Osun State Resident Electoral Commissioner – Mr Olusegun Agbaje – recently in a chat with Michael Oladepo of Ebony Herald International spoke on the procedures and processes of the governorship election and the reactions of the institutions on the Supreme Court judgment .
EH- During the last Governorship election in Osun State, the Returning Officer declared the election inconclusive due to Orolu, Osogbo, Ife North and Ife South Local Governments election crises. According to the electoral act, what can make an election Inconclusive?
Ans- Thank you very much. When there is violence during the conduct of an election in an area and by the time you are doing your computation and the number of registered voters in those polling units where elections were marred is greater than the difference between the first and second candidates, you would assume that if those people had voted ,the results could have gone either way ,either for the leading candidate or the runner up. so because of that you can say the election is inconclusive. It is possible to have singular scenario where an election can be conclusive when there is violence in a particular polling unit like in Osun State last year, if we have had the difference of about 4,000 between the two leading candidates and the number of registered voters in the areas where election were cancelled is 3,000 plus, even if all the remaining over 3,000 candidates vote for the runner up it would still not be enough, then you go ahead with the election to be conclusive because if you go back to conduct election in those areas will be meaningless, so that is strictly the condition for an election to be inconclusive.
EH- The judgment of all the three courts hearing election petition contradicted from the beginning, is it the fault of the judges, INEC or the Political Party?
Ans- I would not say it is the fault of the judges because they are learned judges and apparently they differ looked at it from different perspectives for instance at the tribunal there were 3 judges and two of them were in support of PDP and its candidate while the other was in support of APC and its candidate, so when they gave that judgement based on what they felt was right and they also have a minority judgement and any discerning mind that read the minority judgment alone would believe sincerely because when I read it , I just felt like the man has been with us every minute following what we are doing because that was chronicled in his own area because the first judgement they said they canceled 17 different polling units area which has been in the judgement of Supreme Court that you can not cancel but you can ask them to go back to that area to reconduct the election rather than the judge cancelling the results given at those units, so we knew that one has already when we read it because there is no way for them to cancel 17 polling units and the 7 polling units that wronged where they were inconclusive, the judge also said election shouldn’t have been held there but we people that were present saw massive destruction, massive carting away of our materials, some people were even saying it was the returning that cancel the election, no, because it is from the polling unit to the collation centre, to local government before coming to the state level and like I said that if we were having like five thousand (5000) difference between them, the three thousand two hundred registered in those 7 polling units, there wouldn’t have been any problems because we have 353 between them and over 3200 have not voted, so you would rightly believe that if those people have been allowed to vote, it could have gone either way and that is why the minority judgment at the Tribunal said because there were problem in those 7 polling units and little margin between them, there should be rerun of the election in order to add the results for the announcement of the winner and that was what happened at the Supreme Court where the judge upheld the tribunal minority judgment that is proper because this is not the first time we would have inconclusive elections, it has started since 2010 or 2011 from Bayelsa, Kogi, and just of recent in Taraba States, this is the first time I would conduct election that is inclusive as Resident Electoral Commissioner but I witnessed some before, so both the Appeal, Supreme gave the right judgement in line with and the minority judgment in tribunal Courts.
EH- Some Political Party agents and stakeholders questioned the decision of INEC at the collation center, is it that the level of awareness about the rules that guides electioneering process were not enough?
Ans- Let me correct that impression that the awareness were not enough .We met with the Political Parties separately on different occasions before, during and even when my chairman came here from Abuja to take on a final stage we call it stakeholders meeting, where he met all the political parties, traditional rulers, religious leaders and other stakeholders in the state to let them know the way forward and how we are going to handle the election. So the politicians will not say they are not aware or is it the INEC that conducted the election that went to the three polling units in Orolu to disrupt the election? We told things to do and things they should not, it was strange to us to witness the cases like disruption of election and carting away election materials because we felt we have gone beyond that one in the sense that we had robust engagement with the political stakeholders, religious stakeholders, students of higher institutions, NYSC, the market women even the contestants so INEC would not disrupt the election but the political gladiators using thugs and the thugs would not have gone on their own if they had not been asked to do so by the politicians and that is what they were doing in the past that INEC have discovered that a particular candidate will send some agents to disrupt elections in their opposition strongholds for the elections in that area to be cancelled but we don’t cancel again, rather we will do rerun election because we know that Mr A knows my opponent is the favorite here and they disrupt, the same thing applicable to Mr B but will not conduct rerun election if the margin between them is wide and the areas affected can not affect the results of the election if given to candidate A or B, Osun was not the first state to witness inconclusive elections and will not be the last.
EH- It is believed that there is clear sensitisation among the staffs of INEC but some of them are believed to be of questionable characters like the officer at Oriade, what measures are you putting in place to curb this menace?
Ans- There was no problem, it was just media work, it was misunderstanding on the part of media men for not doing their job properly.
EH- I am talking about the man who questioned the officer?
Ans- That man has been taken to Senator Adeleke, the man was lucky I didn’t hear of it on time, I would have arrested him because the boy did not do anything wrong, when they got there, it was the security agent that the EO that the results pasted was different from the one with them, the lady had to call her deputy who was still at the station that the results that were given is on her table and all security operatives have been given copies, asking that man go and look at the one pasted and should be corrected if not the same and he went with security personnel, we had to delay collation for about 40 minutes to sort out the matter Dele Adeleke was there, the results the collation officer brought was the same with the one with Dele, Senator Adeleke brother’s copy and other agents, so we didn’t see reason for humiliating him but we have just decided to lie low about the matter.
EH- Why can’t the commission charge him?
Ans- It has taken some time before we got to know the details of what went wrong and we do not want to go back to it
EH- Are you saying all your staffs are 100% perfect?
Ans- It may not be possible to say everybody in an organization is okay and INEC is the only institution in Nigeria just like other agencies and institutions, it is not possible but as we identify them, we deal with them.
EH- It was rumored after the election that you said you were going to resign if the apex court in the land rules against the decision of the INEC, is it true?
Ans- It was not a rumor, I wrote it down when we were giving the Governor elect the certificate of return that time, it was in my speech, very clear that myself, my Secretary, my HOD Admin and other officers here kept sleepless night and if at the end they say we did what was wrong I will believe something is wrong with us in Nigeria .
I will just leave and go home even before the final judgment 80% of my luggage s are already in Lagos because you don’t know which way it will go and I have made that commitment, people were even calling my phone that you said you were going to be free and fair when you came to our church, I replied them yes we were because what we went through at Ife South during the second election because we would have had what we call over voting if not because competent officers were on ground and I believe the political actors can help us out.
EH- Why has INEC not been the one conducting Local Government elections in Nigeria?
Ans- The Nigeria law has not allowed us to do so, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is being empowered to conduct elections in the country as an independent body but has not been enabled by law to conduct local government elections .
even though we were doing it in the past but the National Assembly made law allowing us to conduct Presidential, National Assembly, Governorship and State Assembly elections but the State Electoral Commission should handle local government elections, so it is as simple as the law has not allowed us to do so.
EH- Considering the humongous expenses manpower, risk factors and other miscellaneous, why has INEC not upgraded to electric voting?
Ans- It is because the law has enabled us to do so. when the laws are made, the commission will empower its staffs to do so.
Ans- INEC wrote to the National Assembly for approval e- voting
I believe INEC have done that in the past seeking this upgrade because when consider the problems like snatching of ballot boxes and other problems but there are many things to be put in place and you will believe that some part of this country are not accessible technologically even down to the GSM .
The Federal Government and National Assembly will make sure all these are available in the nooks and crannies of Nigeria where a village in Asaba, Iwo, Eyenkorin and more will be able to access our data because the advantages are numerous and minimize the problems we have during the elections
EH- It’s was rumoured that ,some political gladiators are threatening you before, during and after the election before the judgments . How true is this ?
Ans- Threat ! No, what have I done wrong?
Ans-I have not even dreamt of it because we did what the law asked us to do and that’s why we are being vindicated by the Supreme Court judgement .
Five out of seven judges said what we did was right, four out of the five Appeal Court judges said we were right and one out of the tribunal said the same thing. you can not expect all of them to be on the same side because the way you apply law here is different from the other but the general applicable principles of law is the only way to go, then why should I be the target or threats?
EH- If you are going to be the Resident Electoral Commissioner in the next General elections, What assurance can you give to the people that the next elections will be far better than what we have had?
Ans- Thank you, I may not likely be here in the next election because I have conducted two elections . I was here in 2014 and 2018 but If I were to be here, I don’t think we are going to do anything different from what we did this year, we want the Political Actors, Electorates and everyone to know we are transparent because the problem starts from the Party’s Primaries that they gloss over, you saw what happened in Zamfara and Rivers this year, they are as the results of primaries because the problem those Political Actors are causing is greater than you can imagine , if APC had prevented Adeoti from leaving the Party maybe we would have had smooth election .
The same thing if PDP had prevented Omisore from leaving the party, Omisore had over 120,000 votes that are wasted and you would imagine if someone is leading with about 150,000 votes and about 3,000 people have not voted, there would not have been a rerun election, it will be better if the politicians can agree on this one, so I were to be here in the next election, I will tell the people of Osun and Nigeria at what we want to do and if they can cooperate with us, it will be the best election .
EH- Considering the bogus amount of money elections consumes in Nigeria, if your position as the Resident Electoral Commissioner is being shifted to the National Chairman, What can you do to reduce the money?
Ans- When you look at the areas where this money is been distributed for official assignment . starting from the Ad-hoc staffs that consumes chunk of money before talking about materials, the APO and PO collects #17,000 and there are more than 16,000 Ad-hoc staffs in Osun state alone .
we still feel we are not paying enough before talking about the senior ones like collating officer, Returning officers and the rest, What electoral materials consumes is also much, it is true that we have some ballot boxes but the ones that were burnt, destroyed, stolen and the damaged card readers must be replaced, then the transportation of the the materials and staffs to and fro from the polling unit to the collation center to the local government and to the state level, there is no way INEC can buy all the vehicles that will convey electoral materials all the polling units in Osun not to talk of Nigeria and that is why we engaged the NURTW, RTEAN for trucks.
Another one is printing of the ballot papers, the local publishers do not have the capacity to print the little ones given to them and they don’t meet up with timeline given to them and that has made the commission to print ballot papers with 91 political parties for every registered voters abroad and bring them to the country with enormous amount of money, I used to complain the money was too much before I came to this position but when I got to know how the money is distributed I could not complain again rather feeling the money won’t be enough.
EH- Is E-voting the only solution?
Ans-Yes, because it will remove most of the challenge and everyone will be happy to work with INEC then.
Last year October I was part of delegates drafted to witness an election in Republic of Ireland, we were there from 7:00 O’clock in the morning when it started till 10:00 pm, we visited so many polling units without seeing a single police man, no party agent, when it was 10 o’clock in the evening they gathered the ballot boxes and there were 6 polling units there with just 1 SPO, when asked how he was going to handle it, he replied the bus is going round to carry the boxes to a designated hall where the party agents will gather tomorrow to open the boxes for counting, I said what? can you do that here in Nigeria, where they are accusing you of malpractice for the one you conduct openly with their witnesses, you can imagine what will happen overnight but we will get there by the Grace of God
EH- Finally, What advice do you have for the Electorates, Your Staffs and the Politicians?
Ans- My advice is that they should allow us to do our job because Nigeria is ours you will still come back if you cause trouble and run away but you think of those who can not go anywhere.
Everyone want good government, you can only get it through credible election, let the politicians check themselves and we are also checking ourselves in order to improve on the angles where we believe we should.