The Ekiti governorship election has come and gone but accusations and counter-accusations of vote buying continue to be hurled against at each other especially between the All Progressives Congress and the Peoples Democratic Party who were the major contenders.
Though neither APC nor PDP has pleaded guilty to these weighty allegations bordering on electoral malpractice condemnations have continued pouring in torrents.
For instance, The United Kingdom through its Secretary of State for International Development, Penny Mordaunt MP in a meeting with the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu in Abuja last week Friday condemned the act of vote buying allegedly perpetrated during the July 14 gubernatorial elections in Ekiti State and called on all Nigerians to respect the laws ahead of the 2019 general elections.
Disapproval for the alleged vote buying is replete in the media and is also coming from quarters outside the UK. Groups like Transparency International, the Socio-Economic Right and Accountability Project and the Transition Monitoring Group have also joined to condemn the monetization of the Ekiti elections in strong terms.
Even the Independent Electoral National Electoral Commission (INEC) that has been roundly praised for the high level of transparency with which it conducted the election is not shying away from the reechoing issue of vote buying which is said to have largely characterized the Ekiti Polls of 14th July 2018.
Vote buying is an electoral offence which cannot be excused under the law or morality. However, the distribution of material benefits to an individual voter in exchange for support in a ballot has been on the dark side of our electoral processes since the early days of our democratic experience. Vote buying, corruption of electoral officers and violence are some the prominent features of electoral fraud, but in the politics of the developing world, vote buying can also mean an unrefined expression of political power residing with the voters. In the other forms of electoral malpractice, the voter is not even considered as a factor for election victory.
In Ekiti, the outgoing governor of the state, Ayodele Peter Fayose popularized the concept of concept of “stomach infrastructure” in 2014 when he smacked the incumbent APC led government in the state, winning in all the local governments of the state and thereafter ridiculing the then governor, Fayemi for being too intellectual to the extent of disconnecting from the feelings of his people. Fayose, in the euphoria of election victory, boasted of having discovered the perfect strategy of winning elections in a country where poverty remains widespread amongst the population. Fayose’s brand of politics which he proudly gave credit for his electoral victory in 2014 suggests that the stomach is the route to the mind, particularly for the hungry. The success of Fayose’s theory in 2014 didn’t only embarrass and ingloriously evict the ruling APC from the Government House in Ado-Ekiti, it triggered a domino effect as politicians across the country adopted the Kpomo politics. Feigning to be in tandem with the commoners, election candidates took over the lowly places of the country frying akara, performing other menial jobs and uploading the pictures to the social media. On election day, branded souvenirs and money envelops were openly distributed.
In 2018, there were still fears that votes would be exchanged with rice, beans and money in the Ekiti election. However, as the elections drew closer, concerns raised by political watchers and stakeholders began to transcended vote buying. With plenteous well-publicized tough-talking that ushered in the voting day, political forecasters had prognosticated a warlike atmosphere for the 2018 Ekiti polls. Even with the overly charged air around the elections, Ekiti politicians and electorate have grossly disappointed all statisticians who were on ground to roll out those disturbing figures of the dead, wounded and multimillion naira properties destroyed in the ensuing melee.
At the end of the Ekiti election, the complaints have been centred on vote buying and this is buying and this is bad enough. The loud condemnation of the money politics that is said to have characterized the Ekiti polls notwithstanding, the evident absence of the AK47 on the election menu of Ekiti in 2018 should be celebrated as a major milestone on our national journey towards free, fair and credible polls.
If the electricity of the 2015 elections in Rivers state had only ignited vote buying, Chief Christopher Nwalinsor Adube and six members of his family who were murdered at Obirikom in Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni local government area of Rivers state would probably have had another opportunity to contribute towards the ongoing discuss for a better way of choosing leaders for political offices in the forthcoming 2019 election.
Rivers state has had an unfortunate reputation for electoral violence but in 2015 the display of macabre was taking to alarming wartime levels. With the destruction of campaign opposition billboards and other campaign materials, broad daylight killings and in some cases beheading of those with dissenting political views, the summation of this unbridled savagery by the Supreme Court when in its ruling on the siting of the 2015 Rivers Election Tribunal in Abuja described the situation in Rivers State “before, during and after the 2015 elections” as a “theater of war is only charitable. The level of violent mobilizations for the rerun elections that followed the cancellation of several legislative elections by the judiciary did not fall in a significant way.
As 2019 draws closer, Ekiti and states in the Nigerian federation that has moved up the ladder of civilized interactions would be concerned with producing outcomes that are devoid of material inducements, there are still no signs that there would not be another replay of the Hobbesian state of nature in Rivers state.
That the Peoples Democratic Party has come out of the Ekiti election understandably heartbroken but without a decimation of their numbers and the All Progressives Congress is relishing the sweet taste of victory without licking wounds from election violence shows a society that has come to the realization that politics may be jaw-jawed but it should never be war-war. The resumed incitement in Rivers state that banner of “Ekiti is not Rivers state” reveals an unwillingness of actors to move away from the politics of anxiety, ‘do or die’ and the attendant brutishness.
Nigeria, like any other place where leaders emerge under the toga of liberal democracy, deserves to have processes and institutions that can spontaneously churn out results that can be said to have a near-zero percentage of electoral malpractices. However, the voters in Rivers state whose communities still bear cicatrix of the election violence would unquestionably see politicians coming to seek their mandate in 2019 bearing wrappers, bags of food items and money as a lesser evil to those who are still prepared to pour in more guns into communities that are already proliferated with assault rifles of varying calibers.