By Rotimi Fasan
In the end it was Hope Uzodimma, Usman Ododo amd Douye Diri who emerged victorious in the just-concluded governorship election in Imo, Kogi and Bayelsa states. Clearly, the governing parties in all the three states that participated in this so-called off-season elections were set for victory and eventually won. There were allegations of irregularities quite all right but these only affected some polling units across the three states.
By early afternoon on Monday, the election had been declared over, won and lost, in the three states. Which only leaves us with the loud protestations from the losers.
While observers have as usual raised issues about votes from some units where, it was alleged, voting didn’t take place, there have been no reports of widespread violence or ballot snatching that could have substantially impaired the integrity of the votes cast or the declaration of winners.
What was most apparent and was widely reported was voter-apathy and voter-inducement.
Many citizens of the states, particularly in Imo, didn’t bother to go cast their votes while some of those who did chose to sell their votes to the highest bidder. Let nobody play innocent here; participants in these election were variously guilty of whatever lapses were observed. The difference is a matter of degree and the level of complicity, not that some people were violating electoral rules while others played entirely by the rule.
This is the fact about our elections that some choose to gloss over in their deliberate misreading of electoral practices by politicians that they classify into discrete groups of sinners and saints. There is a sizeable shade of both sinners and those sinned against in the different parties. That this cycle of elections took place in just three states meant they were relatively better-managed and effectively better-policed. It was easier to observe things more closely than during general elections when both the officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission, including their often complicit counterparts in the states, are with the security agencies stretched to their operational limits. In this instance, they were better-monitored.
Which is why the opposition elements in the states where the election held don’t have a lot they could with facts complain about beyond the typical finger-pointing. As far as the elections returned the incumbents to office, nothing new happened. With more people on ground, be they security operatives, INEC officials or election observers to keep their eyes on things, claims of electoral malfeasance required more proofs and were, therefore, drastically reduced.
This has not altogether stopped those who will never take responsibility for anything from complaining and holding others complicit for their failures. Right now they are everywhere on the social media where they are holding everyone from President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to INEC’s Chair, Mahmood Yakubu, responsible.
Nothing is being said about the threats of violence from separatist groups, say in Imo, that could have frightened many into staying indoors; the disruption of economic activities that has impoverished many and made them so forlorn as to see their votes as ineffectual or reduced them to such level that they saw nothing amiss with having to exchange their votes for money. All we hear are the usual name-calling about Uzodimma being a stooge of outsiders.
Not many are saying anything about the uncoordinated campaigns of the opposition parties whose candidates were dogged by in-fighting. The factions within the camps of the opposition parties or how the disagreements among their members brightened the chances of the incumbent candidates are not given consideration enough.
No doubt there were many cases of pre-election violence in a place like Kogi, for example, which must have affected the outcome of the election in some way. But the fact remains that incumbents tend to win state elections due to the nature of our electoral laws and the overall organisation of elections. This happens without prejudice to the parties the incumbents come from. This is what we saw from Imo to Kogi and Bayelsa.
Yet, what losers in such elections want to hear is that INEC is the architect of their loss. In Imo State, some of those opposed to Uzodimma claim people from outside the state and, indeed, the South-East have taken over the political space and imposed unwanted politicians on them. The new song is that Uzodimma has been transformed from a Supreme Court governor to an INEC or Mahmood Yakubu or, in fact, Bola Tinubu governor.
Many of these critics have issued ultimatums to INEC to reverse the results of the elections and are already heading for the courts. That was the destination of many of them from the very start anyway. They knew they had no genuine path to victory for as long as the incumbents are contesting or interested in who succeeds them.
Whatever Nigerians may have to say about the judiciary taking very prominent role in the determination of elections, the politicians have a lot to answer for. Losers in elections may be quick to blame INEC and their counterparts in other parties for their electoral woes, what they cannot deny is that the general lack of integrity and transparency among politicians is the reason why we are where we are today.
The fraud that often characterizes party primaries lead to avoidable litigations that go a long way to make nonsense of our electoral processes. All of this probably started in this latest democratic dispensation with the Rotimi Amaechi case in Rivers State in 2007. Olusegun Obasanjo’s tampering with the outcome of the Peoples Democratic Party’s primaries in that election was what led to the Supreme Court decision that threw up Amaechi.
Perhaps, because that was an intra-party incident, many of those complaining today and for whom Obasanjo is a political patron saint saw nothing wrong with it then. They would, however, not forgive the same Supreme Court for the case of Uzodimma. One outrage only leads to more despicable outrage and in the end many resort to self-help which is what we see today with the violence in Imo and the push-back from the government.
We saw how even Joe Ajaero of the Nigeria Labour Congress got into the mix and was badly beaten. The same thing played out on a smaller scale at the collation centre in Imo where the Labour Party agent, Calistus Ihejiagwa, was walloped by other party agents and thrown out of the collation centre. The usual culprits are being blamed. None of the losers in this and previous elections deemed it right to fight for a change in our electoral law until they fell victim of it. They waited to exploit it and, when they failed, they cried foul. Until politicians learn to fight for the common good, they would always lose the plot.