By SKC Ogbonnia
THE outgoing Governor of Ekiti State, Peter Ayodele Fayose, is the poster boy of everything wrong with Nigerian politics. To that end, like President Muhammadu Buhari, I should be celebrating the defeat of Fayose’s candidate, Olusola Eleka of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, by John Kayode Fayemi of our party, the All Progressives Congress, APC, in the recent Ekiti governorship election. But I am not. There are very troubling failures in leadership by the president that only go to translate the outcome to a pyrrhic victory. Thusly, Buhari is celebrating failure, his failure.
This is the why and how: The most mortal sin of Fayose is how he re-captured the seat of power in Ekiti in 2014. The government under the then President Goodluck Jonathan deployed the federal might and money to wangle Fayose back to power. Fast forward to 2018, though Kayode Fayemi deserves to win, and would have won in a free and fair election, the gospel truth is that the role of the federal might and money also tainted the outcome of the July 14, 2018 Ekiti governorship election. The fraudulent use of law-enforcement agencies, the open buying of votes and thuggery from both PDP and APC, do not represent positive change. This is a gross failure in leadership under the Buhari regime and not worth celebrating.
The 2007 presidential election that produced Umar Yar’Adua as president offers a salutary lesson. Recognising that the poll was fraught with gross electoral malpractice, Yar’Adua quickly acknowledged the shortfalls and vowed drastic improvement in the electoral process. Unfortunately, he did not live long enough to actualise his desire in this regard.
Enter President Goodluck Jonathan. His first move to continue with YarÁdua’s electoral re-engineering was the appointment of Attahiru Jega, arguably the most independent-minded Nigerian ever to head the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC. Jega did not disappoint as the 2015 polls were generally adjudged as free and fair.
After PDP coasted to easy electoral victory in 2011, it was clear that the Nigerian democracy had turned into a one-party state. Opposition activity, which is central to effective democracy, was on life support. Like Yar’Adua before him, Jonathan demonstrated patriotic leadership. He would relax the polity so that opposition could breathe again.
Ironically, though he would eventually lose to the strong opposition that he helped to create, President Jonathan accepted defeat with grace. For the first time in history, Nigeria switched power from a ruling party to an opposition. The Nigerian democracy had assumed an increasingly positive trajectory under Yar’Adua and Jonathan. And the world, including the then President-elect Buhari, hailed.
Attahiru Jega, the INEC boss, who midwifed these positive changes, was retiring. Before then, Jega had confessed that, though the Electoral Act empowers it to monitor sources and nature of funding, the “INEC does not even have a desk that handles campaign financing”. Prof. Jega prayed that successive governments should, as a matter of urgency, focus on campaign finance along with internal party democracy.
President Buhari is the successor to President Goodluck Jonathan. Having been outspent in four consecutive presidential elections with looted funds, it was believed that Buhari had experienced the problem of money in politics more than Presidents Yar’Adua and Jonathan combined. Not many were concerned, therefore, when he (Buhari) singlehandedly appointed the successor to Prof. Jega in the name of another professor, Mahmood Yakubu. But the title of the appointees, professor, is where the comparison ends.
The Buhari people do not even appear to recognise the challenges of illegal money nor the need for internal party democracy let alone how the regime can influence the enforcement of campaign laws. In other words, Buhari is currently doing the same thing he accused PDP of doing. The whole gist, if it is not already apparent, is that Buhari is not walking the talk of political change. This is a president who came to power vowing to fight corruption. He also knows that election finance is the engine of corruption in Nigeria. It is not surprising, therefore, that the most noticeable trace of corruption Buhari has found since assuming office is the shameless looting of the $2.1 billion military budget under President Jonathan’s regime to finance the 2014/2015 elections. Unfortunately, however, now in control, the Buhari team has shown no interest whatsoever in blocking the loopholes that created the problem in the first place.
The governorship elections in Anambra and Ekiti states typically serve as a pre-test to Nigeria’s general elections in many aspects. The Anambra election of November 18, 2017, which was controlled by money bags, sounded a good warning. Instead of the desired change in line with the electoral laws, the Buhari regime conveniently joined the PDP to ensure that the following election in Ekiti of July 14, 2018, was for the highest bidder. This continuing failure does not bode well for the 2019 general elections. It portends a troubling future for Nigeria’s democracy. It is, definitely, not worth celebrating.
President Buhari should, therefore, cease his outlandish celebration of a tainted victory at Ekiti and hasten to emulate his predecessors – Yar’Adua and Jonathan – by adding to our democracy. What Nigeria needs from Buhari is a democracy where the masses, particularly the youth, have a real chance. We need a democracy where the people, instead of money, determine who wins or who loses. We direly need a president of sound egalitarian principles, who is committed to internal party democracy, so that the nominees of the parties can emerge through competition, instead of selection by a corrupt cabal. The Nigerian masses need a president who can demonstrate serious consequences for bad behaviour, including electoral malpractice. Where there are no consequences for bad behaviour, the bad behaviour typically worsens.
Dr. Ogbonnia, an APC presidential aspirant, wrote from Lagos.