By Tonnie Iredia
On Saturday, June 25, 2012, President Goodluck Jonathan gave a solemn assurance at a political rally in Benin City that the Edo State Governorship election of July 14, 2012 will be a ‘one man one vote’ affair and that it would be free and fair. Some two weeks earlier, Vice President Namadi Sambo in a similar rally at the same venue had made the same pledge.
The National Chairman of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) Alhaji Bamanga Tukur had urged his party’s campaign committee for the same election to work towards victory on the same basis of one person per vote. Interestingly, many people in Edo State see their current Governor, Adams Oshiomhole as the architect of the over popularized one man one vote.
At the same time, his biggest rival, General Charles Airhavbere has since his emergence as the PDP candidate made the same point that the determination of his party to ensure that the one man one vote philosophy prevails is the main reason why he is so confident that he would win the election. It would therefore look like an understatement to suggest that ‘Edo 2012’ as the coming Governorship election in the State is now tagged would be the freest in Nigerian history.
But then, a visit to Benin City will show to any observer that the prospects of a hitch-free and fair exercise are exceedingly slim. To start with, the posture of the average politician in the State is not in any way conducive for the attainment of one man one vote.
Some influential people in the State are already unduly influencing the vote of the ordinary people. For instance, members of the PDP appear provoked by two factors to do whatever to win the election because they believe that they won the last which the current State Government snatched through judicial victory. They also seem anxious to prove to President Jonathan that his party members in the state are mountain movers.
In the circumstance, one man one vote may be a casualty more so as the allegation that the PDP is made up of riggers is yet to disappear from the sub consciousness of the citizens of the state. Incidentally, more than half of the members of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) moved there from the PDP. Indeed, some are members of one party in the day time while they belong to the other party at night.
Consequently, both parties now have their fair share of riggers who may also be experts in similar tactics. It also means that it is only in the rigging strong holds of the ACN that the PDP would have difficulty in rigging and vice versa. Why then would those of us outside the state believe in the common slogan of one man one vote of the two combatants?
If the PDP has shown signs of determination to take back power, what the ACN portrays is desperation to hold on to power. Some analysts may have imagined that the Comrade Governor would not seek a second term because when he was new in office, he reportedly said that it is only those who fail that seek to repeat.
In his 4th year in office, the Governor is now seeking to repeat notwithstanding his daily propagation of an excellent performance. He has undertaken perhaps more campaigns than most of his challengers although he earlier said that it is his projects and caterpillars that would campaign for him. Everything has been thrown into the business- public institutions and structures, vehicles and personnel thereby stretching the advantage of incumbency beyond rationality.
Overwhelming taxes which hitherto pitched several professional groups-lawyers, doctors, teachers etc against the Governor are being relaxed in this electioneering period. So has it been with the demolition of houses that were ‘courageously’ done earlier to beautify the State Capital; thus making the one man one vote slogan a victim of perverse desperation.
While there is nothing wrong in educating their members to appreciate the essence of elections, the Nigerian Labour Congress- the Governor’s former constituency is exercising a militant peer pressure on workers that would no doubt adversely derogate from the beauty of one man one vote. We can only hope that PDP’s General Charles will not also resort to his former constituency
Perhaps the most harmful of the undue influences that would characterize the coming election is the open partisanship of traditional rulers. Apart from his Royal Majesty, Omo N’Oba N’Edo, the revered Oba of Benin who issued a public statement to clarify his position and maintain his neutrality as the father of all, most other so-called royal fathers have in this electioneering period been made to publicly proclaim support for each of the candidates who comes calling with exorbitant gifts.
It is instructive that the candidates of the financially poor parties are not similarly patronized. Meanwhile the uneducated, the poor and the unexposed rural dwellers who are supposedly part of our so-called one man one vote scheme are virtually hypnotized by the awe of the ‘companions of the gods’ Our people are so exploited because pervasive poverty is still the lot of many of them. With poor public enlightenment, many rural dwellers donot register to vote. For such citizens, it is one man, zero vote.
The few who vote, wrongly thumb-print and invalidate their ballots. To this group, it is one man with a cancelled vote. Others are either too poor to find any means of livelihood or are so greedily in search of immediate cash flow that they sell their voters’ card for whatever fee which are then used to vote by other persons in our one man one vote elections.
Only last week, the State Government had to issue a statement to condemn those who claimed to be buying voters’ cards on behalf of the Governor. May be our our friendly Police Force is already on top of the matter and therefore set to ensure one man one vote because last week it was reported that they arrested six members of one of the parties for allegedly ‘buying’ voters’ cards but no one was arrested for selling to them!
Sadly, such electoral malpractices occur because the new gadgets of our electoral body like the magical DDC Machines which should have created a framework for nullifying such acts are only as efficient as the ill-fated Dana aircraft. That is why INEC cancelled the update of the voters register for Edo 2012 before it found that the allegation which influenced its decision was false.
The week before, I almost believed that nothing would hinder our one man one vote arrangement following the ease with which the NYSC Director General persuaded INEC that his corpers were incapable of doing any evil. A few days later, the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) in charge of Edo State, Kassim Gaidam, behaved as if he doubted the NYSC as he was reported to have warned the angel- corps members in the state not to derail the electoral process during the July 14, governorship election. Now, I know better.