Highlighting the relative strength of Kenyans' voting power despite the country's difficulties, Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem contends that Nigerians have no illusions around their own votes. With Ekiti State witnessing the re-run of its local election following the Court of Appeal's 17 February 2009 ruling, the State Governor and People's Democratic Party's (PDP) Olusegun Oni faced Dr Kayode Fayemi of Action Congress (AC) on 25 April. Of national significance in potentially denting the PDP's near-monopoly of political power, the determination of electoral monitors to oversee a clean count led to their suffering a brutal attack by PDP thugs while en route back to the state capital Ado Ekiti, an attack observed with amusement by local police. While the intervention of a senior officer stopped the attack, the victims were then ludicrously arrested and detained over a 48-hour period in Abuja. This situation, Abdul-Raheem contends, is tantamount to a June 12 1992 – when Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida oversaw the forceful detention of a candidate he found unpalatable – at state level, the overall responsibility for which must lay at President Umaru Yar' Adua's door.
It is difficult to persuade Kenyans, exasperated by the shenanigans of their Grand Coalition – which many regard as the Grand Confusion – government, that there is anything good in electoral democracy. However, the recent rescue of the country from political implosion by the speaker of the national parliament has also rescued parliamentary democracy. Kenyans are much better off than many other African citizens. One important area where Kenyans are better off is the fact that their vote now matters. They have made the cost of rigging, denying or robbing them of their vote so high that politicians are more circumspect and fearful of the wrath of the electorate.
Nigerians do not have such illusions about voting. The masses have not lost hope that one day their vote will count, but the politicians have no such hope. They fight the election as you would fight a war, both during the nominations inside their party and actual elections against other parties’ candidates.
Nothing illustrates this point better than the recent re-election taking place in Ekiti State.
On 17 February 2009 the Court of Appeal ordered a re-run of the governorship election in 65 wards in 10 local governments of Ekiti State. The effect of that order was that the ruling PDP (People's Democratic Party) governor of the state, Olusegun Oni, had his election annulled. Dr Kayode Fayemi of the opposition, Action Congress (AC), was the appellant. In the undisputed result, Oni had a majority of the votes. He is believed to have won the April 2007 election outright, but the appeal court ruled that there were irregularities in the specified wards, hence the re-run in place of giving him his mandate back outright.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) conducted the re-run election on 25 April 2009. As I write, the result of five local governments had been released and the two candidates were still neck-and-neck, but Kayode is leading if all the votes are put together. The re-run in one of the 10 local governments had been postponed due to violence, making it impossible for the election to take place.
No party is innocent of election violence or the threat of it, but the power balance is often tipped in favour of the ruling party owing to its control of the formal instruments of coercion and control around administrative and judicial machinery.
The build-up to the election was anything but peaceful as both leading parties and their supporters engaged in ‘do or die’ efforts to get their candidate elected. There were all kinds of allegations and counter-allegations around who was preparing for or orchestrating threats and stockpiling weapons, as well as accusations about the partiality of the security establishment.
To guarantee the integrity of the process the INEC decided not to use its Ekiti State staff for the re-run election. There was national interest in the re-run, largely because of the great expectation by many that the PDP's near-monopoly of political power through unfair means would be dealt a blow in the state, as had happened recently through judicial decisions in two other states, Edo and Ondo.
The other factor is the fact that Fayemi has been a very active leader in civil society and the pro-democracy movement against the military. He is one of very few CSO (civil society organisation) activists to venture into partisan politics and therefore has a lot of goodwill from his former colleagues within Nigeria's civil society. Over 800 election monitors from different CSO groups across the country, the National Human Rights Commission and other election monitors were in Ekiti State for the election. The state is very small and the election was not even taking place in the whole state, meaning the monitors were more than sufficient to cover all the wards and polling stations. If any of the parties or their supporters wanted to violate the law, they had to do it in the presence of all these observers.
And this is what happened. According to a press release by Dr Jibrin Ibrahim, Director of the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD):
'In the afternoon of 25th April, political thugs from the PDP attacked civil society observers monitoring the gubernatorial election re-run. They were attacked at Ifaki ward of Ido-Osi Local Government Area of Ekiti State, the home town of Olusegun Oni, former PDP Governor of the State. They were en route to the capital, Ado Ekiti. They are:
1) Dr. Abubakar Momoh, Associate Professor of Political Science, Lagos State University and Centre for Democracy and Development;
2) Dr. Azeez Olaniyan, Lecturer, Department of Political Science, Ekiti State University, Ado-Ekiti;
3) Wahab Oyedokun, a lawyer on the staff of the National Human Rights Commission;
4) Bimbo Olaniyan, Programme Officer with Action Aid;
5) Babatunde Awodehinde from the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR);
6) Olusoga Olusegun from the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR);
7) Foudad Oki from the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR).
The assault took place at a police check point where four armed policemen watched in amusement while the political thugs attacked the observers with machetes, broken bottles, sticks and clubs. Dr Abubakar Momoh was beaten to a pulp and received numerous cuts from broken bottles. The Police watched as they put used tyre around Wahab Oyedokun’s neck and were looking for fuel to burn him alive.'
Only on account of the chance arrival and intervention of a senior police officer, CSP Samuel Etaifo Erale of Mopol (Mobile Police), was the brutalisation of the observers stopped. As if the assault was not enough the police then proceeded to arrest the victims instead of the perpetrators! They were locked in police cells and eventually driven to Abuja where they were released on bail on Monday evening after more than 48 hours of unnecessary suffering and gratuitous violence from PDP thugs and the police.
Those with a memory will remember the politics of the 1992 annulment of the election of Chief Mko Abiola, famously known as 'June 12'. It is a sad irony that Kayode actually became ‘state enemy no. 1’ for his role in bringing about the June 12 mandate. He is now facing a state level, June 12 conspiracy!
When IBB (Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida) and the other generals saw that a chief whom they did not want to succeed them was winning they halted the announcement and confiscated the mandate, subsequently jailing the winner, who never came out of prison alive.
What is happening in Ekiti is June 12 at the state level.
The issue is not whether one favours one candidate or the other but the sanctity of the freely expressed electoral choice of the citizens of that state. President Umaru Yar’ Adua did not promise Nigerians any miracles on his assumption of office as the beneficiary of a stolen mandate. He made two tangible promises: to lead by example as a ‘servant leader’ and follow the rule of law. What is happening in Ekiti State contradicts both. The guilty fingers are pointed at his party, his government and as president, the buck stops at his table.