Last Saturday’s governorship election in Edo State was a positive development for electoral democracy in Nigeria. This is despite the fact that in the build-up to the election, there was a lot of desperation displayed by politicians engaged in “do or die” politics, inflammatory campaigns and pre-election violence. There was palpable fear that the atmosphere would degenerate into systematic disregard for the rules and procedures of the electoral process set out in law and regulations thereby affecting the outcome. The conduct of the campaign was bad tempered with outlandish claims by the leading parties that they would deliver massive majority outcomes and threats of violence. This created a climate of fear that might have kept voters away from the polls.
There was also a problem of widespread circulation of fake news and misinformation being used to create tension and fear about plots to mess up electoral outcomes. A toxic atmosphere was therefore created. The intervention by the National Peace Committee in securing a “Peace Accord” and the stern warning by the Oba of Benin to all politicians to avoid violence played a role in calming the atmosphere and creating an atmosphere that enabled voters to come out to vote. The President also made a formal commitment that he would guarantee free and fair elections. Finally, the security agencies were neutral and non-partisan in their interventions keeping violence to a bare minimum. One of the most important elements was that Edo citizens also considered the stakes in the elections very high and were determined to come out to exercise their mandate. At the end however, the election was violence-free and credible. The outcome was a winner whose victory has not been contested.
It is interesting that at the beginning of the story of the election, it was all about an individual who was not even on the ballot. Adams Oshiomhole made it about himself. Recall April 2011 when elected Governor of Edo State, Adams Oshiomhole visited with Oba Erediauwa of Benin to brief his Royal Highness that the godfather of Edo politics, Chief Tony Anenih has been defeated and sent into political retirement. Adams Oshiomhole returned to the theme of godfatherism on 28th September 28 2016 when he formally announced the complete termination of godfatherism in the state. The occasion was the defeat of Osagie Ize-Iyamu of the PDP by his own imposed candidate, Godwin Obaseki. He formally declared that he had eliminated all the remaining godfathers in the State naming specifically Tom Ikimi, Gabriel Igbinedion and Raymond Dokpesi as the last eliminated godfathers after the earlier ouster of Tony Anenih: “We have humbled Chief Tom Ikimi even in the local government he claimed to have created. We defeated Chief Raymond Dokpesi in his polling unit, his ward and his local government,” he said.
One person in the audience, newly elected Governor Obaseki did not understand the message. He thought the announcement was about the end of godfatherism. He was to find out soon enough that what was said was not what was meant. The message was that Adams was the new godfather. When the godfather gave instructions to godson Obaseki, who naively thought he was governor, the crisis began that ended up with his disqualification for a second term. Only a godfather can stop a sitting governor from getting a second term ticket. As I have said before, on the scale of godfatherism, Adams Oshiomhole scores high because of his three core competences – street fighting, transaction politics and taking no prisoners. Like all godfathers, Adams met his conqueror at the last election and joined the list of those he had overthrown previously. The people turned out to vote and they chose the sitting Governor over the candidate Adams had imposed on the ballot for the ruling APC. The verdict was accepted by all parties as the election was credible.
Nonetheless, our observers from the Centre for Democracy and Development noted with concern the high level of the illegal commerce of votes. A number of tactics were used by political actors on both sides of the partisan divide to procure votes. Party officials were seen openly giving voters gifts such as Ankara fabric, spaghetti and other food items. There was also direct purchase of votes and the observers reported cases where tickets were also given in lieu of cash for voters to vote and then return to use the ticket for collection of the cash. The amounts paid for votes ranged between N1000 and N5000. The scale of vote buying and the brazenness with which it was carried out in the open tainted the democratic credibility of the election. The fundamental question, which arises from the brazen manner in which vote buying was done in the Edo election, is whose responsibility it is to enforce the extant electoral laws of Nigeria, which has criminalised vote buying. I pose this question because law enforcement officials largely looked the other way while vote buying was going on. No efforts whatsoever were made to bring to book the perpetrators of these acts, which corrupt the electoral process. The consolidation of democracy requires that this process of commercialisation of the people’s mandate must be stopped.
Deepening our democracy also requires that candidate selection be carried out democratically as set out in the Electoral Act. The blockage of candidates from a level playing ground in party primaries resulting in defections from each of the major political parties, intra-party fractionalization, and disputes over which factions was in control of party secretariats at the state and local government levels must end. Our politics have also become too much of a zero-sum game in which contestants are ready to destroy party and society if that can lead them to power. It was in this context that the political culture of the abuse of power of incumbency became edified.
One commendable innovation INEC introduced at the Edo election was the result viewing portal, which improved transparency and accountability of the collation and declaration of results. Moving forward, this can only enhance citizens’ trust in the electoral process. There was a lot of fear that the Edo election would be conducted under high levels of violence by thugs. There was widespread relief that the level of violence was minimal and most citizens who wanted to vote were able to do so. The key stakeholders – INEC, security agencies, political parties and citizens played their roles largely, in accordance with the law and regulations. The Edo 2020 Governorship election is therefore another important step in the consolidation of Nigeria’s electoral democracy. The determination shown by the electorate to protect their mandate is a significant takeaway. Peaceful and credible elections are possible and must become the norm in Nigeria.