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Traditional rulers as election campaign managers

By Tonnie Iredia

On December 14 1991, governorship elections were held in all the states of the federation.  The conduct was generally hitch-free, but the result of the election in one state-Edo- was nullified by the relevant election tribunal. The tribunal took the decision having convinced itself that the election was adversely affected by undue influence occasioned by a political broadcast by a Benin Chief alleging that the Oba of Benin had directed his people to vote for the eventual winner. Although the Court of Appeal later reversed the nullification, it became a moot point in Nigeria’s electoral history that partisanship by otherwise neutral royal fathers could serve as undue influence in an election.

Regrettably, many traditional rulers mar elections by allowing themselves to be unwittingly used by one candidate against another notwithstanding that all the candidates see them as their fathers. In 2010 for instance, there was the disturbing story that aides of traditional rulers were using palace vehicles to convey perpetrators of political violence.   The then Inspector General of Police, Hafiz Ringim had to direct Police Commissioners and command’s Assistant Inspectors General of Police to educate traditional rulers on the security roles they could play during elections.

In 2011, the governorship candidate of All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, during the April polls in Abia state, Chief Reagan Ufomba alleged that Governor Orji gave traditional rulers in the State between N1million and N2 million to buy votes for him during the election. Whether this allegation is correct or not is not quite easy to ascertain in view of several conflicting reports about which candidates a particular royal father supports.

In Anambra, where elections are less than a month away, the Obi of Onitsha is reported to favour Chief Willie Obiano, the gubernatorial candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). According to the media the traditional ruler commended the party for finally redressing the imbalance in the political leadership of the state by choosing a candidate from the hitherto neglected Anambra North Senatorial District as its flag-bearer. 10 days later, another media report suggested that the monarch shunned the same candidate because he was foisted on the people by the out-going governor.

Whichever anyone chooses to believe does not take away from the fact that the utterances of some traditional rulers and the posture of candidates during elections show that to get traditional rulers to support a candidate is the goal of many parties and their flag bearers.  As if the royal fathers are the beautiful brides of an election, everyone scampers for their support.

Some analysts believe that this was precisely what the candidate of the Peoples Democratic (PDP) in the Ondo Governorship elections of 2012, Mr. Olusola Oke sought to do just before the election. Oke had during the campaigns allegedly promised to pay 5% of all monthly allocations of local governments to Obas to enhance their status and standard of living. What is the real value of the support of traditional rulers in an election? Can they stick out their necks for a particular candidate?

It appears so going by the admission 2 weeks ago of a retiring Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Stanley Shenko Alagoa, that some judges collect bribe from politicians and traditional rulers to pervert the course of justice. He made the revelation while speaking at a valedictory court session in his honour at the apex court. Justice Alagoa, who bowed out of service after clocking the 70 years mandatory retirement age, disclosed that political gladiators often resorted to intimidation and harassment in their uncanny bid “to influence judges to depart from their sacred oath of office and the path of honour and rectitude.”

Indeed, some royal fathers jump the gun well before the crucial period of an election to carve a place for themselves in the hearts of would be candidates. A good example being one traditional ruler who was in his elements during the last publicized visit of our first lady to her state –Rivers- for some family engagements. The ruler, Nyewali of Rumeme community in Port Harcourt, assured Dame Jonathan of the support of the people for her husband come 2015.

The monarch did not also forget to curse those he reportedly condemned as Northern apologists, accusing them of betraying their brother, President Jonathan by supporting a candidate of Northern extraction for the 2015 elections. Months after the traditional ruler played that role of being one of President Jonathan’s campaign managers in the 2015 elections, the nation is yet to know if the President would run. How then did the campaign manager know?

In Osun State, frontline traditional rulers have already secured the same roles for themselves in the campaign train of Governor Rauf Aregbesola in the forthcoming governorship election in the state.  One of the first to do so was the Ataoja of Osogbo. At a public function in the state some months back, the Ataoja who reportedly spoke on behalf of th e Obas told the governor that “All Obas in Osun are saying emphatically that you should move forward, because, we know that one good term deserves another”.

As if there was the need to restate this endorsement, by a more powerful source, the permanent president of the state council of traditional rulers, the Ooni of Ife has himself declared support for the governor’s second term. The Ooni was said to have made his ‘open endorsement’ when the Governor visited his palace last weekend.

Interestingly, the reasons which traditional rulers give for supporting a candidate particularly an incumbent are also of public knowledge. The only thing not too easy to know is what the governor does in palaces. Other things such as the recent classification of schools in the state are in the public domain. In earnest, even analysts who are not from Osun State are aware of Governor Aregbesola’s performance in the last 3 years. He has done well. Could he have done better? Osun people need not be surreptitiously guided to take a position.   Even when it becomes expedient to do so, the lot would not fall on traditional rulers who are constitutionally mandated to be non-partisan and politically neutral.


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