Next week, voters in Osun State will go to the polling booths to elect a governor that will take charge of the affairs of the state in the next four years.
In recent weeks, public interest in the election, slated for July 16, has gathered momentum, especially on social media, while stakeholders have intensified preparation to achieve a hitch-free exercise.
Following some of the observations in the recent gubernatorial election in Ekiti State, which, according to reports, was characterised by inducement of voters, manipulation of election results and late arrival of election materials in several local government areas, stakeholders have called for an improvement in the conduct of the next poll.
Cases of voter inducement were widely reported in the four successive governorship elections conducted in the country since 2016 – in Edo, Ondo, Anambra and Ekiti states, and the trend is on the rise across Nigeria.
The two major parties in the country, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and All Progressives Congress (APC), have been accused of engaging in massive vote-buying, with videos showing how money was shared to the electorate to influence their voting in the Ekiti gubernatorial election.
Many experts and election observers believe that the July 16 poll will not be different despite assurances by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to plug all loose ends.
They urged INEC to put in place a mechanism to check irregularities and restore confidence in the voting process, especially with the signing into law of the amended Electoral Act, which would allow for electronic mission of results.
Governor Gboyega Oyetola of the ruling APC, who controversially won in 2018, after defeating Ademola Adeleke of the PDP, is standing for re-election.
Adeleke had won the initial election as declared by INEC, but was defeated in the rerun by Oyetola to succeed Rauf Aregbesola, who ruled the state for two terms.
The rerun was called after the first round was declared inconclusive on account of Adeleke’s margin of victory being smaller than the number of cancelled votes in seven polling units.
However, pundits predict that just like in 2018, the contest would remain a two-horse race and a straight contest between PDP’s Adeleke and Oyetola.
In the last few days, there has been an altercation among the candidates as they tour the state to sell their manifestos to the electorate ahead of the election.
Oyetola remains confident of his chances of winning a second term based on his achievement, which he says gives him advantage compared to other contenders.
Similar confidence is being expressed by Adeleke, who recently boasted in a viral video on social media that he had come to the state with dollars and all kinds of foreign currencies.
He stressed that he was ready to win this time round, having narrowly lost the 2018 gubernatorial election.
According to INEC, a total of 1,955,657 registered voters are eligible to participate in the Osun gubernatorial election, while 15 political parties would present candidates for the election.
Speaking recently on the conduct of the election, Festus Okoye, INEC national commissioner, said the commission was ready to conduct a free and fair poll, stressing that it would use the Biomodal Accreditation System (BVAS) for the authentication and verification of voters.
Okoye said the election would be conducted within the ambit of the Constitution, Electoral Act, INEC’s regulations and guidelines.
He stressed that the election would be free, fair and transparent, adding that mock exercise and accreditation with BVAS would be done before the election day.
“We have the power to do what is right and we will put everything in place to do that,” he said.
Observers are of the view that there was a need for voter education to be intensified so that vote buying would not dominate the process.
Although INEC had said in the past that it had no powers to punish electoral offenders except with the collaboration of security agencies, observers have said that some of the commission’s officials were colluding with the political parties and their candidates to undermine elections.
Tope Musowo, a public affairs analyst, told BusinessDay: “You know the candidates and parties are always moving a step ahead just to beat INEC. But I expect the commission to be more proactive; part of the problem, I believe, is the refusal of the commission to punish electoral offenders.
“I was in Ekiti in the last governorship election and saw things for myself and realised that in some polling units, they were sharing money in the presence of security agencies and INEC officials and nothing was done.”
Tade Ademola, a politician and public affairs analyst, suggested the reduction of the number of party agents at polling units to two each to curb chaos and other malpractices.
“INEC will need to do better than the Ekiti election and ensure that the lapses witnessed in Ekiti election do not repeat themselves,” he said.