The incumbent governor of Edo State and candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Mr Godwin Obaseki, was declared the winner of the Edo State election on Sunday by the Independent National Electoral Commission. From available reports, the election was adjudged well-conducted when compared to the standard of elections conducted in Nigeria in recent years. In addition to being free, fair and transparent, it was violence-free.
INEC deserves commendation for that. The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), should also be commended for not allowing INEC, security agents, and thugs to influence the election as had occurred in some states in the past. The Oba of Benin should also be commended for all his efforts to make the key contestants and their supporters toe the line of peace. The United States of America deserves some commendation for announcing, a week before the election that it had imposed visa restrictions on some Nigerian politicians who undermined democracy in the November 2019 elections held in Kogi and Bayelsa states. And most importantly, the Edo people should be commended for not allowing themselves to be used as tools for violence.
However, if Nigerian political leaders and public officials were doing what they should be doing, there would be no need to commend them for doing what they are paid to do. It is like showering an employer with praises for paying the salaries of staff at the end of the month. However, in today’s Nigeria, politicians are praised for paying salaries on time. It is used as a part of political bragging rights by politicians, because many state governors owe salaries.
The reason Edo State held its election last weekend was because its electoral calendar changed under the presidency of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo in 2007. Perhaps, because of Obasanjo’s military background, his actions showed that he believed that power did not fully belong to the people. He believed that the President knew what the people wanted better than the people themselves, and sometimes the President should decide who should win an election and who should not, based on the intelligence available to the President.
Therefore, in 2007 when Mr Adams Oshiomhole, erstwhile Labour leader, contested the Edo State election, Obasanjo, through INEC, decided that Oshiomhole should not be declared the winner. All through the administration of Obasanjo, Oshiomhole as the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress was his biggest irritant. He called out Nigerians on strike several times to protest different policies of Obasanjo, especially increase in the pump price of petrol. On a number of occasions, after Labour had paralysed economic activities for a while, Obasanjo would be forced to make concessions.
When Oshiomhole decided to join politics, the masses were fully behind him. The tenure of Chief Lucky Igbinedion as Governor of Edo State was considered by many to be mediocre. It was believed that he became the governor because his father, Chief Gabriel Igbinedion, who held the title of Esama of Benin and was the founder of Igbinedion University, was a powerbroker in Edo State. Chief Tony Anenih, also known as Mr Fix It, was also considered the biggest political force in Edo State. They were all in the PDP and allies of Obasanjo. Oshiomhole was seen as the candidate of the masses who would uproot godfatherism in Edo State and transform the state.
Oshiomhole had started as the candidate of Labour Party, which was new then. But before the election, he reached an agreement with the Action Congress of Nigeria and became its candidate. When the election was conducted, INEC declared Prof. Oserheimen Osunbor winner of the election. But many people felt that Oshiomhole was the true winner. Oshiomhole sought legal option and he was declared the winner in November 2008. Because he was sworn in on November 12, 2008, Edo State’s governorship election calendar changed.
In 2006, Peter Obi had earlier had his electoral mandate restored by the election tribunal in Anambra State. In 2003, he had contested as the governorship candidate of the All Progressive Grand Alliance and won, but INEC (under Obasanjo) declared the fourth candidate, Dr Chris Ngige (then candidate of the PDP), the winner. Obi went to court and got his mandate back after three years. However, after spending just one year in office, he was told that he had exhausted his tenure. He was replaced by Senator Andy Ubah. Obi went to court again and the Supreme Court ruled that his four-year tenure should start to count from the day he was sworn in. That was a landmark judgment.
Ondo and Osun states also hold their elections outside the national timetable because in 2007 Obasanjo and INEC tampered with their results by declaring the wrong candidates winners. Bayelsa and Kogi states also have different dates for election because of annulment and death respectively.
As a retired military man like Obasanjo, Buhari has done better than Obasanjo on the conduct of elections in some respects, but his electoral record is still low. There have been high electoral violence and voter intimidation by security agents and thugs sent by godfathers. What makes him different from Obasanjo is that he chooses the elections to interfere in and the ones to keep aloof from.
But unlike under Obasanjo when the judiciary had its independence intact, the judgement of the judiciary under Buhari is viewed with suspicion and distrust, since Buhari breached the constitution and got the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, removed in January 2019, despite the fact that the CJN is the head of the Judiciary and the third arm of government. Justifications of all kinds were given for that aberration. The most shocking court judgement was the sacking of Emeka Ihedioha as governor of Imo State in January and the declaration that the person who came fourth in the election (Senator Hope Uzodinma) be sworn in.
Therefore, even though Obaseki has been declared the winner of the Edo State election, everyone should not take it for granted that he will be the governor of Edo State for the next four years. The Supreme Court has to endorse the result released by INEC for it to stand, unless Obaseki’s opponents decide not to challenge the result in court.
Furthermore, some lessons need to be learnt from last weekend’s election in Edo. Even though the election was between the candidates of the PDP and APC, it was actually a referendum on Oshiomhole as an aspiring political godfather in Edo State. The masses supported Oshiomhole to end the reign of godfatherism in Edo State. Oshiomhole boasted that he retired men like Anenih and Igbinedion from Edo politics. Yet, he wanted to become the godfather himself. He was rejected by the people. Earlier this year, he was removed as the Chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress. His tenure was characterised by highhandedness, military language and controversy. For a Labour leader who fought against impunity, Oshiomhole was a disappointment. He did not bring in anything positively different into politics to show that he was from a different background. His removal as the APC National Chairman was also seen as a sign that he had fallen out with Buhari. This factor is also adduced as the reason Buhari kept aloof in the Edo election and allowed the wish of the people to hold.
Edo people also rejected the interference of external people in their politics. The external politician most affected by that was Chief Bola Tinubu, who made an unnecessary broadcast from Lagos State, asking Edo people to reject Obaseki, their governor. Such was seen as meddlesomeness. Edo people did not want to feel that someone somewhere would control their governor and their state.
Nigerian political journey has been unpredictable. Today, it takes a step forward; tomorrow, it takes two steps backward. What happened in Edo State was a big step forward. Such should be sustained. But Nigeria should not depend on the goodwill of the President to get transparent elections.The country needs truly independent electoral laws and body as well as judiciary. That will ensure that the people’s belief in the ballot is at its peak.