The gubernatorial elections in Ekiti State has come and gone on Saturday 14th July, 2018. The candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Dr. John Kayode Fayemi emerged winner having polled 197,459 votes and winning in 12 of the 16 Local Government Areas of the State. His closest challenger, Prof. Olusola Eleka of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) polled 178,121 and won in the remaining 4 LGAs of the State. The margin of victory is 19,3388, which is quite significant.
As is usual with politics, politicians and elections in Nigeria, there have been claims and counter claims by the stakeholders and participants in the elections, especially the two leading parties – APC and PDP. While the PDP claims that the elections were fraught with irregularities including intimidation of their supporters by the security agents, vote buying, ballot box snatching, vote manipulation, etc, the APC insists that it won fair and square because the people of Ekiti were tired of the PDP controlled State Government of out-going governor Ayodele Fayose’s inadequacies.
The lead-up to the elections had laid enough markers for keen observers to surmise that it will not be a smooth process for all concerned. Firstly, the primaries of the two major parties were not without controversies. These presented some indications as to the fact that political parties in Nigeria are still a far cry from practicing internal democracy that is able to manage the diverse individual and sub-group interests and aspirations in a manner that winners and losers alike are still able to forge a stronger collective. Then the campaigns came filled with so much calumny and bad blood, again with the APC and PDP as major culprits.
After all the hue and cry from winners and losers in the elections, a critical appraisal of the entire processes revealed the following:
1. Party primaries, especially the APC and PDP were marred with the usual controversies that have come to characterize party nomination processes in Nigeria. Internal democracy within the parties still remains an illusion;
2. Political campaigns are still a calumnious affair. Name calling, dirt throwing, intimidation, thuggery, etc were deployed. Issues that have bearing on the lives of the average person on the streets were relegated to the background;
3. The party in control of the Federal Government always tends to display excessive desperation to absolutely control the political space, deploying huge financial and human resources, especially the security apparatus to intimidate the opposition parties and candidates;
4. The collusion of INEC and security agents with politicians is also a very disturbing situation;
5. Technical deficiencies persist i.e Card readers failing in some areas;
6. The most prominent concern was the blatant display of vote buying by the parties, especially the APC and the PDP, who were reported to have paid N5,000 and N3,000 respectively per voter.
In spite of the above, one major positive from the elections was the fact that the usual logistics challenge that accompany the distribution of electoral materials, both sensitive and non-sensitive, was overcome. This accounted for the timely commencement of election day activities.
The matters arising from the Ekiti elections, once again confirm the worst fears of critics that electoral illegality and malpractice still pervade. Will the forthcoming governorship elections in Osun State be similar to Ekiti? Or will INEC use it as an opportunity to clear any lingering doubts about our preparedness to have general elections in 2019? Is the Federal Government willing and ready to stop its meddlesomeness in the affairs of the electoral body? When can the system start to punish those who infract the provisions of the laws governing the conduct of elections in the land?
In trying to find answers to the above questions, the buck really stops on INEC’s table. This is because the Commission is the only statutory administrator and manager of elections in Nigeria. It is rather disappointing that after nearly 20 years and 5 general elections, with numerous bye-elections conducted, INEC is still grappling with the burden of improving the credibility of elections processes and outcomes. Until such a time that INEC can rise above both the internal and external impediments to the conduct of free, fair and credible elections, sustainable national development will continue to be elusive. This is because there is a direct correlation between a process and its result – a flawed process cannot produce a good result.
In addition, the political class also has a critical role to play in birthing a credible electoral order. It is disheartening that the win-at-all cost syndrome has eaten too deeply into the fabric of our political society. Selfish interest is the major motivation for majority of Nigeria’s political class. Plans are usually perfected to undermine the electoral rules to gain undue advantage over opponents. The struggle for political power in Nigeria has indeed assumed a dangerous dimension. Campaign promises are mere rhetoric. This is entrenched because the system encourages lack of transparency and accountability.
Security agents who are drafted to ensure peaceful and orderly conduct of elections are mostly compromised by politicians or are subservient to the whims of the government in power. They are, oftentimes, far from being impartial. Independent election observers represent a window for hope but most are challenged by logistics in moving around to cover as much of the election areas as possible. Sometimes their reports are largely ignored by the relevant authorities, especially if such reports are unfavorable to the establishment.
As the 2019 elections fast approach, there are a lot of gaps to plug to ensure that the outcome is free, fair and credible. All stake holders – INEC, political parties, security agents, independent observers and the citizens owe it as a duty to improve our electoral system. Maybe, just maybe, the little matter of the Osun elections will be a better dress rehearsal for the main event. Time will tell.
By Sunny Udeh
A very concerned Nigerian