After months of political intrigues, the people of Osun State head to the poll tomorrow to elect a successor to their governor in what promises to be a stiff contest, given the strength of the parties and candidates in the race FELIX NWANERI reports
It is a test of might in Osun State as old political allies and foes square against each other in tomorrow’s governorship election to elect the next governor of the state. Fifteen candidates are in the contest, all male. There are, however, six female candidates vying for the position of deputy governor. The governorship candidates are Adegboyega Oyetola (All Progressives Congress – APC), Senator Ademola Adeleke (Peoples Democratic Party – PDP), Hon. Lasun Yusuf (Labour Party – LP), Akinade Ogunbiyi (Accord Party), Awojide Segun (African Action Congress – AAC), Kehinde Atanda (Action Democratic Party – ADP) and Awoyemi Lukuman (Allied Peoples Movement – APM). Others are Adebayo Elisha (All Peoples Party – APP), Adeleke Adedapo (Boot Party – BP), Rasaq Saliu (New Nigeria Peoples Party – NNPP), Abede Samuel (National Rescue Movement – NRM), Ayowole Adedeji (Peoples Redemption Party – PRP), Omigbodun Akinrinola (Social Democratic Party – SDP), Ademola Adeseye (Young Peoples Party – YPP) and Adesuyi Olufemi (Zenith Labour Party – ZLP). Despite the number of candidates, bookmakers have predicted a five-horse race between Oyetola of APC, Senator Adeleke of PDP), Ogunbiyi (AP), Yusuf (LP) and Omigbodun (SDP). The forecast was predicated on the strength of the five candidates.
Head to head, each of them has what it takes to carry the day. Oyetola, the incumbent governor, earlier served as Chief of Staff to Governor Rauf Aregbesola. He is a cousin to the National Leader of APC and the party’s candidate for the 2023 presidential election, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. The PDP candidate, Adeleke, represented Osun West Senatorial District in the National Assembly between 2015 and 2019. Yusuf of LP is a former deputy speaker of the House of Representatives (2015-2029). Ogunbiyi of Accord Party is a 2018 governorship aspirant on the platform of the PDP, while Omigbodun of SDP is a former deputy chairman of the party. It is on the basis of their respective strength that the build-up to the election was not a tea party.
The campaigns were tensed, with the various parties and their candidates exchanging all manner of brickbats as they inundate the people with their respective manifestos. No doubt, governorship polls in Osun had always been keenly contested. This is not unconnected to the vast majority of political gladiators, who have always shown interest in leading the state. It is against this backdrop that tomorrow’s election in the 322 wards and 30 local government areas of the state has been described as a “mother of all battles.” Indeed, the stake is high as the outcome of the poll will transcend beyond the state. To pundits, the Osun State governorship battle is a prelude to the 2023 general election, particularly the presidential poll. For the ruling APC, the outcome of the election will determine its future and continued dominance in South-West politics and by the extension, Nigeria.
A win for the party would be a big plus but a loss will diminish its electoral value in the zone ahead of the 2023 polls in which a Yoruba, Tinubu, is the presidential candidate of the ruling party. For the main opposition PDP, winning the election will renew hope among its members in the South-West and entire country ahead of the general election, while a loss will diminish its fortune in the zone, where it is in control of one out of the six states of the zone. At the moment, the APC controls five of the six states of the South-West – Ekiti, Lagos, Ogun, Osun and Ondo – while Oyo State is in the hands of the PDP. Besides the APC and PDP, there are LP, SDP, Accord Party, which many see as emerging political forces given developments ahead of the 2023 polls.
The strength of the parties and their candidates, notwithstanding, the ruling APC in the state looks good to retain the governorship position, which prides itself as “Land of the Virtue.” However, politics being a game of the possible, Governor Oyetola would be taking a costly political gamble if he is still banking on the political variables that determined his victory in the 2018 governorship election. It would be recalled that after the first round of balloting on September 22, 2018, Adeleke polled 254,698 votes, while Oyetola had 254,345 votes.
With a margin of about 354 votes between the two candidates, INEC declared the poll inconclusive. The electoral body hinged its decision on the argument that the total registered voters in the polling units, where elections were cancelled was 3,498. Since that figure was higher than the margin of lead, a re-run election had to be conducted on September 27. The rerun turned the table for Adeleke as Oyetola polled 678 votes to raise his total votes to 255,505 as against 325 votes Adeleke had to raise his total votes to 255,023, while Senator Iyiola Omisore (then of SDP), who played a major role in the runoff election by working for the APC candidate, scored 128,053 to place third. As expected, Adeleke approached the state’s Governorship Election Petition Tribunal.
In a 593-page petition that challenged Oyetola’s victory, the PDP candidate asked the tribunal to declare him the winner of the governorship election on the ground that he polled the highest number of lawful votes cast and met other requirements of the law. His prayer was answered as the tribunal in a split decision of two to one, nullified the election of Oyetola and ordered the INEC to withdraw the Certificate of Return earlier issued to him.
The tribunal also declared Adeleke as the duly elected governor and ordered the electoral umpire to immediately issue him with a Certificate of Return. Oyetola appealed the judgement and the table turned against Adeleke at the Court of Appeal, Abuja Division. The appellate court in a ratio of four to one judgement, held that the entire proceedings of the Osun State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal, including its judgement, amounted to a nullity.
Not satisfied with the majority judgement, Adeleke headed for the Supreme Court to seek a reversal of the decision and uphold his victory at the tribunal, which nullified Oyetola’s election. His hope was however dashed as the apex court, with a split decision of ratio 5:2, upheld Oyetola’s election as governor of Osun State. The court in a majority judgement upheld the decision of the Court of Appeal, which nullified the judgment of the governorship election petition tribunal on the grounds that it was not properly constituted.
While events of 2018 are now history, it is not disputable that Governor Oyetola and his party would be facing a Herculean task this time as the political landscape in the state and the nation in general has witnessed several changes since then. The inability of the APC administration at the centre to fulfill most of its campaign promises has eroded the euphoria that ushered in its government in 2015. This perception has boosted the confidence of the opposition parties, particularly the PDP and LP, which are gearing to unseat the ruling party in next year’s general election.
The questions against this backdrop are: Will Oyetola survive the onslaught by the opposition parties? What strategy will the ruling party deploy in a contest against the candidates of PDP, SDP, LP and Accord Party, who equally boast of a huge financial war chest and support at the grassroots? Perhaps, these posers may not have arisen if not for the soured relationship between Governor Oyetola and his predecessor, Aregbesola. But given the incumbency factor in Nigeria’s politics, it would be out of place to dismiss Oyetola’s chances.
To some political analysts, the APC candidate is likely to leverage on the goodwill of his benefactor, Tinubu, especially this time he is contesting the presidential election and needs not only the support of Osun but the entire states of the South-West. It is also belied that the governor will further leverage on his achievements.
Oyetola is said to have lifted Osun State from where he met it in 2018. No doubt, the five leading candidates can match each other strength for strength, but to most indigenes and residents of the state, personality and antecedent, not party structure or financial strength will determine who wins the election.