For many members and loyalists of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the next few days are the season of whys. In matters of public interest, the post-mortem culture in Nigeria is notoriously weak. Not so for partisan politics, where the interest is more pecuniary than public.
Both in terms of protecting their future selfish interests, and in terms of explaining their predictable resort to litigation, PDP will be asking itself how the same Ayodele Fayose, who returned from relative political obscurity in 2014 to unseat incumbent Kayode Fayemi, could not re-enact his old magic to ensure Olusola Eweka took over from him as the Ekiti State Governor. But it’s an academic exercise, fueled more by self-denial than a genuine intention to unravel any political masterstroke ahead of the 2019 elections. In the lead-up to Saturday’s election, both the PDP and the All Progressives Congress (APC) acted/spoke in manners suggesting they already knew how and where the election would be won and lost.
It was not for fun that Adams Oshiomhole, the National Chairman of APC who, being a two-time Governor, should know a thing or two about winning or losing elections, said only three weeks ago: “…in 2019, those manipulation instruments will not be at their [PDP’s] disposal.”
It wasn’t just for comedy that Fayose, a 57-year-old, already or potentially a grandfather, the self-styled ‘Peter the Rock’, went on national TV to cry like a baby, claiming he was “slapped, beaten, shot at” by the Police and alleging that Ekiti was “under siege”. For all the hugely impressive academic talent residual in Ekiti, the election was never going to be about issues. The two leading candidates skipped the main debate ahead of the election, organized by Television Continental in partnership with Enough is Enough (EiE) Nigeria. The three candidates in attendance — Abiodun Aluko of Accord Party, Akinloye Aiyebusi of Socialist Democratic Party (SDP) and Segun Adewale of the Advanced Democratic Party (ADP) — even journalists, much less the rest of the public, would struggle to place their positions after results were declared at the end of the race. Those who mattered most shunned the debate because they had clear knowledge this was a non-issues election. Fayose knew all this; he understood this was a battle of pretence against deceit, of APC the deceiver claiming a moral high horse it hadn’t earned, and of PDP playing the victim. As the journalists involved in the firsthand coverage of the election would testify, this was exactly what happened.
The “manipulation instruments” spoken of by Oshiomhole were fully deployed by the ruling party. In specific locations in the state considered to be PDP strongholds, a generous deployment of soldiers, many of them ditching the army camouflage, took pleasure in intimidating the electorate. So many potential PDP voters were scared away by the thoughts and sights of menacing soldiers. By the way, there was nothing spectacular about this strategy; Fayose and the PDP employed it to devilishly spot-on use in 2014 when federal power was in their grip, now they have been given a taste of their own medicine.
APC thugs were in action as well. In some opposition locations, they set ballot boxes ablaze. In others, the boxes were forcefully retrieved. In one example, a video ostensibly recorded undercover by Pulse captures some women screaming at a location in Ilejemeje Local Government after a ballot box was “snatched by the APC”. Again, there is nothing ingenious about this; ballot-box theft was one of the multi-level shenanigans upon which Fayose rode to power in 2014.
It is interesting to note that the cases of ballot-box snatching and burning, and voter intimidation, were not the biggest decider of the election. Worryingly, it was stomach infrastructure, the very election malpractice Fayose is thought to be the master of. As shown in a video by SaharaReporters, PDP did not wait till election day before starting to induce voters; the APC was no different. A simple YouTube search will reveal a number of videos showing the pervasiveness of cash for votes on Friday and Saturday. With a minimum of N3,000 to N5,000, each of the two leading parties attempted to buy its way to victory. As expected, APC, with its federal spending power, outspent the PDP and therefore bought over the bulk of the electorate. In all, this election was a voter-inducement rather than popularity contest.
While the Ekiti election offers very little to any post-mortem exercise, it conversely offers tremendous use for any serious pre-mortem of the depth of politicking and electorate behaviour to expect in 2019. We now know very clearly that in 2019, APC will duplicate the very anti-democratic antics with which PDP held on to power in the three election cycles post-1999. We should know by now, just in case anyone had any doubts, that APC and PDP are birds of a feather. For all the exaggerated praise of Fayemi’s supposedly elitist perspective to politicking and the maligning of Fayose as an unrepentant apostle of stomach infrastructure, the lesson from Saturday is that neither one party nor one of these individuals can claim superiority of political ideas over the other. And just as both men traded places at the two ends of victory after the 2014 and 2018 elections, stomach infrastructure has only just changed hands. The only difference is that while Fayose counted on stomach infrastructure to regain power in 2014 and was blithe about it, Fayemi and his party structured their campaign in like manner but were two-faced about it. In the end, the people are the biggest losers — because no one can in all conscience expect a government enthroned by stomach infrastructure to then be driven by ideas.
Soyombo, former Editor of the TheCable and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), tweets @fisayosoyombo