Politics

Ondo Governorship Race: INEC’s report ruffles APC

• Report circulating on social media authentic – source

• It is still speculation, party official insists

• Blackmailers at work, we adopted option A4, says Ekungba

Amid reports by officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) claiming that the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Ondo State failed to conduct a valid governorship primary ahead of the November 16 governorship election in the state, SODIQ OMOLAOYE takes a look at the contending arguments by the warring factions and the implications of the report on the November 16, 2024, governorship poll.

Ondo State’s political landscape was during the week thrown into chaos due to reports by officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) indicating that the primary election that produced Governor Lucky Aiyedatiwa as the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) for the November 16, 2024, governorship election was marred by irregularities.

The report submitted by INEC Electoral Officers (EOs), who monitored the exercise across the 18 local councils of the state, revealed that the APC did not conduct elections in some designated Registration Areas even though results were announced.

The revelation by INEC has sparked off a political firestorm, with party factions, aggrieved aspirants, stakeholders and residents expressing concerns that the report might aggravate the crisis already brewing in the party and state ahead of the governorship election.

Recall that Kogi State Governor, Usman Ododo, who is the Chairman of the Election Organising Committee, declared Aiyedatiwa as the winner of the party’s primary held on April 20. Ododo said Aiyedatiwa secured 48,569 votes to defeat his closest challengers, Mayowa Akinfolarin, who had 15,343 votes, and Olusola Oke, who polled 14,915 votes.

Jimoh Ibrahim polled 9,456 votes; Adewale Akinterinwa, 1,952; former APC National Vice Chairman (South West), Isaac Kekemeke, 1,045; former member of the state House of Assembly, Olugbenga Edema, 395 and Olamide Ohunyeye, 424.

Also, Jimi Odimayo scored 490; Olusoji Ehinlanwo, 492; Morayo Lebi, 290; Diran Iyantan, 348; Francis Faduyile, 353; Ifeoluwa Oyedele, 462; Funmilayo Waheed-Adekojo, 529 and Funke Omogoroye, 115 votes.

The total number of registered voters was put at 171, 922, while accredited voters were 95,178.

However, reports written by some INEC EOs stating that the APC failed to conduct a valid governorship primary in the state recently began to circulate on social media, casting uncertainty over the party’s candidacy in the upcoming election. The report was shared to journalists by an aggrieved aspirant and the senator representing Ondo South, Jimoh Ibrahim. Ibrahim claimed that he got a Certified True Copy (CTC) of the document from INEC.

It was reported that over 10 of the INEC electoral officers in the 18 local councils stated that the election did not take place in their respective locations.

A senior official in the commission confirmed the authenticity of the report to The Guardian.

The official, who does not want to be mentioned, said the aggrieved aspirant approached INEC for the CTC of INEC’s observation of APC Ondo governorship primary election and was given.

“The person got the report from us. The person applied for the CTC, which he legally has access to. I think that is what is forming the basis of the report in circulation,” the source said.

The APC through its Publicity Secretary in the state, Alex Kalejaye, has kicked against the report, accusing some members of the party of plotting to discredit the process. The party doubted the authenticity of the report, urging its supporters to disregard the “spurious report and focus on the bigger task ahead: To win the governorship election.”

Indeed, as the political drama unfolds, one question that looms large is: What next for APC in the Ondo State governorship race?

Prof. Mahmood Yakubu

In the reports, the electoral umpire’s officials revealed that the APC governorship primary on April 20 did not occur in their presence due to the unavailability of election materials, violence and improper collation of election results.

The documents in circulation were signed and submitted by individual EOs that observed the election and were received by one Dimas F. Emmanuel, ACLO, INEC headquarters, Abuja, on April 30, 2024.

Interestingly, the EOs corroborated allegations made by some aggrieved aspirants who alleged that there were no election materials at the polling stations.

The EOs stated in their report that members of the APC came out en mass to perform their civil rights but were disappointed as there were no election materials and also the election committee, which ought to conduct the election, did not show up.

For instance, the INEC EO, who monitored Ifedore Local Council, Abai C.O, wrote: “The election of the All Progressives Congress Governorship Primary was not held in my presence due to the unavailability of the election materials to be used and the absence of the Electoral Organising Committee in all the 10 Registration Areas till the Monitoring Team left late in the evening.”

The report by the INEC EO for Akoko South-East Local Council, Owogbo O.O, said: “In some of the Wards, the electorates arranged themselves in queues according to the number of contestants with representatives, counted the number of the electorates, but their efforts were rendered inconsequential as there were no election materials deployed for the conduct of the election.”

For Ilaje Local Council of the state, where the incumbent governor, Aiyedatiwa, hails from, Okeniyi Bayo Fatai, the INEC EO who monitored the area, explained: “The party members in the local government all converged at the designated venues to exercise their civic responsibilities. Although INEC monitors were present in all wards for the assignment, the event was characterised by non-availability of election materials across the 12 RAs in the LGA.

“In view of the above, election did not take place in Ilaje LGA and results were not given to the monitors.”

The Guardian gathered that the damning assessment by INEC officials is raising fears within the APC of impending legal battles, as disgruntled aspirants are likely to leverage the report to challenge the outcome of the primary in court.

Also, a question on the lips of members of the ruling party is whether INEC would accept Aiyedatiwa’s candidacy. Some analysts, however, argued that the new Electoral Act 2022 has removed from the realm of the commission the powers to interfere with the internal activities of political parties including choice of candidates forwarded to it for a general election.

However, by virtue of Section 84(13) of the 2022 Electoral Act, INEC no doubt has power to reject individuals submitted as candidates that didn’t undergo primary elections monitored by the commission and did not emerge from a valid primary. The power of the commission to reject candidates submitted to it could also be challenged either by any aspirant or a political party in court.

According to the election timetable by INEC, the final list of candidates for the Ondo governorship will be published on June 18, 2024.

For the APC, the court would likely be the final determinant of who would fly its flag, as the senator representing Ondo South, Ibrahim, has already approached the Federal High Court in Abuja, seeking the nullification of the exercise.

Ibrahim, in a suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/588/2024, told the court that the April 20 primary election that produced Aiyedatiwa was marred with a lot of irregularities. He claimed that sections 221 and 228 of the 1999 Constitution and 84 of the Electoral Act 2022 were grossly violated in the conduct of the primary election.

Nevertheless, this is not the first time INEC reports had nullified a party’s governorship primary election. The commission in 2022 accused the APC of not holding any governorship primary in Akwa Ibom State ahead of the 2023 general election.  The commission said the election, which then produced Akanimo Udofia as the governorship candidate of APC, did not hold in the state. Udofia had scored a total of 1,227 votes to defeat eight other contestants including Senator Ita Enang, a past Senior Special Assistant to former President Muhammadu Buhari on Niger Delta Affairs.

But a report sent to the INEC headquarters in Abuja by Mike Igini, the Akwa Ibom State Resident Electoral Commissioner at that time, maintained that the governorship primary scheduled for Thursday, May 26, 2022, did not hold at all.

Feeling aggrieved, Enang challenged Udofia’s victory up to the Supreme Court but the revered Justices of the court in their wisdom dismissed the suit, declaring Udofia as the authentic candidate of the APC for the governorship poll.

INEC derives its powers to monitor the activities of political parties from the Electoral Act.  Section 82 (1) of the Electoral Act 2022 states that “every registered political party shall give the commission notice of at least 21 days of any convention, congress, conference or meeting convened for the purpose of “merger” and electing members of its executive committees, other governing bodies or nominating candidates for any of the elective offices specified under this Act.”

Sub-section (2) also provides that “the Commission may, with or without prior notice to the political party, attend and observe any convention, congress, conference or meeting which is convened by a political party for the purpose of electing members of its executive committees or other governing bodies, nominating candidates for an election at any level and approving a merger with any other registered political party.”

In addition, Section 84 provides that a political party seeking to nominate candidates for elections under this Act shall hold primaries for aspirants to all elective positions, which shall be monitored by the commission.

Some stakeholders familiar with the political intricacies of the ruling party in the state told The Guardian that they were not surprised at the INEC report. They argued that the party went into the primaries as a divided house. Their argument is based on the fact that of the 16 aspirants cleared for the primaries, while some were serious contenders, others have been serial aspirants in previous governorship elections in the state.

According to them, there is already political bad blood between some of the contestants, which was exacerbated into the party’s primary. The increase in politically motivated violence and attacks among party aspirants prior to the election lend credence to this.

The stakeholders also blamed the activities of some national officials of the party for the crisis that later spiraled into the primary election day. For instance, there were accusations that the delegate congress, which was expected to hold before the primary, was not held by the party officials that were sent from the national secretariat to conduct the exercise.

The aggrieved members argued that delegate congress should precede the primary in line with the guidelines of the party, while alleging that the national officers violated the party’s guidelines in a bid to rig the exercise in favour of Aiyedatiwa.

It was also learnt that the Appeal Committee set up by the party for the exercise headed by erstwhile governor of Bauchi State, Mohammed Abubakar, has received several petitions from aspirants who participated in the exercise.

Three of the aspirants, Olugbenga Edema, a former Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) representative; Adewale Akinterinwa, immediate past Commissioner for Finance and Jimi Odimayo, in their petitions, complained that the primary did not hold in their various wards and the process was marred by irregularities.

The committee is yet to submit its report to the national body of the party.

When contacted, Director of Publicity of the APC, Bala Ibrahim, said he couldn’t speak on the matter because INEC has not officially confirmed the veracity of the said report.

“I think this is still a rumour. There is no one that has authenticated that report. What you are doing is like helping rumour mongers to upgrade their talks. This is like helping the people that planted such a narrative,” he stated.

A chieftain of the APC in Ondo State, Chief Jamiu Ekungba, also dismissed the contents of the reports, wondering why such documents were released to the public.

Ekungba, who said he monitored the primary election in Owo Local Council of the state, accused INEC of meddling in the party’s internal affairs while also questioning the commission’s motives.

The APC chieftain said claims that election materials were not available in most voting points were false, noting that the party adopted Option A4 to conduct the election.

He said: “First, the APC employed a direct primary where every registered and financial member of the party is eligible to vote; making every member a responsible party member. The APC introduced the A4 option, where there is no secret balloting; members queue and votes are counted openly.

“From what I saw in my local government, in all the wards I visited, there was a valid election. When the electoral officers came, what they brought was the revalidated membership register and a small paper with APC written on it and all the names of the aspirants written where the score would be recorded.

“And each of the wards, when we got there, members came with their registration numbers. The electoral officers said it’s only financial members that could vote.

“Due to this, in some places, there was bound to be crisis. We told our members, listen there was revalidation for two weeks. Announcements were made. If you did not go to revalidate, why do you want to come here to cause crisis? Let those people who revalidated their membership queue. And that’s exactly what I saw in most of the wards I visited and the election was validly conducted in my own local council.

“There is nobody, no INEC man that can claim there was no election because in some of the wards I visited, I saw APC electoral officers, INEC officials and even police officers.

“From the report I got from my own senatorial district; that is the six local governments in my senatorial district, there were valid elections. So, I think we must state this thing properly.  If there are 18 local governments, and there are crises in three or four local governments, can those crises in three or four local governments invalidate the election?”

While questioning the basis for the INEC reports, which seems to invalidate the election, Ekungba clarified that in the A4 option adopted by the party, there are no ballot papers or boxes but only membership registers and papers for recording votes.

“So, what election materials is INEC expecting,” he queried.

While calling on the INEC national headquarters to clarify the situation, he added: “I’ve been active in politics for many years. Primaries have been done in Nigeria. I have never heard of the INEC writing report that came out in a primary election. Is it an innovation that now after a primary election, INEC will superimpose by saying there’s an election or there’s no election.  I think this is a party affair. Even if INEC has any observation, I think that observation should be made to the party and not to the public.

“I think that INEC is playing a role that I think should be questioned by the public. What interest are they showing that is becoming extraordinary in this APC primary that they have to write reports and the report, instead of being given to the party, was given to the public?

“We have many questions for INEC: Is this a new system where INEC imposes their will on the party’s primary? What election materials did they expect APC to bring that they didn’t bring? What’s wrong and where did it go wrong? Is the area where things went wrong big enough to invalidate the election? And is it proper for INEC to release their report to the public?

“Lastly, we must warn that INEC must not be compromised, as it’s crucial to Nigeria’s elections. Once INEC is compromised, Nigeria’s elections are compromised.”

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