The temporal nature of power
The governorship election in Ekiti in 2018 was a time to reflect on the state of politics in Nigeria question. The newspapers reported a claim allegedly made by Governor Ayo Fayose that he “owned” 80 per cent of Ekiti electors and expected this to be reflected in the election result. I have not read a denial either by him or his media staff, a denial of the truth or otherwise of the claim. In his modesty, he allowed for the possibility that may be 20 per cent of the Ekiti population are not so enamoured by him. He trusted his paternalism to be turned into votes for his chosen candidate. Since the election, some of the electorate interviewed placed the non-payment of their salaries as one of the reasons for turning against Fayose and his party. In Nigeria where politics is highly personalised, does Fayose’s experience portend the death of paternalism.
Can a politician own a population? Populism in politics can be self-delusional. Few politicians have the luck of a second bite of the cheery. Ironically, both Fayose and Fayemi, the two Fs, have had that second bite. It is the election in which both are engaged in Buggin’s turn. Although one of the Fs was not standing as a candidate in the election, it was an election which Fayose made his own, his party’s candidate was eclipsed by Fayose’s overwhelming personality. Fayose managed to turn the election into something about him and about his character. Great politicians like to be remembered by what they achieved while in power. Fayose’s approach to politics has been nothing more than smoke and mirror.
In Nigerian politics, there is one historical figure whose impact and stamp on Nigerian politics leave the nation in awe even today. That great man is Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Either in the region where he was the Premier or in the Federal government where he was the Finance Minister, he is still fairly judged as a political genius. His education and health policies were a master piece and his management of the federal economy in war time was legendary. When he spoke, it was always with authority, logic and profound intelligence and he commanded our attention. His books are full of intelligence, and like the philosopher -king, he spent his time thinking and sketching how to utilise government power, that is public power, for the good of society. Anyone in doubt, should read his book, The People’ Republic. A seminal essay on the philosophy and ideology of politics. By contrast, the books by our modern public leaders, whether military or civilian, are vacuous and self-adulatory. To think Chief Awolowo served the old Western region for a time shorter than the eight years that Fayose served Ekiti, a carved-up part of the old Western region, and for even a shorter time as the Federal Minister of Finance; the man was a great genius. It is only now that a fair appraisal of his political sagacity is being recognised and appreciated. This is by way of saying those seeking high political office in Nigeria, whether at the federal or state level, have a template from which to draw. He never claimed any part of Nigeria as his personal fiefdom.
As proof of his personal authority in Ekiti politics, Fayose the Charlemagne of Ekiti, caused Mr Eleka, the PDP governorship candidate in the election to receive anointment in a public place. Mr Eleka who also has the title of a professor, duly obliged by genuflecting. Thus, one knew it was him and not Fayose who was the candidate in the election.
How low can one stoop to secure public office? By the anointment, Fayose demonstrated an unquestionable ownership of the PDP governorship election process. The potency of his power was in full blaze – unquestionably absolutist. He must have been skilledin the Court of Louis X1V. Awesome.
It should be said in other states in Nigeria, absolutism is not dead. As for our professor, the process of anointment is a spectacle that he would look back on with infamy. Should the quest for public office cause one to acquiesce so willingly and openly in the stripping of one’s dignity? The election outcome exposes the risk in such an open self-flagellation. Was Professor Eleka stooping to conquer (apologies to Oliver Goldsmith)? The outcome suggests otherwise.
Fayose’s political party was not the only one with questionable drama in the governorship election. The national leader of the party that won the election urged the Ekiti voters to vote for his candidate who, it happened, was a friend of the President. There cannot be a more personalised reason to vote for a candidate in an election! It is hoped Ekiti people would be governed with a better motivation. As for vote buying, both parties conveniently forgot about the country’s anti-corruption crusade.
This brings me back to the governorship election of 2014 which Fayose purportedly won. My colleague and co-author of work on Corruption in Nigeria, the late Prof. Abubakar Momoh was arrested and taken to a police station in Ekiti where he was beaten by the police while observing that election. The police took his laptop, monies and personal belongings. They were never returned and the police officers who beat him up acted with impunity. Anyone who knows Momoh can attest to the truth that he was one of the most honest and trustworthy Nigerians and a man whose integrity could not be impugned. Yet the police in Ekiti thwarted the effort to observe the conduct of that election objectively. Here I have a personal declaration to make. I knew Momoh personally. He was a friend of mine. Apart from our academic collaboration, we both served as members of the International Governing Body of the Centre for Democracy and Development. While at it, I also knew Dr. Kayode Fayemi during his time as the Director of the Centre for Democracy and Development both when he was in London and when the Centre re-located to Abuja. He is in my judgment, a competent and efficient manager. He is of boundless energy, thorough and one who pays attention to details. He is intelligent, well read and not a show-off. Is Ekiti in for a period of quietude? Time shall tell.
Back to the purpose of writing this piece which is intended to be a reflection on the temporality of power. Before the governorship election in Ekiti and following the debate in the Nigerian National Assembly about the Senator Dino Malaye affair, one of Nigeria’s most respected Senators in the National Assembly, Senator Shehu Sani made a speech which attracted my attention. He spoke without notes, he was not bombastic and as one listened to the speech, one was struck by such a rare intervention on the floor of the National Assembly without posturing. He spoke in defence of the rule of law and for rulers to turn away from the abuse of power.
Senator Sani was cautioning Nigerian politicians against violence and terror in Nigerian politics. The pendulum of politics swings ineluctably the other way. Today, the lexicon of violence, bullying and aggression characterises modern politics. Some might say it was ever so. However, Sani saw the signs that could lead to despotism and totalitarianism even if there was no scrupulous observance of the rule of law. He was not scaremongering. Nigeria has not been more insecure a country since the civil war. The symbols of insecurity are everywhere: guns, kidnappings and deep mistrust of politicians, religious leaders, the police, the army and other agencies of government.
As he leaves office, Fayose is forced to confront his past. He has been threatened with arrest for corruption allegations. He no longer enjoys the immunity conferred on him as a serving state governor. What would he do? Past governors such as Alamieyesegha of Bayelsa, Joshua Dariye, of Plateau state (recently convicted of corruption), James Ibori of Delta State, have failed in their attempt to evade justice by making a new life for themselves overseas. Anyone thinking of fleeing justice to avoid corruption charges would find such attempts are not always successful. Of course, the claim of corruption against Fayose is only an allegation and if Senator Sani’s advice is heeded, Fayose should be accorded a chance to set out his defence before an impartial adjudicator and to prove that his stewardship was not mired in corruption. Such is the temporary nature of power.
Dr. Okojie is an academic based in Manchester, United Kingdom.