FEATURES: Ekiti/Osun governorship polls: What to expect

February 17, 2014

I was in the middle of my usual quiet hour of meditative thinking sometime on Sunday when the thought of the forthcoming governorship elections in Osun and Ekiti states overwhelmed me. Instantly, I became visibly worried. I was not worried because the election would be greeted with perils. Not at all! The nightmarish experience of the past, how the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) wavered in the face of daunting challenges, flooded my subconscious. I told myself that for INEC to get it right with the elections, after the Anambra debacle, it must do something extraordinary to regain the confidence of the electorate and the political

gladiators, and deepen our democracy. So, my thoughts are predicated on two planks. First: How INEC would be able to cope with the enormity of the task ahead and, second, what significance the forthcoming elections in the two usually volatile states portend for 2015. Would it be safe, then, to agree that INEC has the capacity to deliver or that the political class has demonstrated sufficient will to conduct itself honourably?

The truth that cannot easily be wished away is that the forthcoming elections hold great significance for our political development. And anybody that holds a different view should be living on a different planet. What we see and hear every day about the elections is enough to cause us some concern.    Who would not be worried when we consider the fact that the two states in question used to be the theatre of ogre spectacles and other violent disturbances during elections, particularly in the days of Operation wetie  in the early 60s and Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) in the 80s. Close followers of elections in Nigeria would recall how fiercely elections were fought in the Western part of Nigeria in those eras.

Flash your mind back to the 1983 governorship election in Ondo, when the state was set ablaze, figuratively speaking, after a futile attempt by the Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO, now INEC) to declare the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) candidate Akin Omoboriowo winner instead of the candidate of UPN, Michael Ajasin, who actually won the election, and you will appreciate my apprehension.

What saved Ondo from total cataclysm was the quick retreat FEDECO beat by declaring Ajasin as the real winner. It is important to state, nonetheless, that the present-day Ekiti State used to be an integral part of that Ondo State debacle in 1983 when the contentious governor-ship election under review was held. What happened in Ondo State almost happened in Oyo State, to which today’s Osun State belonged.

Hell was let loose when Victor Omololu Olunloyo of NPN was declared winner over the then incumbent, Bola Ige, of UPN. From facts on ground, there was no way NPN would have won elections in both states, because of the cult-like personality the then leader of UPN, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, wielded. He bestrode the political firmament of the entire west like a colossus, controlling what used to be known as the LOOBO states. For the sake of those who were not familiar with the political set-up of that time, LOOBO was the acronym for Lagos, Ondo, Ogun, Bendel and Oyo. So, it was difficult to imagine fro where FEDECO imported the idea to toy with the lives and properties of the people of Ondo and Oyo states by embarking on such hiatus. Even the courage or foolhardiness of FEDECO to attempt to break the continuity in the leadership of Awo in the LOOBO states was something nobody would have ever thought would happen. Though it happened, it was short lived and its impact catastrophic.

The period between 1984, when the military intervened again in Nigeria’s political life, and 1999, when civilians regained the reins of governance, has witnessed substantial transformation. The birth of Social Democratic Party (SDP) and National Republican Party (NRC) after the lull in democratic governance, occasioned by long presence of the military, brought about a new dimension to politics in the west. The two political parties provided the much-needed fillip that drove the eageness of the political class to ply their trade strictly along two wide spectra. This afforded the left wing politicians inroad into areas they never ever dreamt of reaching. This was what gave impetus to PDP to win four out of the five states in the present-da South-West geopolitical zone.

The annulment of the 1993 general elections, believed to have been won by Moshood Abiola of SDP, opened the West to new threats of violence. Even though the 1993 election was generally peaceful, free and fair its annulment ignited a violence of unprecedented proportions that almost sung the nation’s nunc dimitis. The 1999 elections almost followed the pattern of elections in the 80s, but commonsense prevailed since the people of the west were determined to leverage from the opportunity afforded them by the injustice of the annulled June 12 Presidential election. And so, not much violence was witnessed. What of elections of 2011? The West, which was predominantly AD, followed a well-written script that saw it voting massively for President Goodluck Jonathan (of PDP) in the presidential election. The decision to vote for Jonathan for the presidency and its (AD) candidates in other elections staved the tide of violence in the elections.

In my thinking, what happens in future elections, particularly in the governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun mid-year, is something everybody should be concerned about. We should not gloss over the fact that PDP and AD (now a member of the All Progressives Congress –APC) have been old rivals. This rivalry will definitely come to play in any elections that are held in the West.

Even commentators believe the out-come of the two elections will determine the direction the 2015 elections would ultimately go. But I have a different view. The 2015 elections will witness an inter-play of forces with varied interests that will decide which party carries the day. It is not going to be determined by just one factor. I expect a straight, fierce contest between PDP and APC. And the ultimate winner will be determined by performance. Let us ask a very simple and hypothetical question: Are the governors of the five states i the west performing? The answer is ‘yes’. How then will PDP be able to dislodge them? The answer too is simple: come up  with a realistic and functional winning formula, which space may constrain me to state publicly.

I regret to state here that PDP is finding it difficult to confront APC in the West, be-cause its governors did not perform when they wrested power from AD in four out of the five states the party controlled between 1999 and 2003. Rather they used their four-year tenure to squabble over inanities. Again, the dislodgement of PDP in Ondo, Osun and Ekiti through the election tribunals has left a deep cut in its flanks. It is yet to recover from the shock of the losses.

It is also painful that most of the big-wigs in PDP in the West dissipate energy in fighting one another, instead of the common enemy. This has left the party deeply polarized. Take, for instance, the crisis that has hit the Osun chapter of the party. The crisis was caused by selfishness. I have been left with no other choice than to reach this sad conclusion: If the party could not win elections when it was ostensibly united, is it now that it is fractionalized that it hopes to win? It is a pity that great leaders of the party, such as the former governor of the state and former national secretary of party, Chief Olagunsoye Oyinlola, have defected to APC. This has surely thrown up new challenges for PDP. What would have caused the party leadership not to broker peace before the defection of the political juggernauts? This is one question that has kept cropping up since INEC fixe dates for the governorship elections.

Lagos State has become a no-go area for other parties. Why is this so? What can be done to wrest the state from APC? This is the question many pundits have asked over the years. The secret behind the hegemony of AD (now APC) in Lagos has its root in the ideological and policy direction of successive governments in the state. All about leadership is performance. Any leadership that does not perform should not expect to enjoy the support of the electorate. The performance of the present administration in the state makes it a Herculean task for any other party to attempt to take over power from it.

I do not want to subscribe to undue emotionalism over the coming elections in Ekiti and Osun. The realities on ground are what I am espousing. It will be an exercise in futility for any party to hope to win without a well-defined, convincing an people-oriented programme. The aware and savvy political classes of both states make it difficult for anybody to try to pul the wool over their eyes. All they want to see is development and not promises. This is what will count on the day of election.

The aspect that poses the biggest worry is security. What role will security agencies play in the elections? It will amount to a huge tragedy if security agents allow themselves to be compromised. There is already a benchmark for the elections – the Edo and Ondo state governorship elections conducted in 2012. I do not want to include the Anambra State governorship election that was fraught with controversies. The Ondo and Edo governorship elections were conducted under reasonable freeness and fairness and were so accepted by Nigerians and the international community. What we cannot afford this time round is a deviation from the success already recorded in both elections.

The success or failure of the elections   rests squarely on the shoulders of INEC and security agencies. The commendable role played by each establishment in the Edo and Ondo governorship elections that made it successful showed that we could get things done the right way if we are committed. It is only when we shun selfishness and embrace patriotism that w can achieve development for our nation. Though we belong to diverse political interests we should place nation above self. This is why it behooves every Nigerian to see Nigeria as our collective patrimony and work for its greatness.

What should INEC do to conduct free and fair elections in the two states? First, it must be convinced within itself that it wants to conduct free and acceptable elections. It should then follow it up by perfecting its strategies to avoid any lacuna or act that may smear its hard-earned reputation. Second, it should constantly educate the electorate and contestants on their role in the elections and the consequences of shirking their civic duties. This should be extended to the security agents whose role is pivotal to the success or otherwise of the polls. Third, it should enlist the support of traditional rulers and religious leaders to help it in the enlightenment of their subjects and followers. Added to this is the need to design a special package for the youths who are usually malleable tools in the hands of unscrupulous politicians.

There is also the need for INEC to publicize voter registers to ensure that the mistake of Anambra State governorship election does not recur. It will be unpardonable for the commission if, at the end of the day, many of the voters could not find their names on the voter registers. Apart from its far-reaching impact on the overall election, such omission or commission amounts to deliberately disenfranchising the electorate whose primary duty is to elect leaders to govern them. We have reached a stage in this country where we should be seen to get our act together. We cannot afford to continue to make avoidable mistakes that imperil our fragile democracy.

As much as INEC has a big role to play the security agents must work conscientiously to complement it by ensuring that they operate professionally and fairly. It should not take sides with any political party or politician as this will bring them into conflict with the politicians and the masses. They should make adequate arrangements to proactively deal with identified threats from any quarters. They should not claim ignorance of the fact that some persons have stockpiled arms and ammunition for the elections  to cause a breach of the peace and scuttle efforts to achieve peaceful elections. It can achieve this by maximizing the intelligence network avail-able to it and conducting successful raids on the hideouts of criminal elements. It is gratifying to note that the government has provided sufficient logistical support t security agencies across the country to en-able them to discharge their constitutional duties efficiently. As a result, they do not have any reason not to perform.

The contestants themselves have a duty to ensure their supporters conduct themselves with decorum. They should bear in mind that win or lose the elections are not the end of life. There is always another opportunity for those who will lose to make up for their losses. What is paramount is to contribute their quota to the peace, progress and development of their state for which generations unborn will remember them.

I assure Nigerians of one thing: God has come to judgment in Nigeria and the era of impunity is gone and gone forever.


Last modified: February 17, 2014

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