“Party agents had huge cash and were close to voting points. Security agents were indifferent to cash inducement of voters. The whole process falls short of the compliance with international best standards”.
A coalition of 50 domestic organisations and international observer bodies.
Ekiti, one of the nation’s poorest states, bears the cross and tell-tale symptoms of hyper politicisation. Every election pushes it to the brink, transforming the otherwise placid and peaceful realm into a theatre of war, terror and counter terror. To an extent, Ekiti’s political frenzy reflects the national resume of volatility, of being perennially bound to violence, while amplifying that unhappy syndrome to absurd decibels. The recent election in the state, won by Dr Kayode Fayemi, a former governor of the state, did not disappoint in the level and resonance of official mobilisation, close to 50,000 security personnel, and in heightened anxieties about the breakdown of law and order. But first things first. This columnist congratulates Fayemi, the winner, shall we say survivor of that election, whose wits and academic training in military strategy must have been exercised to their very limits.
As known, even though the election is over, the ripples of battle are very much in evidence, as one of the major combatants, belonging to the Peoples Democratic Party, has rejected outright the official results of the election, calling it daylight robbery. Symptomatic of the wild tenor of the competition was the widely criticised declaration of the so-called results on Ekiti Radio by the maverick governor of the state, Mr Ayodele Fayose. Interestingly, the All Progressives Congress has often justified actions such as the controversial and wanton deployment of security to police the election, by reference to Fayose’s unconventional style and willingness to go for broke. As an academic colleague and member of the party’s think tank in Ekiti put it to me recently; “What choice do you have when you are dealing with a Fayose who is willing to test the very boundaries of legality and acceptable conduct?”
To be sure, elegant theorising is one thing, the messy realities of actual politics are quite another; even at that, there are lingering questions about official overreaction to Fayose, verging on the possible abuse of federal might in the July 24 election. In the context of other forthcoming elections, there is a need, in an age of technology, to transcend the addiction to the power or myth of numbers, which conveys a hint of overpowering presence or intimidation by size. Is security best maintained by a large outlay of personnel or by smart, unobtrusive deployment? As the opening quote, sourced from a melange of national and international observers suggests, when it came to dealing with the criminal but widespread conduct of vote-buying, the outsize security meant nothing, as they looked on indifferently. Beyond that, there are allegations that security operatives were complicit in the tragedy of relatively organised vote-buying Factually, vote-buying has been with us since the early days of the Republic. As The Nation columnist, Louis Odion, recently pointed out, it was Fayose who first propounded the so-called theory of stomach infrastructure during the 2014 election, only to become in 2018 its most distinguished casualty. It would appear that what transpired is that the APC simply beat Fayose at his own game by outspending him and by taking stomach infrastructure to the various polling booths on Election Day. As various observers made clear, the Independent National Electoral Commission, improved on its act in terms of logistics, punctually arriving with election materials, while recording comparatively reduced cases of card reader failures.
This indicates that INEC’s readiness for subsequent elections under Prof. Mahmood Yakubu had considerably improved, and one can only hope that this new posture, is carried through the entire election season. Returning to security, it is amazing that the heavy deployment of personnel, failed to arrest several incidents of ballot snatching and thuggery displayed in towns and villages far away from the state capital. This shows that there is a difference between the paraphernalia of security and its actual effectiveness. Capability would have meant that security, rather than being concentrated in one or two towns, would have been more evenly spread across the entire span of the state. Another scenario in the context of forthcoming election is to come up with a census of potential flashpoints with a view to developing strategies to meet them head on, without giving the impression that there is an emergency to be contained.
Contextually, there was a measure of desperation on the part of the major combatants, partly because the APC required a victorious election to debunk the growing impression that it had failed to grapple with governance problems and that voters are ready to throw it out at the earliest opportunity. This may explain the hypertonic mobilisation of security and the do-or-die atmosphere that it conjured shortly before and during the election. Fayose and the PDP also fought what they considered to be the battle of their lives, partly because the party was eager to show that it has now morphed into a serious alternative to the ruling APC, and to flash the possibility of regaining power at the centre in 2019. The triumphalism of the APC notwithstanding, its margin of victory in Ekiti is too narrow to hang any bets on. In all of these, it is important to stress that the APC must not lose sight of its dual responsibilities or roles as both an umpire and contestant. If it skews the terrain in the pursuit of victory at any cost, it automatically falls short of its mandate to maintain a level playing field. Indeed, the very survival of our democracy may well depend on the adroitness and fairness with which the APC juggles the balls of competition and impartiality. Arguably, it did not take its responsibility as arbiter, which implies letting the institutions do their work without interference seriously enough in Ekiti.
Let me say a bit more on vote-buying, which has been described as the crying shame of the election. The context, let us not forget, is one of mass poverty with Nigeria recently becoming the world’s poverty capital, so, situational ethics, rooted in survival, is the underlying circumstance. In point of fact, studies of policy implementation at the grassroots have documented how, as a result of competition for resources and poverty, plans and policies are substantially modified in the course of implementation. This is not however to justify vote-buying or the enormous extent to which it was carried in Ekiti. The challenge of minimising it in subsequent elections must be accepted dutifully. This will only happen if the political authorities muster the will to tackle it by enforcing the electoral law which already criminalises the offence. That apart, the much advocated Electoral Offences Tribunal should be expedited to deal with those found guilty of this and other offences. That will not be enough. It is important for civil society, the electorate and elite security organisations, which cannot be easily compromised to maintain vigils around the voting exercise and theatre. Only a determined assault on this cardinal dysfunction can roll it back.