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In search of violence-free poll in Ondo on Saturday

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Chairman INEC, Prof. Yakubu (left) inspects non-sensitive materials with the Electoral Officer, Mrs. Ebun Gbobo, during his Readiness Assessment visit to Ifedore Local Council Office of the commission in Akure yesterday…

As the build-up to the Saturday October 10, 2020 governorship election in Ondo State boils over, the attention of the world is now drawn to the state, especially in terms of the need for violence-free and peaceful election across the 18 councils of the state. There have been a series of threats and drumbeats of violence coming from the three major parties – the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), the major opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and the Zenith Labour Party (ZLP).

Though 17 different parties and their candidates have been cleared for the election in five days’ time by Independent Electoral Commission (INEC), the contest may just be among the three aforementioned parties, whose candidates are spread across the three senatorial districts.

Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, who is seeking re-election on the platform of APC, hails from Owo Council (North District), a former Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Eyitayo Jegede, is making a second attempt as PDP candidate and hails from Akure South Council (Central District), while the current Deputy Governor Agboola Ajayi is ZLP candidate and hails from Ese-Odo Council (North District). Ajayi’s place is seen as the most volatile area of the state, with two riverine councils- Ilaje and Ese-Odo- that qualifies the state as belonging to among Niger Delta oil-producing states.

According to reports, three councils – Ese-odo, Akure South and Owo – are part of the volatile areas mapped out by experts to watch in terms of violence in the forthcoming poll. There have been instances of attacks and counter-attacks in neighbouring councils like Idanre, Ilaje, Okitipupa, just to mention few.

It was an evening of terror in Akure South on Saturday as PDP supporters allegedly attacked APC members, mostly youths while the latter launched reprisal attacks yesterday morning, reportedly leaving three people dead and several others sustaining degree of injuries.

This may not be unconnected to the destruction of both parties’ properties after an attack in Oba-Akoko a few weeks ago, when Akeredolu and Jegede’s campaign trains were in the North Senatorial District at the same time, a campaign schedule that violates ideal political campaign plan.

In recent times, there have been attacks between PDP and APC supporters across the state, although ZLP had also accused the ruling APC of coordinated attacks on its members and party secretariats, which recently led to the death of one Taiwo Okafor in Idanre Local Government Area.

Yiaga Africa, in its recent investigation, listed Owo, Idanre, Akoko South West, Akure South, Ese-Odo and Akoko South East among councils with high incidences and indicators of violence in the forthcoming poll. It identified candidates and supporters of the major parties as victims of pre-election violence.

According to Yiaga Director of programmes, Cynthia Mbamalu: “Based on Yiaga Africa findings, Akoko South West LGA has a high case of arms buildup. In addition, armed political thugs were reported to be terrorizing communities in Ilaje and Ile Oluji/Okeigbo LGAs,” warning that “These unrestrained acts of lawlessness and impunity create apprehension, which could lead to low turnout of voters during the election.”

Based on previous experiences in the state, Mbamalu noted that the riverine areas are prone and notorious for election violence due to poor logistical management, non-compliance with INEC’s guidelines and difficult terrain of these communities.

Similarly, the Director of Centre for Democracy Development (CDD), Idayat Hassan, revealed that election violence in the riverine area is usually coordinated by cult members, thugs and militants, who often cause unrest in these areas.

Yiaga Africa and CDD, alongside other stakeholders, urged INEC to give the spotted areas special attention by employing the services of security operatives to man election in those areas so that the election could be free, fair, credible and devoid of violence as envisaged. However, a huge flaw is already noticeable in preparation towards the election, as some critical stakeholders, who are expected to be neutral in the election, have pledged allegiance to some political parties. Some traditional rulers have decided to support particular parties and this has further heightened tension.

Unlike what happened in Edo State, where the paramount traditional ruler, the Oba of Benin, Omo N’Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, Oba Ewuare II, waded in to douse heightened tension that almost marred the September 19, 2020 governorship poll in the state by prevailing on major contenders to embrace peace, some monarchs in Ondo are more or less card-carrying members of political parties and do not have the same peace-building influence as the Benin monarch.

Nonetheless, Deji of Akure, Oba Aladelusi Aladetoyinbo, in a recent video that went viral, invited members of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), who are identified as violence-indicators in the forthcoming election, to appeal to them to maintain peace. The Chief Press Secretary to Deji, Michael Adeyeye, disclosed that the Deji-in-Council, had sprung into action to call the warring factions to order, revealing that the traditional institution would take drastic measures to curtail violence in the metropolitan city and its environs.

Squaring up with two formidable opposition parties, the ruling APC has accused ZLP of planning to foment crisis in the riverine areas, which is the major support base of the deputy governor, saying there is plan to use Niger Delta militants to cause violence.

Spokesperson of Akeredolu/Aiyedatiwa Campaign Organization, Olabode Olatunde, said the aim was to puncture the chances of APC in the area, which is also the stronghold of Governor Akeredolu’s running mate, Lucky Aiyedatiwa.

Olatunde said: “This evil plan is targeted at intimidating the people and discouraging them from coming out to vote, thereby giving the ZLP a conducive atmosphere to rig the election in favour of its unpopular candidate. The ZLP is aware that the people of Ilaje are determined to vote massively for the APC, particularly to see that their son, Lucky Aiyedatiwa, who is the deputy governorship candidate of APC, is voted into power.”

While speaking on the political fracas in Akure yesterday, Olatunde, who described it as provocative, lamented that: “This latest recourse to attack, thuggery and wanton violence by PDP is the height of insensitivity, irresponsibility and indecency. It is obviously provocative.”

He recounted that: “The thugs launched attacks on anyone seen with APC-branded items like clothes and caps, as well as taxi drivers with Akeredolu stickers on their vehicles at Obanla in Akure on Saturday night. The violence continued into the morning on Sunday, with many beaten, machetted and clubbed for showing support to APC.”

According to him, “The Akeredolu/Aiyedatiwa Campaign Organisation is shocked by this latest reign of violence, wherein some PDP leaders, in brazen display of wickedness and barbarism, supervised attacks on members and supporters of APC at the Obanla Junction in Akure metropolis.

“We note that Obanla Junction is the political base of some PDP chieftains like the member of House of Representatives, representing Akure South/Akure North Constituency, Adedayo Omolafe. Therefore, the source of this latest wave of thuggery and violence should not be far-fetched.”

But the Chief Press Secretary to the Deputy Governor, Babatope Okeowo, dispelled the allegations against the ZLP candidate, revealing that the ruling party was only scheming to foment crisis and blame it on the opposition.

According to him, “I know that Agboola is a peace-loving politician, who never believes in thuggery and violence. It is Governor Akeredolu that has been leaving sorrows and tears everywhere he goes. For the record, it is APC and PDP that have been engaging in violence at their various campaigns; they are jittery of the fact that they have lost the governorship election.”

Okeowo added, “Rather than play to the gallery or looking for a way to pull together a script to incriminate opposition, APC must explain what it has done for the riverine areas for the past three and half years. I will implore security agencies to investigate the ruling party and prevent any attempt to foment any ploy by APC to cause crisis and rig the election on that day. The people will speak with their votes and vote for ZLP and Agboola Ajayi.”

Nonetheless, INEC’s National Commissioner and Chairman of Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, has allayed the people’s fears, disclosing that the commission would resort to Section 29(3) of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) to ensure violence-free poll.

“More than 270 of our Polling Units are in the riverine areas of Ese-Odo and Ilaje Local Government Areas, with over 62 creeks, and we are in touch with the Nigerian Navy and the Marine Police for the purpose of protecting and escorting our personnel and materials to these difficult terrains.

“The police, Navy and other security agencies have been mandated to engage in clearance operation and flush out groups and individuals that threaten the peace of the state and the electoral process, especially in the creeks and other black spots. The security agencies will carry out mop-up operations, deploy adequate platforms and conduct massive show of force, especially in identified flashpoints. We will continue to appeal to the political parties and the candidates to eschew violence.”

Similarly, the police authority, as revealed by the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu, is not taking any chances as it has deployed the Deputy Inspector-General of Police in charge of Research and Planning, Adeleye Oyabade, an Assistant Inspector-General of Police, seven commissioners of police and 30,000 personnel to provide maximum security for the poll.


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