVAS that will count at the end of the day,” said an analyst.
INEC had insisted that despite the Osun judgment, it will still deploy BVAS for the February and March elections. However, some analysts are blaming INEC for the annulment of the victory of Adeleke with the presentation of contradictory BVAS accreditation reports at the tribunal.
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The first report which was relied on by the tribunal for its judgment was given to APC on 27 July and the party had used it to prepare its case. But in the course of the hearing, INEC presented another BVAS report which it tagged ‘synchronized.’
Of course, the tribunal relied on the initial report presented by INEC to deliver its judgment. But as noted by the tribunal in the majority judgment, all three BVAS reports contain different figures for the number of accredited voters for the governorship election, though they were certified by INEC. While rejecting the other report presented by INEC aside from the first one it issued to APC, the tribunal accused INEC officials of forgery.
“The facts of this case make nonsense of the assurance by INEC that the record of accredited voters by BVAS machine will be available and complete in real-time on the exact day of the election. There will be nothing credible about the 2023 elections if the total number of accredited voters by BVAS machine will not be complete on the day of the election and we have to wait for a whole two months or more before there will be “synchronization” with the back-end server. Synchronization and back end server will be most invoked in 2023 election petitions,” said Abuja-based arbitrator, P. D. Pius.
For Oyetola, the judgment showed that INEC needs to learn and check some anomalies before the general election.
“I am happy that the judgment had resolved the controversy of the July 16th, 2022 governorship election. INEC is the greatest beneficiary of the judgment. It will afford them the opportunity to look at all the anomalies and make necessary adjustments to prevent such mistakes now that the general elections are coming.”
Mudslinging, Fears of Violence
The controversies over BVAS further added to the atmosphere of uncertainty and apprehensions over the forthcoming elections. For one, mudslinging, verbal attacks, and counterattacks between the spokespersons and aides of the front liners in the presidential race are daily raising the political temperature.
There have also been attacks and denial of opposition the use of public facilities for campaigns across the states. Speaking recently at an international conference on “Deepening Democratic Culture And Institutions For Sustainable Development and Security in Nigeria,” in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, former President Olusegun Obasanjo lamented that campaigns for the 2023 elections have been taken over by insults, lies, diversions instead of issues of national interest and progress.
“Critical issues are discarded as intellectuals and technocrats are sidelined while minions, gatekeepers and job hunters take over the campaign and build iron rings around candidates at all levels. Candidates are caged and milked opportunistically,” said Obasanjo.
He noted that this will result in a situation in which those who get elected fail to carry Nigerians along as they lack a deep understanding of the trends and tendencies in the social and economic system.
However, the biggest concern is the growing insecurity which many have said may make the conduct of the 2023 election totally impossible or lead to poor turnout of voters in many parts of the country.
Many parts of the North-east and North-west are still under the control of terrorists and bandits and the conduct of elections in those areas may be difficult. The insecurity has also displaced many from their communities who are now living in internally displaced camps. However, the major concern was now in the South-east where the so-called unknown gunmen believed to be members of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, IPOB have continued to destroy INEC offices and gruesomely murder politicians. The Nigerian elections violence tracker said 594 violent events have been recorded across the zone including violence targeting civilians. Most of the attacks have been on the offices of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
The Federal Government said in October last year that IPOB had attacked 164 police stations in the South-east and killed 175 security operatives. The APC in Imo said at least 10 of its chieftains have been killed by the so-called unknown gunmen in a statement issued after the recent murder of Chris Ohizu, the chairman of Ideato North LG of the state.
“The chilling assassination of Mr. Ohizu in cold blood is as benumbing as it is callous. This killing falls in line with the targeting of members of the ruling APC, government officials, and their friends. Those previously murdered in cold blood include Orlu APC LGA woman leader, Jenny Rachael Okonkwo (Iron Lady); Nze Chidi Ejiaka; Barr. Darlington Odume; Nze Nwachukwu Igboayaka; Mrs. Helen Nnakwe; Collins Okey Agah, Chukwudi Dimagwu; Eddy Ofuefule; all APC chieftains from Orlu, and many others as well as Emma Mazi, former IMC chairman of Oguta LGA,” Imo Commissioner for Information, Declan Emelumba said in a statement.
This newspaper gathered that while the people of the South-east are enthusiastic about the election, especially with the growing popularity of Peter Obi, the Labour Party candidate, there are fears that many may not be able to go out to vote if the attacks by the gunmen who have vowed that the polls will not be allowed to hold in the region continue.
Already, some stakeholders in the region are blaming the low rate of collection of permanent voter cards in the region on fear of attacks by the gunmen. In an interview with ICIR, Okechukwu Isiguzoro, a national youth leader of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the apex socio-political body of the Igbos alleged that the attacks were intended to suppress voting in South-east Nigeria: “There is a deliberate attempt to scuttle the election, or, if not to scuttle the election, to frighten the people of the South-east from voting.”
However, attacks on INEC facilities are beyond the South-east. INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, said at Chatham House, London recently that 50 facilities of the commission had been attacked in four years.
He, however, assured that the commission and security agencies are working to avert further attacks while some of the facilities have been rebuilt to ensure that the elections will hold. “But despite these attacks, we will rebuild facilities and replace damaged and lost items, and the elections will hold,” Yakubu said.