T HE Resident Electoral Commissioner of Osun State, Ambassador Oloruntoyin Akeju, has been a major source of controversy in the build up to the governorship election slated for August 9 this year. The Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state, Gani Olaoluwa, has questioned the impartiality of the commissioner on the basis of an alleged association with Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, former governor of Lagos State and a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC), the party of the incumbent governor of the state who is also a candidate in the coming election. Olaoluwa and some stalwarts of the PDP have also accused Akeju of being a card-carrying member of the APC. At a stakeholders’ meeting in Osogbo, the state capital, in February, 25 opposition parties staged a walk out to protest Akeju’s retention as REC in the state. They demanded that Akeju be removed because they had no confidence in his capacity to conduct a free and fair election in August. They threatened to boycott any election presided over by Akeju and contest its outcome. They also maintained that any election conducted by the REC would lead to chaos and probably a breakdown of law and order.
Indeed, stalwarts of the PDP in Osun State, including Senator Iyiola Omisore, a governorship aspirant, have gone further to claim that a subsisting court order restrains the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) from recognising Akeju as REC, citing a ruling by Justice Babs Kuewumi of the Federal High Court in Osogbo on 23 March 2011. In response, INEC clarified that its lawyers lodged an appeal and filed a motion on stay of execution of the interlocutory order. It secured a ruling on 31 May 2012 which granted a stay of proceedings pending the determination of the appeal. INEC therefore insists that Akeju remains Osun REC.
Furthermore, Akeju has denied having any close relationship with Senator Tinubu. He also insisted that the APC government in Osun State did not build a house for the REC. Rather, he said, the building housing him was the official residence built by the Federal Government.
Given these controversies, it is obvious that not all political parties in Osun State are looking forward to a free, fair and credible election with the retention of Akeju as REC for the August 9, 2014 election. This is not good for the electoral process. INEC has the power to redeploy Akeju, but the INEC Chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega, averred that he could not be changing his officials based on petitions against them. Given the persisting controversy, however, we think that Akeju should be redeployed. This is not necessarily because the allegations against him have been proven, but because it is not too big a sacrifice to make to guarantee the integrity and credibility of the election. Perception matters in politics; that is why INEC must pay attention to the complaints by the opposition parties. This is not to suggest a general rule that requires the Commission to change a REC once a group of political party stalwarts demand it. Our suggestion is predicated on the fact that there has been a protracted disquiet between Akeju and the PDP dating back to 2011. In fact, Akeju has publicly denounced the PDP for their criticisms of his office.
What we seek to bring to the attention of INEC is that, in large part, the integrity of elections depends on public confidence in the electoral and political processes. It is not enough to reform institutions; citizens need to be convinced that changes are real and deserve their confidence.
Elections should be conducted in such a manner that they engender broad public confidence in the process and create trust in the outcome.
As the 2014 elections draw nearer, INEC officials must uphold the Constitution and abide by the legal framework. They must maintain a neutral approach in performing their duties. This includes not giving any preferential treatment or displaying political party logos, symbols or colours. They must not accept anything of value, whether money, offers of employment, gifts or travel in exchange for preferential treatment or access to official or non-public information. These are essential for the integrity of elections and success in election management.