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The Cable: What’s happening in Ondo State?

It was amusing seeing the pictures of Governor Olusegun Mimiko at the Presidential Villa last Friday. Not that he does not have the right to visit the president; he does, particularly with our warped federal structure wherein states are more of appendages than federating units. But his reason for the visit was funny, to say the least. The visit was like pounding on anvil that gave off no sparks, especially with his request that the president intervenes in the raging fire in Ondo State.

Mimiko is an astute politician, a great mobiliser of people and resources towards a particular goal. One does not fight former president Olusegun Obasanjo politically and beat him if he is not a strong politician and maybe only him and former Lagos State governor, Bola Tinubu, have been able to dust the ebora Owu on the political field while he held sway between 1999 and 2007. A former minister told the story of how they were unable to persuade Mimiko not to leave the federal cabinet in order to become the Ondo governor, why leaving for uncertainty, they asked him. Iroko, as he is known, however, stuck to his guns and resigned as housing minister to contest the April 14, 2007 elections. He recalled how Obasanjo was apoplectic with rage at the cabinet meeting where Mimiko tendered his resignation letter threatening that he would ‘deal with him’ but Iroko kept quiet.

A colleague who covered the governorship election for a foreign broadcast organisation spoke of how Mimiko was well loved by the people that everywhere he went with his crew, they saw how difficult it would be for the late Segun Agagu to beat him. Incredibly, INEC declared Agagu the winner but Mimiko went to court and on February 23, 2009, the Appeal Court ruled that he was the winner paving the way for him to become the first and only Labour Party member to win a gubernatorial election in our country. He assumed office the next day. On October 2, 2014 he switched to PDP after securing another term and thereby becoming the first governor in the state history to win a second term. So, as we say in Nigeria, ‘he is very much on the ground.’

But how did the 62-year old medical doctor find himself in a political mess that he has to seek refuge from a president he barely tolerates? What happened that his anointed candidate, Eyitayo Jegede, a senior advocate, did not foresee the legal landmines and thereby prepare well on how to navigate such? How come the hunter is now the hunted?  More annoyingly, the ‘PDP candidate’ recognized by INEC is a corporate undertaker with many companies or corporations dying under his watch than surviving. And that’s where INEC comes into the picture. It is interesting that the electoral body, which recognized the Ahmed Makarfi faction before the Edo State governorship election, decided not to recognize it now. Though there is the other matter that it was the state executive that Mimiko allegedly sidelined before the primaries that has been recognized now by INEC. An important observation, however, is that what do we make of INEC’s presence at the primary where Jegede emerged? On what basis was the attendance if that faction was not authentic?

Too often we do not focus on two critical players in our democratic journey as a country, INEC and the judiciary. As a country, we place so much emphasis on election that governance suffers because of it. While no one knows how the saga involving our judges will end, it is instructive that electoral victories are won in courts now more than at polling booths. What is INEC doing wrongly that candidates are seemingly more interested in going to courts after elections? Even while violence should be condemned emphatically, INEC should not push citizens into thinking it is an option. By the way, whatever happened to some withheld results after the Rivers State election by INEC? Some judgments too are baffling that even lawyers are confused on the reasoning behind them, much more disconcerting are even the judgments of the highest court in the land.

Good enough that there is an appeal on this issue but what happens if the court does not rule in favour of the Iroko faction? That’s why we should all be worried about the protests rocking the Ondo State capital. Dissent remains an integral part of democracy, but violence should be abhorred. Citizens should be free to make their grievances known in orderly and peaceful manner without killing. There’s still the unresolved matter of the accusation leveled against INEC by Mr. Jimoh Ibrahim wherein he said that some officials of the electoral body demanded for a bribe from him in foreign currency, I think that’s worth probing. It may be that it played a role in what is happening in Ondo State presently.

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