The Ogun State Police Command has filed charges of electoral malpractices, including a N2 billion vote-buying scheme, against Ladi Adebutu and his associates before the State High Court, in a politically unique enforcement of sections 121 and 127 of the Electoral Act 2022.
The charges against Mr Adebutu bordered on thousands of preloaded verve cards, with amounts ranging between N5,000 to N10,000, which flooded partisan circles during the election period.
Mr Adebutu, who was arraigned in absentia on Monday, contested the March 28 gubernatorial election on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) against incumbent Dapo Abiodun of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
He had previously been invited by the police on allegations of electoral malpractices and vote buying. The two-time contender left the country after the election in March and could not honour the invitation.
The allegations were first mentioned in a petition written by the state chairman of the ruling APC, Yemi Sanusi, against Mr Adebutu and his party, PDP. They were addressed to the Inspector General of police on election day.
There was an investigation by the state criminal investigation department (S-CID), after which Federal Ministry of Justice prosecutors filed charges.
The particulars of the charges read that Mr Adebutu had conspired with his associates to gift the verve cards, a new-generation vote-buying tactic, to prospective voters in violation of the electoral act.
The charge read, “… on or about March 18 at Ibara, within the jurisdiction of this honourable court did conspire among yourselves to corruptly give gifts in form of verve prepaid cards which had inscribed on them ‘Dame Caroline Oladuni Adebutu Memorial Endorsement Scheme for Less Privileged’ in order to induce voters to endeavour the return of the PDP candidate during the gubernatorial and state assembly elections in Ogun State.”
Mr Adebutu’s associates Ogunbona Hammed, Tiamiyi Waleed, Egunsola Owolabi, Sanni Adejoke, and Malik Badmus were present in court and were admitted to bail after pleading not guilty to the three count charge of bribery contrary to section 121 of the Electoral Act 2022 and undue influence contrary to section 127 of the Electoral Act 2022.
The prosecutors will need to convince the court that Mr Adebutu, on the day of the election, was roughly 53 kilometres away from his polling unit, travelling across three local governments to commit the said crime.
The arraignment could also cast public attention on the police and state prosecutors to follow the case to a transparent end to relieve the concerns of Mr Abiodun’s political opponents about the improper use of state institutions as a form of political intimidation.
Mr Adebutu is currently contesting the election results, which announced Mr Abiodun’s return for a second term before the governorship election petition tribunal.
In a widely controversial declaration, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared Mr Abiodun the winner, with 276,298 votes against Mr Adebutu’s 262,383.
At the time of the declaration, the commission had established that the margin of win was less than the number of voters who could not cast their votes due to violence and other factors.
The electoral umpire declared Mr Abiodun elected anyway, committing an aberration against its rules. A similar case in Adamawa was declared as inconclusive, with a rerun subsequently held.