Tensions are building up in Ekiti State, where an election to choose a new governor will take place on Saturday. For the past couple of months, the main political actors have been beating the drums of war. Violence has marred campaigning, while brickbats and allegations bordering on intentions to rig have inundated the public space. This is unfortunate. However, given the fact that this election involves only one state, the Independent National Electoral Commission and the security agencies have no excuse to fail.
The stakes are high. INEC is contending with a motley crowd of 34 candidates. This is unwieldy; it will test the patience of the voters and the umpire’s logistics competence. The real contest to replace the incumbent governor, Ayodele Fayose, is largely seen as one between the candidates of the Peoples Democratic Party and the All Progressives Congress. Olusola Eleka (PDP) has been the deputy to Fayose for the past four years. His choice has triggered a gale of defections, but his mentor – Fayose – pulled out all the stops to install him.
Eleka is directly in contest with Kayode Fayemi (APC), who is no weakling in the fractious politics of the state. Fayemi was governor between 2010 and 2014 before he was replaced by Fayose. His loss was controversial because shortly after his exit, there were revelations of rigging by the PDP, which allegedly deployed the federal security agencies to compromise that ballot. The Nigerian Army took the unprecedented step of meting out sanctions to some of its officers who were fingered in the collusion.
Security is a big issue. A major security breach marred Fayemi’s inaugural campaign in Ado-Ekiti, the state capital, on June 1. During the rally, Opeyemi Bamidele, an APC chief, and five other party members, were shot by hoodlums. It is a vivid reminder of the usual acrimony that accompanies such contests for power in Ekiti. State Security Service operatives stormed a secondary school last week, where they disrupted operations and arrested staff on allegations of collecting Permanent Voter Cards from their colleagues.
The pollution of the politics in Ekiti provokes distrust across the board. Allegations are going the rounds that PVCs are being cloned, and INEC Smart Card Readers being preloaded. Political parties in Nigeria are not saintly; habitually, they play the do-or-die brand of politics. These allegations should be carefully investigated before Saturday and measures put in place to conduct, a free, fair and credible election.
Ekiti is notorious for violent electioneering. The 2007 governorship ballot in the state was marred by rigging. It took three years for Fayemi to claim his mandate at the court. A rerun in the Ekiti North senatorial district in 2009 descended into a farce and violence. Aspirants for public office in Ekiti, including a former World Bank technocrat, Ayo Daramola, Tunde Omojola and Taye Fasuba, then Ado-Ekiti Local Government chairman, were brutally murdered.
To counter this scenario, the Nigeria Police Force is deploying 30,000 officers for the polls, with each polling station to have four operatives. They will lock down the state for two days or so, preventing movement in and out. This action that will also affect the contiguous states is crude and appears to be overkill. In the past, militarisation had not been able to sanitise our elections. In spite of it, ballot box snatching, gun attacks, abductions, vote buying and rigging occurred at alarming rates. It only contrives to create an atmosphere of fear among the electorate; it might dissuade them from coming out to vote. There is disenchantment already: INEC says 910,000 persons have registered, but as of last week, only 630,000 had collected their PVCs.
Economically, locking down a state – or, in the case of federal elections, the whole country – is a disaster. More so, the Ekiti economy is fragile as it generates minimal revenue internally. In contrast, in nearby Benin Republic, elections take place with minimum fuss. Electoral officials carry materials in commercial transport while citizens go about their normal duties. Elections in Europe, the United States and Australia do not witness lockdowns. With INEC deploying 11,000 officials, there is no special reason for shutting down the state.
However, the Ekiti election is an opportunity for INEC to underline its capability to conduct the 2019 general election with aplomb. By now, it should have improved on the 2015 general election, which gained credibility because of the introduction of PVCs and SCRs. These devices curbed the allocation of figures by crooked politicians in some states. INEC should insist on these devices as the sole means of voting. Otherwise, the credibility of the election will be engulfed in a cloud of doubt.
Issues with transport, logistics, late accreditation and insufficient polling materials should be outdated. Simultaneous registration, accreditation and voting should be entrenched. Results need to be announced at each polling centre and transmitted to central servers. This will guard against malpractices at the collation centres, where figures could be compromised.
Security operations should be impartial and non-intrusive. Being a civil operation, the military, the SSS and every other security agency ought to be subject to the control of the police. By taking directives from one source, the tension and rivalry during civil security operations that often mar elections will be defused.
Nineteen years into the Fourth Republic, political hoodlums should have no wiggle room in elections any more. To drive home this point, those who perpetrated the mayhem during the APC rally in which Bamidele and others were shot should be facing prosecution by now. It is because electoral offenders are treated with kid gloves that they are emboldened to continue in their reprehensible conduct. This plague during elections should be eradicated by prosecuting electoral offenders.