By Olufemi Ezekiel
Let me start by congratulating the Ogun State Governor, Prince Dapo Abiodun, on his successful swearing-in ceremony for his second term. It’s a well-deserved victory. And it calls for celebration because since the outcome of the March 18, 2023 governorship election, the opposition especially the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Oladipupo Adebutu and his cohorts, have been preoccupied with frivolous and baseless agitations, so much so that they have even become a huge public nuance or an embarrassment to the state.
Adebutu started his wrongdoings by leading the social unrest against the duly constituted authorities in the state, making incisive statements, and unsubstantiated claims. Lately, he took his irrationality and eccentricity a nautical mile further, alleging that some people were after his life.
For what? For filing a petition before the governorship election petition tribunal to challenge the victory of Governor Abiodun who was declared as the winner by the Independent National Electoral C omission (INEC). For crying out loud, an election is not a war but a contest. And in any contest, there must always be a winner and a loser. Either way, it is only fair for the winner to be magnanimous in victory, while the loser accepts defeat in good faith with the spirit of sportsmanship. If that has been the case, then where is the threat coming from? And for what?
If in the worst scenario, you have enough evidence to upturn the victory of the winner at the tribunal or the Supreme Court for that matter, decency and decorum demand that you give the judiciary the benefit of the doubt to determine the validity of your case. This, Adebutu, did not do. Instead, he threw caution into the wind, trying like those the Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, described as Fascists who wanted to intimidate the judiciary to do their bidding. What an aberration! In any normal clime; Nigeria is one, the judiciary is seen as the fulcrum of democracy. But here we are watching the theatre of the absurd where one terrible hell-raiser is trying to co-opt everybody into believing that he won the election even when judges have not sat on his case. Queer and strange!
Let’s even concede that you had a good case and confident that you would win the case, why would anybody want to kill you? Frankly speaking, Adebutu needs help because such a weird thought clearly manifests political neurosis arising from emotional instability. By exhibiting this psychological disorder, his activities have come the butt of derisive jokes.
In the first place, why would you be spoiling for war over a matter that has not been decided? For all I know, Governor Abiodun has been so preoccupied with the task of governance with a renewed determination to deliver on his electoral promises to justify the confidence reposed in him that he wouldn’t have time for any frivolity. So, looking at the scenario with an analytical mind, all the hullaballoo about the threats to life doesn’t add up because, in the first instance, the governor has long extended an olive branch to all the candidates who contested against him in the election to join hands together to move the state forward. But Adebutu has remained adamant, constituting himself as a big threat to the prevailing peace and stability in the state by raising all forms of unfounded allegations simply because he could not come to terms with the quantum of money that has gone down the drain in desperation to win this election.
In one breadth, the news is all over the place that he has sent himself into self-imposed exile supposedly to escape being killed. And in another instance, there is a widespread report that he has been declared wanted by the police for the alleged infractions he committed during the election. Both ways, Adebutu has wittingly or unwittingly murdered sleep.
He who comes to equity, they say, must come out with a clean. Adebutu’s hands have been soiled in a dirty deal. He ignored the Electorate Act prohibiting vote-buying and indirectly used the money to lure the electorate. As the petitioner, he must be bold enough to come forth with evidence to be able to defend his position before the judiciary rather than resorting to cheap blackmail.
One of the downsides of the extant law is the seeming lack of capacity by the INEC to prosecute electoral offenders. For so long, there has been a clamour for the establishment of a special electoral offences court to facilitate a speedy trial of any erring individual caught to be manipulating the process but it has not seen the light of day. Otherwise, people like Adebutu would have been in jail by now for his willful subversion of the law of the land.
According to the new electoral law, vote buying is a punishable offence with either a one-year prison sentence or a fine of N500,000. Section 121 of the Electoral Act, reads in part: “Any person who directly, or indirectly, by his or herself, or by any other person on his or her behalf receives any money or valuable consideration on account of any person having voted or refrained from voting, or having induced any other person to vote or refrain from voting or having induced any candidate to refrain from canvassing for votes for his or herself at any such election, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a maximum fine of N500,000 or imprisonment for a term of 12 months or both.”
However, due to the absence of a strong political will to make offenders bear the consequences of their actions, people often commit various electoral offences and get away with them. Due to the lacunae, the Nigeria Police have called on the relevant authorities to commence an investigation into the over N2bn Adebutu allegedly spent on vote buying during the governorship election as well as the bank and a fintech firm aiding and abetting such a criminal act.
In a recently released statement, the police disclosed that their investigation and inquiry had revealed that the suspects were given the tier-one bank’s prepaid verve ATM cards, loaded with N10,000 each to induce the electorate to vote Adebutu as governor in the 2023 gubernatorial election.
The action of the security operatives followed the widespread accusation that Adebutu printed a total of 200,000 ATM cards in the name of an endowment scheme that was distributed during the governorship election to allegedly induce voters.
The recommendation for investigation was contained in an Interim Police Investigation Report dated May 12, signed by the Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP), Criminal Investigation Department, Ogun State, DCP Mohammed Babakura.
As the interim report revealed, Adebutu was said to have asked the bank for 200,000 pieces of ATM cards with the inscription “Dame Caroline Oladunni Adebutu Memorial Endowment Scheme”, with the sum of N10,000 in each card. While the request was said to have been made on February 27, 2023, all the cards were reportedly loaded on March 16 and 17, 2023.
“It is safe to infer that the purpose of the prepaid cards was for vote buying, this premise is also corroborated by the POS operators who stated that some of their customers who came to withdraw money using the aforementioned cards stated clearly that the cards were given to them as a reward for voting for PDP.
“Drawing from the statements given by the POS operators who are witnesses in this case, several funds withdrawal transactions were carried out before, during, and after the 2023 Gubernatorial election using the Dame Caroline Oladunni Adebutu Memorial Endowment Scheme prepaid cards containing ten thousand naira each however, not all of the cards could be successfully dispensed funds,” the report stated.
While it is the responsibility of security agencies to prosecute offenders in court, the full implementation of the Electoral Act has always met a brick wall. Good enough, the Police investigators said they had done their job covering all the necessary grounds against Mr. Adebutu. But who will bell the cat?
One cannot but blame the system for Adebutu’s legendary run of luck for evading the long arms of the law. In a smart move to cover himself, he has filed a suit against the Attorney General of the Federation AGF), Abubakar Malami (SAN), Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Usman Baba, Director of the Department of the State Services (DSS) Yusuf Bichi, and the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Abdulrasheed Bawa, over allegations of vote buying levelled against him.
Adebutu is praying the court to restrain any of the respondents (except the APC chairman) from arresting him, claiming that the allegation is a ploy to prevent him from prosecuting his governorship election petition against the governor.
While the intrigue lingers, Adebutu, who is now at large, is currently in a self-imposed exile cooling his feet. Yet, he has continued to claim that he fled Nigeria as a result of threats to his life. He had earlier told the police investigators, through his lawyers, following his invitation over the petition, that he was receiving medical treatment abroad.
All of this calls for a redefinition of the character of our politicians seeking election into public office. As they say, you cannot give what you don’t have. If a person of Adebutu’s cablire could condescend to the level of speaking with both sides of his mouth all in a bid to shift attention away from the atrocities he committed during the election, then one begins to wonder what would be the fate of the electorate who are yearning for good governance.
Whether in public or private life, an individual’s character matters. It is what defines the totality of who you are. A dishonest, corrupt, and inept political leadership cannot lead a state to grow.
What Ogun State needs at this time is a focused, visionary, and committed leader who has the pedigree to motivate everyone into action to attain a collective goal for the ultimate good of all. That is what Governor Abiodun represents in his desire to raise the threshold of good governance in the state. And no amount of distraction will make him abandon the task he has already started.
There is a crooked gang up against the state with so many concoctions of lies. But Governor Abiodun has remained unperturbed by the antics of his political adversaries. Rather, he sees it all as part of the desperation of the opposition to call a dog a bad name to hang it. Truly, the election was keenly contested but the victory recorded by the APC is incontrovertible. In the fullness of time, the judiciary will ultimately address all the issues of concern raised by those who are hell-bent on turning the table around by subtle blackmail or direct subterfuge.
But before then, Adebutu must be bold enough to demonstrate responsible leadership by absolving himself of the allegation of electoral manipulation and abuse of the law. For so long, he has been crying blue murder. He should be courageous as a leader to avail himself of the court process through which he can clear his name for any alleged wrongdoing. To build a nation of our collective dream, there must be full respect for the laws of the land. Doing otherwise would be a direct invitation to chaos. Nigeria has a manifest destiny among the comity of nations. And the only way we can unleash the potential for its greatness is through good leadership. A committed leadership whose focus transcends parochial self-interest and primitive accumulation of material things.
Regrettably, Adebutu’s attitude to issues is the direct opposite of these virtues. One, by ignoring the police invitation, he has portrayed himself as a questionable character. Also, by calling out his supporters against the constituted authorities immediately after the announcement of the election results, he has placed himself above the collective interest and aspiration of the people of the state. Some of his incisive commentaries against the INEC and the judiciary are also antithetical to the tenets of democracy. In a democracy, you cannot approbate and reprobate at the same time. To be a true Democrat, you must respect each department of government and give them the benefit of the doubt for them to perform their duties without intimidation. We are yet to see that in Adebutu and his cohorts.
Ezekiel wrote from Imeko, Ogun State