2015 is a crucial year for Nigeria as the nation goes to the poll again for general elections. The expected change of guards at many political duty posts would obviously change the political landscape and colour given the idiosyncratic and eccentric manifestations in African politics that lay emphasis on personalities rather than institutions.
It is a year the whole world looks forward to as a defining moment that is capable of making or marring the continued existence or otherwise of the country given the multiform sectional and other divisive tendencies that characterise the jostle for offices in the country.
Of course, prelude to the nationwide electoral frenzy of 2015 is that of two important governorship polls coming up later this year.
Ekiti State is the first litmus test with the governorship election slated for June while the electoral wheel would roll to Osun in August.
These explain why politicians have once again come to town with their wiles and propaganda and in most cases seek to outwit one another in twisting situations and events to their own whims.
In Osun, as in Ekiti, calls for the rejigging of the state electoral officers have been on the increase.
Of particular note is incessant clamour by the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for the redeployment of the Osun State Resident Electoral Commission, Ambassador Oloruntoyin Akeju.
According to the opposition PDP chapter, the REC Chairman is said to be close to the former Governor of Lagos State and All Progressive Congress (APC) national leader, Senator Bola Tinubu.
That alone – though it remains yet an unsubstantiated allegation, the PDP averred as a prelude strong enough for them to believe Akeju would not conduct a free and fair election come August 9.
At this point, it is germane to scrutinize the clamour for the removal of Akeju which reached a ridiculous point when PDP leaders, followed by the Labour Party, out of the 25 existing political parties represented in the state, protested before the Chairman of INEC last month at the state capital Osogbo.
Granted that every allegation carries an iota of truth; it also carries with it substantial element of doubt.
This is why every allegation is investigated and every claim is verified for nothing else but their authenticity or otherwise before arriving at a conclusion and subsequently, a decision or action.
In the case of Akeju, there has been cataclysmic noise about his alleged association with Tinubu. Akeju has repeatedly refuted the allegation.
With the crescendo that the anti-Akeju songs have reached from the PDP and its few allies, one would have expected evidence of the relationship with the national leader of the All Progressives Congress to be brought forward to finally nail the REC and cause the headquarters of the electoral body to replace him.
In law, there is the doctrine that he who asserts must prove. This is a time tested rule of law.
What this doctrine connotes is that whoever alleges another of wrong doing must prove. The burden of proof therefore rests squarely on the PDP to demonstrate to the whole world that Akeju is actually compromised.
A clear instance of the above scenario was the allegation against Mr. Kunle Kalejaiye, who was the counsel to Governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola during the Oyinlola-Aregbesola legal battles.
Kalejaiye was the lawyer accused of having a telephone conversation with Justice Thomas Naron during the sitting of the Osun State Election Petition Tribunal.
Justice Narom was the Chairman of the tribunal that heard the petition filed by the then Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and its candidate, Rauf Aregbesola, against the election that got Governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola to office.
After a concrete proof of telephone conversation between Kalejaiye and Naron, the National Judicial Council (NJC) recommended Justice Naron’s sack after considering the petition against him. Naron was then a State High Court Judge in Plateau State.
That was why the Plateau State Governor, Jonah Jang, subsequently accepted the recommendation of NJC and sacked Naron.
The matter did not end there. A petition against Kalejaiye was also sent to the Legal Practitioners’ Disciplinary Committee to look into his conduct.
In Akeju’s case, till now, his accusers have been unable to bring forth a fragment of evidence to back up their claims.
Besides, one has listened to arguments and read numerous write-ups by different columnists – the most recent is that of Mr. Bola Bolawole, of Sunday Tribune, which is highly vociferous in its support of the PDP allegation – to be able to situate their concerns, or is it their care, anxiety, worry fear or apprehension.
All one could see was racked-up sentiment and emotion and nothing to substantiate the proof of Akeju’s alleged romance with a political leader of the opposition hue in the country.
What they want the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to do is just act on mere allegation or shall we say mere petition to redeploy Akeju.
From all intents and purposes, this will only set a dangerous precedent. We can easily imagine what the scenario can turn out to be if another person is deployed to Osun and some other parties or organisations write petitions questioning his own integrity? It means Osun can go on an endless circus of deployment and redeployment until August 9 when election will be held.
Jega’s response to the demanded removal of the REC is instructive. My following of the saga has shown that the Chairman of INEC has made it categorically clear that any of his officials accused of partisanship would not be removed or redeployed unless evidence is provided to back the allegations.
More so, the claim of a subsisting court order restraining INEC from recognising Akeju was clarified by the electoral body.
According to INEC, it has filed an appeal and filed a motion on stay of execution of the interlocutory order.
And court gave INEC a ruling, which granted a stay of proceedings pending the determination of the appeal. Legally, this means Akeju stays in Osun.
The basis of clamour is therefore non-existent. Even in such call there is contradiction. They are calling for a redeployment on the one hand and in the same breadth admitting that none of the allegations against Akeju has been proven to be true.
So, if the allegations are not true or their truth has not been established, why not wait until such a time they are proved before making the decision.
For Jega what the stakeholders need to do is to support the commission to conduct a free and fair poll.
To this end, INEC should not submit to any partisan call from any quarter before it carries out its constitutional duties.
We must admit one thing. Nothing says Akeju must remain in Osun. However, the redeployment of any electoral officer must never be based on unsubstantiated claims by politicians of all sides.
Again, what everybody expects from the electoral umpire is to act logically, rationally and in sensible manner during conduct of elections in Ekiti and Osun and other subsequent polls in the country.
In other words, rather than calling unnecessarily for removal or redeployment of any INEC official, all hands should be on deck to assist INEC and to see that INEC does what is just, fair and right to all participants.
This is a vital posture that can guarantee continued peace in Osun, Ekiti and the country at large.
INEC must realise it has a role in history. The survival of Nigeria largely depends on credibility and transparency of electoral cultures. From the emergence of credible leadership, we can expect good governance to bail our people out of the prevailing quagmire.
*Salawu, a Physician based in Dublin, Republic of Ireland, writes email@example.com