IN 2018, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and its candidate Adegboyega Oyetola needed a re-run, after the main election had been declared inconclusive, to defeat Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) flagbearer Ademola Adeleke.
Four years later, in 2022, there was no need for a re-run, but still, power changed hands – the incumbent APC administration lost to the opposition PDP.
The Osun State governorship election held on July 16, 2022, was just one of the few cases where the incumbent failed to win re-election since the return to democratic rule in Nigeria in 1999.
And it was largely unexpected, despite PDP candidate Adeleke’s considerable popularity among the Osun electorate. There were fears that the ‘power of incumbency’ and ‘federal might’ – two factors that have hitherto proved very influential in Nigerian elections – would be decisive in determining the outcome of the poll.
The fears came to the fore when, some hours before the announcement of the final result on June 17, protesters stormed the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) collation centre in Osogbo, the state capital, to demand that the election should end on first ballot. The protesters were worried about a repeat of what happened in 2018, when the election was declared inconclusive with Adeleke reportedly in the lead.
Responding to the protests, Supervising INEC National Commissioner for the election, Kunle Ajayi, a professor, assured that the election would end on first ballot.
INEC lived up to the promise, and the ghost of 2018 was buried when Adeleke was declared winner of the election. Oyetola’s victory following the controversial 2018 re-run was a very narrow one – he won the governorship election by scoring a total of 255,505 votes, while Adeleke got 255,023 votes. A difference of just 482 votes.
In 2022, a total of 28,314 votes separated Adeleke and Oyetola. The PDP candidate got 403,371 votes against 375,027 recorded by the incumbent APC flagbearer.
Ultimately, fears that INEC, the electoral umpire, would pander to the desires of the ruling party proved to be unfounded. Even with reports of cases of vote-buying and malfunctioning of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS), the July 16, 2022 Osun State governorship poll was a major improvement in elections conducted by INEC.
Opposition parties will go into the 2023 general elections with high hopes.
Implications for 2023 presidential election
Before the Osun gubernatorial poll, the 2023 presidential election was already shaping up to be a keen contest between the APC, the PDP and the new kids on the block, the Labour Party (LP) which is driven by a popular movement centred around Peter Obi, its presidential candidate. The New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP), another political party built around a popular personality – Rabiu Kwankwaso – is also expected to have a say in the election.
While the outcome of the Osun poll does not mean that size, structure and might are no longer critical elements in elections, it however shows that voters, more or less, cast their votes for individuals and not necessarily the political parties. In a free and fair election, a political party that parades a popular candidate will stand a good chance, size, structure and might notwithstanding.
APC presidential candidate Bola Tinubu’s presence in Osun on election day was expected to galvanise the electorate towards the victory of the party’s candidate, who also happens to be his close ally. Tinubu’s influential presence did not work the magic but, while the outcome of the vote does not amount to a verdict on his presidential ambition, some of his supporters appreciated the warning signals.
A Tinubu support group, Disciples of Jagaban (DOJ) has urged the supporters of the APC candidate to draw lessons from the Osun election in preparing for the 2023 presidential poll.
Reacting to the outcome of the election, National Coordinator of the DOJ AbdulHakeem Alawuje, in a statement, said, “All what is required now is, we only need to adjust against the future. The election has come and gone; it must not be a thing to worry about as sometimes challenges are good for one to plan for future challenge.”
“The Osun election must not be a wasted event, its a good lesson that should prepare us ahead,” he added.
If the APC was over confident of its chances in 2023, the outcome of the Osun election should make the party’s leaders realise that there is a need to go back to the drawing board. This is well understood by Adamu Garba, a former APC presidential aspirant. Reacting to the outcome of the election on Twitter, Garba said: “In the APC, we learn a lesson in defeat and ensure it never repeat itself again. However, it is important that we don’t take anything or anyone for granted ever again.”
But it appears APC national chairman Abdullahi Adamu is of a different mindset. Hours after INEC formally declared the PDP’s Adeleke winner of the election, the APC chairman claimed he was not aware of the development.
Asked to react to the outcome of the election on Arise Television on July 17, Adamu told the presenter – “With due respect, my dear brother, I am just really hearing this (result of the election) from you. I have not formally heard the announcement from INEC, which is the independent commission responsible for election in Nigeria. Once I hear formally from INEC, I can be in a position to answer this particular question.”
As of July 19 – three days after the election – the APC chairman has not reacted to the outcome of the poll.
It is understandable that the PDP would be basking in the euphoria of the victorious outing in Osun. The party’s leaders were quick to link the outcome of the poll to the forthcoming 2023 presidential election. “The PDP Nigeria family appreciates the good people of Osun for sending the signal that His Excellency Atiku Abubakar is coming,” Sokoto State governor Aminu Tambuwal said.
Considering that voters do not necessarily vote for political parties as individuals most times shape their choices, the outcome of the election cannot be relied on to conclude that the people of Osun would line up behind Atiku and the PDP in 2023.
Be that as it may, the election has given Atiku’s presidential ambition a big boost as Nigeria moves towards the election year. The South-West is considered an APC stronghold but following the Osun election the PDP has gained more grounds in the region. Before now, out of the six states in the South-West, APC controlled five while PDP had just one – Oyo State. Now PDP has two, Oyo and Osun. APC has four: Lagos, Ondo, Ekiti and Ogun. Gaining an additional state in the South-West is a positive development for Atiku’s presidential ambition.
Atiku will also be pleased with his ‘contribution’ in the PDP victory. Having been outside the country since emerging the party’s presidential candidate after the primaries, Atiku returned in time to lead the PDP grand rally in Osun on July 14. At the rally, Atiku insisted that Osun is a PDP state and urged the people to protect their votes to stop the APC from rigging the election.
It remains to be seen whether the people of Osun would also vote for Atiku in 2023 but the PDP presidential candidate will have high expectations from the state. Atiku’s wife, Titi, is also from Osun.
Despite the soaring popularity of its presidential candidate Peter Obi, the LP was not expected to put in a strong showing in Osun. It came to pass, with the party scoring less than one per cent of the votes cast.
Obi is insisting that what happened in Osun is not an indication of how the LP will fare in the 2023 presidential poll.
“The outcome of this particular election is not a verdict on our exponentially growing strength nationwide especially when viewed against the fact that we are barely one month old in the party and we had to contend with forces that have been entrenched in the state for the last two decades,” Obi said.
He urged his supporters to strengthen the collective resolve and not relent in the quest to “take back our country”.
Electronic transmission of results – the game changer
In the short period since it was introduced through the Electoral Act 2022, electronic transmission of election results has made a big difference. It will also make a big difference in 2023.
Before now, transmission of election results was done physically – electoral officers take result sheets from polling units to the collation centre. It was during the period of physical transmission that results are tampered with. But in Ekiti and Osun states, where elections have taken place since the introduction of electronic transmission, INEC was able to transmit results electronically to a central system. Once results are transmitted to the central system, even the collation officers would not be able to tamper with the figures, even if they wish to do so.
Electronic transmission not only improves transparency and credibility – it also makes the process faster. As a result, the results of the elections in Ekiti and Osun were ready by daybreak the next day.
Following the introduction of electronic transmission, INEC has been commended for the credibility of the results announced after the Osun election. “We note that the results released by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) are consistent with the results obtained through civil society-led Parallel Vote Tabulation process,” the United Kingdom (UK) Government said while reacting to the outcome of the Osun election in a statement released by the British High Commission, Abuja.
Buhari indifferent to outcome of elections
As he rounds up his administration, President Muhammadu Buhari seems to be becoming increasingly indifferent to the outcome of elections, notwithstanding the fortunes of his party the APC.
In four gubernatorial elections conducted since 2020, the APC has only won one – Ekiti in June 2022. The PDP has won twice – Edo in September 2020 and Osun in July 2022. The All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) also won one – Anambra in November 2021. The outcome of the elections reflected the pattern of voting, as well as the popularity of the candidates involved.
Buhari has not tried to use presidential might to subvert the results declared by INEC.
The President’s attitude towards elections appears to clash with the stance of his party, the APC. After INEC declared PDP’s Adeleke as winner of the Osun election, APC candidate and incumbent governor Oyetola refused to concede defeat. Rather, Oyetola said the APC leadership will study the result declared by INEC before responding appropriately.
But Buhari went ahead to congratulate Adeleke. According to him, the people of Osun have expressed their will through the ballot. “The will of the people must always matter and be respected in a democracy,” Buhari said, adding that his commitment to having credible elections in Nigeria remains unshaken.
Buhari’s disposition to elections will brighten the chances of opposition parties in 2023.