By Tonnie Iredia
On October 22,2013, the Edo State Electoral Commission organized an election into the Esan North-East Local Government Council. Somewhere along the line, it declared the candidate of the All Progressive Congress (APC) as the winner of the chairmanship election. The opposition party- the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) cried foul alleging that it was a travesty of justice as the rightful winner was reportedly short-changed.
The Edo State Governor on his part accused the police of “aiding ballot box snatching, supervising electoral fraud and intimidating voters”. He however accepted the verdict of the electoral body and promptly inaugurated the declared winner. At the swearing-in ceremony, the new chairman made a prophetic statement that the forces of darkness can only suppress light for a short time
The prophecy appears to have taken only about 3 months to materialize following the nullification of the election last Tuesday by the State Election Tribunal. According to reports, the tribunal found as of fact, that the results announced by the electoral body were not collated. What was announced was therefore not just deficient but a fraudulent result.
The finding of the Tribunal was however a notorious fact which required no proof. Even the blind saw through the contraption of the electoral commission-a body that has since its inception, been unable to serve as an impartial umpire notwithstanding that its title contains the term ‘independent’. Events leading to the declaration of the winner of the chairmanship election actually looked more like an episode in the famous comedy series of old -Icheoku
First, the election was put off twice as part of a plot to get a predetermined winner. When it was eventually held in October 2013, it was blemished by fraud. The election monitors confirmed that votes cast in the election were not collated; yet results were announced. The election tribunal also observed that the election entailed accreditation of voters, voting, collation and announcement, adding that the absence of any of the components invalidated the election. In addition, the results were neither announced at the designated location- the Eguare Primary School nor was it done by the returning officer. Now that the election tribunal has confirmed all of these, how the electoral body arrived at the result it declared, is no doubt a dangerous poser.
It is worthy of note that in this age of the primacy of material influence on judges, where some members of even the highest bench have not been able to rise above board, the election tribunal led by Honorable Justice Alero Eruaga did well and it does not appear logical to expect it to uphold the victory of the PDP candidate having found as of fact that the results were not collated.
The collation of election results is obviously not a judicial function. It would have been a different ball game if what the tribunal was asked to deal with was incorrect collation. Justice Eruaga has thus done her part and we cannot but salute high sense of integrity. Not many public officers are that honest in our state. Indeed, if the State Electoral Commission had just one member like Justice Eruaga, the history of local government elections in the state would have been a different story.
Unfortunately, the Edo electoral body allowed itself to be a tool in the hands of its appointing authority. We are not unaware that governments in developing societies are known for putting undue pressure on public institutions but such institutions must build structures that can with time contain such pressures. In the United Kingdom for instance, anyone who is unwilling to visit a polling station to cast his vote can post his ballot because the Post Office was able to build up its credibility over the years to accommodate that innovation. When can this happen in our clime? It would obviously take a long time considering that edo state, which is virtually known as the originator of the ‘one man-one vote’ scheme is involved in the shame of election chicanery!
When the scheme gained ample grounds a few years ago, this writer was one of the few analysts who saw clearly that it was essentially a slogan/diversion. To start with, even the opposition party adopted it making it a suspicious device. For example, although Governor Oshiomhole always chorused the slogan, President Goodluck Jonathan gave a solemn assurance at a political rally in Benin City on Saturday June 25, 2012 that the Edo State Governorship election would be a ‘one man one vote’ affair. Some two weeks earlier, Vice President Namadi Sambo in a similar rally at the same venue had made the same pledge. The then National Chairman of the 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 vote per person.
In reality however Edo State was neither ready for free and fair elections in 2012 nor has it as at today moved towards the prospects of a credible election. In the first instance, the posture of the average politician in our clime is not in any way conducive for the attainment of one man one vote. Second, the two leading parties in the state-APC and PDP are experts in election rigging.
The issue of who is more used to the vice does not arise because the 2 parties are the same as more than half of the members of the APC 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.
Why then should anyone believe in the common slogan of one man one vote of the two combatants? Indeed, it is one thing to allow every voter to cast his single vote but quite another thing to allow a credible process that would lead to the release of the real figures as the ‘edo fedeco’ failed to do in the Esan election. So wither one man one vote?