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Playing Russian roulette with Nigeria’s democracy

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Olusegun Mimiko

Olusegun Mimiko

At the close of voting in the 2003 gubernatorial election when it was obvious that the ruling Alliance for Democracy (AD) had lost power through the ballots, incumbent governor Adebayo Adefarati, visited the Akure office of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to warn the umpire of the “dire consequences” of subverting the democratic aspiration of Ondo people.

The visibly angry governor, who was accompanied on the visit by some politicians who were direct participants in the events that led to the 1983 mayhem in the old Ondo State, was apparently recalling one of the events that led to the truncation of the Second Republic twenty years earlier.

Regarded as a black chapter in the history of the state, the carnage was instigated by the attempt of the defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN) to rig the election for Akin Omoboriowo, an unpopular candidate against incumbent Adekunle Ajasin. Many prominent citizens were killed and millions of naira worth of properties destroyed.

The abandoned relics of the residence of Chief Olaiya Fagbamigbe, a renowned publisher and one of the victims of the mayhem on Gbogi Street, Akure, stands till today as one of the sad reminders of that moment of uncontrolled fury when the Devil took over the minds of supposedly ordinary folks to engage in inhuman acts to make statements.

In a replay of the dreaded “operation wet e” of the Wild Wild West era of the First Republic, many of the victims were drenched in petrol and set ablaze along with their property. In one blood-cuddling instance, the head of another prominent inigene was severed and put on a spike for a mock dance on the streets of the state capital.

Seven days to the 2003 election, the then monarch of Akure, the state capital which lost more prominent sons to the 1983 mayhem than any other town, offered sacrifices to the ancestors and appealed to the people not to involve themselves in politicians’ war.

Of course the ancestors accepted the sacrifices and Adafarati was successfully voted out of office without any incident just like his counterparts in Ekiti, Oyo, Osun and Ogun leaving Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu as the last man standing in Lagos.

This resort to violence in the old Ondo that was characteristic of the politics of the Southwest region was part of the immediate causes of the demise of earlier attempts at democratic governance in Nigeria.

Ignoring the lessons of history, some players in Ondo political field seem to be charting another destructive course for Nigeria’s democracy raising fears that these major beneficiaries of the citizens’ tortuous journey to participatory governance, during which many compatriots lost lives and limbs and many fled into exile, have not learnt anything.

For a country which experiments with democratic governance had been truncated several times mainly because of undemocratic actions of politicians, it is expected that one or two lessons should have been learnt in the protection of democracy.

When billionaire businessman and politician, Jimoh Ibrahim’s name was announced as the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) by INEC which acted in line with a controversial court order three weeks ago, bonfires of disused tires were set on some streets of Akure early the second day by members of the Commercial Drivers’ Union.

If the action of the union members, from which pool desperate politicians recruit their army of hoodlums and which leadership may likely be changed in the effect of a change in government of the state is understandable because they are protecting their tenure, many observers of event condemned the follow-up demonstrations by some individuals apparently at the prompting of aggrieved politicians.

The state governor, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, who got the short end of the stick in the destructive internal politics of PDP, was reported to have appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari to call some Abuja-based politicians of the rival All Progressives Congress (APC) extraction he accused of being behind the travails of Eyitayo Jegede SAN, his anointed successor, to order.

Jegede’s name, in what members of the Ahmed Makarfi faction of the PDP to which Mimiko belongs, described as judicial coup, was removed from the list of candidates for the election even though a primary election that picked him was conducted with INEC officials as observers.

Like Adefarati whom he served as Commissioner for Health before the parting of ways that led to AD’s 2003 loss, Mimiko, during an unscheduled visit to President Muhammadu Buhari when bonfires were being set up on the streets of Akure, allegedly alluded to the 1983 crisis with a warning that as the Chief Security Officer of the state, he cannot guarantee safety of lives and property if the “injustice” against his ward was not redressed.

Buhari, whose ascendancy to the leadership of Nigeria was aided by the Ondo mayhem, was said to have calmly reminded the governor that he cleared the mess with his seizure of power in 1983, a statement that was read to mean that he would not hesitate again to clear new ones.

This warning of “dire consequences” which was re-echoed by many groups staging protests and demonstrations across the state has however been condemned by stakeholders who accused politicians of fanning embers of discord to feather their own selfish political nests to the detriment of the polity.

A major stakeholder and leader of Afenifere, the pan-Yoruba socio-cultural group, Octogenarian Chief Reuben Fasoranti, who was reported to have condemned the replacement of Jegede’s name, came out to deny the reports saying it was wrong for any decent being to recall the “evils of 1983” to make political points.

There were reports that many non-indigenes were already planning to migrate from their places of abode because of the fear of attack by their hosts especially as the entire process leading to the coming election has been wrapped in so many ethnic agenda.

Sources disclosed to The Guardian that security agencies, sensing that an organized carnage that would be made to look like spontaneous reactions of the people protesting “injustice” could be in the works, have called major stakeholders who are involved in the PDP crisis to a meeting where they were made to sign undertaking to be peaceful.

A traditional monarch who was reported to have called on INEC to reverse its decision to substitute Jegede’s name with Ibrahim during a protest to him by a band of youths that set up bonfires near his palace gates, was said to have been specifically told that he would be held responsible for any breach of peace in his domain.

Many watchers of event believe that without the intervention of security agencies, last Friday’s decision by the Appeal Court to adjourn indefinitely, the much-expected judgment on the rightful candidate of PDP, would have either led to aggravated protests or jubilations from party faithful depending on which side of the fence they are sitting on.

That the news of the postponement was received with calmness by the citizenry showed that the people have learnt one or two lessons in not involving themselves in politicians’ war.

The use of the Judiciary, a strong institution of participatory democracy, as an alibi in politicians’ attempt to outwit each other, has also been brought to the fore in the preparations towards Ondo election.

With the courts giving conflicting orders on the legal recognition for the two different factions of the PDP, which is central to who flies the flag of the party in the state, it is obvious that the judiciary has been turned into an instrument in the hands of politicians.

Many analysts have however warned that the controversial involvement of the third arm of government, especially with new revelations of judiciary’s alleged involvement in shady deals when the anti-graft searchlight was beamed on the institution, is akin to playing Russian roulette with the country’s democracy.

Although there are unconfirmed reports that the leadership of the aggrieved faction of the PDP in the state was already looking for ways to remain relevant even if Jegede is not allowed to contest the election, several protesters, in a last ditch effort to show their disaffection, yesterday staged a protest to the INEC office.

Echoing the call of the Mimiko faction for a postponement of the exercise, which INEC rejected, the protesters urged the umpire to shift the polls to allow Jegede exhaust all the available judicial avenues of redress.

However, with the PDP genie almost bottled, political violence has found another way into preparations for next Saturday’s exercise in the form of attacks on rival politicians and candidates.

On the receiving end of this spate of violence is the newly resuscitated AD, which in just two months, has moved from obscurity to a high level of popularity among the state electorate.

There had been reports of attacks on members of the party in many parts of the state. This prompted its leadership to appeal to the security agencies for protection and prosecution of identified culprits.

Minutes after the close of the flag-off campaign of the AD candidate, Chief Olusola Oke last week and just before the grand finale of the rally of the APC flagbearer on Friday, Oke’s campaign billboards that were displayed in strategic places within Akure, the state capital, were damaged and defaced with many carted away.

The AD has blamed the PDP which it said was intimidated by Oke’s “very successful outing” and the APC “for attempts to create false impression of popularity,” for the destruction of its billboards.

Several branded buses of the AD were also vandalized by a band of suspected political hoodlums last Sunday at the Arakale area of Akure but the two accused parties, the APC and PDP have denied involvements.


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