By Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa.
ALL things being equal, governorship elections will take place in Edo and Ondo States, come September 19 and October 10, 2020respectively, according to the time table released by the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC). There are similarities and differences in both elections. In both States, the governors are battling for their second terms in office, with political intrigues between the incumbents and their opponents. In Ondo State however, the race is between three main political parties, the ruling All Progressive Congress, (APC), the leading opposition People’s Democratic Party, (PDP) and the Zenith Labour Party, (ZLP), whereas in Edo State, it is a straight contest between the APC and the PDP. Except that in Edo State, we are not sure of which political party is in power, as the governorship election was won on the platform of the APC and the certificate of return issued to the governor was on the platform of the APC, even though as things are presently, the governor and his deputy are contesting for the coming election on the platform of the PDP. It would have been good to have a judicial interpretation of this strange development, at least as a guide, for future references.
In Edo State, it has been a do or die affair so far, with both the APC and the PDP throwing tantrums here and there, with pockets of violence and disruptions. This is caused mainly by the intrigues between the two leading figures in the electoral process, that is the former governor of the State and former APC national chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole and the incumbent governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki.
By all legal definitions, Comrade Oshiomhole is not contesting in the election proper, but he has so far overshadowed his candidate, to the extent that it is difficult to actually understand the motive except to stop governor Obaseki at all cost. For a man who claimed to have spent the better part of his two-term governorship mandate to dismantle all pillars of god-fatherism in Edo politics, to turn around to become a merciless godfather himself is the greatest wonder of the world. In the little time that I have followed the Comrade Chairman, he has boasted on several occasions that he demystified the late Pa Anenih, that he castrated the Igbinedion dynasty politically and even erased the influence of Odigie-Oyegun, for all times. It cannot be the best of times for the Comrade, since it would seem that he doesn’t know when to quit in a loud ovation. A national chairman of a political party, who while still claiming to be in office and holding on to an empty secretariat, the executive council meeting was held behind him in the seat of power to boot him out of office. And he has since been expelled from that same party both politically and judicially, only to turn around to be prostrating and begging for relevance, in the name of political campaign!
That said, what is in political office that Governor Obaseki has turned out to become so desperate about? Yes, the Constitution permits him a second term in office, but that ambition should not be on anybody’s blood. It is the height of betrayal for anyone to bite the fingers that fed him. How does a governor run a whole State with only five law makers, depriving more than half of the State of any meaningful contributions to governance through their elected representatives? And then the Courts have not helped the matter by granting orders and declarations legitimizing such dictatorship. With the scandal following his academic qualifications, one would have expected the governor to do the needful, to save himself of the impending judicial calamity that may follow even after the elections. Why would any incumbent governor taunt his opponent on bad roads neglected for decades, when he himself has been in office for good four years and he has done nothing to salvage that situation? Do politicians think that the electorates don’t reason at all? It is only during electioneering campaigns that a serving governor remembers that a community lacks basic health facilities.
There is no justification at all, for the invasion of Edo political space by marauding politicians. In the case of the APC, the involvement of the Kogi State governor in the campaign would seem to have yielded its ugly results, in constant violence, thuggery and warmongering, whilst in the PDP, the savage campaign orchestrated by the Rivers State governor has turned the whole atmosphere into a hostile camp fueled by mind-bending propaganda. The open insults, character assassinations, threats and personal abuses, are all totally needless. And in the midst of all these, poverty is ravaging the masses of the people, Covid 19 cases have increased and governance has nose-dived completely.
In Ondo State, there have been political lessons learnt here and there. In a way that he never bargained for, the incumbent governor has been given a run for his ambition, even from inside his own house. At one time, you could almost swear that the governor was not going to get the ticket of his political party, given all the intrigues that predated the party primaries. For whatever reason, governor Akeredolu must by now have come to grasp the nature of the people of Ondo State, ever militant, resilient and daring. The incumbent deputy governor challenged his boss openly and defied all political permutations to push ahead his own agenda for the number one office. Like governor Obaseki, Mr. Agboola became so desperate for power that he has now moved from the APC, to the PDP and recently the ZLP, apparently just to prove his point. The threats were palpable, as political campaigns got disrupted, especially in the volatile Ondo South constituency, but the people could not be deterred. They mobilized themselves and confronted the governor, until it became apparent that he had to reach out. The initial plan must have been to try the Kogi and Edo examples, suspend some legislators, impeach the deputy governor and then throw the State into chaos, but the judiciary of that State stood tall above other courts in the land, led by the Spartan no-nonsense Chief Judge, who taught politicians the greatest lessons of their lives and by her dint of boldness and courage, saved the State from the looming violence and bloodshed.
And this is the pith of this piece. If the courts in Nigeria will do what they should do, politicians will fall in line. If the rule of law is allowed to prevail, impunity will become buried for good. Indeed, if judges practice their trade purely according to law and their conscience, corruption would have long ended in Nigeria. A panel was hastily set up by the Ondo State House of Assembly and before you could say jack, a request had been made to the Chief Judge to inaugurate a probe panel against the deputy governor. Tempers had risen to the boiling point, until the Chief Judge tore through the letter from the House of Assembly. By the time the Speaker got the letter from the Chief Judge, it became clear to all and sundry that wisdom should prevail, whereas in Edo State, a court of law actually delivered a judgment legitimizing the exclusion of majority lawmakers from the affairs of the legislature, for four years. So, for the first time in the history of Nigeria, a deputy governor is contesting for the office of the governor whilst still in office as deputy to the governor, who himself is a candidate in the same election. This is the way things should be, credit of course going to the incumbent governor, who as a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, cannot but allow the rule of law to prevail.
Whether Agboola wins or loses the election is a different kettle of fish altogether, but the point is that by allowing him the exercise of his choice, peace has enveloped the State. And this should continue, and even extend to the campaigns, such that both candidates can actually campaign in the same town on the same day without any incident at all. This should be a huge challenge for governor Akeredolu, to showcase his pedigree as a product of due process. No life should be worth the ambition of any candidate. Whether you win or lose, Edo and Ondo States will remain, whereas Oshiomhole, Obaseki, Akeredolu and Agboola will all go.
The real challenge however in the Edo and Ondo political spaces is INEC, which has been saddled by law to midwife the processes to produce governors in both States. So far, INEC has indeed shown some semblance of neutrality and even threatened to bite, with the recent declaration that it would not hesitate to cancel elections in any State where violence, thuggery, ballot box snatching and disruption of voting take place. Like the courts, if INEC could just play by the rules, wield the big stick and maintain its neutrality, voting will become a pleasant experience in Nigeria. There is therefore a big onus on the electoral umpire to let the votes count in the Edo and Ondo elections. Let INEC use this unique occasion to show the world that we can do things right. Since the focus is just on two States, it should be easy to deploy manpower, resources and technology, to deliver free, fair, peaceful and credible elections.
There is an urgent need to change the narrative of our electoral history, to respect the will of the people and erase the culture of judicial governors and tribunal senators. Let the people be given the opportunity to truly determine who should govern them. So, the ultimate challenge to all political stakeholders in Edo and Ondo States is to CALM DOWN, let them ‘be calming down’, until such a stage that the political atmosphere will become conducive for true democracy to thrive and endure. By now, we should truly be tired of all these shenanigans.
Adegboruwa is a Lagos human rights lawyer and senior advocate of Nigeria, (SAN).
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