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Banal lessons from Edo 2020

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[FILE] People wearing face masks queue up to vote during the Edo State governorship elections in Benin City, Midwestern Nigeria, on September 19, 2020. – Hundreds of thousand voters gathered at the polls in Edo State, Midwestern Nigeria to elect a new governor or re-elect the incumbent governor, Godwin Obaseki of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for a second term, the first elections in Africa’s most populous country amidst coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP)


The curtain has now closed on the democratic soap opera that was the 2020 governorship election in Edo State. This was premium box office stuff. From the intrigues of dizzying defections to the fascinations of the makings and unmakings of godfatherism in the arena of politics; from the creation of imperative brotherhoods to the battle cry of strong men from far-flung lands, this electoral cycle had everything we have come to expect from the strive for political power in Nigeria.

Since the declaration of the incumbent governor, Godwin Obaseki as the winner of the election, many have been quick to declare somewhat optimistic lessons to be taken from the various episodes from the poll in Edo State. It would have been refreshing if these supposed lessons were new and revealing of a trend on which we could anchor our democratic experience as Nigeria approaches sixty years of being an independent country. It would be 21 years by October 1st since the country returned to democratic rule and the outcome of the Edo poll are reminiscent of the same problems that have stunted our democratic experience and left many in a state of despair.

The masses who voted for Obaseki at the weekend would, I expect, be celebrating their victory on the basis of the myriad storylines that dominated public discourse in the months leading up to the election, as they should. Apart from a few challenges and incidents of violence recorded, reports from Edo State indicate that the result reflected the will of the majority of the people of the state. And by Michiavellian rationalisation, that should suffice. However, no sustainable democracy can be built on an “ends justify the means” philosophy. Unfortunately, elections in Nigeria have almost always been just that: politicians doing anything and sacrificing everything to win elections, with no regard for the ramifications of their actions for democracy, development or the disturbing political norms we accumulate after each election.

The banal lessons from this are painfully conspicuous. The multi-party political system we claim to practice is now a self-deceiving joke that mocks our constitution and everything else that is built on it. Worse still, we are practically left with a two-party system where the political parties are totally bereft of ideology, internal democratic values or integrity. Considering our political parties are strategic gatekeepers in the process of selecting leaders in Nigeria, the events leading up to the election in Edo State – as has been the case in most other polls in Nigeria over the last 21 years – should be of serious concern to Nigerians.
When the dust settles, it is imperative that we look beyond the social media memes and emotional backstories to understand that there is absolutely nothing funny about the dizzying defections that the PDP and APC serve Nigerians at every electoral cycle. There is rather a fundamental problem where a country is led by individuals who do not even attempt or pretend to demonstrate a sense of integrity or an ability to stand by their own words. And it would be an irreversible mistake for the citizens of such a country to applaud or deride such individuals simply because they won or lost an election.

In Edo State, as is the case with most polls in Nigeria, the citizens were left to vote for candidates who emerged through party selection systems that have little regard for equity, justice or fair representation, the very tenets on which our democracy should be built. This is not just about the fact that an incumbent governor was denied the ticket of his own political party, but moreover, the fact that an opposition party was so eager to accept as its candidate, a governor who it had opposed for over three years. What happened to all the issues the PDP had with Obaseki throughout the duration of the campaigns for his first election and his tenure in office? Did he just become a new creature in the biblical sense of II Corinthians 5:17 by seeking the ticket of the PDP?

On the other hand, as a Nigerian, it provides no sense of assurance to find that the party which is leading the country was unable to settle an interpersonal dispute between two individuals, resulting in the eventual loss of its leadership in a key state in the country. This is the party that is supposed to and does choose the ministers and ambassadors and security officials that engage in negotiations on behalf of the country and are saddled with addressing the intricate socio-cultural, political and economic challenges of a country like Nigeria. If the President of the country who is the leader of the party and all the other kingmakers were unable to see the bigger picture and therefore address the rift between a governor and the Chairman of the political party, there is a serious cause for concern.

So, at the end of another electoral event where kingmakers and powerful men stole the headlines with egoistic Oscar-deserving performances involving taxpayer-funded private jets, security claims and plastic calls for electoral reforms, what have we learnt? Not much. Nothing new, except the banality of masses left at the mercy of the irony of undemocratic electoral processes, the unrewarding distraction of endless drama in the political arena and bottomless hope that things would actually get better and our democracy would get stronger.

Whilst we should all wish the people of Edo State well in terms of tangible development beyond the drama of elections, the substance of the Nigerian situation, reiterated by the Edo governorship election 2020, is that whatever progress we are making is as an burgeoning Electocracy, not a Democracy.
Dr Ayibakuro teaches law at Niger Delta University, Balyelsa state.


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