Monday, April 20, 2009

Governor caught on tape promising violent rigging of Ekiti poll

Culled from

The governor of Osun State, Olagunsoye Oyinlola, has been caught on tape telling local ruling party politicians that he will supply them with army uniforms, arms and ammunition so they can rig this week's hotly contested runoff elections in Ekiti State.

This is to ensure victory for the governorship candidate of the People's Democratic Party, Segun Oni.

Mr. Oyinlola, a retired army general, apparently made the brazen promise to help rig the election by intimidation, during a meeting in Ado Ekiti, the state capital on April 2, with the 16 PDP chairmen of local governments.

The tape is now in the possession of President Umaru Yar'Adua, though it was not clear as we went to press whether the president or the law enforcement authorities planned to do anything about it.

"We called up this meeting purposely to speak with you local chiefs and all this meeting is centred upon me to tell you people that I, the governor of Osun State, Olagunsoye Oyinlola, is ready (sic) to supply all the 16 local government chairmen, where the rerun election will be conducted with army uniforms, alongside arms and ammunition," Mr. Oyinlola is heard saying on the tape, which was made available to us.

The Osun governor was not at all shy, according to the tape, in instructing his audience on how best to use the deadly implements he was promising to make available to them.

"You people will give these to your supporters who will camouflage like an the respective voting centres so that it will aid them in the rigging of the elections by intimidating the voters, and it will allow the voters not to come out to vote," he says.

"The only people that will come out will be PDP, so that the victory of Segun Oni will be able to be ascertained. I hope you people are with me," he concludes.

Mr. Oyinlola has denied, through a spokesman, that his was the voice on the tape, though he refused to personally make a categorical denial. "It cannot be Oyinlola's voice," says Lasisi Olagunju, the governor's spokesman, interviewed last week in Osogbo, the Osun State capital.

Mr. Olagunju said his boss was not interested in listening to the copy of the tape brought along by our reporter, so that he could clear his good name. "We are not responding to that again," he said.

The opposition Action Congress, whose candidate for governor, Kayode Fayemi, is locked in a tight race with the PDP candidate, also has sent a copy of the tape to the president's office, and is calling for a criminal investigation.

"It is part of their plan to capture Ekiti, but they will never capture Ekiti," says Funminiyi Afuye, the Action Congress leader in the Ekiti State House of Assembly on Oyinlola's charge to PDP members in the state.

The gathering uproar over Mr. Oyinlola's apparent determination to resort to violence and intimidation to secure victory for his party is an indication of rising anxiety within the PDP that the ruling party is being steadily rolled back from the southwestern states.

The courts have nullified the elections of PDP governors in Edo and Ondo states and ordered a re-run in some wards of Ekiti state.

Though, two aides of the president have confirmed that military personnel will not be drafted to maintain security in Ekiti during the elections "except there is a breakdown of law and order which the police cannot handle, the president doesn't order deployment of troops and I'm not aware of any breakdown of law and order in Ekiti," says Olusegun Adeniyi, Mr. Yar'Adua's spokesman.

The same sentiment was echoed by Polycarp Nwite, senior special assistant to the president on Political Matters. Both, however, declined to comment on Mr. Oyinlola's statement." I don't respond to idle speculations, is Oyinlola a staff of the president?" queries Mr. Adeniyi.

Frightening scenario

"The whole thing is frightening," says Itse Sagay, a professor of Law and Senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN). He says the scenario is that the PDP prefers to plunge Nigeria into a crisis of which the outcome cannot be predicted "rather than accept the will of the people."

Mr. Sagay condemns the silence of President Umaru Yar'Adua. A civil society activist, however, wonders whether Mr. Oyinlola could have uttered the statement. "If he did say that, although his handlers have come out to deny it, I think it is very unfortunate and it portends danger for the forthcoming election," says Innocent Chukwuma, executive director, Centre for Law Enforcement Education (CLEEN).

The denial has corroboration in Ayo Arise, the PDP senator representing Ekiti North senatorial district who has been accused by the AC of aiding the militarization of the elections scheduled for Saturday, 25 April. "I don't know of any meeting," says Mr. Arise in Abuja last week. "I don't run Oyinlola's private life. But why would Oyinlola hold meetings with people? Why would he sew military uniforms when the president is there? What does he have to do with the military when the president of the country is there?''

One of the local government chairmen that was at the meeting declined to speak on the issue. "I am not in the position to talk to you about this, maybe you should talk to the party," declared Tosin Aluko, Ado Ekiti local government chairman. Others could not be reached during the week as they were busy campaigning for the fast approaching elections.

The problem of rigging aside, there are other issues in the election. For instance, questions are being raised on the deployment of government paraphernalia in prosecuting a private visit to campaign for the ruling party. "It is illegal," declares Itse Sagay, a senior advocate.

"You cannot use public property for illegal purposes. It is purely illegal. Really, all it shows is the very low standard which Nigeria is practising in political morality," Mr Sagay added.

Senator Arise, however, thinks otherwise. "Can you tell me of any country where the incumbent president does not do that?" he asks rhetorically.

"Oh, so you want him to board molue? I think these people criticising the president are just displaying the holier-than-thou attitude. I don't see anything wrong there. So because you are the president, you will not campaign for your party?"

This argument does not hold water with Bamidele Aturu, another lawyer. "Did the president fly with the presidential jet or helicopter?" he asks. "Did he use tax payers' money to go to Ekiti to campaign for a partisan candidate? All those people that followed him, who funded their trip?''he queries.

Mr. Aturu questions the fact that most government officials have abandoned their jobs to work for the impending election. "It shows the lack of seriousness we are talking about," he adds. "You must not use our money to campaign for a particular party. In other countries, if he does, he will be impeached. If he uses tax payers' money to do that, it is unconstitutional because he has no business campaigning for partisan politics with our money."

Mr. Chukwuma shares this view too. "It is indeed a huge issue," he adds. "If you look at other jurisdictions, when top government functionaries go on these kinds of missions, which are clearly intended to serve personal interest, they tend to refrain from using state facilities as much as possible."

The problem has national implications in the opinion of Mr. Sagay. He says such illegality has been practised in Nigeria relentlessly for a very long time. "You go to the governors themselves, it is the same thing. They are not supposed to be using state property to advance their private political interest, but it is illegal.Former president Obasanjo did it using Nigerian aircraft and helicopter to campaign and no doubt all the resources, all the money spent in campaign, his expenses were borne by the state."


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