With the deployment of additional 3,500 soldiers to ensure peace in this Saturday governorship election in Edo State can we still hope that the exercise would be a festival of democracy? In a civil setting, the presence of troops is more reminiscent of war than celebration of democratic virtues. However, the Commanding Officer, 4 Brigade, Benin, Brig-Gen Abel Umahi, said the massive presence of troops would “assure the citizens of Edo State that security is on ground.
So they need not be afraid to come out to exercise their civic rights...” It is presumed that the authorities might have taken the action based on security reports that the situation on Saturday could turn out to be one that the police might not be able to handle. To be charitable to the authorities, the action is to prevent the acts of electoral “mischief makers”, a euphemism for those who rig elections and their army of thugs. However, it is chillingly a measure of the huge security challenges for the conduct of elections in Nigeria. If so many soldiers are required to conduct elections in Edo alone, how many thousands will be needed in a national election?
Yet, this trend of highly militarised elections should never be taken as normal. It is not so in every democracy. In liberal- democratic terms, elections are universally taken as festivals of democracy. The election day should be a day to celebrate the democratic point that power belongs to the people. It should be a routine for the electorate to exercise periodically their power of giving mandate to those who seek to govern. It should also be an occasion to punish or reward those who are already in power and going for re-election. In other words, the much talked about accountability to the people is given effect on the election day.
Hence even in many African countries elections are routinely conducted in a peaceful atmosphere. Voters cast their ballot and go back to their work unlike here where activities are paralysed for the whole day and movement is restricted to checkmate those who are bent on running away with the ballot boxes. For clarity, it is the perpetrators of electoral frauds that have turned elections from being a festival of democracy into warfare requiring presence of troops. In the context of Nigeria’s political underdevelopment a violence-free election remains a worthwhile ideal worth pursuing by all lovers of democracy.
Meanwhile, for the Saturday election, the incumbent governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, remains the candidate to beat. The strongest challenger of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN)’s candidate is the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)’s Major-General Charles Airhiavbere. By the way, some pundits would insist that given the rhetoric of the campaigns, you would think the contest is actually between Oshiomhole and former Works Minister, Chief Tony Anenih. Doubtless, it is a political battle that Anenih, as a PDP leader, is poised to fight for obvious reasons.
The edge Oshiomhole has over all the other candidates, however, is not the usual power of incumbency; his party is not in control at the centre where the power actually resides. Oshiomhole’s strength is clearly is stellar performance in the last three and a half years that he has geared up for action in Edo State. He has built a good political name for himself. In any honest assessment, even political opponents cannot deny him the credit. The records are there to be inspected: well-constructed roads, schools, hospitals, water supply, transportation and a new culture of prudence in governance. He launched the one-man-one-vote campaign to deepen the content of the democratic process. The campaign has been adopted beyond Edo State. He has fought a battle with floods in Benin with the weapons of good drainage system. The record shows he is winning the battle.
In attacking the infrastructural decay in Benin as a launching pad for the development of other local government areas, Oshiomhole is wont to employ the metaphor of a living room in the house. The visitor is first welcome in the living room, hence the host makes it conducive and a delight to the visitor. For Oshiomhole, Benin is the showroom of Edo from where development efforts spread. When Nigeria had four regional capitals, Benin was one of them. With poor roads and lack of proper drainage system for many years, Benin could hardly be rated among the best 10 states in terms of infrastructure. For Oshiomhole, the development of infrastructure in state should begin with Benin. And that is what he has done.
Given Oshiomhole’s pedigree as a labour leader, the interest in the Edo election transcends the boundaries of the state. Here you have a progressive national figure who is elected to return to his home state to serve. Besides, soon after his victory in court four years ago, there was anxiety among his critics and admirers alike if he would make a transition from activism to governance successfully. In fact, the mood was akin to that of a crisis of rising expectations.
Not a few said something to the effect that to lead national protests against bad government policies is a different kettle of fish from being in the saddle to implement policies. At a recent fund-raising dinner for the Oshiomhole campaign, AC leader, Asiwaju Bola Tunubu, referred to a discussion he had with this reporter about this apprehension. As Tinubu rightly put it on that occasion, by his record Oshiomhole has certainly made his friends and comrades proud. The delivery is to the extent that it could be safely said that the initial apprehension was misplaced.
Besides, in his first few months in office, the slow speed of delivery was a matter of concern among his large political public even though it was explicable. There was the obvious question of inadequate resources. But as Oshiomhole responded to a criticism from this reporter then, he took his time not just to be in office but also to be in power and to set his focus right. With political deft, the precarious political terrain in Edo was turned into a terra firma.
According to him, “it is not the place of the leader to join the people in lamentation on the poor state of affairs; the duty of the leader is to find solutions to the problem”. And solution he found in no time. For instance, the internally generated revenues have increased appreciably with a new structure in place. He has since been steady in policy articulation and project execution.
Performance should be a major factor in elections. Oshiomhole eminently deserves re-election. That would be a sweet reward for keeping strict fidelity to the promise he made to the people in 2007.
Above all, the decision is that of the Edo State electorate. Therefore, the real measure of success in the election would be the respect for the supremacy of the people’s will. The task at hand is to guard against the subversion of this will through manipulation and violence.
The voters deserve a peaceful and orderly atmosphere to make their choice. It is the making of that choice as a civic right and duty at once that makes an election a festival of democracy. To ensure this is so is not a job for only the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). It is also squarely the responsibility of all the candidates and their respective political parties and supporters, the electorate and the law enforcement agents.
All told, how the election is conducted will be another crucial test for the development of democracy in this land.