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At Last, The Will Of Ondo Electorate Prevailed

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By Ojo Oyewamide

The epic battle between Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu and Eyitayo Jegede for the Alagbaka Government House was brought to a close last week. The Supreme Court upheld the victory of Governor Akeredolu in the October 10, 2020 gubernatorial election in Ondo state. The tribunal and the Court of Appeal had earlier affirmed the reelection of the governor.

The judgment of the apex court has brought relief to the people of the Sunshine state. Tension had built up hours before the verdict was given. The tension was so tick that it could be cut with a knife. The situation was compounded by the reports that hearing and delivery of judgment would take place the same day. Before then, the expectation was that judgment would be delivered in August.

While waiting for the decision of the highest court, illusion reigned in the PDP camp. Members of the opposition party joyously wallowed in self-deceit. They were sure the judgment would come their way, prompting many to wonder where they drew their confidence from. Of course, they got their confidence from somewhere. They would beat their chests and arrogantly declare that “Eyi is coming”.

They had purchased different Ankara uniforms and their tailors had sewn them into various styles. They had practised their dance steps and the songs they would sing to mock the APC members. Appointments had been shared and everyone of them had already known the position he or she would occupy. Members of their NURTW faction had set up a committee to screen who were interested in occupying various positions in the union. But they did all these in vain. They counted their chickens before they were hatched. Their plan was not in sync with the plan of God.

There were those who believed Governor Akeredolu would lose the mandate freely and fairly given to him by the people of the state at the Supreme Court. Their argument was that the governor had incurred too much hatred with his courageous and honest positions on national issues. They said he had stepped on powerful toes with the establishment of Amotekun for the purpose of securing his people. They said despite his reelection being challenged in court, he did not pretend and speak tongue in cheek. Therefore, some powerful people would work against him and ensure he was shoved off his gubernatorial seat.

But Governor Akeredolu’s victory at the apex court has rendered unnecessary any discussion on whether the so-called powerful people really worked against him or not. If God has fought your battle for you, what’s the essence of bitterness against anyone? Whatever snare anybody might have laid for the governor, he flew over it on the wings of grace. First thing one should ask from God is grace. If you enjoy divine grace, other things will follow. “Grace is what matters in anything – especially life, especially growth, tragedy, pain, love, death,” said Jeff Buckley.

Congratulating Governor Akeredolu on the Supreme Court Judgement, the APC national leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, described the victory of the governor in the October 10, 2020 gubernatorial election as overwhelming. Tinubu said the verdict of the apex court was an affirmation of the victory. “The awesome mandate given him by the people of Ondo State has never been in question,” he said. The APC national leader added: “With the confirmation of his victory, the ultimate winners are the people of the state and the teeming APC members in Ondo.” Truly, the ultimate winners are the people of Ondo state. They know why they voted for Governor Akeredolu. Upturning their wish would have been a disaster.

President Muhammodu Buhari also felicitated with Governor Akeredolu. The president commended him for assiduously working for the development of the state. He acknowledged the various reforms that have been introduced by the Akeredolu government and the feats it has recorded in the areas of education, health and security. Congratulatory messages have been pouring in since last week when the will of the people survived the legal trap laid for it.

The case has once again pushed to the front burner the issue of exploiting legal technicalities to subvert the will of the electorate. Democracy is about people freely and fairly choosing their leaders. The Ondo electorate went to the polls to elect the state governor and in their wisdom, they gave 292,830 votes to Governor Akeredolu. Jegede got 195,791 votes from them. While the governor won 15 of the 18 local government areas, Jegede managed to win three.

But despite the overwhelming victory of Governor Akeredolu, Jegede headed for the tribunal. He had nothing against the conduct or the outcome of the election. The fulcrum of his petition was that Governor Akeredolu and his deputy, Lucky Ayedatiwa, were not dully nominated and sponsored by the APC because a sitting governor signed their nomination form. From the tribunal to the Supreme Court, Jegede lost. But he nearly got it at the apex court. If he had secured a favourable judgment, would the will of the people of Ondo state not have been subverted? Would their right to choose their governor not have been taken away from them?

It happened in Zamfara in 2019. The people of the state elected their leaders but their decisions were upturned by the court. Winners became losers and losers became winners. This was because the APC was said to have broken one of the INEC rules. Is the case of Zamfara not tantamount to punishing the electorate for the sins of political parties? In election matters, which should be superior between the decision of the court and that of the voters?

For breaking rules, political parties must be sanctioned. There shouldn’t be any argument about that. But must the punishment come after they have presented their candidates to the electors to make their choices? Must it not come before the voters cast their ballots? This was the case in Rivers state also in 2019. The APC was not allowed to present candidates for the elections because it was said to have violated a rule. In that case, the punishment in no way affected the right and decision of the electorate.

I think certain issues should be resolved in court before the conduct of elections. Non-qualification of candidates and constitutional violations should belong to the category of these issues. Matters to be entertained by the court after an election has been conducted should be restricted to those that affect the conduct and outcome of the exercise. Doing this will protect the choice of voters and their right to choose.

Governor Akeredolu is the choice of the Ondo electorate, not Jegede. About 600,000 voters took the decision. But just four justices of the Supreme Court could have changed it and rewritten the story. While the case lasted, the talk was about protecting the law. None of them cared about protecting the wish of the people and their right to elect their leaders. Yes, the law must be protected and defended. Political parties must be punished for their recklessness. But this must be done before the people exercise their voting right and make their choices. As journalism iconic Sam Omatseye once wrote, “We should not subordinate the rights of man to the law.”

*** Oyewamide is Senior Special Assistant to Governor Akeredolu on Media and Publicity

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