In exactly two months less one day from today, two men will engage in a fight whose prize is the Osun State governorship seat. Actually, ‘fight’ puts it really mildly; elections in Nigeria are bitterly contested. With sights of soldiers, policemen, civil defence officers, polling booths are almost like battlefields.
Even the primaries that produce governorship candidates are contested with acrimony; there is hardly a governorship primary in the two leading parties where at least two candidates don’t withdraw on the D-day — at least one contender and at least one pretender, at least one in protest and at least one more in another candidate’s interest. No party should go through all the pre-primary hullabaloo and in the end still fail to present the people a candidate they can truly be proud of. Unfortunately, the exact opposite is what has come to define Nigerian politics; in Osun, the scenario is about to get even worse. The two leading candidates who emerged over the weekend for the September 22 governorship election are contrasting in their specifics but similar, first, in their dubious process of emergence and, next, in their overall failure to inspire hope.
Isiaka Adegboyega Oyetola emerged candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) on Friday with a suspicious primary result. To his credit, Oyetola has been in politics for a long time, yet has never contested for a political office. He was involved in the June 12 struggle and in the founding of the Alliance for Democracy; he was a chieftain of the then Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) that fused with other parties to form the APC. His multi-decade political involvement without an attempt at competitive political office gives the impression he is a builder, a man who pulls the strings from the background rather than takes the glory as a frontrunner.
Unfortunately, eight years as Rauf Aregbesola’s chief of staff is a huge splotch on his credentials. Aregbeola’s Osun State is about the least financially sustainable state of Nigeria’s 36; strike out the Federation Account Allocation Committee (FAAC) disbursements and Osun is dead to the bones. Oyetola has been part of all this; whatever he wants to offer Osun over the next four years, and maybe another four, can be nothing more the Aregbesola years, which he has been an important part of. Therefore, a vote for Oyetola is one for many years of unpaid salaries for the long-suffering Osun public workforce.
Although he consistently denied it in the lead-up to the primary, Oyetola is the anointed of Aregbesola and, more importantly, of Bola Tinubu, the APC national leader. The official line out there is that he is cousins with Tinubu but an unofficial, little-known story is that the consanguinity with Tinubu runs even deeper than cousinship. As governor, therefore, Oyetola would be dancing in the public arena to beats from the drums of an unseen bystander. With the APC needing to consolidate its grip on federal power, despite the emergence of the CUPP and R-APC, and the resurgence of the renegade n-PDP, a lot of money will exchange hands ahead of 2019. Osun under Tinubu’s Oyetola will be a ready ATM point for this grand mission.
Not only are these scenarios for an Oyetola governorship troubling, his governorship candidature is itself dubious. At Friday’s primary, Oyetola polled 127,017 votes to leave his closest challenger — Yusuff Lasun, with 21,975 — in the dust. Najeem Salam, speaker of the Osun State House of Assembly, occupied third place with 17,958 votes. The votes of these three top candidates make 166,950. Really? Can the APC in all conscience claim to have 170,000 CARD-CARRYING members in Osun State? This is very much in doubt. Further fertilising this doubt are the reports of vote buying and illicit voting by non-partisan individuals and unregistered APC members, in exchange for cash. It is already confirmed that APC membership cards were hurriedly arranged for some non-partisan prospective voters with the promise of N10,000 each. This is in addition to reports of vote buying by the aspirants. It looks like Oyetola has come to equity with unclean hands; should he emerge governor, the people of Osun must not forget that nothing but stench can stem from filth. By the way, these claims are no defence for Lasun, the deputy speaker of the House of Representatives, who was first runner-up in the APC primary. Lasun hasn’t washed himself clean of alleged involvement in a N1.1 billion water scam uncovered by New Telegraph newspapers.
Just like Oyetola, ‘dancing senator’ Ademola Adeleke’s emergence as candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on Saturday was dubious. On first count, PDP said he polled 1,569 votes, while his closest challenger, Akin Ogunbiyi, polled 1,559 votes. But when the votes were recounted for confirmation, PDP’s final announcement was that Adeleke had 1,569 votes to Ogunbiyi’s 1,562. Too close for accuracy but that is not the problem. The problem is that 56 votes were voided, meaning Adeleke’s seven-vote victory margin is suspect. But even that can be overlooked as well.
The cardinal issue is that Adeleke is not prepared for governorship. Here is a man who was in political oblivion just 15 months ago. Had his brother Isiaka, the senator, not died in April 2017, this would probably have remained so. Since riding on emotional votes to win the resultant by-election and replace his brother at the Senate, the younger Adeleke hasn’t been heard contributing to any debate on a bill on the floor of the house or sponsoring one himself. All we have heard about him so far is ‘dance, dance, dance!’ For how long shall a man dance his way to glory?
His reason for seeking the governorship seat surely rank among the most comical in Nigeria’s political history. “We held a family meeting to seek God’s guidance on the governorship issue and we said let all of us pray and fast for 40 days for a divine direction from Him and it was when we got a clear signal that I came out to announce that I will contest the Osun governorship election,” he told his party two months ago. “During this period of the 40 days of prayers and fasting, we the Adeleke’s made a covenant with God that we shall alleviate the suffering of the people of Osun.”
Had God said otherwise, Adeleke wouldn’t have heard — because his late brother wanted to become governor and his life since April 2017 has been all about living out the rest of Isiaka’s earthly life.
Osun is in serious economic peril due to a combination of low internally generated revenue (IGR) and huge indebtedness to the federal government. It is one of the 17 insolvents states of the country — states that generate less than 10 per cent of their Federation Account Allocation Committee (FAAC) receipts. It generated N6.4 billion throughout 2017, just 8.45 per cent of its federal allocation of N76 billion. Of the N1.938 trillion disbursed by FAAC to states in the first quarter of 2018, Osun received the lowest net share of N4.99 billion — at least 10 times lesser than the N50.44 billion received by Akwa Ibom — representing a variance of 920 per cent between the highest and the lowest. It is also one of 18 states where projected revenue is less than 40 per cent of the 2018 budgets. Without mincing words, the people of Osun are in the soup! The mere administrative running of such a state alone — to forget poverty alleviation or infrastructure development for a moment — is a monumental challenge that can neither be resolved by the dance steps of a governor chasing the political fantasies of his late brother nor one who will be nothing more than the puppet of the grandest godfather of Nigerian politics.
Sadly, it appears that in Osun, September 2018 will be about choosing between the devil and the deep blue sea. That’s what we did with the presidential election in 2015, and we’re still smarting from the consequences.
‘Fisayo Soyombo, former editor of the TheCable and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), tweets @fisayosoyombo