ALL eyes are on the Professor Mahmood Yakubu-led Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, as voters in Osun State troop out to choose their next governor in the election holding in the state next week. The main reason for this is that the Osun election is the last major poll to be conducted by the Commission before the general elections of February/March 2019.
But the more insidious factor is that for the first time in the political history of Nigeria, the electoral umpire has individuals intimately connected to the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari occupying powerful, sensitive positions. Buhari appointed them shortly after he assumed power in May 2015.
The tradition hitherto had always been for the Chairman of the INEC to come from a region other than that of the appointing President. It is widely held that the perceived familial links might not bode well for the integrity of any election in which the President will be contesting, though Professor Yakubu has always maintained that the INEC under his watch would remain above board.
Another cause for worry is the escalating deployment of money to buy votes. Due to the mass poverty and hunger in the land, this has become much more pronounced in recent state elections held in Anambra, Edo and Ekiti states by INEC. The two major political parties – the All Progressives Congress, APC and the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, which control the bulk of incumbent elected office holders across the country – have been accused of being the main perpetrators of vote buying.
The Osun election is undoubtedly a major popularity contest between the two leading political parties, APC and PDP. With the general elections so close by, the ruling APC would like to prove that its leaders in Osun and Abuja are still popular enough to cruise to victory in 2019. On the other hand, the PDP would like to win Osun as a pointer to their resurgence after four years out of power.
This is why the total neutrality of the INEC and the security agencies which will conduct the Osun election must be above question. Nigerians and the world out there must be given solid reasons to look forward to a peaceful, transparent and acceptable general elections in 2019. The Osun poll has a strong role to play in this.