Domestic and international observers declared Nigeria's 2007 Presidential elections "flawed" and the results of many local and state elections have been overturned by the Courts. Unfortunately, Nigerians are increasingly accepting the notion that elections will be rigged to suit the needs of particular political interests. And, the current election confusion in the state of Ekiti, shocks the senses and calls into question whether fair and violence free democratic elections are truly possible in Nigeria.
Ekiti is a very interesting state in which many aspiring political figures have ended up dead over the years and allegations of political corruption reign supreme. A previous governor was impeached, resulting in then President Obasanjo instituting a military administrator to control the state. Ekiti state elections in 2007 brought Segun Oni, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate, to the office of the Governor. These election results were challenged by the Action Congress (AC) candidate, Kayode Fayemi who argued that Oni failed to comply with election laws in 10 specific areas in the state. In February 2009, an Appeals Court agreed with Fayemi and ordered the governor to vacate his office. The Speaker of the state house of Assembly,Olatunji Odeyemi, became the interim governor and the court ordered the national elections governing body to conduct a rerun election with 90 days. The Independent National Election Commission (INEC) later declared April 25th as election rerun day for the areas affected by the Court ruling.
EKITI'S RERUN ELECTIONS
While the people of Ekiti prepared for elections in 10, out of 16, local areas, media reports indicated that the Nigerian Police Force would descend on the state to deter violence and ensure peaceful voting. Allegations soon arose that the governor of a neighboring state was taped planning to rig the upcoming elections in favor of his poltical party. And by the time election day arrived, the atmosphere in Ekiti was tense.
The elections took place as scheduled on April 25th but not without theatrics. In certain local government areas or LGAs, there were reports of ballot "snatching". Voting was postponed in one LGA - Oye - due to concerns of possible violence. The results from the other LGAs, at one point declared "neck and neck", were eventually never announced by the local INEC Commissioner. At one point, the local INEC chief, Ayoka Adebayo, resigned stating that she was being "pressurized [sic] to declare fake results in support of one of the two main candidates." She later went missing, was declared "wanted" and then reappeared to conclude her obligation. The national INEC Chairman, Maurice Iwu, then announced that revelation of the results would be postponed indefinitely. In reaction to this and the continued delay in the results, people took to the streets, there were pockets of violence and older women protested partially naked. With all the histrionics, Oye LGA's election was rescheduled to May 5th. However, although results show that the dethroned governor, Oni, the challenger claims he will contest the results.
WHY ARE THESE ELECTIONS SO IMPORTANT?
The results from the 10 LGAs participating in the election rerun will determine what candidate and therefore, what party, wins control of the state. The PDP needed to save face as its candidate was forced to re contest, and of course, the AC sought to gain more prominence as a powerful opposition party by 'taking' the Ekiti governorship from the lion's (PDP) mouth.
ELECTION REFORMS: But this belies even greater issues surrounding the Ekiti election. President Yar'Adua came to office in an election that was considered flawed and he publicly committed himself to reforming the electoral process. The Uwais-led Electoral Reform Committee (ERC) recently recommended that INEC be an independent body but the President decided that he would retain control of the organization. The Ekiti election fracas illustrates that a President with a vested interest in seeing his party succeed will not be trusted to control or even influence the political process if Nigeria is to truly become a democracy where votes determine representatives. This lack of trust in the electoral system only stunts Nigeria's progress towards free and fair elections. Currently, new election legislation that contains some of the recommendations from the ERC awaits a vote by the National Assembly. But, even if it is passed, the fact the election body is far from independent suggests that such confusion, lack of trust and tension, as witnessed in Ekiti, will continue.
"DO OR DIE" MENTALITY: Politics have proven to be one of the best legal way for individuals to become powerful and extraordinarily wealthy in Nigeria. Although Yar'Adua finally realized in 2009 that legislators and members of the Executive branch pay must be reduced, politics has become a guaranteed way to become a millionaire in Nigeria. Furthermore, politicians control government money (allocations) and can peddle their influence to legally or illegally benefit their financial bottom line.
It is therefore, no surprise that elections are a "do or die" event in Nigeria inspiring all sorts of machinations in furtherance of one goal - winning. This winner takes all attitude only furthers corruption and mistrust in the electoral process. It can also prevent citizens from having a democractic say in their own communities which in turn causes additional problems.
AN EXAMPLE FOR OTHER AREAS & COUNTRIES: Elections in Nigeria obviously have a domestic impact but, some believe that they also affect elections in other parts of Africa. A Human Rights Watch representative revealed that Nigeria's 2007 elections, which despite their significant problems where somehow ignored by the rest of the world, were a guide for Kenya's political elite later that year when fraudulent elections were rammed down the throat of Kenyans. Clearly, the ramifications of election practices in Nigeria can have a widespread effect on the continent.
NATIONAL IMAGE: Nigeria's Federal Government recently announced a re-branding project aimed at reorienting how Nigerians see themselves and dispelling the negative stereotypes attributed to the country in foreign circles. The chaos of the Ekiti elections, and the overwhelming distrust of the process only serves to reinforce for many that corruption and violence continue to play an overwhelming role in the Nigerian politic. It must be restated that to shed the negative image of the country and change the psychological leanings of Nigerians, success will go a long way. Elections managed by a competent and independent body when the people can freely cast a vote without the fear of violence, the threat of election rigging and the non-interference of the Executive and other political players will spell a successful poll. To get there, trust needs to be engendered and that frankly, will require drastic changes to INEC's structure and of course, its independence. These changes will speak volumes for Nigeria's image and reputation.
There are several moving parts to the Ekiti election situation, but what is certain is that this election rerun reflects larger problem for Nigerian politics, and ultimately, those whose lives depends on the outcomes of the political dance. As the nation gears up for the next round of country-wide local, state and Presidential elections it is unclear whether the necessary changes will occur in time to prevent a repeat of the Ekiti situation, or worse as Jos has proven, in other parts of the country.
Related Articles of Interest:
- 'Soiled Hands' & Strategy":What Nigeria Says About Democracy
- Nigeria & Political Corruption
- Is Yar'Adua Committed To Democrcacy?
- On Ticking Timebombs: Kenya, Nigeria Et Al.
- A Nigerian Recipe For Democracy
- The Female Body & Political Protest