Democracy is the people’s government. The Constitution made it clear that sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom government derives all its powers and authority. This sovereignty is expressed by the people through free and fair elections which is the foundation of any democratic government. President Buhari described free and fair elections as the bedrock of true democratic order, without which, the foundation of political and moral authority of government will be weak. The Constitution went further to say, without which, the foundation of political and moral authority of government will be non-existent. Section 1(2) of the 1999 Constitution states, “the Federal Republic of Nigeria shall not be governed, nor shall any person or group of persons take control of the government of Nigeria or any part thereof, except in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution”. Any government, therefore, that emanates through any other means, apart from the will of the people, expressed in a free and fair election, is unconstitutional, illegal and might even be treasonable.
Elections in a democracy operate in the comparative not in the superlative. There is no perfect election anywhere in the world but some elections are better than the others. So far, the Edo gubernatorial election, held on Saturday, the 19th of September, 2020, appears better than any previous gubernatorial election so far held in Nigeria. Voting commenced by 8:30am on the said date and ended at 2:30pm. The announcement of the final winner commenced at 2:21pm on Sunday, 20th of September, 2020 and was concluded at 2:45pm which was less than or exactly 24 hours from the conclusion of the voting. It was largely peaceful, free, fair, credible and met with international standards for conducting elections. At the end of the exercise Governor Godwin Obaseki was declared the winner and returned elected.
Edo election was unique in many ways. It was on purpose that we did not add the political party on which the Governor ran for his re-election. This is because, although on paper, he ran under the umbrella of PDP, in practice, he was the candidate of the two major parties. Recall that APC was factionalized in Edo State between the authentic APC state executive led by Anselem Ojezua and Oshiomhole’s political association called Edo Peoples Movement. Oshiomhole used his authority as the National Chairman of the party to singlehandedly elevate his political movement into the parallel state executive of the APC led by Col David Imuse. He did this to ensure that Gov Godwin Obaseki was disqualified from contesting the governorship of Edo State under the APC. He succeeded, even at the cost of his own chairmanship. However, the authentic state executive of the APC made it clear that Obaseki remained their leader and pledged allegiance to him even when he was frustrated to the PDP. At the end of the day, Pastor Ize Iyamu was the gubernatorial candidate of the APC on paper but in reality was the candidate of Edo Peoples Movement. To compound the problems for the Pastor, Obaseki and Shuaibu were able to convince Edo people that the election was between the people of Edo State and Adams Oshiomhole. So in reality, the Pastor was not on ballot at all.
Oshiomhole helped give life to the allegation that he was on ballot by leading the campaign for the re-election of the Pastor. He was present and spoke at every rally, desperately kneeling down for everybody to vote for the Pastor. He was the one who stood up through open roofs of his vehicles to wave his supporters during the campaigns. The results of the elections indicated that Edo people were convinced that they were up against a godfather and that the Pastor was not on the ballot. Oshiomhole won his local government because his people believed that a vote for him is a vote for the continuation of their leadership of the State. The Pastor, who almost won the gubernatorial election in 2016, lost his local government in 2020, because his people were not convinced that he will be in charge when voted in. John Oyegun, former APC national chairman, won his unit overwhelmingly for Obaseki, while the APC factional State Chairman, Col David Imuse, lost his Esan West polling unit to PDP, signifying that his people did not accept him as the authentic APC Chairman. There is a proverb that if one person cooks for the people, the people will finish the food, but if the people cook for one person, the person cannot finish the food. Oshiomhole cooked Pastor Ize Iyamu for Edo people and Edo people finished him but Edo people cooked Obaseki for Oshiomhole and Oshiomhole could not finish him. In a democracy, the office of the citizen is superior to the office of a godfather and more importantly, the people rule. This new reality in Edo was exemplified by Gov Godwin Obaseki when his first point of call to show his gratitude for the election victory was the people of Edo State along the street of Edo State. He thanked them for ending godfatherism in the State and promised to keep political lions and tigers out of Edo State and confine them to the zoo where they belong.
In our column titled “Democracy Dividends 2” published on the 6th of September, 2020, we declared that Free and fair election is not served a la carte, it is achieved through conscious efforts by the major participants to the successful execution of elections which include the government, the political class, the Independent National Electoral Commission and the general public. We opined that the government “is in control of the security agencies and must give clear instructions to them to maintain law and order during elections. It must hold accountable any security agency that is saddled with this responsibility and fails. A situation where the police and security agencies shift responsibility of abnormalities during elections to fake army or police officers is untenable because it is their duty to prevent the fake officers from carrying out their nefarious activities, apprehend such fake officers and bring them to book. They must be non-partisan and ruthless to armed thugs and bandits who disrupt elections”. INEC, we submitted, “must be populated with public servants of integrity. Men who cannot be bought with money, who are courageous and cannot be intimidated with the threat of bodily harm. It’s obvious that no election rigging can take place without the active connivance of electoral officers”. We concluded that “the general public has a major role to play. They must reject the money given to them to buy their votes and must use every legitimate means to ensure that their votes count and are counted”.
It is gratifying to see that all the dramatis personae in Edo election complied substantially with these recommendations and should be commended. President Muhammadu Buhari publicly gave clear instructions to the security agencies to deliver on free and fair elections in Edo. Buhari confirmed this after the election when he said, “My commitment to free and fair elections is firm … I have consistently advocated for free and fair elections in the country because … democracy will mean nothing if the votes of the people don’t count or if their mandate is fraudulently tampered with.” Thank you Mr President because Edo people’s votes actually counted. This sentiment was echoed by all the political parties, their candidates and all Nigerians probably for the first time in Nigerian history. The security agencies, led by the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, must be specially commended for the peaceful conduct of the election. We did not hear about fake soldiers or policemen, thugs or bandits disrupting elections and causing mayhem.
INEC was at its best. The idea of uploading the polling unit results in an INEC portal, www. inecelectionresults.com, for everyone to see was a salutary electoral invention that may lead us to our electoral eldorado if conscientiously sustained. Our
electoral calamity has always come from the collation centres, not the polling units. Fraudulent politicians simply allow the innocent Nigerian citizens to queue up in the heat of African sun to vote, only to later falsify the results in the collation centres. The declaration of polling unit independence, therefore, boycotts the ignoble activities of these irredeemable politicians and removes the possibility of their ambush of the collation centres as the polling unit results would have been in the hands of every interested Nigerian before they get to the collation centres. As a Lawyer, let me state that this invention does not amount to electronic voting or electronic collation of results, so it does not offend our Electoral Act which prohibits electronic voting. This is simply an electronic preservation of the results of the election which is both tenderable and admissible in a court of law as electronic evidence. It is akin to someone who deposits his cash in the bank for safe keeping and has the right to tender the bank’s statement as evidence that he owns the cash. Without being told, it’s most likely that some principal INEC officials in Edo that conducted the elections must have rejected to be induced by money and refused to be afraid of bodily harm to pull the stunt they did in Edo. God will reward them even if men do not know them. This is the definition of patriotism.
Edo people should be commended. They refused to sell their votes and birthright to politicians. Some even collected the money and voted their conscience, while some Edo citizens in diaspora sent money to their wards at home to motivate them to reject the money of politicians and vote right. They voted and ensured that their votes counted and were counted. They ensured that the accurate results were uploaded on INEC’s portal. They, in addition, monitored all the collation centres. They paid the price of liberty which is eternal vigilance. The Oba of Benin will be remembered for the achievement of peace during the election. The predictions of a bloody and violent Edo election were correct and real and had even commenced during the campaigns until great people and personalities stepped in. The Oba summoned all the concerned politicians and issued a royal decree for peace. It was upheld. Oba tokpeeeee! Iseee!. The National Peace Committee made up of former Head of State, some notable clergy and personalities intervened. They counselled the politicians and prayed to God. The politicians heard and God answered. What happened in Edo State, therefore, transcends the All Progressives Congress (APC) or the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). It was a movement of the people of Edo State that ensured that the democratic dividends of accountability, transparency, freedom, equality and justice were achieved through the will of the people. In deed, Edo election is a victory for democracy and should be the standard on which future elections should be judged. We must not relent. We must not celebrate a better yesterday in elections. May Ondo election be better.