2016 Ondo Governorship Election and the Crisis of Analysis

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The quality of public discourse has taken a considerable dip in Nigeria. The process started several years back, but would seem to have reached an alarming proportion now. The flight of critical analysis is clearly evident in much of what is spewed out as opinions in the social media, and indeed in the more traditional media outlets, especially the press. What this implies is that the task of national rebirth will get more complicated, and the road thereof more tortuous. The reason for this is pretty obvious. What you are confronted with now is the fact that capacity to delve into social issues and locate an enduring compass as to how a nation lying prostrate, as Nigeria does, becomes greatly complicated, with fast receding prospects of renaissance. Nothing better emblematizes this reality than the flurry of analyses that attended the 2016 gubernatorial election in Ondo State.

It is normal for political gladiators to celebrate their victory, howsoever procured; and perhaps also for losers to gloat and moan. The electorate tends to carry on with its life, in a phenomenal way that speaks to how minuscule the impact of change in the party or personalities in governance have on the mass of the people. What is intriguing about the Ondo election, however, is not just its unprecedented nature in the annals of electoral contest in Nigeria. Rather, it is that its profoundly distinctive features do not seem to catch attention well enough of ordinarily discerning Nigerians, especially the educated. Indeed, many are wont to relate to the so-called election as if indeed an election it was. This is quite troubling!

The election’s most important feature was the brazenness with which the assumed umpire, INEC, violated what equates its own grund norm, the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended), and its own guidelines by which elections were to be administered. Yet, this hardly caught the attention, or evinced the interest of many a commentator. What such lackadaisical response to an otherwise epochal exercise signals in terms of public morality and political pluralism, and the state of the democracy project in the nation, is truly scary. Unfortunately this seems to be lost on many an analyst, underscoring the fact of the disaster that has come to define critical discourse in the country.

Now to the particulars of the election. Some 28 or so political parties were certified to contest the election. Without any doubt, the leading parties were the PDP – the ruling party in the State; APC – the ruling party in the country; a resurgent AD; and SDP, which flag was flown by an enduring candidate whose desire to be governor of the state had never been in doubt. It is debatable whether the relative strength of these parties did not conform to their manner of listing here; but not a few people would argue it did. Where there could be some disputation would be whether AD in the hands of an Olusola Oke, a seasoned politician, was not more effective in its campaign and electoral prospects than APC, whose candidate was not noted to have done so much, at least in terms of open air campaign.

In late October, INEC substituted the name of Eyitayo Jegede of the PDP with that of Jimoh Ibrahim. This, on the basis of a court judgment by Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court. Significantly, it was the primary election that produced Jegede that INEC superintended, as required by law. Jimoh’s version of a primary election held in the night in far away Ibadan, outside of Ondo State. It was not monitored by either INEC or the security agencies. The question would continue to be asked for a long time to come why INEC chose not to appeal the Okon Abang judgment that was so clearly subversive of a key element in the Electoral Act, and its own election guidelines, to wit, that for a candidate to be deemed to have truly emerged in a primary election, such an election must have been witnessed by INEC. A court judgment that brazenly disregarded this fine line is not just evidently flawed, in a fundamental way, it queried INEC’s place in the primary process of political parties. If an appeal had been filed, it would have been the lot of Mr. Jimoh to persuade a court of superior jurisdiction as to why INEC should disregard a key provision of the law and list him rather than Jegede as the PDP candidate. Surprisingly, INEC simply accepted to implement this rather unusual ruling that strikes at the very foundation of its own existence.

Expectedly, INEC’s decision saw Jegede racing to court. The determined but inelegant manner in which Jimoh and the forces loyal to him blackmailed and intimidated the judiciary in the course of the litigation was well reported. Indeed, such shenanigans were unequivocally decried by both the Appeal and the Supreme Courts as untoward and largely unprecedented in the annals of litigation in the country. When the Appeal Court was eventually cleared by the Supreme Court to give it’s ruling, the former referred to the Okon Abang judgment, which provided the basis for INEC to list Jimoh, as a fraud. It called the procurer of the judgment, an impostor in the PDP fold. It directed INEC to forthwith list Jegede as the authentic candidate of the PDP. That was less than 48 hours to the election.

Now, if INEC had substituted Jegede’s name in late October on the basis of a judgment now regarded as fraudulent, didn’t it stand to reason that INEC should have expressed regret in acting on the basis of that judgment, which at any event, it should have appealed in defense of the relevant electoral laws and guidelines? If Jimoh, who was supposedly the candidate of PDP, was proclaimed as an impostor, did it not imply that INEC all along had not been dealing with PDP as an entity, but with an outsider to the party, an impostor to boot? Could INEC, in the circumstances, be justified insisting that all that it did with Jimoh, it had done with PDP?

Yet, in INEC’s own queer logic, Jegede, whose name had been fraudulently removed from the ballot by INEC and got restored only 48 hours to election, was not considered deserving of a fair ground of play. It insisted the election, just 48 hours away, must hold. Again, this was such a queer position to take given that INEC still had up to 30 days to handover of power on February 24, the next year, to run the election. Yet INEC insisted on its November 26 date! In all practical sense, it meant a major candidate in the election had only one day to campaign, not because of any fault of his, but because INEC, in Governor Olusegun Mimiko’s words, chose to obey a fraud of a judgment, procured by an impostor. What is more, Jegede was not even done the honour of having his agents listed to monitor his own election. In INEC’s warped logic, he was supposed to make do with those submitted by his undisguised political enemy, Jimoh! Contrary to the provision of the law that a candidate and party must have access to the voters’ list way ahead of their election, Jegede got his, only a couple of days to November 26.

The most charitable characterization of what INEC did to Jegede would be that it vehemently disallowed him from enjoying the fruit of his legal victory. Whereas INEC obeyed the letters of the judgment by restoring Jegede on the ballot, it wantonly violated its spirit by denying him a fair field of play. It deliberately made nonsense of the intendment of the learned justices who restored Jegede’s rights on virtually all fronts. As Governor Mimiko aptly noted metaphorically, INEC succeeded in effectively tying Jegede’s hands to his back, put him at the starting point of a 100-meter dash, while positioning his co-contestants, unshackled and unencumbered, 90 meters ahead of him – 10 meters to the finishing line. The outcome of such a contest was more than predictable. Even a Husain Bolt would not have been able to coast home to victory, as the Jamaican athlete is wont to do, under such unusual of arrangements.

In the circumstances, was it not a miracle that Jegede managed to garner some 150,000 votes? Does it say something about how the election would have turned out if these monumental encumbrances were not put in Jegede’s way, if in spite of them he was beaten by the now Governor-elect only by about 94,000 votes? Isn’t it evident in the circumstances that in the words of Governor Ayo Fayose, it was INEC that PDP and its candidate contested the 2016 election against, not APC, not AD, not any of the other 25 odd parties? How could injustice be so unabashedly administered by a people who probably had sworn by the holy books to do justice to all? How could such inanity be tolerated in a political regime where the sing song is fight against corruption? How low could a people go in unfairness and injustice?

To the subject of this discourse, it is intriguing that many otherwise respected people and news media organizations would proceed to analyze this election, and talk of the candidates winning or losing as if these fundamental acts of injustice do not matter. Isn’t this a bad signal of how lowly in morality we have fallen, how godless we have become, and how difficult the task of national rebirth is bound to be? This is probably not about the other candidates, including the man who eventually won the election, even when in other climes they would have vigorously protested the injustice to, and wanton disregard of the rights of their co-contestant, Eyitayo Jegede. Yet, the minimum expected of analysts and opinion molders on this election is to at least recognize the undulating playing field that INEC created to disadvantage Jegede and his PDP. Any commentary on the election that seeks to marginalize this reality is sheer bunkum, the product of a basically warped, hypocritical, and unhinged mind.
–Efuda writes from Abuja (imefvefuda@ymail.com)