By Bolanle Bolawole
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The Saturday, October 10, 2020 Ondo State governorship election has come and gone but the reverberations continue. That election will be the talk-of-the-town for a long time to come for its bright spots as well as for its shenanigans. The election appears to have sharpened the shape of Ondo State politics for the future. Zoning may have come to stay with the PDP candidate, Eyitayo Jegede, and the rambunctious deputy governor and the ZLP candidate, Agboola Ajayi, unable to upturn the apple cart of the zoning formula that appears to be working beautifully well for the Sunshine State. Jegede is from Ondo Central, just like former Gov. Olusegun Mimiko whose Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice Jegede was for close to eight years. Mimiko spent two terms of four years each. Ajayi is from Ondo South, whose turn is supposed to come after Akeredolu, from Ondo North, must have had, like Mimiko, his own two terms of four years each. Now that the spirited and desperate effort to truncate the rotational arrangement has failed woefully, it is reasonable to expect the baton to shift to Ondo South in the next election cycle barring any hiccups and or unforeseen circumstances.
The question on many lips last week is whether or not Jegede will challenge the results of the election at the election petition tribunal which had already been set up. Informed sources said the PDP was still collating reports of what its supporters described as infractions by Akeredolu and his party, the APC, during the election – without sparing the INEC and security agencies, though. Last Tuesday as I attended to my car less than a hundred metres away from his Ado-Owo road campaign office, Akure, I saw Jegede breeze in, followed by a retinue of supporters. Those who expect a repeat of the Edo State election of September 20, 2020 where the APC conceded defeat and its candidate, Osagie Ize-Iyamu, was reportedly prevailed upon to accept the result, may have some waiting to do. Both the PDP and Candidate Jegede do not appear in any rush to foreclose the outcome of that election. And, for this, let no one begrudge them! It is their constitutional right to go to court to challenge the outcome of the election. For this reason, election petition tribunals are usually set up before the elections. The process of judicial adjudication – when justice is truly served – can only help to deepen our renascent democracy.
After Jegede and the PDP must have satisfied themselves on the election, there still remains one issue that will not go away in a hurry: It is the press conference addressed by Gov. Seyi Makinde of Oyo State less than 48 hours to the election in which he accused INEC of appointing Prof. Eyitope Ogunbodede, vice-chancellor of the Obafemi Awolowo University (formerly the University of Ife aka “Great Ife”) as the Chief Returning Officer for the Ondo State Governorship election. It was a bombshell. For one, Gov. Makinde, who was making the allegation or – to put it in journalistic terms– who was releasing the “world exclusive” news items, is not an ordinary person but a sitting governor whom many expect to have access to privileged information. A sitting governor is not a flippant person – or so many will think. He must have cross checked his facts before coming into the open because his words carry weight and command respect. He has immense authority to back up what he says. And also because he has at his disposal the resources to find out the true position of things, everyone expects his words to be facts and not fallacies.
So, when Makinde alleged less than two days to the election that INEC had pencilled down Prof. Ogunbodede as the Chief Returning Officer for the Ondo State governorship election, I was aghast – and so also were a multitude of other Nigerians who knew what Makinde was driving at. Who could not but understand its implication on the credibility of the election in question? Makinde himself mentioned that the election would not be free and fair; he went on to describe Prof. Ogunbodede as a “known crony” of the sitting Gov. Rotimi Akeredolu-cum-APC candidate in the election. He concluded that on account of that alleged appointment by INEC, his party did not believe the election would be credible. He then dangled the fear of Visa ban by the US to strike terror in the heart of the Nigerian authorities if they did not reverse the “appointment”.
That was really weighty because a whole governor had put his weight behind it. This is not just any governor but one that was generally viewed and seen as credible and a shining light in the wilderness and aridity of crass but pompous leadership all over the place. I voted this same Makinde my “Man of the Year 2018” in both my “Treasures” column (in the New Telegraph newspaper) as well as here (“On the Lord’s Day” column). Besides, Makinde was chairman of the PDP Ondo State election committee. He is also the only PDP governor in the entire South-west geo-political zone.
Makinde’s bombshell caused a scare but it turned out, unfortunately, mere scare-mongering, a whole governor crying wolf, a ruse and, wait for it, fake news! It turned out Prof. Ogunbodede bagged no such appointment as Chief Returning Officer for the Ondo State governorship election! It turned out INEC never even contemplated making any such appointment to Ogunbodede as it responded that a letter of appointment had been issued “several days ago” to the Chief Returning Officer who is neither from Ondo State nor from the OAU. It turned out that the Chief Returning Officer in that election was the vice-chancellor of the University of Ibadan, Prof. Abel Idowu Olayinka.
Akeredolu was miffed that a fellow governor could commit such a gaffe simply on the altar of political brinkmanship. And Akeredolu was right to be angry: He was the one being fingered as the likely beneficiary of an electoral system that Makinde had alleged was being perverted and manipulated against Makinde’s own party. What investigation did Makinde make before going to town with his fake news? Did he call INEC? Did he even call Akeredolu as a fellow governor to complain about the short-hand tactic he had allegedly perceived was about to be unleashed on the PDP? Even in the heat of politics, shouldn’t we also put on our thinking cap? Sunkunmus rinranmus, as they say! But as journalists, we know that a reporter is as good as his source. Reporter Makinde’s source or sources must have let him down most miserably!
The Oyo State governor described Ogunbodede, a professor of dentistry, a professor of over 20 years’ standing, an internationally-acclaimed scholar, the vice-chancellor of a first generation Nigerian university, one of the best if not the very best, the one and only one “Great Ife”, my proud alma mater – Makinde described this same person as “known crony” to Akeredolu. Goggle the word “crony” and it makes no pretence as it says “cronyism” is “derogatory”; it is “the appointment of friends and associates to positions of authority without proper regard to their qualifications”. It is undeniable that “crony” has a negative connotation. Why would INEC appoint Ogunbodede as the Chief Returning Officer for the Ondo State governorship election and why was Makinde up in arms against such an appointment – assuming it was made? It must be for the purpose of Ogunbodede helping in the rigging of the election in favour of his “crony” who, in this wise, is Akeredolu.
Is Ogunbodede such a person who will pervert the course and cause of justice? I have known him closely since our secondary school days at Owo High School in the 1970s. Ask anyone who knew Tope Ogunbodede at Owo High School or since he landed at Ife. Go to Owo and ask after his pedigree. Check him out also at GOFAMINT where he is a pastor. Yes, he might have known Akeredolu – but not for anything or anyone in this world will Ogunbodede pervert the course of justice. Ask “Great Ife” to rate Ogundodede since he became vice-chancellor three years ago. Check him out at the NUC or the Federal Ministry of Education. I dare to say that he is a brand cast in the same mould as Prof. Ishaq Oloyede, the outstanding Registrar of JAMB. There are few of them in positions of authority and they must be appreciated, protected, and promoted. Ironically, I have always believed that Makinde himself belongs in this same category; thereby making his gaffe on Ogunbodede the more grievous and unfortunate. But, as they say, no one is above a mistake, more so in the heat of political hustings!
Has Makinde realised his mistake? He must! Has he apologised to Nigerians for his fake news? He must! Has he reached out to INEC, Akeredolu, and Ogunbodede to tender unreserved apologies? He must! Except, of course, if he stands by his story, as we journalists say when we are sure of our onions! That being the case, he should come out and say so. This is one instance when silence is not golden.
…ENDSARS protests, too!
Our people have a saying: “Eni ti enu ba n kun k’o so’ra”; meaning “whoever finds himself in the eye of controversies repeatedly should watch it” “Enu n kun” Gov. Seyi Makinde of late; so, he must watch it. He started well; he gave everyone rays of hope but he must now watch how he proceeds. True, there is no one that is above a mistake but one mistake too many can land anyone in a ditch. “Ibere o ki n se onise…” say our people. Starting well is okay but finishing well is better. Scripture aptly puts it thus: “Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof…” (Ecclesiastes 7:8).
Makinde’s decision to compensate the families of those who lost their life in the ongoing ENDSARS protests at Ogbomoso, Oyo State is right and I salute the pro-people mentality that informed the decision – but the measly amount put on human life by the governor is appalling – One Million Naira only! Should One Million Naira be the value attached to human life, even if it is the life of a beggar? To make matters worse is the princely sum of N100 million reportedly voted for the repairs of a palace!
If no life had been lost; if only damages were done and Makinde had voted a billion Naira to repair the palace, I would not have raised an eyebrow. But lives were lost needlessly. Trigger-happy security men killed those they could have controlled with teargas or rubber bullets. And the way they thereafter dragged the bodies of their victims on the floor was sacrilegious! Oh my! We have no regard for human life here! We have totally, completely, and unabashedly lost our humanity.
It is true – and how sad – that lost lives cannot be brought back to life again but we should not dance on their grave and demean their memory by attaching peanuts to the value of life. If Makinde must compensate the families of the dead, let him give compensation that is honourable and worthwhile. After all, no one is forcing him to do so but what is worth doing at all, as they say, is worth doing well.
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