Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The uncivil electoral war in Osun

In the next three days, about a million voters who have collected their Permanent Voter Card in Osun State will be filing out to choose their governor for the next four years. This exercise hopefully will bring to a close the ongoing uncivil electoral war that was ignited when the Independent National Electoral Commission released the timetable for the poll on Friday, January 24, 2014. In the last six months, different actors and stakeholders in the electoral process have been carrying out a lot of activities in preparation for the August 9 election.
Election ordinarily is a civil exercise. A civic responsibility by citizens who are 18 years and above and have registered to vote. It is one of the tenets of democratic culture. The main actors are the electoral management body which conducts the poll and the political parties which field candidates to contest at the election. Stakeholders in the electoral process include the legislature which gives the legal teeth to the contest; the media which educates the public about the process; the civil society that observes and reports on the process; the judiciary who mediates the conflict or dissatisfaction that may be thrown up by the exercise; the security agencies which help to secure the electoral environment and the electorate who pick their choice candidate to lead them for a four-year term.
Many opine that INEC, which is constitutionally responsible for the conduct of the poll, has been up and doing since the commission announced the date of the poll. Among other things, the commission set the timetable, has been sensitising the public on the forthcoming poll through the mass media and stakeholders’ meetings, and has displayed the voters register and conducted a continuous voter registration in Osun State in March. Other preparations of INEC include the distribution of the Permanent Voter Card, recruitment and training of both permanent and ad hoc election officials, printing and distribution of sensitive and non-sensitive election materials, setting up of Inter-agency Consultative Committee on Election Security and inauguration of the Osun State chapter of the Inter-agency Advisory Committee on Voter Education and Publicity. It is instructive that INEC has approved 20 political parties to field candidates for the August 9 poll and has accredited 29 observer groups for the election. Not only that, it has also set up a voter verification platform for Osun as well as citizens contact centre.
Like INEC, the political parties too have been going about their duties. They have conducted party primaries and have (s)elected their flag bearers. They have also been campaigning. This is where the electoral war has become very uncivil. In a manner akin to the Kiriji War fought in the state (Imesi-Ile) between Ekiti Parapao Army and Ibadan warriors from 1870 to September 23, 1886, political gladiators have been throwing everything into the race in order to outdo one another. Hate speeches, inciting comments, character assassination, mudslinging, inflammatory statements have dominated the campaigns and political discourse in Osun. The main culprits here are the All Progressives Congress, which is the ruling party in the state, and the Peoples Democratic Party, which is the main challenger. Both parties and their candidates have been unsparing in their propaganda war. Falsehoods are being daily churned out as facts and mountains are being made of molehills. Unfortunately, the unruly and untoward activities of the two main rival political parties have, according to reports, claimed two lives.
In March, during the INEC’s Continuous Voter Registration, a PDP leader, Pa Taiwo Ogundele, was murdered in Ile-Ife. Just last month, a member of the APC in Ilesa, Tolu Adeosun, allegedly lost his life during a fracas that ensued during the mega rally of the PDP in the town. Thus, apart from the media war, human fatalities have been recorded in the lead up to the election. The police authorities in Osun have made some arrests of hoodlums at some of the campaign rallies and are currently prosecuting them in the courts.
Yet, the political class is not done. The main dramatis personae earlier mentioned have also been heavily involved in voter inducement and voter buying. There are several ways they have been doing these. The political parties through their agents have been allegedly buying off voter cards from some unsuspecting voters. A news report says they pay between N5,000 and N10,000 for the PVCs. They have also been openly sharing foodstuffs and other items like rice, garri, beans, sachet milks, noodles, salt, matches, clothing materials, kerosene and hand fans. In exchange for money, some agents of the rival political parties have also been allegedly going round to collect mobile phone numbers and VIN (Voter Identification Numbers) on the Permanent Voter Card of some voters. Other measures being employed include promises of political appointments, giving of ‘soft loans’ to some voters as well as other sudden charitable acts aimed at inducing voters.
What many of the voters who have sold their cards do not know or choose to ignore is that ‘there is no free lunch in Freetown’. These desperate politicians will recoup their political investments on assumption of office after the election. The ‘stomach infrastructure’ they opted for now is the opportunity cost for the democracy dividends they should receive in the four-year tenure of the elected representative. Apart from that, vote selling and vote buying have been criminalised by the Electoral Act 2010, as amended. Section 124 of the Act categorises them as bribery and conspiracy and anyone caught in the act, on prosecution, risks 12 months imprisonment or a fine of N500,000 or both.
One will be playing the ostrich pretending not to know why politicians are desperate to win elections in Nigeria. Election in this country is a winner-takes-all, zero sum game. There is simply no other profession that is as lucrative as politics in Nigeria. The salaries, allowances, influence and other perks of office make political contest in Nigeria very fierce. According to a political scientist, David Easton, “Politics is authoritative allocation of values” while another political luminary, Harold Lasswell, said it is about “who gets what, when and how”.
As the saying goes, once bitten twice shy. The APC, having lost Ekiti State to its arch rival, the PDP in the June 21 governorship election, does not want an encore. The PDP, on the other hand, wants to prove that its victory in Ekiti is a renaissance for the party and that the APC is a mere paper tiger in the South-West in particular. Well, whatever the two gladiators may want to prove, they should let the will of the electorate prevail. The votes should count. The spirit of sportsmanship should be imbibed in these few days to the Saturday poll. The APC and the PDP should not burn down the state they wish to govern. They should remember that it is easier to destroy than to build and that Osun is a state of the virtuous (Ipinle Omoluabi). Enough of this bloodletting and warmongering. Another Kiriji War will not develop our dear Osun State. Let peace reign!