By “Wale Oluwade
The Osun state governorship election petition has reached its final denouement at the Supreme Court where a decision one way or the other is eagerly awaited by all and sundry. This keen interest is nevertheless not just limited to Nigeria. Foreign nations, trading partners, foreign investors, global multilateral institutions (World Bank, IMF, United Nations, EU, Commonwealth, African Union, ECOWAS, etc), election observer missions (EU, IRI, NDI, ECOWAS, etc), and local civil society organizations have all expressed interest in the outcome of this long drawn saga. But why this interest? What exactly makes this case critical for these groups of local and foreign bodies?
The answer isn’t farfetched. The outcome of this seemingly innocuous case has long term implications for the fate of democracy and justice in Nigeria. The First to Third Republics crashed because certain democratic principles and practices that underpin democratic practice were crudely and violently trampled upon by political actors aided and abetted by willing state collaborators. The current Fourth Republic, twenty years old, is the longest unbroken years of democratic practice in Nigeria since independence yet this has not been without a repeat of these ugly demons.
My focus in this intervention is a brief evaluation of the strategic practices that differentiate democracy from neo-fascism or dictatorship. These four strategic practices which undergirds democratic governance are; sanctity of the ballot, independence of state institutions, freedom of choice, and a conducive atmosphere.
1. Sanctity of the Ballot
What distinguishes democracy from every other form of government is that it derives from the power of the people, that is, the electorates, who are duly registered to vote during elections. Democracy as espoused extempore by Abraham Lincoln is; “the government of the people, by the people and for the people.” The single most definitive hallmark of democratic governance is that at periodic intervals, the people of a particular jurisdiction exercise their inalienable right to elect the leaders of their choice. This they do by casting their ballots during elections. Thus, this simple exercise indicates the primacy of the ballot. In a democracy, the voters are the only kingmakers. The sanctity of the ballot or votes cast for individual candidates during an electioneering process is a sacred exercise that cannot be subject to the shenanigans of political actors. Therefore, it becomes criminal and most invidious for an electoral officer to seek to alter the choice made by voters through manipulation or falsification of the ballots after votes have been cast.
In the Osun election of September 22, 2018, votes were duly cast by the registered and accredited voters and at the end of the exercise, total votes cast by the two leading candidates were; Senator Ademola Adeleke (PDP) – 264,698 and Mr. Gboyega Oyetola, (APC) -254,345. With a margin of 353 votes, Senator Adeleke had clearly won the election. The constitution provides in section 179(2)(a)(b) the conditions required for a candidate to have been deemed elected as governor; “he has the highest number of votes cast at the election and (b) he has not less than one-quarter of all votes cast in each of at least two-thirds of all local government areas in the state.”
Having satisfied the clear and unambiguous provisions of the law as stated above, rather than declare him winner of an election that was generally attested to have been free and fair, the States’ Returning Officer, Prof Afuwape, decided on his own and in clear breach of the provisions of the Electoral Act, to cancel the votes cast at seven polling units on the pretext of election violence!! With this done, the margin of difference became less than the cancelled votes, consequently declaring the elections “inconclusive” and ordering a rerun. While the cancellation was criminal and a grand heist, the contrived rerun was a mere charade and barefaced electoral banditry the kind never before witnessed in this clime. Interestingly, there are 30 recommendations, comprising the first 7 given special priority in the final EU EOM Report on the 2019 Nigeria general elections released June 15, 2019, and the first of these special priority is the whimsical, capricious and illegal ‘cancellation of votes cast at polling units’ by INEC officers.
2. Independence & Impartiality of State Institutions
Another practice of democratic governance is the role that state institutions play during and after the conduct of elections. Beginning with INEC, its impartiality and absolute independence ought to be beyond question. But as stated above and in several other elections conducted after Osun 2018, specifically, the March 9, 2019 governorship elections in Kano, Lagos, Adamawa, Bauchi, Benue, Sokoto, etc., INEC performed well below average. Local and foreign observers said as much. Likewise, the security agencies, specifically the police and army were even more complicit in the disenfranchisement, militarization, and ultimately, bastardization of the electioneering process.
The dubious innovation into our electioneering process is the phenomenon of “inconclusivity” whereby those who have lost at the polls working in cahoots with INEC and security agencies are given a backdoor to rig and manipulate the process fraudulently thereby robbing the people of their expressed will. As attested to by the majority judges at the Osun election petition tribunal, “INEC officials went to work”, a euphemism for doctoring and mutilating of election documents, specifically form EC8As after all participating parties agents have appended their signatures on the carbonized copies. By the time the CTC of originals with INEC were subpoenaed and tendered in court as exhibits, they were manifestly different from the pink copies issued to respective party agents. Thankfully, Justice George Mbamba of the Appeal Court affirmed this finding in his minority judgment delivered April 9, 2019.
3. Freedom of choice
As different from a monarchy which is by hereditary or selection by kingmakers, or dictatorship which essentially is by force or violence, democracy involves the people, citizens, that is, anyone who is at least 18 years-old, making the decision on the leaders they prefer. While power resides in an individual or few persons in every other form of government, power resides in the majority of the people in a democracy. Consequently, for the people of Osun to made a choice at the polls on September 22, 2018. The idea that Senator Ademola Adeleke is unfit to occupy the office of governor, regardless of having satisfied every requirement of the law and electoral guidelines, simply because “the powers that be” say so makes our brand of democracy a travesty of this noble art of governance.
4. A Conducive Atmosphere
The process of voting on Election Day ought to be carnival-like and celebratory which such momentous occasion demands. Election Day cannot be a day for war and mayhem. It certainly cannot be a day when hundreds of people, mainly voters, lose their lives simply because they choose to exercise their franchise. The day of elections or even the period of campaigns ought not to be characterized by violence, arson, bodily injuries and deaths. Same EU EOM Report confirmed that at least 150 persons lost their lives during last elections and/or campaigns preceding it!! Yet, in spite of the lessons of history that truncated the previous democratic experiences in Nigeria, political actors seem not to have imbibed these lessons. Rather than improve, we have actually become worse. September 27, 2018 date of the contrived re-run in Osun was a day of sorrow, tears and blood for voters who came out but were denied their right to vote.
The APC national chairman Adams Oshiomhole while speaking concerning the imbroglio of the Bauchi State House of Assembly crisis where two separate speakers and deputy speakers emerged, said; “I have had conversation with the governor, so I have all the facts. We members of the NWC have met with the IG of Police after deliberating on the issues. We will prevail on him to ensure the police do not provide security for an illegal act. Because the worse form of robbery is political robbery. It is worse than robbing people of their property.” (Front page, ThisDay Newspaper, 22/06/19). My initial reaction reading this was to recall a Yoruba saying that; “the man who is fond of cutting off people’s heads does not like another playing with a sword around him!”
Nevertheless, I agree wholeheartedly with the APC Chairman. However, if the penalty for armed robbery is death and we are being told that political robbery is worse, what then should be done to perpetrators of electoral banditry? While I would never call Mr. Oshiomhole a hypocrite because I respect elders, however, one would however wish that this latter-day sudden conversion to the democratic principles of fairness, equity and respect for the ballot would also make him campaign strenuously for the restoration of the people’s mandate violently, brazenly and callously stolen in Osun and Kano states governorship elections.
The Yorubas again say that “A house built on spittle shall be demolished by dew.” Time and chance beckon on the judiciary as one of the key builders of a new Nigeria founded on the solid foundation of justice, truth, equity and fairness. The decision of the Supreme Court will undoubtedly have far reaching implications for our democracy, the course of justice and good governance going forward.