• Jegede SAN, hires one to reclaim mandate
• Akeredolu SAN, assembles 7 to defend victory
Twenty days after Ondo State governorship election was won and lost, the second runner-up and candidate of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Eyitayo Jegede, has approached the Ondo State Governorship Election Tribunal pleading for the nullification of the election.
The litigation has succeeded in throwing the Ondo State electorate into suspense, more than two weeks after the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced the outcome of the poll. As a pointer, Jegede refused to congratulate the winner and incumbent governor, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, who polled 292,830 votes. He expressed “utmost dissatisfaction with the conduct of the October 10, 2020 gubernatorial poll.”
The petitioner, while informing the people of what they should expect before the time lapses for litigation as stipulated in the Electoral Act, assured his supporters that he would thoroughly scrutinize the process and make his decision public.
Although the PDP candidate, who had 195,791 votes, he decided to challenge the victory of the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) and the winner, Akeredolu, who used 93,000 votes to defeat him after wining in 15 out of 18 councils of the state.
Joined in the suit by Jegede, The Guardian learnt, were INEC, the APC and the Deputy Governor-elect, Lucky Aiyedatiwa. He pleaded that the tribunal should help reclaim his mandate.
The leading counsel for the petitioner, who is also a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) is Ifedayo Adedipe SAN and Akeredolu, the first respondent, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) also, hired seven other SANS to defeat Jegede’s four-ground challenge to the election.
Among the petitioner’s grounds for the litigation, is the claim that the election was marred with irregularities, pockets of violence and intimidation, even as he also faulted the APC primary that produced Akeredolu.
But, to many students of history, Ondo State has always been a reference point for election tribunal cases as the immediate past governor when he was governorship candidate of the Labour Party (LP), Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, regained his mandate from the then governing PDP’s incumbent governor, late Dr. Olusegun Agagu, after over 34 months of legal fireworks.
The inclusion of Aiyedatiwa, the Deputy Governor-elect in the case, raises the hope of the two time PDP governorship candidate and his teeming supporters, who believe that they can benefit from the judicial precedents set in Bayelsa State over discrepancies in academic certificates.
In February, the Supreme Court nullified the election of the APC candidates and Bayelsa State governor-elect, David Lyon; his runningmate, Biobarakuma Degi-Eremienyo, over certificate forgery less than 24 hours to their inauguration.
Basking in such fate, Ondo State PDP members believe that it is a good
ground to upturn the second term victory of Governor Akeredolu, challenging the certificate and credentials of his running mate in the 2020 election, Aiyedatiwa.
It would be recalled that there was widespread rumours that the Deputy-Governor-elect’s certificates are questionable, making reference to the reported hitches he faced few years ago, when he was to be screened by the National Assembly as representative of the state on the Board of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) in 2018.
Ever since news of the PDP candidate’s the decision to challenge the election broke out, it has generated a lot of controversies and mixed feelings beyond party divides. Many people across the state however, accused all the major parties of vote buying, which constitutes one of the grouses of Jegede against the outcome of the election.
The Media Adviser to the incumbent Deputy Governor and governorship candidate of Zenith Labour Party (ZLP), Mr. Allen Sowore, had hailed the decision of PDP to approach the tribunal for redress.
He said: “I am happy that Eyitayo Jegede SAN has gone to the tribunal. On the October 10, 2020, we planned for an election in Ondo State; it turned out to be a transaction.” But he, alongside his principal, Agboola Ajayi, whose party was the third force in the poll and emerged third, are not high on the reckoning of voters, who accuse the major opposition parties, PDP and ZLP of crying wolf.
Female Speaker of the state and ZLP chieftain, Jumoke Akindele, confirmed that all the 17 political parties that participated in the election were guilty of the ugly trend of buying and selling their votes at the poll.
Less than 24 hours before the results were collated, Akindele, who was a former PDP stalwart before pitching her political tent with the immediate past governor and ZLP National Leader, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, bemoaned the negative consequences of vote-buying and effects on governance and development.
Her words: “Elections are no longer a test of popularity in Ondo State. It is a test of how much money the contestants/parties are willing or have to spend.”
In an unusual boldness, the former Speaker, who said she monitored ZLP votes at Ward II, alongside her sister and Chairman of the State Universal
Basic Education Board (SUBEB), Oladunni Odu, an APC chieftain, iterated that all the parties were guilty.
“All parties spent or attempted to spend funds before the Election Day and on D-Day. My party, the ZLP, belongs to the second category. The losers are the people themselves. Congratulations to Aketi/APC,” she said.
Verdict of transaction
Meanwhile, shortly after INEC returned Governor Akeredolu as the winner of the election, the state PDP Collation Agent, Mr. Debo Ologunagba, condemned the poll and described it as victory purchased through the “weaponisation of poverty” against the people.
Ologunagba maintained that there were widespread and unfettered incidents of vote-buying across the 3009 polling units, even as he accused the ruling APC of taking undue advantage of the prevalent poverty level of the citizenry to perpetuate itself in office.
“It is unfortunate the governments we have both at the state and the federal levels have weaponised poverty, it is almost becoming a weapon of mass destruction. They have destroyed the consciousness and the ability of the people to reason positively.
“That is what you saw and witnessed in the distribution and purchase of votes,” Ologunagba said, explaining that “They targeted the poor with N2000, N3000 and they fell for it because they are poor.”
In a tone suggestive of support for the PDP candidate’s legal leeway to actualize his mandate, he stressed that he had reservations on the conduct of the election in areas where there was violence and other electoral misdemeanor. He alleged that INEC and security officials refused to act appropriately.
“It seemed to me that there was a collusion between some INEC officials and security agencies to create that problem,” the PDP chieftain added, justifying the painstaking assessment of the 2020 Ondo State guber poll results before seeking redress at the tribunal.
A social media influencer and public analyst, Arakunrin Ajos, contrary to the public misgivings that Jegede and the PDP were wasting their time in approaching the tribunal, said the major opposition party has not in any way erred by rejecting the outcome of the poll.
Ajos recalled that if Dr. Mimiko had not taken such bold step in 2007 to challenge Agagu’s victory, he wouldn’t have had the rare privilege to break the two-term jinx as governor and be referred to as an ex-governor today.
He added that the incumbent governor, who was the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) candidate in 2012, approached the tribunal against Mimiko in his first trial; while Jegede, in his first trial in 2016 as PDP candidate against the former, chose not to contest his defeat.
In a bid to get the document to no avail for more clarity on the terms of litigation, the state PDP Publicity Secretary, Mr. Kennedy Peretei, said, “I can tell you that one of the grounds is that the election was marred by violence, intimidation and over voting in a number of places.
“Other grounds include, the nomination procedure for Rotimi Akeredolu as candidate of the APC. What is important at the moment is that we have challenged the election results and we are urging the tribunal to declare the PDP candidate, Eyitayo Jegede, as the duly elected Governor of Ondo State. The lawyers will fill in the gap.”
But, the Director General of Akeredolu-Aiyedatiwa Campaign Council and APC stalwart, Victor Olabimtan, said the election was the best in the annals of the state since it was created in 1976, describing it as free, fair, credible and peaceful.
Olabimtan, who is a former Speaker of the state Assembly, noted that the people of the state overwhelmingly expressed their gratitude to the tremendous achievement and development initiated across the three senatorial districts by the Akeredolu-led administration in his first term.
“I can assure you that Ondo State will witness more development in the next four years. The people have voted for prosperity and development, they have voted for an honest and committed governor who will not take their votes for granted.”
Similarly, the APC South West Publicity Secretary, Mr. Oladapo Karounwi, who spoke for the zonal leadership of the ruling party, had hailed the election, reaffirming that “A new and fresh mandate given to APC in Ondo State is an endorsement of the APC and Akeredolu’s performance in the last four years.”
Without taking anything to chance, it was gathered that Governor Akeredolu, as revealed by a top government official who pleaded anonymity, had requested the services for seven SANs to defend his victory at the tribunal.
As learnt, the seasoned lawyers and tribunal experts include, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), Niyi Akinola (SAN), Emeka Ngige (SAN), Akinlolu Olujimi (SAN), Olusola Oke (SAN), Remi Olatubora, among others. It was however not confirmed if the above legal luminaries have agreed to the terms.
( Guardian )