The Ondo State governorship election of Saturday, although largely peaceful, was marred by the violation of COVID-19 safety rules and the complacency of security operatives who failed to reprimand those engaged in vote-buying.
The incumbent governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, was re-elected after polling majority of the votes. He will occupy the governorship seat in the Alagbaka Government House for the next four years.
Mr Akeredolu, the flag bearer of the All Progressives Congress (APC), defeated his deputy governor and the Zenith Labour Party (ZLP) candidate, Agboola Ajayi, and Eyitayo Jegede, the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) by a wide margin.
Flouting COVID-19 rules
PREMIUM TIMES’ observation of the election revealed that safety protocols against the spread of COVID-19, the disease that has been contracted by over 60,000 Nigerians, were not adhered to.
The use of face masks and compliance with the social distancing restrictions recommended by the World Health Organisation and the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) were flouted by the voters at several polling units visited.
Although in some polling units, some of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Adhoc staff mandated the electorate to use hand sanitizer and face masks during accreditation and voting in the early hours of Saturday, the rules were discarded a few hours after the poll was opened.
This was corroborated in reports released by two civil society organisations who monitored the election; Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) and Yiaga Africa.
In its preliminary statement on the conduct of the election, the CDD noted that there were breaches of the COVID-19 protocols as some voters used face masks while many others did not.
Its executive director, Idayat Hassan, also said that the observers deployed by the group noticed the absence of a two-tier queue system across the polling units.
The co-chair, Yiaga Africa 2020 Ondo Election Observation Mission, Aisha Abdullahi, at a press conference on Saturday, decried the minimal observation of social distancing across all the polling units observed.
Ms Abdulahi noted that at the commencement of polls, there was compliance with INEC COVID-19 protocol on the two-tier queuing system in 88 per cent of polling units, and the presence of infrared thermometer and disinfectant/sanitisers in 74 per cent of polling units were observed.
Meanwhile, experts and observers who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES feared that the low compliance might lead to a spike in the number of new infections.
However, a nurse and public health expert, Oluwadamilola Otun, said; “These realities can only materialise if there is enough testing. The number of samples collected in the past weeks has been going up and down.”
She added that the level of compliance will not improve unless there is an “intentional measure of enforcement put in place by the government.”
Police Abandoning Duty
The multiple cases of vote-buying observed by PREMIUM TIMES’ reporters and election observers would not have been successful if the police officers deployed had done their job.
PREMIUM TIMES observed in more than five polling units in Ondo South senatorial district how the electorate traded their votes for wads of cash.
Although both the PDP and the APC were culpable for the act, the mode of vote-buying differed from one polling unit to the other.
At PU 004, Ward 4, Igbobini, Ese Odo local government, the APC agent checks the choice of the voters. After confirming that they voted for his party, he sends them to another person who offers them money.
At PU 010, ward 2 in Ilutitun, Okitipupa local government area, the polling unit of Gboluga Ikengboju, the running mate of the PDP candidate, the voters are given a tally, which they take to a secluded place outside the voting area in exchange for a sum of N3,000.
PREMIUM TIMES had earlier reported the concerns raised by residents in Ugbo, Ude-Ugbonla, Mahin, and Igbokoda axis in Ilaje local government, who accused police officers of coordinating vote-buying in different polling units.
Our reporter saw a party agent sharing cash to voters at Polling Unit 8, Ward 2 in Ugbo at Ilaje.
Voters who spoke with our reporters disclosed that the police officers present at the unit were coordinating the vote-buying processes. In some other places, the security operatives stood aloof while the act was ongoing.
Vote-buying under the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended), attracts a fine of N100,000, 12 months imprisonment or both.
Ms Abdullahi lamented how the security agencies made no attempt to reprimand the culprits.
She said the organisation received reports of vote-buying from Akure South, Ose, Ondo West, Ilaje and Akure North with the secrecy of the ballot being compromised.
“Despite attempts by polling officials to prevent voters and party agents from showing how ballot papers were marked, these electoral offenses occurred in the presence of security personnel, who made no attempt in some cases to reprimand the culprits,” she said.
Commendable logistics arrangement
Ms Abdulahi, however, commended INEC for the early arrival of materials to the majority of the polling units, which saw a large turnout of voters.
At Ese Odo local government, Okitipupa local government, and Irele local government, INEC ad-hoc staff commenced the voting exercise by 8:30 a.m.
The polling booths were observed to have been set up and arrangement of voting materials made one hour before the poll was opened.
Meanwhile, in a few places, the card readers malfunctioned. But the situation was salvaged by the response team of the INEC.
Commenting on the conduct, Leke Adegbite, the secretary of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) in Ondo State, said he was impressed by the performance of the electoral commission.
“I’ve been covering elections since 2003. This will be the first time election materials and logistics were sorted early enough and the voting was not delayed. This is highly commendable.”
Speaking on vote-buying, Mr Adegbite acknowledged that the act was rampant in the Saturday election.
“They have now devised several means to buy votes. They give them a tag which they take to the person sharing the money discreetly.”
The NUJ official called on stakeholders to intensify efforts to curb the menace of vote-buying.