Ekiti: INEC’s Acid Test for 2019

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Michael West

That President Muhammadu Buhari declared his interest to run for second term in office is neither accidental nor a response to any pressure for continuity. It has been a grand plan from his first day in office. His health challenges and age, however, are signals to him that he should consider stepping down in 2019.

The appointment of Prof. Mahmud Yakubu as chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission, INEC, lends credence to the opinion in some quarters that Yakubu’s appointment is tied to an agenda of perpetuating the Buhari administration in office. More so, some high-ranking chieftains of the ruling All Progressives Party, APC, at an informal parley averred that Yakubu’s appointment was in response to a colossal error by former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan who, despite indications that Prof. Attahiru Jega had been compromised against his aspiration in 2015, kept him in office. His attempts to remove Jega much later became an issue of blackmail as the opposition portrayed it as part of desperate moves to manipulate the outcome of the elections to achieve a sit-tight-in-office plan. Thus, Jonathan backed off and he was cheaply eased out of power.

Under this administration, the commission has not proven it has the capacity to conduct free, fair and credible elections. Most of the re-run, gubernatorial and by-elections it has conducted so far were either inconclusive or marred with malpractices and characterized by violence in response to allegations of compromise by INEC officials. It got to a point that the Yakubu-led INEC became stigmatized in the public space for always conducting “inconclusive” elections. The commission now seems to have overcome its inconclusiveness.

As the Ekiti State governorship poll draws nearer, the election appears to be resplendent with the trappings of what would be the most keenly contested election ever in the history of the state. Simultaneously, there is the possibility that it might be volatile, combative, explosive and combustive. Reason: every indication that subverted the will of the people of Edo State in the 2016 governorship election is already emerging on the horizon. Appropriating the so-called ‘federal might’ to impose the APC candidate if he is not duly elected by the Ekiti electorate may backfire. Unlike Edo State, Ekiti people will not condone electoral arms-twisting against their wish.

Both Dr. Kayode Fayemi of the APC and Prof. Kolapo Olusola of the People Democratic Party, PDP are illustrious sons of the “Fountain of Knowledge.” Head or tail, it is still the same Ekiti interests at play. Both candidates have influential ‘godfathers’ at different levels. While Fayemi has his backbone in Abuja, Olusola has his right at the helm of affairs in the state. If Ekiti electorate is allowed to vote their conscience, the outcome of the poll is easily predictable.

In a retaliatory power play somewhat, Fayemi’s candidature is buoyed by the penchant for a ‘return match’ over his defeat under the last PDP-led federal government which allegedly facilitated Governor Ayodele Fayose’s victory in 2014. I dare say that Fayemi is emboldened to challenge the current political potentate of Ekiti and his continuity agenda not because he is sure he could win if the contest is allowed to be free, fair and transparent but, I believe, like many other analysts do, that Fayemi is throwing his hat into the ring to challenge Fayose simply because he has the backing of Abuja. Today, the ‘federal might’ is readily available to Fayemi.

I am persuaded to revisit the 2014 Ekiti governorship election and dispel some wrong notions being held so far about it. The national leader and chief promoter of the then Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, who is now a topmost chieftain of the ruling APC, Senator Bola Tinubu, has a realistic approach to virtually all his electoral contests. Before going into any major election, Tinubu usually conducts field surveys to know his chances and to decide the winnable strategy to employ before venturing into the contest.

Tinubu contracted a research and marketing firm in Lagos to do same ahead of the 2014 governorship poll in Ekiti. The result gave Fayose the victory based on the would-be voting pattern, opinions and other factors. The outcome of elections projected by the firm for Tinubu has always been accurate. So, Tinubu approached Fayemi with the result of the survey, which Fayemi discarded with a wave of hand. He reportedly told Tinubu that “We are solidly on ground in Ekiti. There is no cause for alarm” he was quoted as saying. The rest, people do say, is history.

Truth be told, the military deployed in Ekiti in 2014 did not harass or influence the electorate. The voting was very peaceful and the results collated from the polling units duly reflected at the central collation centre. I guess that was why Fayemi initially conceded by congratulating Fayose before his party kicked against the outcome and headed for the court. In Edo, the reverse was the case. Independent observers and media technically rejected the results in their reports because it was too glaring that the exercise was a wholesale electoral banditry.
Back to the July 14, 2018 governorship poll in Ekiti, the arrangement being put in place by the INEC calls for vigilance and caution if it must conduct a free, fair and credible election. The body language of the commission seems indifferent to the opinions questioning its neutrality. It appears the electoral body is more passionate about doing the bidding of the President than serving the overall interests of Nigerians. Otherwise, why has it remained silent since Governor Fayose cried out that the Edo fraudulent template is being surreptitiously put in place for Ekiti gubernatorial poll?

Until the INEC debunks Fayose’s claims, every move by the commission will remain suspect. If indeed Professor Kayode Soremekun, Vice Chancellor of the Federal University of Oye Ekiti, who superintended the Edo electoral debauchery, is being considered for a role in the Ekiti poll, then, there’s the likelihood of shenanigans in the offing. At least, there are several other Vice Chancellors in the South West or across the country who can discharge the duty meritoriously. I want to appeal to the INEC to stop dragging Soremekun into compromised assignments. He is a brilliant scholar who still has a lot to achieve with his integrity intact. Likewise, Soremekun should either reject the call or be ready to be unbiased regardless of threats and the consequences of his action. Good name, the holy book says, is much better than filthy lucre, silver, gold and diamond all put together.

If they were able to succeed in other places, Ekiti will be different. All that Nigerians are asking for is that INEC should truly be an unbiased umpire. I know Buhari is interested in Ekiti for two major reasons: one, to feel the pulse of the people on how his electoral chances would likely be in the South West region in 2019 and, two, to silence his most vocal and untiring critic, Fayose. Defeating Olusola, who is regarded as the governor’s alter ego, actually means humiliating Fayose himself.

Anybody can win or lose election but subverting the popular wish of the people of Ekiti will be counter-productive even for Mr. President in 2019. Plots to recruit students rather than Youth Corps for ad hoc electoral duties whereby non-students would be conscripted to perpetrate fraud should be discarded. This election should not be a do-or-die affair. Let us normalize our checkered democracy for the survival of our nation.
–––West, a Media Consultant, wrote via mikeawe@yahoo.co.uk