The return of Governor Rauf Aregbesola for a second term in office in Osun State seemed like a foregone conclusion. That was before the Ekiti State election of June 21 which result was counter intuitive. From that time on, surprise became the new normal. Anything could happen. Political parties went back to their drawing boards. Voters re-visited their mandate setting power. Writers and commentators scratched their heads in search of new insights. Even beyond Nigeria, opinions ranged from long pauses to seeking new understanding of Nigerians.
Ogbeni, as Governor Aregbesola is well known, accepted his triumph at the polls in a victory statement on Sunday August 10. Unusual for such occasion, he started the statement with “After an unnecessarily tense, tortuous and even traumatic process …”. His opponent, Senator Omisore of PDP, is yet to accept the result of the election. Elections will continue, and now is as good a time as any to pause and review how well or poorly we are doing in the democratic endeavour manifested in electoral system.-
The three gubernatorial elections of Anambra State in November 2013, Ekiti and Osun States indicate changes in electoral processes and political succession. Are the changes for better or for worse? Are they fundamental, minor or cosmetic changes? Let us go through some meanings and lessons that have emerged, in my opinion, from these elections and wider political space of the country.
1.The presence during elections of security forces of all shades, including combat-ready, armed military forces has come to stay. The security forces will co-exist in uneasy, forced alliance with civilian voters and populace who are increasingly determined to exert their right to vote no matter what the circumstance. The debate on whose aims the security forces serve cannot end yet. The responsibility of authority to maintain law and order, protect integrity of elections through massive security outlay versus overwhelming presence, fearsome appearance, selective arrests will continue to pit political parties against each other. How credible the security forces remain will decline or increase with more elections.
2.Performance counts. Stomach infrastructure – provision of monetary and food hand-outs to voters close to and during voting– may be important but it is a neutrality. All political parties buy into it and the competition amongst political parties to outspend each other with voters will continue. But the capability of candidates to improve their constituencies in various ways matters greatly. Voters’ choices are based ever more on what candidates have done or can do for their constituencies whilst in office. And especially at highest point of political leadership, such as gubernatorial candidates. Unfortunately, issues still hardly take prominence of place in the campaign process. Even where political manifestoes exist, candidates discourse little on what they will do and why they have better grasp of the society and its requirements. Candidates show close to zero understanding of their obligation and responsibility to serve their electors. Likewise, people see only political leaders not the service aspect of it.
3.Communication and interaction of candidates and party leaders with their constituencies influence and inform perception of voters. Perception and reality is not always the same, and perception can matter more than the reality. Candidates who are seen as ‘of the people’ can more strongly bring perception and reality closer. Candidates use communication in the largest sense possible, including through presentation and representation, to determine outcome. Hence their presence at many events, attendance at social functions, and continuing tours of their areas to launch, open, inaugurate programmes and projects.
4.Votes as instrument of decision is gaining popularity. The ‘my-vote-changes-nothing’ attitude will yield to ‘my-vote-counts’ more and more, if the present trend continues. It will result in more people seeking to register to vote, and more people turning up to vote. Especially, as intimidation or perceived intimidation and possible harassment by party cadres, thugs and/or security forces declines, either directly or through voters’ determination.
5.Second term in office for elected leaders is not guaranteed. Even more importantly, the first term is critical. Flowing from the capability to deliver, performance in office and influence of perception of voters, an elected leader is deemed re-electable or not for a second term. A non-incumbent or outsider candidate stands a good chance in the current scheme of things to upstage an incumbent. The possibility is enhanced if such a candidate’s party’s stomach infrastructure power is high and can be combined with dominant, well heeled party machinery.
6.Political parties determine outcomes of elections, largely. On a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 is the highest weight, political parties’ role and importance amount to between 7 and 8. Highly accomplished candidates from weak or small political parties stand no chance in the extremely expensive race, made more complicated by expectations of voters and party officials for monetary largesse, gifts, support. The pool of funding support for political candidates is extremely limited. Control of state or federal government purses is the overwhelming source of fund.
7.Political game as currently orchestrated is more power-centred, abhorrent, technical , experiential. To win at all costs is the main objective. This entails combination of unsavoury and intelligent strokes; combination of the good, bad and ugly. Monitoring counterparts, co-opting allies, out-manoeuvering opponents, intimidation, buy-offs, polling, propaganda, appearances, making deals with local and traditional leaders, targeting constituencies, traditional and social media uses, management of staff, logistics control, deployment of cadres, are some of the calculations that go into electoral politics. Some aspects are scientific and objective, most of them are done for personal and party purposes. Voters’ wishes and improvement of society matter very little.
8.Electoral processes are very expensive from every angle that one looks at it. Even very wealthy and financially endowed candidates can deplete their finances rapidly. The higher the level of elected office in question, the more the expenses by candidates. Candidates need huge war chest of money, either from political parties, government coffers, private supporters, or their own resources. Often, all of these sources are combined. Some candidates are said to seek loans from lending institutions to finance their campaigns for elective offices, and some do it even for party primaries. At the official level, the costs of organizing elections is enormous, judging simply from the armada of materials, equipment, staffing, logistics, technology that are deployed by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). In addition, there is massive cost of security forces, soft and hardware that has been rising lately. Costs of monitoring of elections by civil society and other interested organs are mounting.
9.Thugs and hooliganism is less visible and probably declining. There was a time when the message that ‘there cannot be a free and fair election in Nigeria’ was carried to the extreme. Daylight thuggery, hooliganism was rampant. Beating, killing, burning of property and persons, intimidation and harassment was common. Stealing of votes and outright abduction of electoral materials, including ballot boxes , was in order. Although political campaigns are still secured by official and un-official ‘militias’, the actual elections appear more free and smooth than previously was the case.
10.The trust in and credibility of INEC has improved over time, and particularly in recent elections. The organization has a difficult mandate. It is a friend of none and enemy of none. It only has to do its duty. If there has been no violence or even major upheavals after the Anambra, Ekiti and Osun state elections, it is confirmation that the rule of law has found its place. Democracy is in play and whilst all may not be satisfied, the wish and expression of most voters, chiefly the vocal groups, is being met. It is the most affirmative credence of INEC.
Tomorrow may seem like today. But each day is different. As in important situations, let us not lose an opportunity to reappraise, reflect, re-strategize, re-tool and re-focus. The ten points above are meant to provide ideas for such reappraisal as may be relevant.