Edo: Jogging on banana peels
I was privileged to attend a media forum addressed by Professor Mahmoud Yakubu not long after he assumed duty as INEC chairman. I was impressed by his restrained passion towards his decidedly tough and rough assignment. He knew the commission is a killer of professorial reputations.
I came away from the forum convinced of his determination to either better his immediate predecessor in office, Professor Attahiru Jega, or at least not let the commission regress into its days of incompetence and shame. I recall I had a similar impression when the then INEC chairman Dr Abel Goubadia called the press to let the world know that he had promised himself he would conduct free and fair elections. I am not quite sure of his legacy now except to suggest that he did what he considered to be his best in the circumstances. I think the system interfered with his owning the trophy.
Yakubu did not appear to have much luck at the beginning of his tenure. He stepped into the cauldron of unfinished business, a legacy from Jega: ten bye-elections waiting to be conducted and 80 nullified elections that would bring the gladiators back into the ring. These were part of the business he had to finish before facing his own mountain of challenges. His first conduct of the bye-elections yielded results I believe he least expected.
Now, he has stepped into the biggest cauldron of all: the conduct of the governorship election in Edo State. He fixed the election for September 10. A rash of do-gooders rushed in to argue that the election be shifted for security reasons. Yakubu briefly held on to his gun, insisting the commission was ready to go ahead. Everyone offered authentic but clearly mischievous reasons for the shift in the election time table. It soon degenerated into a contest between APC and PDP, with the latter accusing the former of being behind the move to shift the dale of the election. The security agencies then came up with the clincher: an outlandish security report that Boko Haram planned to attack some states during the sallah. They presumed Edo would be one of the states. They must have their good reasons.
These things are actually laughable but the commission deferred to their outlandish security report and shifted the election by 18 days to September 28. I offer my commiserations to Yakubu. In the end, he will be the only one left carrying the watering can. He has already become the object of vilifications, lies, innuendoes. The impugning of his integrity has become standard fare in the news media and among the political parties. Yakubu is facing and being treated to what his predecessors in office, bar none, suffered in the hands of these security do-gooders.
No one can deny that it is the business of the security agencies to monitor the security situation and where they are satisfied that shifting an election to a new date would be a wiser alternative to a mulish adherence to a given date, it is their duty to so advise. My worry is that this has become a pattern and it is at the root of much of the mess in our elections. Shifting an election date has become routine. Every time the date is shifted, it constitutes an assault on the integrity of the elections and of the electoral commission itself. You would recall that last year, Col Sambo Dasuki went to Chatham House in London to canvass for a shift in the conduct of the presidential elections. For security reasons, of course. He was the national security adviser.
Back home, the security agencies took up the chorus and overwhelmed us with mostly cooked up frightening security reports that no sane person would ignore. President Jonathan and his party had read the handwriting on the wall. It carried an unsettling message. Jega insisted he saw no credible reasons for shifting the election and was prepared to go ahead with it. He could not defy the security agencies because he needed their support. It was common sense that if, despite the security reports, he went ahead with the election he could bring katakata down on the country and on his head. The election was shifted to a new date. It created tension and anxiety in the land.
As the public understands it, there are only two reasons why an election is shifted to a new date. It is either that the commission is not fully prepared for it or some elements in the ruling party, having looked into the entrails of the chicken had come back with a reading telling them their political opponents had seized the initiative.
Shifting an election date is risky and should not to be indulged in as casually as it appears to be the case with us now. It creates room for mago-mago and wuru-wuru. As far as the public is concerned, elections are shifted more often at the instance of the powers that be. It thus suggests that the commission is in the pocket of the ruling party and takes instruction from it to do its bidding. It does not make the commission look good. A rescheduled election, no matter how fairly and freely conducted, loses something of its integrity.
The Edo governorship election has a lot riding on it. Many people see it as the litmus test of APC’s real popularity among the people. If the PDP recovers the state, the claim of APC’s popularity and performance would have the obvious grating ring occasioned by loss and disappointment. It would suggest that the change mantra, like Teflon, has won off. And there would be a high political price to pay for that.
Nor should we forget this: Edo is the home state of the national chairman of APC, Chief John Oyegun. A loss of the state to the PDP would mean that the chairman is, to borrow from the vocabulary of young people, a sky floater. You see why it would take some convincing on the part of the public to accept that the shift in the election date was for genuine security reasons, not to give the ruling party time to perfect its winning strategy? It is a delicate situation for Yakubu and his electoral commission. So far the dead party and the dying party have confined themselves to a verbal warfare.
The point must be made. INEC is the primary custodian of our elections. The security agencies are only part of its support system. They are in a position to advise the commission but they have no statutory powers to insist that their advice must be accepted by the commission. I would imagine that the commission fixes an election date on the informed advice of the security agencies in the first place.
Once that date is fixed, it should be the responsibility of the agencies to police it and ensure that nothing goes awry. We have a disgraceful history of the security agencies virtually intimidating the electoral empire with scary security reports.
The greatest disservice the agencies can do to the commission is to bend it to their whims and caprices with security reports, both genuine and cooked up, every time it has to conduct an election. The security agencies, like the rest of us, should worry about the integrity of our elections. If they continue to create room for a possible manipulation of the system, they undermine the credibility of the elections. Everything else rings hollow.
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