By Tonny Iredia
On May 14, 2012, there was massive demonstration in Benin City leading to loss of lives and property. The bone of contention was an allegation that INEC was in league with some people to undertake a fake voter’s registration exercise for the purpose of rigging the governorship elections scheduled to hold some 2 months away.
Perhaps because the demonstrators were led by the Comrade Governor himself, INEC promptly shelved its plans to update the voter’s register so to accommodate newly eligible persons for voter registration. Surprisingly, the electoral body later issued an official statement that its investigation showed that the allegation which influenced its previous decision was baseless.
At least three issues are note-worthy here. First, the cancellation of the exercise meant that many citizens otherwise qualified to vote in the elections were disenfranchised. Second, because nothing was done to either penalize or reprimand the alarmists, public confidence in INEC waned. Third, some people had to die so that some politicians can win elections -a trend which painfully subsists in the political life of the nation. Do well meaning citizens not have a duty to bring the trend to an end?
Although Democracy is about the politics of equality, election as a game is hardly played in Nigeria on a level playing field. Instead, our political leaders strive hard all the time to impose anointed candidates who may not necessarily be the best of the aspirants.
They often organize rancorous party primaries which they either out-rightly rig or have the real winner changed for no reason as was done to Senator Ifeanyi Ararume by the PDP during the primaries for the governorship elections in Imo State in 2007. Incumbent governors who are anxious to cover their tracks are usually in the forefront of such brazen breach of democracy. At the end of the primaries all state resources are put at the disposal of their anointed candidates.
Again, do well meaning citizens not owe a duty to posterity to rise up against such undue influence? In the last one month, this column has answered the question in the affirmative concerning the coming governorship elections in Edo and Ondo states. Our views are probably not palatable to some people but everyone including those who appear to be angry knows ure to be blameless.
The goal is to offer direction on how democracy ought to run because with a level playing ground, all the contestants have access to public institutions like the media and facilities like the stadium to freely canvass their manifestos and election promises. The electorates would then be properly positioned to make informed electoral decisions
One of the gains of our unbending posture is that the non-partisan nature of the articles is getting clearer. It is indeed instructive that Edo and Ondo states that have been our focus are controlled by 2 different political parties making it puerile to employ name calling of the messenger to derogate from the thrust of the message.
More importantly, the articles have raised public consciousness just as they are already checkmating our politicians. In Ondo for instance, the yet to be anointed candidate has begun to articulate a number of persuasive points to suggest that he is indeed a fit and proper person to, on his own merit, stand for election as governor of the state. By so doing, voters can look at his personality for what it is worth and not that of a supposed godfather. In Edo, it is similarly gratifying that after all the personal attacks on this columnist; the overbearing outgoing governor is being constructively restrained to allow the candidate who is ordinarily articulate enough to speak for himself.
As one professional colleague confirmed a few days back, it is now possible to hear Godwin Obaseki making his point. For this reason, I can conveniently discountenance all the contrived rejoinders purporting to reply my articles titled, “Continuity in Edo on what?” of July 31, 2016 and “Ondo 2016: Mimiko should allow level playing field” of August 07, 2016, respectively. Bearing in mind that Governor Mimiko went through proper educational training in learning and conduct, it is not surprising that he did not resort to abusive or intemperate language because of a critical article.
Another aspect of undue influence which ought to be discontinued in our elections is the role of traditional rulers who ordinarily are not to take sides in electoral contests. But more often than not, the rulers are seen publicly canvassing support for one candidate or another.
As if the royal fathers are the beautiful brides of an election, everyone scampers for their support. Hence, the governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic (PDP) in Ondo in 2012, Mr. Olusola Oke allegedly promised to pay 5% of all monthly allocations of local governments to Obas to enhance their status and standard of living if he was supported to win. In order that our traditional rulers remain revered as the fathers of their communities, the pressure on them to endorse any candidate is undesirable. In any case, it is not hard to appreciate that the endorsements by some traditional rulers are not voluntary.
In 2011, the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, in Abia state, Chief Reagan Ufomba alleged that then Governor, Theodore Orji gave traditional rulers in the State about N2 million to buy votes for him during the election.
Whether this allegation is correct or not is hard to ascertain but it cannot be ignored in view of the revelation by a retired Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Stanley Shenko Alagoa, that “some judges collect bribe from politicians and traditional rulers to pervert the course of justice.”
The revelation resonates the way and manner a delegation of traditional rulers in Osun state led by the Ataoja of Osogbo openly endorsed Governor Rauf Aregbesola for a second term ahead of the governorship election in the state. Similarly, the Nyewali of Rumeme community in Port Harcourt reportedly assured our former first lady of the support of the people for President Jonathan in the 2015 election.
Finally, commercialized politics is no doubt harmful to society as every winner would begin by recouping his huge election expenses. When will this and political violence as well as other knotty issues vanish from Nigerian politics?