By Rotimi Fasan
AFTER much anticipation, anxiety, worry and even fear, the Ekiti State governorship election has come and gone, with the candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Kayode Fayemi declared winner. Much of the fear that surrounded the election concerned the probable use of violence for which reason there was massive deployment of security agents across the state. No less than thirty thousand police personnel were deployed, and these did not include other paramilitary and even military agents that made Ekiti State their home in the week the election held. Indeed the heightened tension, threat and use of violence that had characterised the campaigns leading up to the election was raised even more when within days before the election, the outgoing governor of the state and poster boy of Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, opposition to not just the APC but indeed President Muhammadu Buhari, Ayo Fayose, claimed he was assaulted right in the government house by police agents deployed to his state.
A day or so before he made this allegation against the police, Ayo Fayose had accused the police of blockading the government house in Ekiti and preventing him and his supporters from going out of the place. The increase in the spate of allegations Fayose launched both against the police and the Buhari-led APC government gave many the impression he was either afraid of his party losing or preparing a basis to reject the outcome of the election in the event his candidate loses. Which is actually where we are right now as the PDP has rejected the result of the election which Fayose says was rigged against his party’s candidate. But before all of this, Fayose had not been slow to criticize what he called a barely disguised attempt by Abuja to forcefully take over Ekiti state from the PDP. This was partly the reason he gave for the assault he claimed to have suffered in the hands of the police, the same police he also alleged herded many of his supporters in the PDP into detention just days before the election.
Kicked, slapped and tear gassed, as he alleged, images of the loud-mouthed governor sitting on the ground as he was being resuscitated made the headlines. In reporting his misuse in the hands of the police, the governor shed bitter tears which his critics saw as nothing but the crocodile variety. While many would criticize the police for the apparent brutalization of Fayose who has since gone around with a neck brace following the injury he claimed to have suffered, others pointed to the governor’s penchant for role playing, wondering what had happened to his self-touted grassroots support. Where were his supporters and security detail when he was being assaulted people wanted to know? Indeed what happened to Peter Fayose the Rock, how was he quickly reduced to a mere wimp rolling on the floor with tears falling off his face?
These questions are now no better than mere academic exercise as events have gone beyond them. Perhaps, a more profitable activity is to ask how this election was conducted, to what extent it can be considered an improvement on past elections in Ekiti state and elsewhere in Nigeria, and to see if there is any basis to the rigging accusation of the PDP. To many observers the election was largely peaceful which may seem to justify the massive deployment of security agents. But we are talking here of an election and not a war. Is it not possible for us to hold an election without appearing to be getting set to repel an invading force? How can we rise above the overt militarization of our electoral process? The 2014 election in Ekiti was equally an exercise in the show of force. Four years after it can’t be said that we have learnt any reasonable lesson from the past. While the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, can be said to be improving in the way it handles electoral issues, there is still a long way to go for the government and the people of this country including the electorate and the politicians.
Many Nigerians still view elections as a cash and carry affair. Although the PDP in Ekiti could go around accusing the APC of rigging the election that has brought its candidate into office, the PDP’s accusation rests on hollow ground. Both parties and others out there are guilty of electoral misconduct. The electoral process is increasingly skewed in favour of the highest bidder. We are nowhere past money bag politics. It is on record that voters across party lines in Ekiti were induced with money, ranging from between 4,000 to 10, 000 naira to vote. Neither the Nigerian voter nor politician appears to have learned anything from the past. The fact that we have hardly learned anything from the past is the reason politicians would measure their popularity and indeed service to the people with a brief photo-op on the road side with a grandmother whose eyes have become rheumy from decades of long exposure to the harshness of burning coal. How can anyone equate eating roast corn on the road, riding okada with jobless school leavers or frying fish with an impoverished fish monger, with popular acceptance?
The electoral field is made tough and impossible for those who want to play by the rule given the cheap expectations of the electorate whose very poverty and ignorance are all politicians need to keep them in thrall. We ask too little and are in turn offered too little or nothing in return. Otherwise, people would not accept 4,000 as adequate compensation for four years of misgovernance. If four years ago the PDP claimed Ekiti through the massive use of unauthorized power, if the defeated governor then who has now regained the office was criticized for observing basic rule of electoral decency and seen as alienated by his ‘oyinbo’ ways, can anyone blame him or his party now for resorting to the language the people understand- money?
If rascally ways are celebrated for their own end by what rules should decent people play? What happened in Ekiti is a reflection of our low level of electoral knowledge, development and progress. The losers in this election have nothing to complain about, at least not in terms of being unfairly treated. What played out in Ekiti is a balance of corruption, a matching of corrupt electorate with corrupt politics and corrupt politicians. Material and monetary inducements were offered as counters to similar inducement in a bid to win votes. The Ekiti election operationalized Arthur Nzeribe’s promised response to the National Party of Nigeria patronage- style politics in 1983- it was cash for cash, yam for yam and stock fish for stock fish.