By Tonnie Iredia
At the end of the Ekiti governorship elections held on July 14, 2018, those songs that are usually played after every Nigerian election are currently on. While members of the winning All Progressive Congress, APC are singing praises of the electoral body and other institutional actors in the contest, their opponents in the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP are telling all those who care to hear that they were the real winners by adducing several factors which allegedly swapped their victory.
As is always the case, none of the parties is ready to identify areas of weaknesses to be redressed for future contests. Sadly, members of the general public that would be at the receiving end during governance, hardly ever bother to critically look out for the real correlation between the process and its end result. Rather, some would counsel those who were said to have lost the election to stop acting as bad losers. What most people fail to realize is that winners and losers in Nigerian elections are all bad because the elections themselves are usually bad. In the Ekiti elections for instance, there is nothing to cheer.
One would have given some credit to INEC in view of some improvements in her arrangements but to do so amounts to praising the referee of an unclean contest. INEC is the principal administrator of elections in Nigeria whose duty is to coordinate the entire election process and take credit for the success or blame for the failure of an election. It is the duty of the commission to take steps to close any loophole that hinders hitch-free exercise. We can therefore not praise INEC if an election is marred by any type of malpractices.
It is surely an anomaly, to announce a winner of an election while admitting that the exercise was marred by vote-buying as contained in the communiqué issued by INEC at the end of a meeting of all its commissioners shortly after the Ekiti elections. Vote-buying happened to the nation’s embarrassment as it was played to the world at large by the social media. Kayode Fayemi, the candidate who was declared winner of the election was probably the only one who didn’t see it but he can ask one of his great supporters, Senator Ayo Arise to educate him on how APC had to buy votes because PDP was allegedly buying.
There is also his fellow party member, one SKC Ogbonnia, a self acclaimed APC Presidential Aspirant, who imagines that the victory of his party at the Ekiti elections is essentially pyrrhic because the elections merely went to the highest bidder. Another analyst who also claims to be an APC presidential aspirant, Chief Charles Udeogaranya even asked INEC to nullify the Ekiti election. In the words of the aspirant, “I am appalled that with thousands of law- upholding agencies of government, ranging from Police, DSS, Civil Defence and military deployed to ensure the rule of law in supervising the Ekiti governorship election, electoral illegality and malpractices were still the order of the day as videos in social media revealed and as reports showed.” PDP, the other major contestant has expectedly argued that it won the election and that the ruling APC at the federal level used its power to install its candidate. But it would be a hard sell to the smaller parties and the public for the PDP to exonerate itself form vote-buying. Already, Tunde Adeniran, a chieftain of the Social democratic Party, SDP has explained that his party, not being a money bag, lost the contest simply because it was a vote-buying venture.
Bearing in mind that nothing happened to vote- buyers in the last set of governorship elections in Edo, Anambra and Ondo states; INEC cannot be heard to say it did not expect vote-buying in Ekiti. It is an electoral malpractice that will continue to dent her image if something is not urgently done about it. If INEC recognises that certain persons are not eligible to vote and she arranges to make it impossible for such people to vote, she is also obliged to arrange for vote-buyers to be stopped. If so, what strategy did she design to nullify it? Whereas it can be argued that an electoral body can only depend on the nation’s police as she has no police of its own to enforce electoral law, our own INEC has no business relying on only the police without an arrangement that would dissuade our type of police from spoiling her work. After all, what INEC found earlier from its own Administrative Inquiry into the 2016 Rivers State re-run elections was what it called “the obstructive and fragrant involvement of security agencies in the process.” This notwithstanding, the police alone had 30, 000 operatives on ground meaning that in the Ekiti election of last Saturday which produced just over 300, 000 voters, one out of every 10 persons within polling units in the state was a security operative.
Such a figure would no doubt have been too high even if the event was changed from governorship election to national police games. Because Ekiti was over policed, those deployed there had to find what to do hence they resurrected dead laws to give themselves powers to do certain functions. In the circumstance, although it was electioneering campaign period, the police forcefully dispersed rallies which had no police permit as if we had returned to the days of the obnoxious public order act shut down by the judiciary many years back. Except INEC does something to rescue the control of elections from the security agencies, it would not be irrational to accuse our electoral body of abdicating from its assigned constitutional functions. Put differently, the security component of an election ought to be merely an input to position INEC to attain a hitch-free exercise. Never again should the commission allow the security agencies to acquire such prominence in the conduct of elections that supersedes the control of the principal administrator. Otherwise, we may get to a situation such as happened in Edo in 2016 where the governorship election in the state was postponed without the knowledge of INEC.
What about the suggestion that for his many antics and how he won the 2014 elections, last Saturday’s operations served Governor Fayose right? The elections were not about Fayose, but about the right of the Ekiti people to choose their governor. Besides, the present administration was voted in because it promised to reverse the wrongs of the past. Vote-buying was one of those vices; because it was perpetuated rather than stopped, we are neither persuaded to applaud the Ekiti elections nor to cheer the winner of a sham contest.