– Sal Albanese
I arrived Osogbo, the capital of the state of Osun on Sunday 3rd of August, 2014 and one thing that immediately struck me was the ominous signs of tension in the air. Please bear in mind that I have been shuttling between Lagos and Osun for over two months, therefore I am quite familiar with the state long before this last visit and I can confidently say that Osun is quite a peaceful and serene state. But as my friends and I drove into Osogbo, we noticed that the atmosphere was unusually charged.
Our problem started as soon as we got to the hotel where we had always lodged on previous visits to the State and having earlier made reservations, we were scared away by the presence of heavily armed and mostly masked security operatives. There are lots of hotels in Osogbo but Ideal Nest and Regina Suites were the creme of the pick, followed by others such as Ripples etc…To cut a long story short, we were forced to make other arrangements as we were told that our reservations had been canceled.
One other thing I noticed was the sudden abuse of sirens and the attendant noise. Note that the governor of the state of Osun does not, as a matter of principle, use a siren while driving around and no member of his cabinet does. But the soldiers, police officers, DSS and a battery of security operatives were intent on making their presence felt with their constant blaring of sirens, and boy, did we feel their presence?!
By Wednesday, we had begun to understand that the election in Osun was not going to be a walk in the park. So many incidents were panning out but let me state one of those here. My friend, the honorable Ayodeji Joseph was forcefully evicted from his hotel, alongside his aides. He was lodged at the Ideal nest, the same hotel Mr. Musiliu Obanikoro was lodged in. Ostensibly, the place had become a sort of ad hoc HQ of the defence ministry and APC members were no longer welcome here, thank you.
It took the combined efforts of myself and a lot of other well wishers to get him another place to put up. We knew the die was cast and by Friday it got worse as some hotels were raided by heavily armed security men, ostensibly to deal with APC supporters and sympathizers. Journalists were not spared as Simon Ateba, a reporter for Ynaija was one of those who got busted and harassed in their hotel rooms.
Before then, by Thursday, I had few NYSC members speak to me on condition of anonymity. They were being offered N30,000 (thirty thousand naira) to cooperate and look away especially in Ife and Ede areas. Fortunately one or two of them are Twitter users and will likely read this. And if they feel they are up to it, maybe they will corroborate this assertion.
Later on Friday night before the election, the home of Isiaka Faramade, the executive secretary of Osogbo local government, was surrounded by masked men who threatened to shoot him if he didn’t emerge. While we were communicating and looking for ways out for him, the same scenario was playing out at the Ede country home of Senator Isiaka Adeleke. His personal security men had to engage the marauders while he was ferreted away to safety in the dead of the night. It was so bad that he eventually could not cast his vote.
The governor himself was holed up in the government house as he had been forewarned not to venture out of Osogbo to Ilesha, his country home where he was going to cast his ballot, until the dawn of the next day.
So many other acts of intimidation were being perpetrated by security operatives, most of whom were masked. The final straw occurred when Alhaji Lai Mohammed and Sunday Dare (for no other reason than the fact that they were APC members) were held incommunicado without any charge brought against them and were released the next day.
All of these brigandage and executive rascality were ostensibly carried out to ensure a free and fair election in line with the transformation agenda of our dear president Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. But surprisingly, not one PDP member was harassed. Indeed it was a level playing field, did I hear you say?
On the Election Day proper, so many shenanigans went down but I won’t regale you with too much tales. Let me just state a few cases.
First off, the APC had 277 party agents in Osogbo, but the INEC in its wisdom only gave the party 60 official tags. Cue Bedlam!
So many people were disenfranchised and were refused the right to vote. For instance a young man named Adeyeye Ademola Andrew, who duly registered and had his PVC was not allowed to vote and up till this moment, INEC is yet to give us reasons why they forcefully refused him accreditation and subsequently denied him the right to exercise his civic right.
NYSC members in Ife and environs who were officially on duty with their names stamped and pasted on INEC office boards, were suddenly substituted illegally. One of the NYSC members who was prevented from doing their jobs and substituted with fake corp members is on Twitter with the handle @S_hakur.
So many other infractions too numerous and some times extremely ridiculous, were carried out. Waheed Saka, the Director of CEDI and Ag. National Coordinator CDRP, Nigeria reported that voters were openly induced with N2,000 each to vote for the PDP while the police officers posted to the area looked on. His exact tweet reads: “PDP MAN named OROBO is giving out #2000 each on the queue at ilare ward 2 unit 4, Ife central LG in the presence of police, NSCDC and Soldiers”.
Credible election is the bedrock of any democracy. The Osun election was won by the APC flagbearer not because the federal government wanted a free and fair contest, but because the people of Osun decided to make their voices heard and their votes count in the face of illegal and strong arm tactics, intimidation and executive rascality. We can’t regard an election as free and fair just because lives were not lost. A free and fair contest means that the rules are obeyed to the letter and security officials are not deployed to aid the emergence of favoured candidates over others.
This current democratic experience was not bestowed on us, it was won from the blood and sweat of martyrs of democracy. The PDP led federal government should understand that history will judge whatever actions are taken today. With a total of 15,000 soldiers, 30,000 policemen, 8,000 SSS officers and 20,000 NSCDC personnel deployed to Osun for an election, one will ask, why isn’t the same show of force used to reclaim Gwoza and other Nigerian territories that are now in the firm grip of terrorists?
Elections should never be seen as a war or some do or die affair, if sincere service to humanity is the driving force. Why all the executive rascality and shenanigans in Osun? President Jonathan may not know it, but his junior minister of defence is making a mess of the defence ministry as he has effectively turned our soldiers to political thugs to be deployed to rig elections in the southwest. For a man who has two different dates of births, two different surnames, who had committed arson and destroyed the Lagos mainland city hall after looting the treasury of Lagos local government and was still made a junior minister; who before all these was an ambassador, much should not really be expected of him, nor should one be surprised.
Osun inhabitants have spoken, not because it was a free and fair polling exercise but because they were determined that the will of the people must prevail. I congratulate them and their governor and I hope the larger Nigerian population will learn from this experience.
This democracy may be imperfect but we must not lose it. It is our sacred duty to do what is best at all times. History will judge all our actions. May we be found on the positive side of history.
Ayobami Oyalowo, is a member of the All Progressives Congress, APC follow me on twitter @Ayourb
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