The visit of the United States’ Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr Stuart Symington to Ekiti State ahead of the 2018 governorship election, has further raised the â€Žstakes preparatory to the poll, writes Victor Ogunje
On July 14, 2018, the electorate in Ekiti State will again have the opportunity to elect a governor that will pilot their collective destiny till 2022.
The last time the state had similar opportunity was in 2014, when the then incumbent governor and candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Dr. Kayode Fayemi lost to Mr Ayodele Fayose.
The Ekiti governorship election promises to be interesting for many reasons chief among which is the fact that Fayose remains the main opposition figure criticizing the government of President Muhammadu Buhari.
Fayose has offered himself as the opposition voice and Nigerians are patiently waiting to see how the election will play and determine how popular the governor is.
Fayose emerged like a whirlwind in 2003 and swooped away Otunba Niyi Adebayo of the Alliance for Democracy(AD). The same way he came to dominate in 2014. The argument had been that , in those two elections, Fayose won because of reliance on the federal might, which some people believed he allegedly deployed to muzzle opposition to submission.
But the game will be different this time around. Fayose, the Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Governorsâ€™ Forum belongs to the opposition. He has no power to influence the Independent National Electoral Commission(INEC) and security agencies to subvert the will of the electorate.
He will have to depend on his support base to prove that he can win election.
The visit of the American Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr Stuart Symington to Fayose to assess the situation ahead of the coming election underscores the priority the country and the international community are giving to the Ekiti elections.
The political tussles, lasting over three and half years between former governor Fayemi and his predecessor, Segun Oni actually put Ekiti on the world map. The volatility of that political struggle leading to the conduct of two separate rerun elections further attracted so much attention to the state.
As a matter of fact, Ekiti was one of those few states where allegations of wide spread rigging were said to have taken place which made the late President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua to tell the global community that the 2007 elections were fraught with electoral malfeasance that should not be experienced in an ideal democratic environment.
Taking cognizance of the past political events in Ekiti, the visit of Symington was significant. It is already established that Fayose will be fighting two giants in the election, Buhari and Fayemi for daring to cross their political paths in the past and now.
When it comes to political comments, Ekiti governor is known for his brazen and caustic tongue and he had not spared Buhari in any of his contributions on any burning national issues. This has made him the number one enemy the president will be interested to crush. The coming election presents a veritable opportunity to do so.
Again, Fayemi suffered humiliation in Fayoseâ€™s hands in 2014. He set a new record as the only incumbent to have been defeated in all the local governments by an opposition figure. Fayemi, who is now the Minister of Mines and Steel Development will be coming with a mindset either as a candidate of his party or the APC leader in Ekiti, which basically would be to take a pound of flesh in that election.
If his commitment to the Ondo State governorship election won by Rotimi Akeredolu was anything to go by, Fayemi will do all that is possible to get Fayose and his allied out of the state. But time will tell whether the Minister can muster such political strength in Ekiti to be able to subdue an incumbent, who had earlier conquered him as an opposition.
With the way Symington spoke, one could sense a palpable apprehension in him. He obvisouly knew something was wrong with the countryâ€™s electoral system, which needed concerted efforts to put right in the overall interest of the nation. He spoke as someone who had a full grasp of the nationâ€™s electoral history and how unsecured the opposition was anytime election is about to be conducted.
In spite of this anxiety, the US Ambassador gave an assurance that his country will work with all stakeholders in order to ensure that July 14, 2018 gubernatorial election in the state is free, fair and credible. He used the opportunity to commend the governor on infrastructural development he had put in place in the state.
The ambassador, who visited Fayose alongside his aide, Mima Torres, emphasised his love for Nigeriansâ€™ patriotic zeal , saying: ” Nigeria, are proud to be Nigerians, when you ask them what they love most about their country, they would say it is our resilience, energy, diversity, unity and friendliness.”
The U.S envoy who told Fayose that his three years in office had been keenly observed by the U.S, said the infrastructural development strides of the governor were commendable.
“We are in Ekiti because we believe in Nigeria, every state, every corner in Nigeria matters to us. We have seen what you have done in the last three years, it is very commendable.
â€œOur concern in U.S is that we want to see leaders who care about others and not themselves. We also understand that you have presidential ambition and wish to know your programmes for the country.”
Symington also urged Fayose to ensure support for Ekiti women who are interested in agriculture. He stressed the need for a free, fair and credible elections while promising that the U.S would ensure that subsequent elections in Nigeria, particularly in Anambra and Ekiti states were bereft of electoral heist like ballot snatching and stuffing as well as cases of over-voting that have been the hallmark of the nationâ€™s electoral system.
Replyin, Fayose spoke as if he was loaded and
had been looking for opportunity to explode. He
reminded the U.S envoy of his letter which described the June 21, 2014 governorship election that produced him as free, fair and credible and that that should be a template for 2015 general elections.
He said in spite of US blunt comment, that the APC had come up with litany of theories to vitiate the election that brought him the second time. He made mention of a well circulated audio tape by Capt Sagir Koli, where he allegedly captured how the military rigged the poll.
The governor said that aside from electoral crisis and corruption, the major problem retarding the growth of the country was poor attitude by the people and the insincerity of leaders, which he said could only be addressed holistically if the right leaders were allowed to emerge via unblemished elections that meet international standard.
He decried a situation where those claiming to be fighting corruption do so with a mindset, saying no country can overcome its economic crisis if opposition is being muzzled.
Fayose said despite many allegations and petitions against Fayemi, he was not investigated or charged to court because he is a chieftain of the ruling APC.
He also decried the various intimidation, harassment and illegal detention of Ekiti government officials by agents of the federal government.
He said: “Our greatest challenge is not corruption or electoral issue but insincerity of leaders. Those claiming to fight corruption are not sincere. Without justice, we can’t move forward. There must be equity in the way we do things. Being selective in the fight against corruption will not take us anywhere.”
On his bid for the presidency, Fayose said he was eminently qualified to rule the nation,
He said: “I have the required experience to lead this country. I have worked with the presidents we have elected into office in this country and am able to manage the economy of my state despite lean resources.
â€œIn the US and the UK they ask for your experience when seeking for a job not your paper qualifications. I have managed a poor economy in my state and that shows my ability to deliver.
“We are in firm control and the people are in our support. We just want to appeal to America and the international community to keep an eye on the poll. We don’t want INEC to come to our state with preloaded card readers or manipulate the process. We are sure torepeat the victory of 2014 when we won on all local government areas,”
Fayose alleged that signs that the federal government was plotting to rig Ekiti election had started manifesting. He said the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission(EFCC) recently detained two Ekiti officials for 14 days in a brazen manner, describing this as a desperate attempt to cow the opposition.
â€œRecently, the EFCC detained my Accountant General and Commissioner for Finance over the allegation that they diverted the bailout funds which was fabricated.
“Was Ekiti the only state in Nigeria that took the bailout? So, you could see that they have a mindset and the international community must take interest in Nigeriaâ€™s electionsâ€, he advised.
The United States has always taken interest in issue that borders on electoral matter in Nigeria. Prior to the 2015 general election, It put the countryâ€™s electoral umpire, INEC on its toes. During one of former President Goodluck Jonathanâ€™s visits to the country, former President Barrack Obama told him in clear terms that nothing short of free and unblemished polls were expected from Nigeria.
Recently, when the Buhariâ€™s government branded the members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) as terrorist group, the US rejected the federal government’s position.
An APC chieftain in Ekiti State, Dr Olusegun Osinkolu, described the US position as apt and imperative. He said the only way Ekiti could develop and be in peace was for people to elect their own leader.
â€œThe best form of democracy is to allow the people choose who should govern them. No country can develop when people who have no acceptability are imposed on the electorate. I support the position canvassed by Ambassador Symington that Ekiti election should be a reflection of the wishes of the electorateâ€.
Fayose will be fighting two giants in the election, Buhari and Fayemi for daring to cross their political paths in the past and now.