By Ogaga Ifowodo
The original title of my last column was “As Delta State Gets Set for the Charade of Local Government Elections,” but it was published without the keyword “charade” (15 October 2014). According to the Oxford dictionary, a charade is “an absurd pretence intended to create a pleasant or respectable appearance.”
Among its synonyms, that is words with a similar meaning, are farce, travesty, pretence, sham, fake, show, façade, and the phrase “false display.”
For some reason, and I have my suspicions, the editors at Vanguard deleted the word but I won’t go into that. I had ended that column with a direct appeal to the governor to place loyalty to democracy and the people above narrow power games by allowing free and fair elections as his parting gift to Delta State.
My thesis was, and remains, that LGA elections, judging by our recent experience, have become “a huge joke, a cruel mockery of democracy that only those whose view of politics has been irretrievably warped by vicious power games can pass off as democratic exercises.” Delta State’s LGA elections of October 25, 2014 were staged, it seems, to give conclusive proof of this claim. My deep misgivings aside, I had been truly elated to vote, having never had a genuine opportunity to do so due to prolonged military tyranny and my decade-plus absence from home.
But soon enough, elation turned to dejection. While voting, despite an inordinately long wait for election materials, went on in my polling unit — and generally in the first ward of my paternal home town of Oleh — a single bawllot was not cast in the second ward. For two reasons: non-arrival of election materials and violence that resulted from the determination of the two main opposition parties, the All Progressives Congress and the Labour Party, to resist any attempt by agents of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party to subvert voting.
The two main rigging tricks were attempted: hiding the original result sheets which would be used after polling to return fictitious figures in favour of the party in power, and snatching and spiriting away election materials to secret locations for ballot thumb-printing and stuffing of ballot bags. Rather than allow that travesty, better there be no election at all, the opposition parties’ agents and even non-party members aggrieved by the PDP’s imposition of candidates resolved.
Inevitably, scuffles broke out and ballots and result sheets were torn and strewn all over the grounds of polling arenas. Images of this literal ripping apart of our democracy can be found on the internet. The result was that voting did not take place at all in several other Isoko towns (Irri, Olomoro, Uzere, for instance) or in numerous polling units (Otor-Owhe, Ozoro, Oyede, Igbide, for example).
In my initial web reaction entitled “Another Black-Eye Day for Democracy in Delta State and Nigeria,” I lamented that among our ruling and ruining elite, there appears to be none whose heart harbours a thought for the people who are ridiculed every time we go through these charades of LGA elections.
None who can rise above petty politics and personal gain to respect the principle of democracy, which alone can unbound the spirit of the people and throw forth service-minded individuals to run for public office. So that we are condemned, in the time being, to be governed by persons . . . who have the greatest disdain for the very thing they purport to practise: democracy. Yet, my despondency apart, I am consoled by the fact that the opposition stood its ground and resisted fiercely the attempt to spit in the people’s faces by rigging the elections.
In his response to me, also via social media, Governor Uduaghan passed off the facts of violence, destroyed ballots and non-voting in whole towns and numerous polling units as indicative of no more than that the elections were not “perfect,” and that while “[i]n all, we had some flash points . . . the elections went well generally.”
To be fair to the governor, he made a tacit retreat when faced by the impassioned comments of readers of his rejoinder, backed by photo evidence of widespread violence across the two Isoko LGAs, not to mention reports of violence (the APC secretariat in Effurun-Warri was set ablaze) and serious irregularities across the state. “[M]y write-up,” he said, “was not about Isoko but generally about the state. I have also not said the elections were perfect. I have also seen the reactions. They are not different from what we are used to.”
“Not different from what we are used to.” I’m troubled by the idea that we can be used to imperfections of any degree, so that even when people do not vote they can have “elected” representatives nevertheless. I had urged Governor Uduaghan to break the evil cycle of LGA elections as turf wars in which a governor cannot, seemingly at mortal peril, concede a square inch of space to the opposition — a mentality that cuts across party lines — by cancelling the elections so that the will of the people can be freely ascertained in a rerun. That way, credible candidates who would win anyway may bask in untainted victories. I might as well have shouted in a hole in the ground, on Monday the swearing-in ceremonies for the “elected” representatives of the Isoko people began in Asaba!