BY CLIFFORD NDUJIHE, DEPUTY POLITICAL EDITOR
IF the words and assurances of the governorship candidates and leaders of their various parties were anything go by, the October 20 election in Ondo State will be peaceful and credible.
After complaints here and there, the stakeholders at a sensitisation workshop held in Akure, weekend, resolved to abide by the rules, shun violent language in their campaigns and help to make the polls peaceful, free and fair because the welfare of Ondo citizenry is paramount.
Among those who gave this pledge at the forum organized by the Office of the Special Adviser to the President on Inter Party Affairs, Senator Ben Obi, is Ondo State Governor and flagbearer of the Labour Party, LP, Dr Olusegun Mimiko, and Mr. Saka Lawal, the deputy governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, who represented the standard bearer, Chief Alex Olusola Oke.
The Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, Candidate, Mr. Oluwarotimi Akeredolu put up a brief appearance and left before it was his turn to speak. However, the party’s views were expressed by Senator James Kolawole, the National Vice Chairman (South-West).
Indeed, the workshop was attended by executives and candidates of the 13 political parties contesting the Ondo State 2012 gubernatorial election viz: LP, ACN, PDP, Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), African Political System (APS), Better Nigeria Peoples Party (BNPP), Change Advocacy Party (CAP), Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), LP), National Conscience Party (NCP), National Solidarity Democratic Party (NSDP, People for Democratic Change (PDC), and Peoples Progressive Alliance (PPA) and representatives of the Civil Society Organisations and the Media.
Chaired by Lt. Gen. Alani Akinrinade (rtd), other speakers at the parley included Senator Ben Obi, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega, who was represented by the Commissioner-in charge of Political Parties, Hajia Amina Zakari; Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed (keynote speaker), DGD-UNDP, Dr. Mourtada Deme, and Robina Namusisi the Country Director, International Republican Institute (IRI). Governor Olusegun Mimiko who was the special guest of honour said free and fair election would strengthen the nation’s democracy and should not be compromised. He added that leadership should be accountable to the people and not to any election rigger or political god fathers anywhere.
The governor appealed to INEC not only to be an unbiased arbiter but also should be “evidently seen as clean in the October 20 governorship election in Ondo State”.
Mr Saka Lawal, who represented Oke, condemned the state government’s denial of air time on Ondo public electronic media to the opposition. He also decried alleged series of attacks unleashed on PDP members by LP’s thugs during their campaigns. He said, “We in the PDP are not violent but the sitting government has not learnt from us”, insisting that free and fair election was not possible in the kind of atmosphere being created by the LP-led government.
Senator Kolawole of the ACN said there was no alternative to credible election in Ondo because the citizenry are sophisticated.
Insisting that the consequences of not conducting credible polls would be grievous, he said the ACN as a peaceful party would not tolerate and promote any form of violence and urged the rival parties to do same.
Speaker after speaker at the forum toed the same path.
Akinrinade stressed that when an election is not free and fair, democracy is eroded because bad and unwanted leaders are foisted on the people. He also stated emphatically that political killings and violence are not only antithetical to democracy but also satanic.
The Convener, Ben Ndi Obi, stated that the objective was to come up with far-reaching recommendations to ensure free and fair elections in Ondo.
Prof Attahiru Jega urged all contestants and shareholders to adhere to the rules of the game and observe strictly the 2010 Political Parties Code of Conduct, by shunning anti-democratic practices such as intimidation of aspirants so as to create enabling conditions for citizens to vote freely for their leaders. He stated that INEC was truly independent and not being interfered with from any quarters.
The Keynote Speaker, Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, stated that the Ondo State governorship election would be a test case in the march of our nation, Nigeria to free and fair elections. He reminded participants that electoral contests and free and fair elections were simply a matter of establishing trust between the people and governed and that this trust was a sine qua non for true democracy and for national development.
In the end, the stakeholders agreed on modalities that would yield peaceful and acceptable polls, if pursued.
Parties, candidates’ commitment key to credible polls – Jega
When the office of the Special Adviser to the President on Inter Party Affairs organized a similar workshop towards the July 14th Governorship election that held in Edo State, all Stakeholders were pleased with the positive outcome and subsequent confidence building mechanism that resulted from the workshop.· The Commission accords this workshop special interest as part of our collective commitment to minimize tension in Ondo State and facilitate the conduct of credible elections.
It is my hope that workshops like this will begin to reorient not just contestants and political parties but also the electorate towards the culture of tolerance, constructive engagement, and fair contest in which electoral outcomes are openly seen as fair and accepted as such by all. It is also my hope that through such kinds of fora, we would have reinforced a commitment and adherence to the observance of the rules of the game, by shunning anti-democratic practices such as the intimidation of opponents, and by creating conditions that enable citizens to freely choose their leaders.
As a Commission constitutionally mandated to conduct elections, we are most concerned, as we are sure all well-meaning Nigerians are, when the electoral environment is over-heated by aggressive language, threats, and other forms of intimidation before during and after elections.
These do not augur well for all contestants, the voters as well as the political and electoral systems at large. Such an atmosphere also generates, and inevitably creates situations that not only lead to threats to life and property, but could also impact negatively on the credibility of the election.
I, therefore, urge all participants at this workshop to rededicate themselves to peaceful conduct in the forthcoming October 20th Governorship elections in Ondo State in particular, and in subsequent elections across the country in general.
It is our hope as a Commission that, as we build confidence among stakeholders, we can begin to deepen the culture of tolerance in the political and electoral processes in Nigeria. We can then look forward to situations when violence and intimidation of the electorate will be firmly put behind us, and where electoral outcomes are not just free, but are freely accepted by all.
I firmly believe that we can, as a country, realize our cherished goal of conducting peaceful elections once we all commit to civil conduct both in our actions and choice of words. After all, we are all working to serve the same citizens irrespective of party affiliation.
We can, indeed, take comfort that our Electoral Laws already have provisions against violent conduct and the use of violent language. Additionally, the Political Parties Code of Conduct 2010 commits all political parties to peaceful conduct at all times before, during and after elections.I must, however, emphasize that more than the law it is the personal commitment of political parties and candidates that can create the kind of peaceful atmosphere for the conduct of free, fair and credible elections that we all desire as a nation.
We must ensure victory no longer goes to the best cheat – Akinrinade
People of my generation cannot forget the stiff, uncompromising attitude, backed by physical demonstration of limitless violence with which the people of this state stood against’ cheating, demonstrated by electioneering heist in the recent past.
Obviously, election is the most critical and decisive aspect of democracy just as it forms part of its beauty. While election is a nightmare to nonperforming politicians, it is a time of great expectation to the people as it affords them the opportunity to choose their leaders relying on their own judgment. However, these may not be possible in a system of incredible electoral process where free and fair election is a mirage, and where victory goes to the best cheat.
When election is not free and fair, people’s faith and confidence In the system are eroded, bad and unwanted leaders are sanctimoniously and ignominiously selected, democracy dividend are denied, crisis of unimaginable proportions with its concomitant violence are enthroned, development is distorted and lives lost. Political killings are not only antithetical to democracy; they are also satanic and contrary to the principle of the ‘General Good’.
This time around, Ondo State and her people cannot afford to play into the waiting hands of the anarchy that result from manipulated elections. Who are the victims at the end of the day? Election must be a true reflection of the people’s collective wish.
All democrats must stand up to salute President Goodluck Jonathan when he unequivocally pledged his commitment to the principle of one man one vote and an electoral system in which every vote counts. I cannot remember when any of our leaders gave such a pledge and stood by it.
It is therefore in this same spirit that the good people of Ondo State should now justly demonstrate, as they have always wanted, the right democratic attitude by embracing this new wind of change in our democratic process.
You should do well to vote right and adopt the sportsman’s creed of vigorous but fair competition, tolerance; avoidance of violence and all forms of malpractices, manipulation, and at the end of it all, protect and defend your votes according to the laws of the land.
I have always listened to my friends talk about freedom or independence of the electoral umpire. They levy charges of tampering with the activities of INEC, especially by whomever the President is and his party: Over the years, there is ample evidence that the charges may not be that frivolous. But now,” I have two consolations. First, is the guarantee offered by the President before the Edo State gubernatorial election. He stuck by his gun and his party lost. He offered no regrets and congratulated the winner. Second, when Professor Atahiru Jega was given the job to oversee elections, he was already accomplished and revered by his peers. He was not looking for a job and livelihood.
He did not require a constitution or law to push him to do the right thing. He had lived on the turf of rectitude all his life. He knew that there is always a path of honor for anyone unless he has something other than truth on his mind. I know he will not hesitate to jump before being pushed to tarnish his hard earned reputation. I want to bet that if the combatants play by the rules, the people of Ondo will gladly and gaily give us a very clean and admirable election come October. May I also bet that the umpire will not allow the rules to be bent even by the agencies posted to assist him.
Edo experience is challenge to Ondo electorate – Saba-Ahmed
This forum, as I understand it, plans to capture that illusive and rare value of trust. Trust that politicians can rely on INEC to conduct the forthcoming elections in a manner that they can accept the results as genuinely reflecting the will of the people of Ondo State.
Trust that political parties and contestants will play by the same rules, and will respect the electorate by giving them enough room to exercise free choice.
Trust of the people of this state that both INEC and politicians will allow their will to prevail; to remove fear from the entire exercise; and respect outcomes as the voices of the people; trust that this election will serve as a benchmark for a nation eager to establish the possibility that we can elect leaders freely and openly, and the heavens do not need to fall in the process. Above all, trust that our democracy has a future as the only avenue by through which we can grow and develop as a nation of free, enterprising and peaceful people.
Every election is important, and the one we will hold in this State a few days from today is particularly significant. It will hold against the background of the Edo State elections which itself is being held up as a new benchmark for many reasons.
In spite of massive quarrels over the deployment I of large numbers of military personnel a few days to the elections and a build-up akin to preparations for war by political parties, we had an election involving a large number of voters under a peaceful atmosphere.
In spite of accusations and suspicions that the elections would be rigged, we had one’ of the least-disputed elections in our history. In spite of logistic challenges and the manifestation of stubborn organizational problems, polling, counting and collating were not threatened to a point where they compromised the quality of the outcomes.
On the whole, we can safely claim that the gubernatorial elections in Edo State have set a new standard for the nation. This ought to be cause for celebration, but it is vital that the nation knows exactly what it is celebrating.’ We have skeptics who will insist that the Edo elections represented a victory for a vigilant and stubborn citizenry which raised its voice at every suspected move by the electoral body. They will say that demands for demilitarizing the process in Edo State was what removed the possibility that fear and intimidation were to become decisive in determining outcomes of the elections.
They will say that the shrill voices raised at pre-election meetings with INEC and all stakeholders against each other and against INEC itself were what leveled the grounds. They will say that the accusations leveled by the Governor before and on Election Day against, INEC were responsible for improving its performance for the rest of the day of the elections.
They may even say that Edo State is a difficult state to rig elections in, in spite of its legion of veterans in electoral management and subversion, and the very high stakes which it represents in existing political dispensation.
The skeptics may be right in all respects, but what matters at the f moment is that we have had the bar set at a level most Nigerians will be reasonably satisfied with. This is the reason why the election in Ondo State must build upon, and improve on the quality of the Edo State elections. Every election is conducted in the context of circumstances and an environment that are peculiar to it.
Yet every election must also meet certain thresholds of acceptability, irrespective of the challenges it poses. Edo State will be useful as a backdrop, and a reference point to the elections in Ondo State. The Ondo State election will challenge INEC and every participant by its peculiarities and its environment, but these should not be an excuse that it does not improve on the level of quality set by Edo State.