By Tonnie Iredia
Any citizen who attempts to answer the question crafted as the topic of this piece, is likely to ordinarily support the necessity for elections. Indeed, some would argue rightly that apart from the ‘Sovereignty of the people’ and the ‘Rule of law’, the other major pillar of democracy is ‘Free and fair periodic elections.’
But then, in countries where elections cannot produce majority rule by ensuring that the acclaimed winner of a contest scored the highest number of valid votes, a claim to having free and fair elections is dubious. In a democracy, election is a game not war whose conduct must be premised on specified rules that all the actors, not only some, must obey in fulfillment of the classification of democracy as the politics of equality.
If we must call a spade by its name, what the unending plethora of electoral malpractices in Nigeria clearly indicates, is that the country is yet to enthrone a system of free and fair elections and that she cannot therefore be genuinely located among democratic nations. In other words, our continuing pretence of holding elections now and again, cannot cure our democratic deficiency. We either reverse the trend or leave elections alone.
As the nation prepares for Edo and Ondo governorship elections, the usual ominous signs are already palpable. Understandably, tension over Edo elections are more obvious since her contest is the nearer of both. Whereas the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has given assurances of her commitment to a free and fair contest, there is nothing on ground to confirm that the assurances can on its own, translate to even the likelihood of an acceptable general standard of good election management.
In 2016, INEC similarly gave such assurances but at the end, no one knew if that body was in charge as the election was suddenly postponed without her knowledge or consent. It was like drama when INEC chairman Prof. Mahmood Yakubu stood visibly shocked over the breaking news of postponement only after he had a few hours earlier, in Benin City, confirmed the umpire’s readiness for the election.
What can INEC do if the same actors reenact their expertise? Can the commission which does not have its own law enforcement framework stand any onslaught on its men, materials and processes? It is hard to comprehend Nigeria’s electoral process which can afford to undermine the referee.
Some Edo citizens should by now be apprehensive considering the plans already made public by the two leading parties, APC and PDP, to mobilize the entire nation for a purely state election. While the PDP has so far said its South-South governors would be available for the election, the APC has already named almost 50 of its dreaded professionals as members of its campaign team who would shortly head to Benin.
With the state already heated up, no less than two months to voting day, we can hardly rule out the possibility of an inconclusive first round. If that happens, as it did last year in Kano and some other states, the cognate experience of Governor Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano in dealing with inconclusive elections may come handy for the APC. Ganduje who heads the APC campaign team was himself elected after a first round inconclusive bout.
At that time, the Commissioner of Police in the state who was generally applauded for refusing to allow election malpractices was suddenly not allowed to superintend over the security of the rerun.
In the campaign team, Ganduje is not the only old player in the game. His vice, Governor Hope Uzodinma of Imo State not long ago, miraculously became the winner of his own election from his previous 4th position according to INEC’s collation of total number of votes cast.
Emeka Ihedioha who was the candidate declared by INEC as winner at the time, was removed by the judiciary through a judgment which approved a fresh collation of votes that surpassed in certain centres, the number of both the registered and accredited voters. Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State is also a potent member of APC’s first eleven election coaches.
During his own election, Kogi citizens witnessed for the first time in history “bullet-shelling” on voters from the sky through helicopters. His opponents are till date, yet to find enough proof of malpractices alleged in their election petitions! In truth, the above experiences of only 3 of the long list of members in the APC campaign team are enough to send shivers to not just their opponents but to ordinary citizens – the grass in the fights of the elephants.
It is however gratifying that a statement credited to Abbas Braimah, secretary of the campaign team has explained that while the team will do its best to ensure APC’s victory, it would also respect “the will of Edo people.”
The PDP will expectedly offer similar schemes and assurances as she too is not a push-over in election violence and manipulation. There are reports already on the structure of her Governor Wike-led campaign team whose details would become clearer shortly. Although the party is no longer in control of instruments of coercion, she is no doubt the traditional teacher of strategic skills in election rigging in the country.
In other words, as energetic as the APC may appear to be, we all know that the route of the present journey is a familiar terrain to the PDP which puts many Edo citizens in frenzy while leaving a few in a state of unusual calm. Already, there are questions which the elite may consider naïve but which make sense to the poor.
Some are asking if it is not more economically sensible to invest the humongous costs of elections in uplifting the down-trodden instead of wasting them on phony elections? What counters the rather pertinent question is that there still has to be an election to pick a governor to manage the envisaged investment bringing to the front-burner, the real issue at stake in the forthcoming Edo election.
The current state governor, Godwin Obaseki was first elected under the banner of the APC. About 3 years after what the average Edo citizen sees as robust governance premised on even and sustainable development, the party started moves to cut short his tenure. Unfortunately, his offence of allegedly not carrying the party along which to the ordinary citizen means refusal to allocate state resources to party gladiators is transparently welcome.
But with the formidable team which the APC has convened to work against Obaseki, can he survive? This question becomes better appreciated when it is realized that statesmen of Edo origin in the APC such as Chief John Odigie-Oyegun and Prince Tony Momoh who earlier cautioned against the removal of the governor are now reportedly included in the APC campaign team.
If they succeed in stopping the governor’s reelection will that not make his successor to, out of fear, divert state resources from societal development to the private pockets of party leaders? If that happens, what will be the sense in electing a governor that will not be allowed to manage the state’s investment and then what exactly would be the gain of election?