Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State was on Sunday declared winner of the November 18, 2017 governorship election in the state. It was a landslide victory that should not surprise any keen watcher of the electoral process in Nigeria. In this country, incumbents, especially in states, do not lose elections unless one of three things happens. The first is that the losing incumbent belongs to a party different from that of a totalitarian federal administration, ready to crush all opposition and establish the dominion of its own party, like we had under former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
While one may not be able to vouch for the President Muhammadu Buhari administration’s total aversion for political expeditions and conquests, Obiano has proved to be a deft politician who knows how to play his game.
Unlike his predecessor in office, Mr. Peter Obi, who, even as a member of the All Progressive Grand Alliance, flirted with then ruling Peoples Democratic Party, this governor has found his way into the bed of the All Progressives Congress. It makes sense to therefore imagine that strategists of the APC may see no sense in instigating the antagonism that attempting to snatch the governorship seat in Anambra State by all means possible might precipitate.
In any case, in politics, friends from without are usually an invaluable volume of assets to ruling powers and so it makes perfect political sense for the ruling APC to, as the Igbo proverb says, live and let the APGA live in preparation for the coming general elections.
One other reason an incumbent may lose a governorship election is when, he has by his own hands, incurred the wrath of the people who elected him.
But this is a very easily avoidable pitfall for any governor whose eyes are set on a second term. All you have to do is pay the salaries of civil servants even if it is the only thing you can do, be in the good books of traditional rulers and patronise as many local politicians as your ego allows.
Of all this, I consider the payment of salaries and emoluments of civil servants, especially teachers who are always in a tormenting majority, as the most important. Given that most families in states depend on their civil servant relations, defying all odds to ensure a good treatment of the workforce is almost a sure guarantee for a return to office for a political leader. What happens after a second term is secured is however story for another day.
Finally, if a governor is ready to deploy monetary resources sufficient to outpace any of his opponents, he is as good as returned.
In the Obiano case, the only opponent, who might have put up any close fight would have been Mr Tony Nwoye of the APC. But then, was the APC willing to go the whole hog such as to mobilise resources that would outspend the state’s chief executive in the election under discussion? I think not.
So, all said and done, the road back to the Awka Government House seemed paved ready for Obiano ahead of the election.
And this goes to show how much Nigerians still misunderstand the import of elections. Truth is, as it is with most of the things that we do, we still have a totally warped opinion of what elections mean and the importance that they bear on the democratic development.
Although the Anambra election was widely adjudged as peaceful and uneventful, observers, nonetheless expressed misgivings. They complained about late arrival of election materials. Some candidates also spoke about alleged harassment and intimidation of voters belonging to parties other than the one in power.
And this is the culture of elections in Nigeria. We treat elections like they are wars. Government deploys military might as on a mission to fight some formidable enemy, so even before Election Day, citizens walk about totally intimidated and confused.
The Executive Director of the Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre of the National Democratic Institute, Clement Nwankwo, somewhat a veteran in the monitoring of elections in Nigeria, told Channels Television on Saturday evening of several instances of violence and the pilfering of election materials by officials. He also spoke about huge sums of money spent to buy votes. Nwankwo said some candidates spent as much as N5,000 to buy one vote and expressed disappointment at this unprecedented level of abuse.
On Tuesday, reports quoted the International Society for Civil Liberties & the Rule of Law (Intersociety), as estimating that at least N1.5bn was used in buying votes by some of the political parties that participated in the election. The Onitsha-based group suggested in a statement that “Using the state’s 4,608 polling booths, it may most likely be correct to say that up to N1.5bn or more was shared in the entire 4,608 polling booths in Anambra State in the just concluded governorship poll. The said huge sums were criminally expended in “buying voters” and “voluntary party allowances/logistics” of electoral conductors and security agents posted to each of the 4,608 polling booths in the state.”
Even though observers testify that security agencies conducted themselves well in the Saturday election, the reckless use of money to influence voters is as evil as any other form of malpractice that can visit elections.
And the problem is with all of Nigerian politicians. Those elected want to remain in office by all means even if the people do not need to want them.
If they do not vote to retain them, the ruling government deploys all resources within its power to force, intimate, coax or cajole people into doing its bidding.
Money, loads of it, is deployed, power at its naked, excessive and abusive best, is thrown at the people by those in power. Those who want to clip power off incumbents make up for their own current handicap-lack of power, by spreading as much money as they can muster. What you find at the end is that the people whose decision should ordinarily carry the day are left traumatised and disillusioned only for the circle to be repeated in another four or two years as in the case of local government elections.
Local government elections are indeed where Nigeria is at her pathetic worst. Since 1999, when the country returned to civilian governance, local government administration is subjected to the dictates of a few people.
When state governments allow elections to hold at all, they take over the process and impose their will on the people. That is why it is almost given that the ruling party in every state wins local government elections 100 percent. Local government administration, the level of governance closest to the people is, sadly, also the greatest joke of all.
So, we do not understand the sanctity of elections and the pivot role they play in the democratic process. Elections are like the celebration of democracy, they mark the opportunity that people have to decide on who rules them. Even if they make mistakes, democratic societies wait patiently for the next celebration day to send those who have not treated them well, packing. When elected people have done well, they get re-elected as a reward.
But it is through the same process that the power of the average Nigerian has continued to be taken away.
Sadly, our people do not realise that when we march out periodically to vote under the influence of money, we are only validating the criminal appropriation of our rights to determine our future.
Of course, this anomaly feeds on the massive poverty across the country, but there is a chance that many Nigerians would choose differently if they were not also afflicted by ignorance.
In ensuring that they continue to trample on the rights of Nigerians to determine their leaders therefore, politicians capitalise on the level of poverty and ignorance to perpetually subvert the desire of the people and foist themselves on us.
This is why as we approach the 2019 elections, I agree with Intersociety that civil society organisations working this area should not restrict their interventions to election monitoring.
The real test of the relevance of these CSOs is in preparing people to understand why they are voting and vote in accordance with their conscience. Anything different signifies a collaboration with politicians to keep Nigerians suppressed and that regardless of all our pretence, is the foundation of all forms of corruption.