•Raise alarm on Edo, Ondo polls
By Dirisu Yakubu
Dictators are not in the business of allowing elections that could remove them from their homes,”- Gene Sharp in “From Dictatorship to Democracy
Two decades of uninterrupted democracy in Nigeria, elections have continued to fetch the nation local and international flaks. From general elections to staggered polls, voters are yet to witness semblances of free and fair elections since the return to democracy in 1999. From vote buying to outright figures manipulations, emerging governments thereof had been tainted with huge credibility burden, so much that analysts across the land agree that what is obtainable in Nigeria is not democracy but civilian rule.
Of the vices threatening the electioneering system in Nigeria, the worst perhaps is the use of security agents to intimidate voters, change figures and thus, influence the electoral outcome. In the September 19, 2018 Osun governorship election for instance, a pathetic scenario played out, much to the shame of a nation.
On first ballot, candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP Senator Ademola Adeleke polled a total of 254, 698 votes leaving his All Progressives Congress, APC counterpart, Gboyega Oyetola second on the log with total votes of 254,345. Declaring the exercise inconclusive, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, premised its reasons on the fact that the number of cancelled votes was far in excess of the margin of lead by the PDP candidate.
With optimism on the part of the electorate for an atmosphere of peace to play out in the re-run; the military took positions in polling centres, thereby making it difficult for the electorate to freely exercise their franchise. At the conclusion of the supplementary poll, the second swapped place with the first, birthing the biblical instance of wailing and gnashing of teeth in the camp of the PDP.
Not a few would forget the event in Kano in the 2019 general elections. Governor Abdullahi Ganduje of the APC met a formidable opponent in PDP’s Abba Yusuf whose grassroots campaign strategy drove a wedge of panic down the spine of the ruling party. Yusuf garnered a total of 1,014,474 votes, 26, 655 more than Ganduje whose 987,817 votes on first ballot left him on the verge of quitting the Kano state Government House.
Like it happened in Osun, INEC ordered a re-run in a tensed atmosphere that ensured that only the brave and audacious ventured out for the exercise. With the security agencies threatening to deal decisively with anyone undermining peace in the ancient city; the ruling party waxed stronger this time as at the conclusion of re-run, Ganduje had secured a total of 1,033, 695 votes, leaving the PDP candidate with 1,024, 713 of total vote cast. Again, the role of the military was glaring. The rest became history!
Although PDP had its fair share of troubles in the days leading to the 2018 governorship election in Ekiti state, security presence in the state during the election worked in favour of one party against the others. A visibly shaken Governor Ayodele Fayose broke down in tears and admitted to suffering from “sifia pains,” given the manner movement of voters was rendered difficult.
All these have elicited fears among prominent Nigerians, many of whom have argued that 2023 might pose yet another challenge in the nation’s quest for peaceful polls.
Addressing a party faithful on Wednesday, national chairman of the PDP, Prince Uche Secondus urged President Muhammadu Buhari to right the wrongs of the past by conducting free and fair polls in Edo and Ondo governorship elections slated for the last quarter of this year.
According to him, a replication of the scenarios in Kano and Osun would attract stiff resistance on the part of the people who “have grown tired of seeing their votes stolen at the eleventh hour.”
He said: “We call on President Muhammadu Buhari to rise to the challenge of leadership confronting our dear country and defend its unity by conducting a free, fair and credible election in Edo state. Stop use of military and other security operatives in abuse of electoral rules.
“By conducting free and fair election in Edo, the President will not only be stabilizing the country politically but would also be averting an impending doom that could make the doomsday prediction about Nigeria’s disintegration come true. God forbid!
“The heightened tension in Edo state at the moment is needless if the APC is willing and equipped to face the electorates, but where it’s obvious that they have nothing to offer to get the votes of Nigerians. They are resorting to all devious means to undermine the democratic process.
“Let me warn that APC might be standing on the excitement of its previous rigged elections in Osun, Ekiti, Kano and Kogi states in the past and think that their victory at the tribunal legitimizes their underhand acts but they forget to put into consideration the anger of God and the people to evil doers who refuse to change.”
On his part, national chairman of the Social Democratic Party, SDP, Professor Tunde Adeniran said any thought of replicating militarized polls in the future should be buried even as he vowed to work with other pro- democracy groups and agencies to protect the people’s votes.
“I don’t see that happening (use of military to scuttle election). We certainly will not betray the trust of the Nigerian people to protect their rights to democracy. We will not allow past electoral malpractices and violence to resurface,” he pledged.
Co-convener of the Bring Back Our Girls, BBOG, movement, Aisha Yesufu says although APC is not solely to blame for the culture of militarization of elections in the country; the ruling party, she said, has taken the vice to a new notch.
She spoke to Saturday Vanguard exclusively: “Militarization of elections started in 2014 during the government of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan. We saw how people were arrested during the Ekiti elections and how Adams Oshiomhole then, was prevented from accessing Ekiti state. The military then said they obstructed Oshiomhole’s movement in obedience to orders from above.”
She continued: “APC has taken it to a new level. The ruling party has succeeded in outdoing whatever the PDP did while it was in power. If not for the use of military, outcome of the elections we have witnessed in recent times would have come out differently. What we have today are security agencies that are loyal to the President and the party in power instead of being loyal to Nigeria and the Nigerian people.
“We saw what happened in Kano and how the incumbent governor had almost lost the election and how all of a sudden, the election took a new turn. It will be worse in 2023. So to avert the looming danger, the President must do everything possible to sign the electoral amendment bill into law.”
Suraju Olarewaju, Executive Director, Human and Environmental Developmental Agenda, HEDA, said a repeat of militarized polls should not be entertained in future elections.
”I don’t foresee that replaying in 2023. We have advanced beyond that primitive practice and INEC will not dare subject the country to such odious experience again. Nigerians and other stakeholders must speak up loud against any such move with clear warning to politicians to also conduct their campaigns and engagement of the electoral process in peaceful and orderly manner and prevent heating the polity to create justification for military invitation or involvement and providing security during and at the polls.”
Similarly, President, Women Arise, Dr. Joe Okey-Odumakin chided security agencies for lending themselves to be used to scuttle the nation’s electioneering process.
In her words, “It is sad that rather than provide adequate security during the conduct of elections, some of our security agents have become tools in the hand of politicians, who in their desperation to win elections, perpetrate violence during elections, thereby denying the people, their rights to freely choose their leaders.
”The truth is that the power to resist a re-occurrence of such ugly trend is in the hand of the people, who must be resolute in ensuring that every due process is followed and politicians and their collaborators within the security agencies, are prevented from manipulating the electoral process or unleashing violence. The ultimate power for a credible election lies in the hands of the people and until we realise this, the outcome of our elections will continually be determined by politicians and their collaborators within the security agencies.”
President Buhari, the biggest beneficiary of electoral reforms has failed after five years to leverage on the power of technology to grow the nation’s democracy. This is the submission of Auwal Ibrahim Rafsanjani, Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, CISLAC.
In a chat with this medium, Rafsanjani said: “Five years in the life of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration, there is no effort whatsoever to have electoral reforms in the country. It is not good to have militarization of elections in a democracy. This must stop if we must be taken as a serious nation.”
It is left to be seen if the President will bequeath to the nation a reformed electoral process before exiting the stage in 2023.