Saturday 19 April 2014     5 Jumada Al-sani 1435
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Daily Trust Online

Closure to Ekiti 2007 governorship saga

The long-drawn and often violence-prone governorship tussle of Ekiti State between the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate, Dr Segun Oni, and his Action Congress rival, Dr Kayode Fayemi, in the 2007 election in the state came an end last Friday week.

The Federal Court of Appeal sitting in Ilorin, Kwara State, delivered its verdict installing Dr Fayemi as winner of that election, thus dismissing Dr Oni, who had been in office since May 2007. Presiding Judge, Justice Ayo Isa Salami, in announcing the court’s unanimous ruling, noted that Dr Fayemi won the governorship contest of April 14, 2007, and the rerun poll that followed his petition held on April 25, 2009. The court said that the AC candidate won the rerun election by 10,955 votes.

The Ekiti election and the result that flowed from it as announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) have been deeply controversial from the outset.

The AC, now Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), candidate had disputed the result the INEC had announced through its Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) in the state, and took his grievance to the Election Petitions Tribunal. “Feyemi scored majority of lawful votes cast on April 14, 2007 and April 25, 2009, while Oni has not been duly elected with the majority votes cast”, the appellate court noted, and ordered that Fayemi be sworn in as Governor of Ekiti State immediately.

Arriving at its decision, the court resolved four of the five grounds of Fayemi’s appeal by nullifying the hugely contentious results of four wards in Ido-Osi local government area of the state, the basis of INEC’s declaration of Oni as winner.

By deducting all the votes cast in the four wards from the final tally for both candidates, the court gave the ACN 631,000, leaving the PDP with a much-reduced score of 95,176 votes.

The tortuous legal tussle, which began on May 11, 2007, when Fayemi first filed his appeal against the return of Oni as Governor-elect, has thus been finally be resolved in court.

The Ekiti case is the best example of how appalling the electoral system under which the 2007 elections were held had become, and how imperative it is now to make drastic changes. It is truly an expression of injustice to all parties, that over three and half years into the tenure of a candidate that INEC had declared winner, and just months into the possibility of re-election, the ground would literally be removed from under him, as is the fate that has befallen Dr Oni. On the other hand, Fayemi’s eventual victory does not obviate the frustrations and the anxiety and time spent in pressing his case in court. The tussle caused enormous loss in materiel and lives too, as supporters of both camps mobilised and clashed, and government and private properties destroyed in the process.

What is clear is that the Court of Appeal’s judgement reinforced popular sentiments that the Ekiti gubernatorial election of 2007 was stolen; and that the rerun held two years later was managed to sustain that illusion. It is a regrettable reality of our society that accountability for such monumental wrong is not pinned on someone or institution.  For instance, who or what should be held to account for the mess that has come to light in the Ekiti governorship saga? Who should enforce the rules for such accountability?

Of course it is all very well to applaud the judiciary that at last the proper thing has been done. It follows that those that had done the “improper” thing and prolonged a legally untenable position for four and half years, should be identified and punished to serve as deterrence. Those who perpetrate and perpetuate electoral malpractices should not find a hiding place in our laws. The Ekiti case also illustrates the inappropriateness of proposals being made to allow governorship election petition to go all the way to the Supreme Court. The proper thing is to seek to reduce, not add to, the existing legal layers that hinder speedy adjudication of electoral cases.  In the final analysis, the antidote to all this is the organisation of transparently free and fair elections.  We congratulate ACN, Dr Fayemi, and his deputy, Mrs Funmi Olayinka, for their steadfastness, doggedness and tenacity in treading the legal path to bring their case to a conclusion.

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