By Ismaeel Uthman
A Hindu born civil right activist
and anti-colonial nationalist,
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was known for his nonviolent resistance to lead the successful campaign for India’s independence from British on August 15, 1947. Widely known as Ghandi, the civil right activist said in one of the gatherings of the 90-year-old Indian Independence Movement that “A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.”
To alter the course of history, there must be epoch-defining public events — those with significance that cause personal memory and history. The course of history was transmuted in Osun, a state in the South-western part of Nigeria, on November 27, 2010.
Like Ghandi said, a small body of determined, focus, plucky and progressive spirit of Rauf Aregbesola, the then commissioner for works in Lagos state, with the tireless, unwavering, undaunted and ever militant members of the Action Congress, as then was, led the movement for the alteration of history in Osun.
Aregbesola and the AC members did not set out to alter history in the real sense of it, rather than taking over government of the state from the dreaded Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in 2007. The focus was to win the April 14, 2007 governorship election as the flag-bearer of the AC and administer the state in line with his manifestoes. Nothing more! Aregbesola was oblivious of the fact that the master of fate wanted more than just a victory for him – he wanted to reshape history for his cause.
Aregbesola was contesting against a retired general, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola, the PDP candidate who was seeking a second term. Earlier before the election, President Olusegun Obasanjo as then was had on Saturday, February 10, 2007 declared the April general election a do-or-die affair. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had a compromised willing political tool as its head. All the state machineries were not in favour of Aregbesola. What the AC candidate had was just ‘the people’ who were more than willing to vote out the PDP government. The people actually voted for Aregbesola on the war-like election day, but their votes were not counted, as INEC declared Oyinlola as the winner of the election.
On the election day, AC party agents in Igbajo, Ayobami Oni, popularly called Ayo Kemba, was gunned down, Samson Olanrewaju was shot dead in Ile-Ife, Saheed Adebiyi was also killed at Okeroko polling unit in Ikirun, among other people were killed.
The outcome of the election was rejected by the people: protest engulfed almost every town and city of the state, the state became unsettled for weeks. The PDP deployed police to clamp down on the protesters. Aregbesola was arbitrarily declared wanted by the police. In a secrete video recorded by unknown person, Oyinlola was seen directing the military and police in Ilesa to declare Aregbesola wanted and hold him responsible for the violence protest after the governorship election.
According to the Chairman of Campaign for Democratic and Workers’ Rights (CDWR),Comrade Rufus Olusesan at a press conference on May 9, 2007, the police charged over 400 persons to court for political related offences at the instance of the PDP controlled government within a week.
After the governorship election, Aregbesola approached the Osun election petition tribunal to reclaim his stolen mandate.
His grounds of petition was that the governorship election was rigged in 10 local government areas of the state – AtakumosaWest, Ayedade, Boluwauro, Boripe, Ife Central, Ifedayo, Ife East, Ife South, Isokan and Odo-Otin. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had recorded 253,789 votes for Oyinola, in the 10 affected councils, while it recorded 41, 923 votes for Aregbesola. He asked the court to declare him as the validly elected governor of Osun State.
Few months into the legal battle, scandal rocked the election petition tribunal, led by Justice Thomas Naron. The tribunal was alleged to have been compromised by Oyinlola’s lawyer, Mr. Kunle Kalejaiye, a senior advocate. Both Naron and Kalejaiyewere exchanging phone calls and text messages, through which they plotted to ensure victory for Oyinlola at the expense of Aregbesola. The popular ‘call log’ saga and unprofessional conducts of the duo was published by a Magazine ‘TheNews’ in July 2008.
Following the publication of the The News magazine, a group of civil right activists under the umbrella of Campaign AgainstCorrupt Leaders (CACOL) wrote a petition in which they demanded the disbandment of the Justice Thomas Narontribunal. The activists, led by Comrades Debo Adeniran and Waheed Lawal trooped out in their large number to submit the petition to the registrar of the Osun High Court, Mrs OloyedeFolaran. After the submitting the petition, a team of armed policemen, led by Mr Johnson Moronike, the then Commissioner of Police stormed the court and arrested 24 of the civil right activists. They were detained for a week at the State Criminal Investigation Department before they were charged to court. The president magistrate at the court then, Justice JideFalola remanded them in prison for a total of five weeks.
As envisaged (based on the established compromise), the Justice Naron led tribunal threw out Aregbesola’s petition and affirmed Oyinlola as the winner of the April 14, 2007 governorship election in 2009. The judgment left the entire Osun community a very gloomy mode. It was a miscarriage of justice, said Aregbesola.
Aregbesola and his party rejected the verdict of the tribunal and approached Appeal Court for redress. After months of legal batter, the appeal court on March 30, 2009 in a unanimous decision, ordered the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Umaru Abdullahi as then was, to constitute a fresh election petition panel to re-try Aregbesola’s Petition, just as it chided lower tribunal for not giving Aregbesola fair hearing.
The petition was retried by a five-man panel that included Justices Ali Garba, Benedict E. Agbattah, Ismaila H. Bashir, Muhammad T.M. Aliyu and Abimbola O. Obaseki. The retrial panel in its judgment on May 28, 2010 said it found no merit in the petition and accordingly dismissed it again.
Being dissatisfied and aggrieved, Aregbesola and the AC filed an appeal against the decision of the second tribunal. Their Notice of Appeal dated June 14, 2010 was filed on June 16, 2010. This notice of Appeal is at pages 546-601 of volume 7 of the Record of Appeal. On November 26, 2010, the Appeal Court a verdict read for about five hours, declared Aregbesola the winner of the April 14, 2007 governorship election and ordered that he should be sworn in immediately.
As directed by the court, Aregbesola was sworn-in as the fourth Executive Governor of the state on November 27, 2010 at the Technical School playing ground. The venue was filled to capacity and the air became thicker for breathing.
While fighting to regain his mandate, Aregbesola was incessantly harassed. He was once detained and charged to court on frivolous petition. His supporters were equally hounded, arrested and detained on trumped up charges, the popular of which was on the fictitious car bomb said to have occurred in a Peugeot 505 car that exploded at the Ministry of Water Resources on June 14, 2007. The Chairman of the defunct AC, Alhaji Moshood Adeoti; AC Secretary, Prince Gboyega Famodun, AC Director of Publicity, Research and Strategy, Sunday Akere; Elder Sunday Laoye and the Spokesperson of Oranmiyan, a socio-political group, Mr. Gbenga Fayemiwo, were arrested, arraigned and remanded in prison over the bomb blast.
The protracted legal batter was a long walk to freedom, but it opened a new clean chapter in Osun politics and government. Aregbesola would have been sworn-in on May 29, 2007 had the election was not rigged, like other former and governors. He would not have had a date to himself in history. Aregbesolawould have become governor, but may not be popular, shining and influential as he is now. He might not have become the Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Aregbesola made another history by handing over to a successor of the same progressive fold, Mr Adegboyega Oyetola on November 27, 2019.
Speaking on November 27, a former commissioner for Information and Strategy in the state, Mr Adelani Baderinwasaid: “It was a unique day that Osun’s bondage of socio-political servitude was broken, as a brazenly stolen democratic mandate was restored the previous day and new Governor with sentimental feelings for people’s well-being was installed. It was the day Osun crossed from economic emptiness to one of marching on the path to prosperity. It was one day that celebrations seized everyone in the state, particularly Osogbo, as their sense of fulfilment got rekindled with the restoration of political mandate they freely gave to a certain civil rights activists by name Rauf Aregbesola some 42 months earlier. November 27 has come stay in the anal of Osun. It’s unlikely there will be another like it soon.”
One could not but agree with a Jamaican political activist, publisher and journalist, Marcus Mosiah Garvey Jr who said “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” November 27 is a date with fate for Aregbesola.