Friday, November 15, 2019 2:00 pm
The Vice Chancellor, University of Ibadan, Professor Abel Idowu Olayinka has narrated his experience as the Ekiti State Collation and Returning Officer for the Ekiti State Governorship Election in July 2018, lending his voice to the deployment of University dons to serve in the electoral process.
Olayinka narrated this experience in his welcome address on Thursday, 14th November 2019, at the 2019 Convocation Lecture of the University of Ibadan, UI, presented by the former Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission, Professor Attahiru Jega.
The title of the address is, “Deployment of University Staff as Electoral Officers: An eye witness account as the State Collation and Returning Officer, Ekiti State Governorship Election 2018”.
The Vice Chancellor noted, “The deployment of Vice-Chancellors and other ranking university staff to serve during Federal and State elections conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, was a novelty introduced by the immediate past National Chairman of INEC, Professor Attahiru Jega, a Professor of Political Science, former President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, and former Vice-Chancellor, Bayero University, Kano, in northwestern Nigeria. The thinking of Professor Jega was probably to the effect that University dons would not mortgage their hard-earned reputation and thereby destroy their careers by indulging in electoral malpractises. This has turned out to be a very wise decision by Professor Jega as the deployment of Vice-Chancellors has helped in improving the credibility of the elections conducted by INEC”.
Here is the address:
It is a great pleasure for us to host Professor Attahiru Jega to deliver the 2019 Convocation Lecture here at the University of Ibadan. Apart from his well-known preferment as a former highly respected President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, during the military regime, he later served as the Vice-Chancellor of Bayero University Kano. He was called upon to another national assignment as the Chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) towards the end of his tenure as VC at BUK.
He has always served dutifully and diligently in all his assignments and we are exceedingly proud of him. He is to share his thoughts with us this evening on his experience as the National Chairman of INEC.
As citizens, all of us should be interested in credible elections that are transparent, free and fair, as the bedrock of participatory democracy.
Joseph Stalin said some version of “It’s not the people who vote that count, it’s the people who count the votes.”
“It’s not the voting that’s democracy, it’s the counting, Archie says.” — from Jumpers, a play by Tom Stoppard, 1972.
“Indeed, you won the elections, but I won the count.” — Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza (1896-1956), Guardian (London), 17 June 1977.
The deployment of Vice-Chancellors and other ranking university staff to serve during Federal and State elections conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was a novelty introduced by the immediate past National Chairman of INEC, Professor Attahiru Jega, a Professor of Political Science, former President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and former Vice-Chancellor, Bayero University, Kano, in northwestern Nigeria. The thinking of Professor Jega was probably to the effect that University dons would not mortgage their hard-earned reputation and thereby destroy their careers by indulging in electoral malpractises. This has turned out to be a very wise decision by Professor Jega as the deployment of Vice-Chancellors has helped in improving the credibility of the elections conducted by INEC.
This novel idea has been continued by his successor as the INEC Chairman. A public endorsement of the use of Vice-Chancellors and other university dons as returning and/or collation officers by INEC was applauded by no other person than the former Head of State, General Abdulsalami A. Abubakar, GCFR, at a lecture he presented on ‘Collaborative Peace Building in Nigeria’ at the University of Ibadan on September 21, 2018.
I try as much as possible to take some notes which hopefully someday will form my Memoirs when I grow up. One of those points I try to put down has to do with my experience as the State Collation and Returning Officer for the Ekiti State Governorship Election of July 2018. I have refrained from making any public comment on the issue since it was a subject of litigation before the election tribunal, the Court of appeal and finally the Supreme Court. Now that the matter has since been disposed off, I feel confident to talk about it.
The election of a governor for Ekiti State in southwestern Nigeria is an off-season election, no thanks to the annulment of the 2007 governorship election in the state by the Court of Appeal. The presumed winner of that election, Dr Kayode Fayemi, did not take up the position until 2010 when the various court cases were concluded at the Election Petition Tribunal and the Court of Appeal. He, however, lost his re-election bid for a second and final term four years later and it is to his eternal credit that he acted as a statesman by conceding defeat immediately the election results were announced. The winner of that election was Mr Peter Ayodele Fayose who had previously served as Governor from 2003 till 2006 before he was impeached by the State House of Assembly. His second and final tenure was to end in October 2018.
For the records, Ekiti State is a rather compact and linguistically homogeneous State where all the indigenes speak the same Ekiti dialect of Yoruba language. The 2018 Ekiti State Governorship election, being an off-season election attracted the attention of the entire country. Other states where off-season governorship elections are held in the country include Anambra in the South-East geopolitical zone, Edo and Bayelsa in South South, Kogi in North Central and Ondo and Osun in the South-West.
I received a letter dated 7th July 2018 from the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, appointing me as the State Collation and Returning Officer for the Ekiti State Governorship Election scheduled for July 14, 2018, in Ado Ekiti. The guidelines and responsibilities were equally attached.
There was a hitch with the scheduling as I was already billed to travel to the United Kingdom on 11th July 2018 to attend a meeting of the Council of the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) holding in London on Friday, 13th July 2018. Meanwhile, there was also supposed to be a series of events in London organized by the University of Ibadan Alumni Association from 17th to 21st July 2018, including a reception by the Nigerian High Commission, appearance at the Chatham House Royal Institute of International Affairs and the House of Commons. The ACU had already sent my confirmed e-ticket, with my departure date from Lagos set at 11th July and the return from London being 23rd July.
Nonetheless, I considered the kind invitation extended to me by the INEC Chairman as a call to civic duty and responsibility. Hence, I did not hesitate to accept the invitation. Invariably, I arrived in London in the early hours of Thursday 12th July 2018 on a British Airways flight and attended the ACU Council meeting the following day. The meeting ended at 5 pm and I left from there straight to Heathrow Airport. I only missed the dinner organized by the Secretary General of the ACU. In effect, I decided to interrupt my UK trip by arranging for another flight that would depart London in the evening of Friday 13th July 2018.
The London-Lagos Virgin Atlantic flight was to depart London by 10:30 pm on Friday and arrive in Lagos at 5:35 am the following day. There was an indefinite delay of the flight as we were made to know that the engineers had to fix some problems with the aircraft. Time was tickling away and the possibility of an outright cancellation of the flight was very real. The waiting period was most frustrating for me. I thought of getting in touch with the INEC Chairman in Abuja to intimate him of my being unable to be at Ado-Ekiti because of my flight delay. Eventually there was a divinely dramatic intervention, as we started boarding at about mid-night. I was relieved that after all I would have an opportunity to carry out this all-important national assignment.
Happily all went well with the flight and we arrived Lagos safely at about 6: 30 am, just an hour behind the original schedule. In order to save time, I had ensured that I travelled light with no checked-in luggage. The driver and a security detail were already waiting on me at the airport. We soon hit the Lagos-Ibadan dual carriage way. There was a heavy traffic build up but luckily we got to Ibadan about 10 am. A second security detailed joined us at the Iwo Road Interchange and we continued our journey to Ado Ekiti.
The Ekiti State Resident Electoral Commissioner, Professor Abdulganiy Olayinka Raji, who up till the time of his appointment was the Head, Department of Agricultural and Environmental Engineering at the University of Ibadan, had despatched additional security team to join us and lead us to Ado-Ekiti. Prof Raji has a reputation for integrity and very good work ethics.
We had to traverse Effon, Ekiti West, Irepodun, and Ado Ekiti Local Government Areas, respectively before we arrived at the INEC State Headquarters. Everywhere we observed that voting was going on smoothly with a heavy presence of security personnel to maintain the peace. We arrived at the Ekiti State INEC Headquarters, in Ado Ekiti safely, at about 12:45 pm. I met a number of colleagues from the University of Ibadan who were to serve as Ad-Hoc INEC Staff in various parts of the State. Accreditation of voters was to end at 2 pm. I was duly briefed by the State Resident Electoral Commissioner and some of the National Electoral Commissioners as to my involvement as the State Collation and Returning Officer.
All the Collation Officers for the 16 Local Government Areas were staff of the University of Ibadan! No less than 200 other senior members of our staff served in different capacities, at the instance of the National Chairman of INEC. My colleagues gave very good accounts of themselves, like they have always done in similar INEC assignments in other parts of the country. No single adverse report was made on any of them by any of the 35 political parties that fielded candidates in the hotly contested election. It was an exciting experience to all of us for being part of this national assignment conducted with due diligence, high level of integrity, dedication and exemplary behaviour.
The election was adjudged by independent observers as free, fair and credible, although there were reported cases of violence and ballot snatching in a number of polling units. The results from such polling units were cancelled by the Returning Officer. The election was keenly contested, especially between the candidates of the ruling party at the state level, His Excellency, Professor Olusola Eleka who was the sitting Deputy Governor and the candidate of the ruling party at the federal level, Dr John Olukayode Fayemi. The latter had previously served as the Governor of the State from 2010 till 2014, However, he lost his re-election bid. He was subsequently appointed the Minister of Mines and Steel Development. He resigned his ministerial appointment to contest the governorship election in May 2018.
Ekiti State has 16 Local Government Areas, 177 Registration Areas (Wards) and 2,195 Polling Units. The total number of Registered Voters stood at 913,334.
The pre-election campaign was tension soaked, being seen as a sort of referendum of the ruling political party at the state level (Peoples Democratic Party, PDP) and the ruling political party at the federal Level (All Progressive Congress, APC). In the calculation of the two parties, the Ekiti election was seen as strategic since there would be national election the following year. The out-going Ekiti State Governor, Mr Peter Ayodele Fayose, had also given the impression that the contest was between himself and the President of the Country, Mohammed Buhari, GCFR.
I left the premises of the INEC State Headquarters at about 6:30 pm and proceeded to Afe Babalola University Guest House where accommodation had been arranged for me for the night by INEC. The National INEC Commissioner, Mr Kuyebi, had rightfully suggested that the collation of results should only commence after at least 80% of the results from the Local Government Areas had been received. Meanwhile, the State Resident Electoral Commissioner and members of his team were monitoring the progress with collation of the election results at the polling units, wards and local government areas.
While collation of the election results was still on-going, the State Governor, Mr Ayodele Fayose went on the State Radio and Television Station to announce what he claimed to be the election results, declaring his Deputy as the winner. This raised the tension to unimaginable levels. The National Broadcasting Commission clamped down by closing down the Ekiti State Radio Station with immediate effect.
A security team was sent to bring me from the Guest House to the State INEC Headquarters at about 12:30 am, Sunday morning. Each of the Returning Officers from the Local Government Areas was called to present his result. The first Local Government Area whose results were declared was Ilejemeje and this was at about 2:45 am while the last was Ado-Ekiti, which accounts for nearly a quarter of the total voting strength of the entire state, at about 6:00 am. The programme was covered live on television.
In absence of any credible opinion polls that the public could possibly rely on, it turned out that, in good agreement with the pre-election forecasts, the election was keenly contested between the APC and the PDP. The APC won in 12 out of the 16 Local Government Areas while the PDP led in the remaining four. None of the other 33 parties made any significant impression.
The total number of accredited voters was 405,861 while the total valid votes were 384,594. On the other hand, a total of 18,857 votes were rejected, The APC candidate scored 197,459 votes while the PDP candidate recorded 178,114, representing a difference of 19,345 votes. It is trite to point out that the difference in votes recorded by the two leading candidates was higher than the total number of rejected votes.
The winner of the election recorded 51.3% of the total valid votes while the runners up polled 46.3%. The other 33 political parties only recorded marginal performances, with them sharing the remaining 2.4% of the valid votes.
I had the privilege, as the State Returning Officer, to announce the winner of the election the candidate who had satisfied the electoral guidelines notably scoring the highest number of votes and scoring at least 25% in all the 16 Local Government Areas (as against the minimum requirement of scoring 25% of the votes in two-thirds of the LGAS) as Dr Olukayode Fayemi, of the All Progressives Congress at exactly 8:00 am on Sunday, 15th July 2018.
After breakfast at the Office of the Resident Electoral Commissioner, I went back to my Guest House to pick my luggage for the return trip to Ibadan. We left the hotel at about 10 am that morning and saw detachments of broom-wielding party enthusiasts celebrating the victory of their party in the just concluded elections (The broom is the symbol of the APC).
In spite of the apparently free and fair election, one was surprised to hear of loud cries of rigging by some of the parties that lost in the election. Happily, the electoral law has ample channels through which the aggrieved parties could ventilate their grievances rather than opting for self-help.
I wish all of us a great evening listening to our 2019 Convocation Lecturer, Professor Attahiru Jega, OFR.