Yesterday’s ruling of the Ondo State Election Petition Tribunal declaring Labour Party’s Dr. Abdulrahman Olusegun Mimiko Governor of Ondo State brings to an end the first round of the battle for the soul of theSunshine State. In this report, Senior Correspondent Olukorede Yishau digs into the root of the titanic battle for the soul of the state.
In the beginning
On May 14, 2007, exactly one month after the governorship election in Ondo State, Labour Party’s governorship candidate in the State, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko formally filed his objection to the election result declared by the Independent National electoral Commission (INEC). Mimiko, that day, forwarded his petition to the Justice Garba Nabaruma-led Ondo State Elections Petition Tribunal. And that marked the beginning of the battle for the soul of theSunshine State. By yesterday when the verdict was given, the legal battle for the soul of the 32 year-old state had lasted all of 436 days.
His battle was prosecuted by respected legal minds such as Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), Yusuf Olaolu Ali (SAN) Oluwarotimi Akeredolu (SAN), Tayo Oyetibo (SAN), Femi Falana, Dr. Olumide Ayeni, Yinka Adeyosoye, Aderemi Olatubora, Tunde Atere, Opeyemi Fadoju, and Yesiru Oladele.
There were 18 respondents in all in Mimiko’s petition. Of course, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate in that election, Dr. Olusegun Agagu, was the first respondent. His party was the second. Other key agencies, which played vital roles in the election such as INEC, the Nigerian Police, the Nigerian Army and the Nigerian Navy were also respondents.
Mimiko said, in his petition, that Agagu was not duly elected or returned by the majority of lawful votes cast at the Ondo State governorship election held on Saturday, 14th April 2007. He also said that he did not satisfy the requirement of scoring at least 25 per cent of the total number of lawful votes cast in at least 12 of the 18 local government areas of Ondo State contrary to Section 179(2) Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999.
Agagu, said Mimiko, carried out acts which clearly violated and breached the various provisions of the Electoral Act, No. 6, 2006, such as rigging and manipulation of election results, unprecedented acts of violence, thuggery, abduction and coercion of opponents, as well as unlawful interference in the electoral process by political office holders in Ondo State.
Specifically, Mimiko requested that "the result of the Governorship election of 14th April, 2007 in Ondo State for the entire four respective local governments areas of Ese-Odo, Irele, Ilaje and Okitipupa, Ayede/Ogbese Ward 02, Ayetoro Ward 03, Iluabo/Eleyowo Ward 06, Moferere Ward 08 and Oke-Iju Ward 12 (5 Wards), in Akure North local government area, Ajowa/Igasi/Eriti/Gedegede Ward 05 of Akoko North West local government area, Edo 01, Ekan 02, Ikado I ward 03, Ilepa I ward 05, Ilepa II ward 06, Oorun III, Oorun II ward 12 and Oyinmo 13 (8 wards) in Akoko North East local government, Oke-Igbo I ward 07, Oke-Igbo II ward 08, Oke-Igbo III ward 09 and Oke-Igbo IV ward 10 (4 wards) in Ile-Oluji/Oke-Igbo local government area, Ago Alaye 02, Araromi Obu 04, Ayesan 05, Koseru 07 and Oniparaga 09 (5 wards) in Odigbo local government area, and Afo ward 01 in Ose local government area, as declared and announced variously by the 3rd -14th Respondents be nullified."
In clear terms, Mimiko asked that he should be declared the Govmajority of the total number of lawful votes cast as well as at least 25 per cent of the said total number of lawful votes cast, in at least 13 of the 18 local government areas of Ondo State at the April 14 election.
"In further alternative to (vi) above, that the said election in the said local government areas, wards, units and or centres be voided and or set aside and a fresh election ordered.
"In further alternative to (vii) above, that a fresh election be ordered throughout Ondo State for the election of the Governor of Ondo State in accordance with the provisions of the Electoral Act, No. 6, 2006," said the LP candidate.
Harvest of losses
Before yesterday’s ruling, the PDP had not had a good outing at the tribunal. There are nine House of Representatives seats in the state. Six had been nullified; two were upheld and one seat became vacant because of the death of its representative, late Col. Anota. Those nullified are: Ilaje/Ese-Odo represented by Hon. Agboola Ajayi, the Chairman, House Committee on Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC); Akoko North East/West represented by Mr. Gbenga Elegbeleye, Vice Chairman, House Committee on Sports; Chief Jones Akinyugha, representing Idanre/Ifedore constituency, Prince Abiodun Adesida representing Akure North/ South, Dr. Tayo Fawehinmi representing Ondo West / East Constituency and Emmanuel Adedeji representing Odigbo/Ile-Oluji/Oke-Igbo Federal constituency.
kitipupa/Irele Federal Constituency and Ose/Owo Federal Constituency.
In the House of Assembly, the party has ‘lost’ seven of its 15 seats; they are: Okitipupa I, Okitipupa II, Ilaje I, Ilaje II, Akoko North West I, which is the constituency of the Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Ifedore and Ese-Odo. Originally, the party had 16, but one became vacant following the death of Hon. Akin Alasoadura representing Akure North State Constituency. He died shortly after the election. Labour Party has nine seats and Alliance for Democracy (AD) occupies one seat.
The PDP also had one of its three senatorial seats nullified and a fresh election ordered. The affected district is Ondo Central occupied by Senator Gbenga Ogunniya. There are no petitions against the elections in Ondo North Senatorial District represented by Dr. Bode Olajumoke and Ondo South Senatorial District represented by Senator Hosea Ehinlanwo.
About 54 petitions were filed before the tribunals, out of which the PDP has recorded 12 losses so far. Although the party succeeded in safeguarding some of its victories, which were contested by the opposition, the losses are considered to be alarming. The tribunal has nullified the 12 seats based on substantial non-compliance with provisions of the Electoral Act, 2006.
April 1 gave a foretaste of what was in the offing for the PDP when the tribunal sacked the lawmaker representing Okitipupa I, the constituency of Governor Agagu. The tribunal held that credible election did not take place in the constituency during the exercise.
ccupied by a PDP lawmaker, Mr. Pius Adebusuyi, the tribunal ordered that LP’s Mr. D.Oloyelogun be inaugurated as the lawfully elected candidate for the seat at the House of Assembly. Fresh elections are to be conducted to fill other vacant seats in the State House of Assembly.
It was established that the Police connived with PDP chieftains to manipulate some of the nullified elections. An Assistant Commissioner of Police, Mr. Chris Oloyede, was castigated by the tribunal for signing result sheets as agent of the Peoples Democratic Party.
Said the tribunal: "It is incomprehensible that a whole Assistant Commissioner of Police could descend so low to be acting as a party agent. He was simply in a class of his own. There was violence and corrupt practices as the election was characterised by acts inimical to free and fair election. The non-compliance is substantially established and had affected the result of the election." The tribunal, in another judgment, also berated the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Yemi Alao, for violating Section 46 of the Electoral Act, 2006.
The drama, the intrigues
The case witnessed a lot of drama. It really was very dramatic. Some of Agagu’s witnesses collapsed like a pack of cards under the weight of rigorous cross-examination. Some even refused to testify after seeing the experience of Professor Emmanuel Adegbeyeni, a supposed professor of Computer Science who could not operate a computer and .Dr Gabriel Apata, a lecturer at the Joseph Ayo Babalola University, Ikeji-Arakeji.
The two were called to prove to the tribunal that the forensic reports carried out by Adrian Forty and tendered by the LP were manipulated and should not be relied upon. Adegbeyeni, who told the tribunal while being led in evidence that he scanned 350,320 ballot papers used for the election, said he could not analyse the scanned ballot papers because they were covered with dust and were not well stored. Adegbeyeni could not say when he became a professor. It got to a stage that the chairman of the tribunal asked him to stop behaving like a fisherman.
Apata, on his part, ran into trouble many times as the results of his analysis did not tally with the coding of the units and the wards. He claimed the problem was typographical.
Agagu on Monday, April 7, opened his defence. The defence team of the governor, led by Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), called 44 witnesses who told the Nabaruma-led tribunal that election was free and fair. Other lawyers who held the governor’s brief include Adeniyi Akintola, SAN. One of the witnesses, who is also the traditional ruler of Iju-Oke in Okitipupa Local Government Area, told the tribunal that an 80-year-old witness called by the LP was only being economical with the truth when he said voting did not take place at all in the area. The monarch added that people came out on the election day to cast their vote for candidates of their choice. However, he confessed under cross-examination by the LP’s legal team f the PDP.
Another witness called by the PDP attempted to debunk LP’s claim that a commissioner in Agagu’s cabinet, Mr. Ayo Ifayefunmi endorsed result sheets. Mr. Oluwasiji Ifayefunmi, who claimed to be a younger brother of the commissioner, stunned the tribunal by claiming that there were five Ayo Ifayefunmis in the family. Another witness, a former chairman of Okitipupa Local Government Area, Chief Ayeniyi Olayeye, used the same tactics to clear another confidant of the governor, Mr. Fola Ewegbemi of allegations of signing the result sheets. He said there was one Folabayo Ewegbemi, while there was also Folasakin Ewegbemi. Olayeye said it was Folabayo that signed the result sheet and not Folasakin, the special adviser to the Chief of Staff who the LP said signed the result sheet..
Mr. Adrian Forty’s expert report shows that: "the sheer volume of the multiple votes identified it was clear that they were not random instances of persons merely seizing the opportunity of casually casting more than one vote but the result of a determined and systematic operation on a grand scale in the areas examined." The total ballots examined by the British forensic expert was183, 219, while the total ballots with multiple votes (all of them for Agagu) was 84, 814. The percentage of the total ballot papers examined with multiple votes was 46.29 percent. Total ballot paper with no image (that is, blank ballot papers or ballots cast for other candidates other than Agagu was 37, 053, while those with insufficient details and found to have overwhelming multiple thumbprints was 61, 352.
The forensic report shows that in Ayetoro Ward 3 and Iluabo/Eleyewo Ward 6, among many other wards in the disputed LGAs, wards and units, INEC Register of Voters was replete with several thousands of irregular voters comprising national and international figures—dead and alive, babies, toddlers and children, as well as, inanimate objects. All these images were harvested from newspapers, magazines and calendars and scanned into Voters Register under fictitious names.
Several thousands of thumb-printed ballots bear the defunct NECON and NEC stamps instead of INEC stamp. Several thousand ballot papers carried no Presiding Officer stamp or signature.
Forty took a swipe at Nigeria’s electoral process saying that it needed urgent reform and a lot of control in order to curtail the high incidences of irregularities inherent in the system.
Mr. Forty explained how he was able to identify cases of multiple thumb-printing done in favour of Dr. Agagu. In his statement-in-chief, which was taken as read by the Justice Garba Nabaruma led Tribunal, the British finger print and handwriting expert told the court that over 80 percent of the votes allotted to Agagu in all the disputed areas were got through multiple thump-printing using all forms of unconventional objects. Forty told the court that in the process of carrying out the massive thumb-printing, he stumbled on widespread usage of objects such as pebbles, palm kernels, cashew nuts, wood, candle which were used to vote instead of human thumbs.
Forty gave the percentage of the multiple thumb-printing local government by local government as follows: Akoko North East, 58 percent; Akoko North West, 27 percent; Akure North, 50 percent; Ese-Odo, 67 percent; Ilaje, 46 percent; Ileoluji/Okeigbo, 45 percent; Irele, 47 percent; Odigbo,49 percent;
Okitipupa, 36 percent; and Ose, 42 percent.
The making of the Labour Party
That the LP has given the PDP a scare in Ondo State is a fact the ruling party hardly admits in the open. The party came into existence in Ondo State four months before the last general elections. It had existed at the national level; it used to be known as Party for Social Democrats (PSD). Its antecedents stem from a rich heritage of progressive and labour-based intervention in national politics.
Its fortunes soared when it adopted Mimiko who resigned as the Housing Minister under President Olusegun Obasanjo. The formerly obscure party became the thorn in the flesh of the PDP in Ondo State. Its rise was an unprecedented occurrence in the political story of Ondo State and perhaps in Nigeria. At a well-attended rally in Akure on December 14, 2006, Mimiko emerged as the Party’s gubernatorial candidate for the State.
Key PDP chieftains such as the former state chairman of the PDP, Alhaji Alli Olanusi, LP’s chairman in Ondo State, Dr. Olaiya Oni, Olatubora and many others crossed to the LP to organise it.
PDP’s loss, LP’s gain
Really, the LP owes its strength to the schism within the PDP in the state. After the 2003 elections, many chieftains of the party felt they had not been adequately compensated for the role they played in Agagu’s emergence as governor.
But perhaps the most devastating effect of the crack was the defection of Mimiko to the LP, which set the stage for the Mimiko versus Agagu battle.
When Agagu was being sworn-in on May 29, 2003, Mimiko, popular as Iroko, was visibly present. Shortly after that day, Agagu announced the appointment of Mimiko as the secretary to the state government. It was expected, and for those in the thick of things in the then Ondo chapter of the PDP, the announcement was only a formality.
However, exactly four years later, when Agagu took his oath for a second term of office at the Akure Sports Complex, Mimiko had started the battle to unseat Agagu. And this fact was obviously at the back of Agagu’s mind as he concluded his 16-page inaugural address that day. Agagu had observed: "Our collective victory in the April 14, 2007 elections deserves to be celebrated because it is a major triumph of good over evil. The new dimension of thuggery, arson and violence recently introduced into the political landscape of our peaceful state is very disturbing and frightening. We must remind ourselves that elections were conducted in 1999 and 2003 without this form of violence, arson and destruction.
"Over-ambitious people for reasons best known to them introduced violence in their desperate bid to capture power by all means possible. It is very sad to witness a situation whereby thugs paraded our streets with dangerous weapons in broad daylight. We thank God Almighty that the temporary insanity has abated and pray that it never rears its ugly head again in our dear state."
Really, all through the 2007 inaugural address, Agagu neither mentioned Mimiko nor the LP, but the bulk of his concluding statements were directed at Mimiko and the LP.
In the spate of a few years, the relationship between Agagu and Mimiko went a full and vicious circle.
Their ‘romance’, in a way, began when Agagu as minister showed interest in running for the office of the Ondo state governor in 2003, a position he failed to clinch in 1999. Then he was the PDP candidate. Mimiko, at the time, was a key member of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) and he gave his support to the late Adebayo Adefarati, who later appointed him the Commissioner for Health.
Significantly, by the time Agagu showed renewed interest in governing Ondo State, Mimiko too was tired of the Adefarati government, which had by then been enmeshed in the popular ‘Plot 90 Gate’ scandal. Agagu chose that time to indicate his interest in taking over from Adefarati, despite the belief of his wife, Funke that he was doing well in Abuja as Minister of Power and Steel. She even cried when he resigned as Minister to come and take a shot at the state’s number one seat for the second time.
But Agagu’s mind was made up and Funke’s tears could not change that. One thing that was clear to Agagu then was the fact that he needed political alliances with prominent people in the state to realise his ambition. Mimiko was one of such people considered as important to realising the ambition. And with the involvement of people like Dr. Olu Agunloye, who replaced Agagu as the Minister of Power and Steel, an accord was struck with Mimiko and thus began a romance, which many believe was key to Agagu dislodging Adefarati in the 2003 elections.
Agagu won. Adefarati lost. Mimiko became the SSG. The going was good; no grumbles, no complaints. That was in the beginning.
Mimiko was the apple of Agagu’s eyes. Yes, the deputy governor, Otunba Omolade Oluwateru comes second on the order of preference. But when Mimiko was the SSG, he represented Agagu at many occasions and gave a good account of himself to the admiration of his boss, who saw him as a brilliant man.
Mimiko, too in the good old days, had tremendous respect for Agagu. The Nation gathered that the idea of calling the initiative to rescue the state’s education sector, RESULTS, was Mimiko’s. The other name toyed with was Education Plus, before Mimiko’s was accepted as superior. Mimiko also contributed to the administration’s Road Map to Progress, which mapped out what the administration wanted to achieve within a specified period of time.
Trouble started rearing its ugly head sometime in 2004 when some people close to Mimiko started telling him that Agagu would go for a second term of office. Ordinarily, there was nothing wrong with that. But Agagu and Mimiko’s romance was not without conditions. The main condition was that Agagu would only serve a term of office and support Mimiko to take over from him in 2007.
Sources close to Mimiko revealed that the Ondo town born politician did not take serious those who first hinted him that Agagu would go for a second term. He was said to always waved off any mention of it, insisting that Agagu was not one to go against his word.
But time reveals the hidden. So it was in the case of Agagu and Mimiko. The governor confirmed it to Mimiko that the people of the state wanted him to continue and conclude the reforms he had started. Mimiko expressed his disappointment. Agagu stood his ground.
From then on, the battle line was drawn. Mimiko continued his job as the SSG, and was still representing the governor at events. Only those within knew of the crisis.
While the matter was yet to break loose, there was a scandal at the Ministry of Housing and Mrs. Mobolaji Osomo, the minister in charge of the ministry was relieved of her job by then President Obasanjo. Osomo is from Ondo State. Her sack thus gave Agagu the chance to nominate someone else to take over the slot. Agagu nominated Ambassador Bayo Yusuf, an economist who was Nigeria’s ambassador to Togo.
But Yusuf was not destined to be a minister under Obasanjo. So, when he appeared before the Senate for his screening and clearance, as required by law, Yusuf came down crashing. He lost the chance. He was disqualified. So, there was still a vacuum.
In the midst of this labyrinth of confusion, Mimiko was said to have met with Agagu and asked that he should be nominated for the ministerial slot, as a way of settling their wrangling over the issue of second term. Agagu, The Nation learnt, refused, telling Mimiko that he was sure he would go to Abuja to make money and use it to fight him in 2007.
The matter got worse from then. And somehow Mimiko, without Agagu’s support, was nominated by Obasanjo as minister and confirmed by the Senate, after he dazzled them at the screening.
After this, Agagu organised a welcome ‘party’ for him when he returned to Akure after he was sworn in. The two estranged ‘lovebirds’ even rode in the same open roof jeep, waving at enthusiastic people of Ondo State.
From then on it appeared both men were facing their jobs in Akure and Abuja. But some pointers showed that all was not well. One of such was Agagu’s sack of some people believed to be Mimiko’s loyalists. The then editor-in-chief of the state-owned Hope newspapers, Mr. Bode Betiku was believed to have lost his job on this account. Betiku, not long after his sack started publishing Compass Mail, a newspaper, which sees nothing good in the Agagu administration.
When few weeks to the expiration of the constitutional date that a contestant was expected to resign his or her appointment in order to be eligible to run for the office of the governor and Mimiko was yet to throw in the towel, some believed that perhaps Obasanjo had prevailed on him not to contest. Yet, some of his supporters had by then resigned from the PDP to become members of the LP. Mimiko resigned before the date lapsed and headed home to battle Agagu, who had by then picked up PDP’s ticket. The LP offered Mimiko its ticket.
The future of Ondo politics
Certainly, the future of Ondo State politics has really been altered by the tribunal’s declaration of Mimiko as the governor of Ondo State. It may never remain the same again.