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A reminder of the 1983 old Ondo governorship elections

Desperation for electoral victories is not a new phenomenon in Nigeria, and has on many occasions led to a significant loss of life. As Ekiti prepares for elections next month...

A desperation for electoral victories is not a new phenomenon in Nigeria, and has on many occasions led to a significant loss of life. As Ekiti prepares for elections in just over a month, we will do well to remember an incident that happened in the old Ondo state, which encompasses the modern states of Ekiti and Ondo. The two major contending parties for the Ondo governorship race of 1983 were the United Party of Nigeria, led by Obafemi Awolowo, and the National Party of Nigeria, the party of the then President, Shehu Shagari.

One of Awolowo’s protégés, Adekunle Ajasin, governor in the state since 1979, was seeking re-election, while his deputy with whom he had fallen out, Akin Omoboriowo, fancied his chances. In the aftermath of his resignation as deputy governor, Ajasin put forward the name of Dr. N.F. Aina to the State House of Assembly twice, and was rejected for approval on both occasions in solidarity with Omoboriowo. When it was time for the primaries, the former deputy governor presented himself in opposition to his erstwhile boss, but lost the UPN ticket to the incumbent, and quickly alleged that the primaries had been rigged in Ajasin’s favour, so himself and some other party bigwigs including Samuel Ajibade Akerele, defected to the NPN, securing the federal government’s backing in the process. He promptly became the NPN’s flagbearer.

The stage was thus set for one of the most controversial elections in Nigeria’s history.

Naturally, given the kind of politics we practice in these parts, the Ajasin camp immediately became apprehensive that the elections would be rigged. This led to the creation of three committees – the Finance committee, which was headed by Reuben Fasoranti, the metaphysical committee, and the tactical committee.

On 16th of August, 1983, Akin Omoboriowo was declared winner by the Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO).

The impact of the declaration was immediate as allegations of vote rigging using “federal might” ensured that violence erupted in various parts of Ondo state. Some reports claimed that the outbreak of violence was the worst the history of post-independence Yorubaland, exceeding according to at least one newspaper, the “Wet è” riots of the 1960s.

The Oyo Police Commissioner, Umaru Omolowo, who was in charge of security, announced that at least 40 people were killed in Ondo, including two NPN congressional candidates, Olaiya Fagbamigbe and Kunle Agunbiade, who were set ablaze, according to Omolowo, by an angry mob. Both Omoboriowo and Akerele barely made it out, with Akerele and his family skipping town the night before his house was burned down by displeased protesters.
To de-escalate, FEDECO postponed the scheduled senatorial elections in Ondo state indefinitely, and then, their own offices were hit by rioters, and burned to the ground.

The whole thing was challenged in court, and a panel of five judges of the Federal High Court sitting in Akure reversed the election results and awarded victory to Ajasin. The case was appealed by Omoboriowo, and four of the five Court of Appeal judges that sat in Benin City returned a verdict in Ajasin’s favour. At the Supreme Court, only one judge, Ayo Irikefe, dissented, and so Adekunle Ajasin was declared governor of Ondo state for a second term.

Of course, all of this effort proved to be in vain as two months after Ajasin began his second term, he was shuffled out of office by the military coup of December 31, 1983, replaced by Commodore Bamidele Otiko, and both himself and Omoboriowo spent some time in detention thinking about the errors of their ways. They were both released after a month.

Why is this excursion into the history of the old Ondo state necessary?

If we take a look at today’s map, Akin Omoboriowo would have been an indigene of Ekiti state, which is having elections in just over a month’s time. It appears, sadly, that the people of the state have not learned much from their political history.

The build up to next month’s elections, has various shades of the last Ondo elections of the Second Republic. A falling out (former Solid Minerals Minister and former governor, Kayode Fayemi, and current governor, Ayo Fayose, were once friends, members of the same social group, then fell out for some reason no one seems to want to talk about), accusations of rigged primaries (the All Progressives Congress primaries), violence in those primaries, the concentration of “federal might” (the APC has formed a committee of 77, including 14 state governors who are apparently underemployed in their states), and a general desperation on the side of all parties. The stakes are high, and the rhetoric, even higher.

Fayemi, fresh from his regal ‘send off’ from the Federal Executive Council, told journalists in Ado-Ekiti that “the coming fire will consume Fayose up to the root.” Fayose on his part has characterised his primary opponent “as cold as the nose of a dog.” The Peoples Democratic Party has accused FEDECO’s contemporary incarnation, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) of “fuelling trouble” in the lead up to the vote. There is even a familiar jousting match going on with Fayose accusing Ondo’s APC governor Rotimi Akeredolu of plotting to scuttle the elections using thugs and Ondo State funds, accusations Akeredolu called “blatant lies.”

Are we setting the stage for another unnecessary loss of Nigerian lives?