Finally, the tumult, excitement and apprehensions of the heated governorship campaign in Ondo State yield way on Saturday, October 10, to the solemnity, provided there are no violent upsurges of voting. Registered voters are expected to troop out to elect a governor for the state, four years after the election of 2016, in which Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu SAN, incumbent governor and candidate of the All Progressives Congress defeated Mr. Eyitayo Jegede SAN of the Peoples Democratic Party. Interestingly, this time round, and despite the crowd of the contestants from over two dozen mini parties, two most prominent combatants are the same as in 2016, two well-known members of the inner bar who have previously held political offices in the state.
Although an off-season election, a pall of uncertainty hovered around the election especially when the state office of the Independent National Electoral Commission was torched with vital election materials destroyed in the heat of the campaigns.
Mercifully, such outrages turned out to be isolated and far between. It is nice too that in the course of the week, peace parleys were held with the main contenders made to commit themselves to a modicum of civility and orderliness. This is as it should be given that our history of elections is dotted with acts of violence, intimidation and affrays in spite of the perennial heavy presence of security forces. To the extent that the Edo State election provides an omen, the election is likely to be carried off in a peaceful and decorous manner notwithstanding last-minute tough talk by the contestants and their supporters.
It is important that security forces maintain the vigil required on such an occasion as well as provide the level playing field promised by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.). If all goes well, the country would have commenced albeit tentatively, a fresh edifying round of relatively peaceful and credible elections that can be regarded as models to be copied in future elections.
On the other hand, a slippage into the regressive ways of the past will constitute an unhappy portent and evidence that our electoral learning curve is much slower than it ought to be.
INEC, which was broadly speaking, on top of its act in the Edo State election despite a few logistical hitches, has the opportunity to prove on Saturday that it has truly mastered the game of conducting reliable and hitch-free elections as the country looks ahead to the more challenging polling circumstance of nationwide elections in 2023. In the fray are the two major parties, the APC and the PDP which between them have a great deal of responsibility to ensure that polling goes on smoothly by holding in check the overzealous antics of party hawks who may wish to cut corners and dilute the integrity of the exercise.
There is no reason why the state which harbours more than a fair share of educated citizens should not provide leadership of gentlemanliness, sportsmanship and restraint under pressure for in the end, it matters less which party wins than to ensure that whoever emerges victorious does so in a fair, even-handed and legitimate manner.
The incumbent, Akeredolu, is banking on his experience and the fact of being a sitting governor to coast home to victory in a circumstance in which incumbents rarely lose elections. In his case, Jegede and his party are hoping to repeat the Edo upset in which the PDP defied the bookmakers to beat the candidate of the ruling APC.
The debate conducted by Channels Television in conjunction with civil society groups gave both candidates the opportunity to canvass their change agenda showing both of them as serious and eloquent in selling their programmes to the electorate notwithstanding the limitation of television as a mass communication vehicle in our clime in view of erratic power supply.
If the PDP candidate wins, it will confirm the hypothesis of those who argue that the APC has run out of gas and has overstayed its political honeymoon with the electorate in view of weak performance and imposition of new electricity and petroleum price regimes.
On the other hand, victory for the APC candidate will show up the Edo State election as a freak event in which the PDP won because of the disunity among the ruling party chiefs and because an incumbent governor was in the ring. However it goes, it is important that conventions and protocols of electoral sanctity are followed to the point where voters can begin to look to the future without the usual misgivings that attend our elections.
Much discussed in the course of the campaign is the sub-ethnic factor in which citizens from Akure, the hometown of Jegede, are demanding a power shift to a town which has yet to produce a governor for the state. This is in contrast to Akeredolu who hails from Owo, also the hometown of Papa Adekunle Ajasin, who had a famous stint as the governor of the state during the Second Republic. Although such political sentiments cannot be waved off in a clime like ours where presidents and governors are virtually omnipotent, it may be more useful in the end to have a government that is prepared to serve all the people irrespective of where they come from.
Indeed, our constitution provides for consociational remedies, affirmative action by which groups which feel disadvantaged or lose out in power sharing can be compensated, regrettably however, we have not availed ourselves of these dimensions of governance thus tending to exacerbate grievances which then become deep-seated resentments. This is true, not just at the sub-national level but perhaps, far more so at the national level where perceived imbalance in appointments and lethargy have stirred a new wave of demands for restructuring.
In the case of Ondo State, it is germane that whoever emerges winner on Saturday build bridges across the expanse of the state so as to mitigate the feelings of marginalisation and exclusion some of which came to light during the campaign. Beyond balancing and equitable development, it is imperative in these austere times for state governments to continue to manage the finances of their states in such a way that the almighty centre will loom less large in their reckonings and calculations. In this respect, it is salutary that Akeredolu struck the right cord when during the debate, he mentioned the prospect of an Ondo State without the hegemonic oil factor. It is also noteworthy that he had majored on building up the state’s internally generated revenue though one wishes that were he to win, he should sustain this trend without increasing taxes on an already overburdened citizenry. On his own part, Jegede sounds convincing on his projected return to a modicum of virtually free higher education as obtained in the past but of course, it is easier to wax lyrical about such matters while one is seeking office than when one has already been elected.
All told, a good and trouble-free election will enhance the stature of the state as well as of the umpire, restore confidence in the electoral system and prepare the ground for the winner of the election to take off on a constructive mien which the state needs to tide over the current downturn.