By Ikechukwu Amaechi
Ideally, voters in Edo State should decide on Saturday, September 19 whether to retain Godwin Obaseki as governor for a second term or hand the baton to Osagie Ize-Iyamu of the All Progressives Congress (APC). Obaseki recently defected from the APC to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Fourteen candidates are on the ballot but it will be a straight battle between Obaseki and Ize-Iyamu, a protégé of former Governor Adams Oshiomhole who had installed Obaseki in power in 2016.
These men know themselves well. Scions of the legendary Bini kingdom, they slugged it out in 2016.
Four years down the road, however, nothing has fundamentally changed except the political vehicles in which they are riding to Osadebe House and their prime supporters and adversaries. The issues remain the same.
It is all déjà vu.
Expectedly, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has promised a free and fair election, saying, “Your votes will count.”
“I wish to reassure you that votes will count and only the choice made by the people of Edo State will determine the outcome of the election,” INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, pledged in Benin City on Monday.
Nigerians with the 2019 elections on their mind are hard put believing him. He made the same pledge before last year’s general ballot and doubled down on it in the November 2019 governorship vote in Bayelsa and Kogi. They turned out badly.
A day after Yakubu’s vacuous pledge, Edo INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), Johnson Sinikiem, said: “With barely five days to the election, please permit me to say that we are ready ….”
Despite these declarations, I dare wager a bet before the first ballot is cast: The ballot will neither be free nor fair and the winner will not be determined by the 2,210,534 registered voters or the 1,726,765 who collected their permanent voter cards (PVCs).
That ultimate decision will be made in the months ahead by Justices of the Supreme Court, none of who will cast a ballot on Saturday.
The combatants have built an impregnable war chest for the battle after the battle, which will be fought in courtrooms. Every Nigerian politician who knows his onions puts aside a large chunk of his war chest for that purpose.
Some don’t even bother to campaign; they lay ambush in the courts as Senator Hope Uzodinma did in Imo State. Today, he is governor courtesy of the Supreme Court while those who looked up to the people in whom sovereignty resides in a democracy are left out in the political cold.
On Monday, the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, announced the deployment of no fewer than 31,000 policemen, including DIG Adeleye Oyabade, AIG Hosea Hassan and eight Commissioners of Police for the election.
Adamu is upbeat that his officers would remain impartial, firm, and committed to a free, fair, and credible election, vowing that violators of electoral laws would be dealt with irrespective of political affiliation. A load of hot air!
The same promise is made for every election, including the very violent Kogi governorship poll in November 2019 and it is observed in the breach. Nothing suggests a shift in paradigm on Saturday.
Of course, Edo will be shut down, curfew imposed, movements restricted, businesses shuttered, yet there will be violence. The lions and tigers will be let off the leash to do what they know how best to.
The Department of State Services (DSS) and the military – Army, Navy and Air Force – are also doing their own deployments. Paramilitary institutions such as the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) are fully mobilised.
The Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) is not left out. On Tuesday, it announced a deployment of 1,500 officials and 35 vehicles, including tow trucks to, among other things, enforce the “no movement order.”
Because of an off-season election, Edo State has suddenly become a war zone. We should be ashamed of what we have made of this so-called democracy. It need not be like this.
On Tuesday, the 14 contestants signed a peace accord promoted by the National Peace Committee (NPC), led by former military ruler, Abdulsalami Abubakar, and Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Matthew Hassan Kukah.
Obaseki embraced Ize-Iyamu. Kukah and Abdulsalami applauded. INEC ululated.
Undiscerning observers crow that the accord is a proof that the political gladiators have decided to toe the line of peace.
Is it? Not really. Assuming without conceding that the gladiators have repented of their sins, what about the wannabe godfathers such as Oshiomhole who see the election as a matter of life and death? Did they also agree to sheath their swords?
To be clear: I doubt this peace accord will make any difference.
Besides, there is no better proof that this democracy is not working than this overarching need to compel politicians to sign a peace accord in every election cycle.
In other climes, even here in Africa, politicians don’t sign peace accords promising to be of good behaviour before elections. That is given.
We have behaved so badly democratically that the United States, a country governed by a president, Donald Trump, who is in no way an exemplar of democratic ethos, has imposed visa restrictions on unnamed Nigerians undermining democracy.
The United Kingdom has upped the ante threatening to impose visa ban, carry out asset seizure, or even prosecute under international law, Nigerians, over election-related activities in our country.
Many are clapping and calling on other European countries to weigh in, unmindful of the fact that it is rather condescending to be dictated to by other countries.
But that is how low we have come. Ghana does not face such humiliation in its democracy.
All these threats will not make any difference on Saturday. Those calling for electoral reforms don’t get it. There are too many strong men in Nigeria without strong institutions.
The strong men manipulate and control the institutions. In countries that have made progress, it is the other way round.
There will be violence in Edo on Saturday. The election will be rigged and the fundamental right of the people to choose who governs them will be grossly violated. That will be nothing new because the election has already been rigged against the people right from the primaries.
After the polls, the INEC will make its call which may not necessarily reflect the aspiration of the people, who, like the axiomatic toothless bulldog, will make noise but take no action.
Then President Muhammadu Buhari, the self-acclaimed, world famous democracy convert, will step in and advise the “losers” to seek redress in court. If there are fatalities, he will condole with families of those who lose their loved ones. The condolence letter template is constant. The presidential media aides will only put a new date and sign off.
Those who “win” will be inaugurated and those who “lose” will heed Buhari’s advice and go to court.
So much money, in fact much more than was used to prosecute the election, will be spent in the courts. At the end of the day, Supreme Court will give Edo people the governor it thinks they deserve.
He may be somebody who came a distant fourth, as it happened in Imo State. And Edo will join the league of states with governors appointed by the Supreme Court, not elected by the people.
And the people will move on as we are wont to do.
Democracy in Nigeria is a criminal enterprise and it continues to be so because rather than face the reality, which is, this democracy is not working, many Nigerians inexplicably choose to live in their own bubble.