On Wednesday, when Ekiti State governor, Ayo Fayose, sat on the ground openly, weeping and alleging that a policeman slapped and kicked him, some people said he was pretending. Others have described what happened in front of the state’s Government House that day as a drama. And yet some others said the governors was having a taste of a medicine made in 2014 when he confronted then governor and now All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, in a governorship election he eventually won.
Well, those who are making light of the situation could go ahead. The gloaters could gloat. And the mockers could rejoice. However, what nobody should lose sight of is what actually happened. Governor Fayose led a procession of supporters of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in what his government termed “victory march” as part of the campaign for Prof. Kolapo Olusola Eleka of the PDP to be elected governor on July 14, 2018. The group had marched out of Government House and was about to hit the streets when policemen and other security operatives confronted them. The police unleashed tear gas on the group, leading to a stampede.
The police defence that security agents released tear gas to disperse a rally considered illegal could not but provoke amusement. The crowd was not unruly. The people were not violent. The gathering did not constitute any threat. And a governor, who has immunity by the office he occupies, led the procession. How could the police explode tear gas right in the face of Fayose, a sitting governor and attempt to justify it? This is unacceptable in a democracy.
I do not believe, in any case, that a policeman, no matter how mad, would have the temerity to slap or kick Governor Fayose, who also has security details attached to him. Such misbehaviour should, ordinarily, lead to violent confrontation between such a policeman and the governor’s security details. If this happened, Fayose’s security details should be tried for negligence. A police force and Department of State Security (DSS), which know their onions, dare not be proud of negligent officers, no matter the interest they serve, as this impinges on the integrity of the security institutions. However, no matter what anybody says, the Ado-Ekiti tear gas incident was an assault on the Constitution. It was a direct attack on a constituted authority, an infringement on the rights and privileges granted by democracy.
That Wednesday, electioneering was still on in the state. By the provisions of the law, political parties and candidates were permitted to hold rallies and talk to the electorate. Security agents have no right whatsoever to interfere with the campaign of any of the political parties or candidates under whatever guise. They should not also take sides but rather operate as free agents, neutral from political affiliation, sentiment and consideration. Their allegiance should lie with the nation, Nigeria. They may be employees of the government, but they are so employed to work for the country and its people. Their duty is to protect life and property. In the discharge of their duty, they are expected to be professional.
Policemen and security agents deployed to Ekiti State for the governorship election are not supposed to be agents of the ruling political party who should protect the interest of the APC. They should not also work to protect the interest of the PDP or any political party for that matter. Their duty is to ensure that those who come to cast their votes and officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), who conduct the election, are safe. Their duty also entails that they protect votes cast, ensure that after voting the votes are sorted, counted and declared. It is not their business who wins the election or who loses.
Sadly, the security agents have given themselves away as partisan. This has caused people to raise eyebrows over the deployment of 30,000 policemen to Ekiti State for the governorship election. Where security agents are left to do their jobs professionally, nobody would complain. Where security agencies’ leadership is ready to also be professional, without electing to do the bidding of the person in power, even when they are not forced to, nobody would raise any objection to their deployment for elections. A situation where security agents are deployed to intimidate and coerce people, as is being seen in Ekiti, would leave people with no choice than to complain.
In Ekiti State, there has been an exhibition of desperation. This accounts for why some people do not trust the Federal Government in the handling of the election. How could the authorities explain that policemen and other security agents are stationed in front of Government House and that they locked the gates? Why should security operatives be massed in front of the campaign office of the PDP? Why would the police contemplate withdrawing the security attached to Governor Fayose, in the pretence to forestall their misuse during the election? Why would soldiers and policemen be running round Ekiti in convoy, blowing siren, to instill fear in the people? This is unacceptable. Where the PDP is policed or under siege, while the APC is given preferential treatment, does not make the contest of Saturday fair. In such a setting, there is no level playing ground for the political parties to operate and test their popularity among the voters.
The Ekiti State governorship election will serve as a test for President Muhammadu Buhari and his government. Coming about eight months to the 2019 elections, it will serve as an opportunity for the government to prove to the world whether it would organise and tolerate free and fair elections or whether it would use everything at its disposal to ensure that victory comes to the ruling party, the APC. I do not care who wins the Ekiti election as long as it is transparent and seen to be so, as long as the wishes of the people, as expressed at the polling booths, prevails. If the government, or its agents, fails to live above board and, therefore, overtly subverts the will of the people, it will be too bad for our democracy.
However, one thing that is clear is this: The Ekiti election would signpost what to expect next year when the general election holds.
It will also help Nigerians prepare and be ready to fight for their rights. A columnist had wondered if President Buhari would accept defeat and also hand over power if he loses the 2019 presidential election. Such concern could only have been borne out of fears that the government, daily becoming unpopular, is leaving nobody in doubt that it may not allow credible elections to be conducted next year in order to retain power. The government should, however, know that it owes Nigeria as a nation and Nigerians as a people free and fair elections, where the votes of
the people, freely cast, would determine the winner. Former President Goodluck Jonathan did it in 2015. He lost the election, stepped down and Nigeria continues to run. It is the duty and responsibility of President Buhari to also deliver an election people will believe its outcome. For starters, he should not interfere or allow the manipulation of Ekiti election, no matter the temptation. He should not allow government agencies, which have one role or another to play in the elections, to do so.
Those who see nothing wrong with what happened in Ekiti on Wednesday regarding police and security agents’ conduct should beware. The monster being created today, by encouraging the government and its agents to run roughshod over the people, would be our undoing in future. By encouraging the government in some of its anti-democratic actions, we are directly and indirectly encouraging dictatorship in a democracy. The police used tear gas on a governor. We are clapping. President Buhari has released Executive Order 6, which is a policy of government to confiscate property on suspicion of corruption, without a court order. We are hailing. We should be ready to reap the whirlwind that would come thereafter. He who gives a monkey banana should know that when the monkey climbs with it to the treetops, it would be difficult to retrieve it.