By Tonnie Iredia
Many Nigerian political office-holders who cannot for one minute, withstand criticisms, hide under the social responsibility principle of the media to dissuade journalists from focusing on negative issues in society.
They say such posture often distorts societal progress. However, they consciously forget that Section 22 of the Nigerian Constitution empowers the media to police governance and hold leaders accountable to the people. Besides, it is unethical to overlook wrongdoings in governance, because when such wrongdoings are concealed, they would never be corrected.
This is why media professionals owe society, especially posterity, the duty to expose ills in public activities in the hope that such ills would be redressed in the interest of society. There is no other area better than the conduct of elections particularly in developing societies, where such poor execution of public policy ought to be exposed.
This influenced our decision today to undertake a review of happenings during the 2016 elections in Edo and Ekiti states to help stakeholders perform better in the next set of elections which are due in both states shortly.
We therefore commend this piece to our electoral body (INEC), political scientists, historians and sundry actors in our electoral system because anyone who genuinely seeks to comprehend the present so as to plan for tomorrow must first understand yesterday.
We need to listen to the famous Spanish-born philosopher, poet, and novelist, George Santayana (1863 – 1952) who once stated that: “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
So, as Edo and Ondo people, prepare to elect their governors, we hope and pray that those who eventually emerge as winners in the coming elections would be the real choices of the people. Although that is how it is supposed to be, history seems to record the contrary with respect to elections in all parts of Nigeria.
Indeed, beyond Edo and Ondo states, there are examples in places like Akwa Ibom state where the immediate past governor, Senator Godswill Akpabio later found cause, as if he was the sole elector, to publicly apologize for imposing current governor Udom, Emmanuel on the people of the state calling it a mistake that was begging for correction.
Less than two weeks ago, the immediate-past Secretary to the Ondo State Government, Sunday Abegunde claimed that the current state governor, Rotimi Akeredolu did not win the 2016 gubernatorial polls in the state adding that some people including himself (Abegunde) illegally manipulated the election in favour of Akeredolu.
In Edo, several APC chieftains who are convinced that Governor Godwin Obaseki owes his governorship to his predecessor, Adams Oshiomhole, have accused the governor of biting the fingers that fed him. Indeed, one protagonist even confessed that Obaseki’s party card was procured secretly by Oshiomhole’s followers.
If so, are we ready for the next election without pausing to think of why these boastful politicians are able to appropriate the general rights of the people to achieve a prescribed private agenda? Why, if one may ask, do we take pains to vote, if people can later openly confess without sanctions, to have manipulated the process?
The coming election, therefore, appears appropriate for us to take our destiny in our hands if we do not want godfathers, sponsors and party chieftains to steal our common mandate?
The motivation for imposing a governor on a state is easy to guess especially as it is always done with overwhelming determination. Outgoing governors fight to keep away every other aspirant except their own anointed person, from the party primaries.
In 2016, when the mandate of the real Ondo PDP candidate, Eyitayo Jegede was nullified by the courts, outgoing governor Segun Mimiko confessed later that he relocated from Akure to Abuja until it was restored. His government officials allegedly ensured that only the anointed candidate’s posters were allowed in the streets of Akure.
The situation in Edo was not different; all public buildings, street light poles and even the comrade buses carried only the stickers and promotional materials of the then APC candidate. The refusal to allow the opposition use public venues like the stadium and even the state media for campaign jingles and adverts made the Edo situation so tense that it featured in the official report of the election observation team.
Only last week, just because the roles have been reversed, the APC that started the culture was reportedly shedding crocodile tears that their campaign banners were destroyed by state officials
During elections, there is usually a unique fear of lack of level playing field often attributed to what is called federal power. In 2016, this was the feeling in Ondo State, a kind of Gerrymandering-a plot which gives unfair advantage to a party by keeping its opponent away from the polls.
Consequently, the then ruling party in the state, got the House of Assembly to pass a resolution requesting INEC to postpone the election but this was declined. As a result, Jegede, the real candidate of the PDP, was destabilized until some 72 hours before voting day making it impossible for him to engage in any meaningful campaigns.
What happened was that the courts directed INEC to replace Jegede’s name on the ballot in favour of Jimoh Ibrahim, the candidate of another faction of the party. Interestingly, the primaries where the court-imposed candidate was allegedly chosen, took place outside Ondo state and it was not monitored by INEC in line with the rules of engagement, yet it was used to weaken the opposition.
Another great concern is in the area of the enforcement of electoral law. Here, the tradition has been for the law enforcement agencies to give voters fake assurances. We are usually told of thousands of police personnel available to ensure that all goes well.
Para-military agencies are also reportedly engaged to complement police efforts, but in every election, as we saw in Kogi State recently, fake police and party thugs are always able to get away with a plethora of electoral malpractices. What this suggests is that the parties, their candidates and supporters need to be more vigilant to ensure that who becomes governor is indeed, the choice of the people.
To start with, political parties must ensure they have party agents in ALL polling and collation centres. The old practice of picking young unemployed people for this role has clearly been shown to be unwise because they are easily bought over by opponents. Committed party hands are the only persons fit to be party agents.
The saying that the judiciary is the last hope of the common man is not popularly believed in matters of elections in Nigeria. Settlement of election petitions in the country has of recent, posed many challenges.
First, no one is ever able to prove electoral malpractices in our courts perhaps because our electoral system makes proof virtually unattainable. Second, there are too many technicalities which can suddenly appear at the higher levels of the judiciary that can thwart earlier victories at the lower tribunals.
Edo and Ondo people should, therefore, ensure that the governors they prefer, win clearly in the polling booths rather than in the courts.