As the Ahmed Markafi-led Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) awaits the Appeal Court’s judgement on the rightful candidate of the party in the forthcoming governorship election in Ondo State, the state’s Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Mr Olusegun Agbaje, has assured that the commission would not hesitate to comply with the court’s order.
Agbaje gave the assurance on Thursday during the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room Dialogue with INEC on Ondo State Governorship Election supported by the British Department for International Development (DFID) in Abuja.
It would be recalled that INEC had replaced the name of Eyitayo Jegede, who is the PDP factional candidate in the November 26 poll with Jimoh Ibrahim following a Federal High Court judgment.
The REC, who also assured that INEC would be non-partisan in the forthcoming election, stressed in an interview that court order would be adhered to.
“That is why the commission has put in bracket ‘By Court Order’ in front of Jimoh Ibrahim’s name but other 27 candidates do not have such. The reason is that it was the court judgment of that day that forced us to say it is this person, and that means that if another higher court now comes with a judgment that Eyitayo Jegede is the candidate, we will shift over.
“Last week, when the rioters came to our office, they even forced me to make a commitment that what if the Appeal Court says it is Eyitayo Jegede, I said the commission cannot say no and I said even if the commission says no, I will stand by the commission,” he said.
He, however, described the allegation by Jimoh Ibrahim that he was a card-carrying member of PDP as falsehood, saying that at the appropriate time, he will take action.
“I have never met Jimoh Ibrahim in my life; I have never spoken with Jimoh Ibrahim in my life. At the appropriate time, Jimoh Ibrahim will hear from me.
“Having spent about four and half years in INEC, I have never seen the membership card of any of the parties. So whether it is green, yellow, brown, blue, I don’t know. So for somebody to now say blatantly on the television that I am a member of their party, that I used to attend their meeting. Somebody I have never seen in my life, somebody I have never spoken to in my life, there is no iota of truth in that,” he said.
He said he had already written a letter to the INEC chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, on the development.
Agbaje said the commission is prepared to conduct a free, fair and credible election, promising that the commission “will also give all the parties equal ground to operate.”
“What is within the purview of INEC, we will do very well. Even some of the things that are not within our purview of security, we are partnering very well with other security heads to ensure that we have a peaceful election. The politicians too should be prepared for the election; those who are going to win and those who are going to lose should be ready to allow peace to reign in the state,” he said.
He said INEC has produced a very credible register of voters for the conduct of the Ondo poll in the 18 local governments totaling 1, 659, 186.
The REC, however, enumerated the challenges facing the electoral umpire as the attitude of politicians and lack of adequate capacity to deal with electoral offences.
Speaking, the Convener and Executive Director of Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC), Mr Clement Nwankwo, said the meeting was organised for civil society organisations (CSOs) in the country to understand how INEC is preparing for the election, “how it is trying to overcome the challenges that have come up, especially in recent elections and how will it achieve a credible election in Ondo later this month.”
He said the recent development in Ondo State where people took to the streets over court’s judgment calls for concern, hoping that Nigeria will get to a level where election disputes are fought in the court rather than on the streets.