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Electioneering: Now and then

By Joesf Omorotionmwan
SOMETIMES, we are tempted to ask, who needs elections, particularly in the face of all the accompanying aggravations – assassinations, kidnaps, mudslinging, criminality and all that? We are also quickly reminded that what was once regarded as the serious business of governance has, in this trimester, gone awol.

All this time, the Federal Government has successfully put governance on hold. We are also reminded that the colossal sums sunk into the bottomless pits of electioneering campaigns could easily remove all our unemployed youths from our streets and put them into permanent gainful employments and that the balance after this would go a long way in fixing our dilapidated roads, which now constitute death traps.

Strong opponents of elections picture them as meaningless, corrupt and elite-dominated; and at best, elections are regarded as mere symbolic exercises that delude the masses into thinking that they share power with the elites when actually they do not. Elections are facades that hide the real exercise of power.

For the most part, elections merely have the symbolic value of tying the masses to the political system by giving them a role to play on election day and a political party to talk about while at the palm wine bar.

Well, if we say that life on earth is bad and life beyond the earth is also bad, is there a third place? We cannot say that the framers of our Constitution were totally wrong by providing that the thousands of political offices in the land – right from the councillor to the President – should be filled by means of elections.

After all, the view is popularly held that the cure for democracy is more democracy. The pitfalls of elections, notwithstanding, they still provide the best means of legitimizing the transfer of political power.

In civilized societies, which we hope to attain some day, when one political leader replaces another as a result of an election, virtually all citizens accept the outcome. Elections still provide the best avenue of replacing objectionable leaders. Without elections, we would for ever be stuck with corrupt and incompetent leaders.

When we talk of elections, we are really talking of good elections; elections in which votes count. We are not talking of people who ride to power through the instrumentality of rigged elections. Easily the best recommendation of the Uwais Committee report was the one, which required that election cases should be concluded before inauguration, so that only actual winners would be sworn in.

At the National Assembly, this good recommendation was dead on arrival. Instead, we even hear that the powers-that-be are still making efforts to ‘assassinate’ whatever is left of the Election Tribunals by rendering them totally impotent.

They are struggling to oust the jurisdiction of the courts in election cases; that once the INEC declares anyone winner, he is winner indeed and he remains in office no matter what the Tribunals think. And we still feel that the four-yearly rituals are necessary?

This is like sitting on a glittering throne built on a keg of gun powder. In the short run, this has triggered off popular reactions, particularly among opposition politicians. Since you are now making it impossible for them to seek justice at the courts, they want the final determination to be at the polling points by asking their supporters to lynch those who would want to steal their votes.

But why would anyone charged with the responsibility for writing a law for the people now turn round and write himself into the law? And the people must keep quiet?

Most of our electioneering campaigns are still begging for issue-centeredness. Suddenly, a man’s name has displaced his party’s manifesto and this has a ripple effect. By the time you build your message around the amount of luck that your candidate has, your opponents are likely to build their response around his crass opportunism.

And these are not what the masses are looking for. They want to know what you can do to improve their sinking fortunes. If you spend your campaign time dealing with the torn umbrella or the scattered brooms of your opponent, you are the loser because you are leaving the product and criticizing the trade mark.

Are we still concentrating our campaigns in our strong areas? Chief Awolowo’s Action Group carried the war direct to the enemy’s camp by deepening entry into areas of weakness.

It penetrated the then Middle Belt and the COR (Calabar/Ogoja/Rivers) areas. Other areas that were inaccessible (unsafe?) by land, were approached by air. During one of those campaign periods, we were in class in Onitsha, when suddenly everywhere became dark; not because the rain was going to fall, but because the Action Group had dominated the air.

They arrived in their helicopters and released tonnes of campaign materials – hand bills, literatures, pencils, rulers, etc., into the air. Schools and markets were closed temporarily while everybody scampered to catch the materials and to catch a glimpse of the hovering helicopters. That was then and it was fun.

Far into the 21st century, Nigerians still relish the politics of bitterness, eh? Otherwise, why has Abuja not issued any statement on the Ibadan show of shame in which the CPC campaign train was virtually frustrated out of the city by being denied the use of a venue that was duly paid for far ahead of time?

An essay of this nature should end with a few posers: Is it still reasonable for anyone to be planning to rig an election and not expecting to be lynched? Are these not products of joint demand? A just law should provide for both! And the time to think is now!

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