THE average politician is an optimist. But an inordinately ambitious politician that has overtime tantalised himself with the prospect of gubernatorial glory and prestige is worse, he is an incurable optimist. To him, everything was posible in politics! While confidence and optimism are positive propellers, blind ambition fired by do-or-die mentality is negative as it ignores political realities that are pointers to victory or defeat. No wonder the axiom that blind ambition is self destruct and recognizes no limit. Indeed, it is a ride on an ill-fated rollercoaster!
When the result of Edo State gubernatorial election was declared by INEC on September 29th and given the consensus by the general public that the conduct was generally peaceful and relatively free and fair, the loser should have congratulated the winner and look forward to a better outing in the future. That is the minimum requirement of democratic conduct and ethos. Unfortunately, it is rarely the case in these climes where political desperation and the desire to turn the table against the will of the people is rampant. Consequently, Edo State gubernatorial electoral battle has shifted from the polling booths to the State Electoral Tribunal constituted for the purpose. The Tribunal panel headed by Justice Ahmed Badamasi has successfully conducted pre- hearing proceedings from which five issues have been distilled for determination. The PDP is expected to begin to call witnesses on January 11, 2016 when the substantive case is expected to commence in earnest.
It is important to draw a line between the 2007 case and the ongoing one. Some nihilistic members of PDP leadership are unguidedly boastful that the stage was set for a re-enactment of the 2008 episode when the election petition of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole and the then AC succeeded against INEC declaration of Prof. Oserheimen Osunbor as Governor in 2007. The benighted fellows and the boastful cronic no- nothings must be enlightened in the interest of public peace and harmony. As the Holy Bible says, ‘my people perish for lack of knowledge’. Experts in dispute resolution aver that most crises in the World are caused by ignorance, dependent poverty and blind followership. Therefore, there is a compelling need to help the uninformed with the rigors of situating the issues, thereby seiving the chaff from the grain. Hopefully, the exercise will illuminate the minds of those that have been brainwashed with a view to coming to a better understanding of the case. By so doing, we would have provided the incentive for a much safer level of rational judgment. Without fear of contradiction, let it be boldly stated that the facts of the two electoral cases in question are clearly set wide apart by material substance, the theatrics of events and circumstances of the cases.They are by no means similar! Elementary mathematics teaches that different equations will inevitably give different results even with the application of the same formular!
In 2007, the PDP and a band of political marauders held sway in Edo State. The party was also in power at the Federal level. As a Party, the PDP was in tatters, torn into shreds and weakened by protracted and intractable internal crisis. Consequent upon which, many prominent members left the party to form the AC along with a splinter group that called itself Grace Group. The stage was set for the 2007 gubernatorial election to follow the pattern of the elections before it, where party warlords and their surrogates rigged the process by voting on behalf of the people. And since the perpetuators of electoral fraud in the State were by the exit of Grace Group into AC, almost equally represented in the two parties, it was matter of how well one party was able to out- rig and out-smart the other!
There is no doubting the fact that the 2007 election was massively rigged from Edo South through Edo Central to Edo North. The streets of Benin City were taken over by thugs and agents of the powers that be. The 2007 election was marred by voilence perpetuated by the leaders of the notorious Grace Group who have since shamelessly returned to the PDP where they truly belong. It can therefore be said that the losers of the 2007 election justifiably challenged the result at the Election Tribunal. With a crack legal team, they successfully proved their case before the Tribunal and won! Late President Umaru Yar Adua publicly admitted that the elections that brought him and some governors to power were flawed by massive rigging and promised to embark on extensive electioral reforms to avoid a repeat in future elections.
By 2016, the national electoral agency, INEC was for all intent and purposes better prepared for the election. The outcome of the reforms started by President Yar Adua had informed stricter measures by INEC in the run up to the election. For instance, in Edo gubernatorial election, INEC guideline on voting procedure changed. Voters were instructed to vote immediately after accredition as against the earlier practice of waiting for acreditation to end at 2 pm before actual voting commences. The reform effort also identified most of the rigging methods and strategies used by political parties to compromise the Nigerian electoral process.
Furthermore, electronic card readers were introduced to eliminate accreditation abuses and incidences of double voting. Over time, the performance of the card readers which were said to be problematic in previous elections vastly improved thus conversely improving the credibility of elections and their outcome. And being the only election scheduled for that day nationwide, INEC deployed more than enough personell logistics wise to conduct the exercise.
It is significant to note that unlike in 2007, the party in power went into the election with a sense of confidence and pride, having substantially delivered on her electoral promises. Before the election, there was public consensus that government had done exceedingly well particularly in infrastructure development. Therefore, while the PDP were literarily ashamed of their record of performance in government, the APC accomplishments in government was generally rated as spectacular! Besides the issue of performance, by 2016, the APC had replaced the PDP as the ruling party not only in the State but also at the Federal level and this conferred some advantages to the APC as our people often prefer their government to be alligned to the one at the center. Worse of it all was the unflattering pedigree of the PDP candidate who was seen as the brainbox of the accursed PDP government which wrecked havoc on the State by brazen acts of sleize and by subjecting the State to development incubus for eight years. He was clearly unmarketable! The PDP had no choice but to resort to sharpening their propganda machine by which they lauched a relentless and vigorous campaign of calamny against the APC leaders and the candidate.
On September 28, 2016, the people trouped out in drones to the voting centers and their polling booths with a clear choice in their minds. The desperate attempt by the PDP to monetize the election by introducing vote buying tactics which they extenuatingly called stomach infrastructure as they did in the last Presidential ellection in the State was robustly countered by the APC. Accredition and voting commenced and ended in line with INEC guidelines and instructions peacefully across the State. Reported cases of violent behaviors were minimal and inconsequential, and generally regarded as normal considering the nature and size of the operation. From Edo South through Edo Central to Edo North, no single shot was fired and no life was lost unlike the 2007 election. Thus, no single member of PDP has rising to the challenge of pointing out the result of a single booth that was altered between the polling booth and the collation centers. The people left their homes resolved that those who betrayed their trust, looted their treasury and stagnated their development between 1999 to 2007 should not be rewarded for their evil. Apart the Observer Groups sponsored by the PDP to discredit the election, all reputable election Observer Groups with records of credibility adjudged the election as largely free and fair and credible. They courageously pointed out areas that INEC must improve upon in subsequent elections. They acknowldged that no election was perfect anywhere in the World!
It is gratifying to note that the PDP has approached the court as required by law. The onus is now upon the petitioners to prove their case before the Tribunal. But what will be most unhelpful to their case is the needless dissipation of energy on social media accussing the Tribunal of bias even before commencement of trial. A background check on the Panelist shows that members are too professional and experienced to be intimidated by partisan social media warriors. The petitionerss should stop wasting resources creating a sense of popularity. One would expect for instance, that the candidate of the PDP in the last election should be reflecting soberly on his past! He should be worried that he was beaten black and blue at Oza Primary School directly behind his Father’s house in Erie Street, Benin city, where he was born and bred and where his relatives and old friends are in the majority. Out of eleven units in Oza Primary School, Osagie Ize-Iyamu’s PDP won only one and Obaseki’s APC won ten. He needs to pause and interogate himself on why his relatives, childhood friends and immediate neighbours turned against him. The Court cannot reverse such damning rejection simply because paid social media activists claim that his mandate has been stolen. The Tribunal cannot also be swayed by the organized solidarity rallies of paid criminal gangs and groups of poverty striken jobless youths, who are being daily mobilized to the Tribunal to disturb the peace of the area chanting slogans! The Tribunals are already aware that unpopular and desperate political office seekers stop at nothing to create non- existent popularity. The Tribunal cannot service the blind ambition of desperados. It is solely intetested in hard evidence!
As clearly proven, the 2007 episode between adams Oshiomhole of the then AC and Oserheimhen Osunbor of the then PDP is by no means similar or comparable to the 2016 ongoing case between Osagie Andrew Ize-Iyamu of the PDP and Godwin Nogheghase Obaseki of the APC in material facts and circumstances. In 2007, the national electoral body was still struggling with the daring rigging machines of Mr. Fix it and his likes and it was a case of two guilty parties out-smarting one another. The Tribunal simply provided the opportunity for one party to prove that it was less of a sinner than the other! Today, we have an INEC that has vastly improved in performance and virtually defeated the old rigging machines of political parties. Thus, electoral integrity has largely been secured with the introduction of electronic card readers and the salutory improvement in the performance of same. Consequently, it is quizotic, wishful thinking and day dreaming for anyone to hope and expect that what happened in 2007 will happen now! The petitioner in the present case is hanging on tenterhooks betrayed by morbid sense of entitlement. He is faced with the heavy burden of proving his case on the basis of evidence. But can witnesses being paid to lie before the Tribunal make any difference? Time will tell!
Dr. Ralf Imaghodo, an educationist and Public Affairs commentator, resides in Benin City.