When Governor Godwin Obaseki secured his second term in office after crushing his main challenger, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu in the recently concluded Edo governorship election, he was quick to direct his gratitude towards one powerful man. That person was President Muhammadu Buhari. He said Buhari should be remembered as the ‘father of democracy in Nigeria’
Yesterday, he made out time out of his busy schedule to pay a special visit to Buhari alongside his deputy, Philip Shuaibu.
Yes, Obaseki must have exercised too much hyperbolism in his statement, especially in the heat of an exhilarating victory, but there is much sense in what he said. When a video emerged in which the former national chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress, Adams Oshiomhole, was allegedly plotting with Buhari’s Chief of Staff, Ibrahim Gambari, to rig the election, the fears of the people were confirmed. The election was expected to be rigged in the favour of the ruling party. No politician is innocent in Nigeria; they easily roll out all the weapons in their arsenal to secure victories. Obaseki could have done that if he was in the shoes of Iyamu.
When elections are organised in Nigeria, the popular talk on the streets is that “the best rigger wins”. With the drama that accompanied the election and the braggadocio of Oshiomhole and Obaseki alongside other ‘kingmakers’ in Edo State, nobody was expecting a free and fair contest. Blood was expected to flow. The election wasn’t entirely free of skirmishes and oddities, but they were kept to the barest minimum.
The role of Buhari in this election needs to be applauded. It might seem like a norm in saner climes where political leaders refuse to interfere in electoral processes but the situation is different in Africa. Free and fair elections are a rarity in Nigeria. The US and the UK had to issue out warnings to political actors fomenting trouble during elections and undermining the process.
There is a general institutional weakness in Nigeria and this makes government institutions prone to manipulations by political actors and the ruling elites. We have strong men and weak institutions. The President wields enormous powers that could undermine any democratic process. The President appoints the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, the service chiefs and the Chief Justice of Nigeria. In June 2019, Buhari also controversially influenced the appointment of five new justices of the Supreme Court. These people play significant roles in the democratic process in Nigeria.
INEC organises the election and the security agencies maintain law and order during the event. In the past, security operatives have been accused of helping political parties rig elections. When its all said and done, the aggrieved parties head to the courts to seek redress on the outcome of elections which usually gets to the supreme court in the course of litigation. The judges appointed by the president might also be waiting to do his bidding. Till date, the supreme court judgement that ushered in Governor Hope Uzodinma in Imo State still remains contentious. The popular view is that the Federal Government had a hand in the outcome, although this hasn’t been backed with strong evidence.
What the above means, in essence, is that the executive arm of government dominates over the legislature and the judiciary in a way that erodes checks and balances. Nigerian politicians are like armed robbers who operate in broad daylight under the nose of the general public and then damn the consequences.
When the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, deployed 30,000 police officers to maintain law and order during the Edo election, PDP members and supporters of Obaseki felt they were going to be targeted. The general public felt that way too. The term ‘Federal Might’ is a deciding factor in Nigerian politics and it is exercised through lacunas like this.
At the end of the day, the election was peaceful to a very large extent. Obaseki schooled and battered Iyamu again. As Nigerians took to social media and the streets to celebrate the victory with Obaseki, Buhari also joined. He released a statement like the ‘father of the nation’, congratulating Obaseki (a member of the opposition party) and urging Iyamu to accept defeat in good faith. That move watered down the bitter agitations of sponsored protests, propaganda, litigations, violence and others which trail elections in Nigeria.
Another influential figure of the APC – the governor of Kaduna State followed suit by going on national TV to commend the electoral process. The Chairman of the APC National Caretaker Committee, Mala Buni also accepted the defeat and extended his hand of fellowship to a former party member, Obaseki.
Iyamu who had earlier rejected the outcome of the result was almost left alone in any plan to challenge results in court. His godfather, Oshiomhole was silent and there were rumours of the APC plotting to expel him. Iyamu later met with the leadership of the APC in Abuja and conceded defeat. The formerly vocal and agile Oshiomhole would also slowly crawl out of his shell, to accept and respect the stand of the electorate.
The level of sanity enjoyed in the Nigerian political space has been so encouraging, that many have envisaged that Obaseki might return to the APC. But he has denied nursing such plans. But we never say never! Iyamu expressed his desire to work with Obaseki to better the state of affairs in Edo State. Obaseki isn’t expected to take the offer, but it is good for the press.
If Buhari had decided to influence the process, he would have successfully done that and probably get away with it. People will protest for a while and be overwhelmed by security operatives. Critical reports will fly around in the media until people lose interest. Obaseki would then head to the election tribunal where the machinery of the ruling party will be waiting for him. After a prolonged and maybe choreographed legal battle, his petition will be respectfully and civilly kicked out. He then releases a long press statement appreciating his supporters and then moves on with his life like nothing ever happened.
Buhari had a loaded gun in his hand but he refused to pull the trigger as Oshiomhole and Iyamu would have expected. He is the real and true hero of the Edo 2020 election.