At the mention of ‘elections’, my reminiscences go to the 2003 elections, which I consider the worst in the current democratic dispensation. It was in that election, I believe, that the late irrepressible lawyer, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, SAN, who was presidential candidate of National Conscience Party, allegedly got eight votes in his state or local government. The man of law was so dazed that he just refused to go to court. It was in that election that virtually all the states in the South West were won by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Governor Bola Tinubu became the only one standing at that time. He fought the battle with President Olusegun Obasanjo until both men left office.
In those days, votes never really counted. If they did, opposition governors in the South West would not have been swept out of office. I recall an interview that Chief Segun Osoba, former governor of Ogun State, granted me and my colleague, Femi Adeoti, where he gave vivid pictures of the charade that passed as election that year; where more votes were counted than the number in the register, where all votes in polling units went to the same party, amid other electoral misdemeanours. It was said, at that time, that Obasanjo could not stand the taunting of political opponents who told him he had no political prowess, which was why he lost election in his polling booth and his geopolitical zone, given that the states in his zone followed their well-known trend of going with parties that lean towards the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the undisputable political leader of the zone. The late Chief Abraham Adesanya was leader of the Awolowo group, and thus led the people to Action Congress, which swept the polls in the South West in 1999. President Obasanjo came to power with little or no home support in 1999. But in 2003, he had been in office for four years, and had got a strong hold on power. He allegedly prevailed on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to ensure that the elections were tilted to his party, the PDP. It was alleged that he reached an agreement with governors in the South West to ensure that he was delivered as President in exchange that they would also be returned to office. Obasanjo allegedly reneged on the arrangement, and swept them out of office via electoral manipulation. Asiwaju Bola Tinubu was said to have distanced himself from that deal, stating that soldiers wear camouflage, which implied that they have a way of disguise known to them. He believed that Obasanjo’s military background should not be ignored in such matters. Tinubu thus survived the purge, as it were, but continued on a battle he fought until both men left office.
However, elections have continued to improve such that no election has been as despicable as that of 2003. In 2007, President Umaru Yar’Adua admitted that the election that brought him to office may have been flawed, but he had a duty to ensure that the country confined such ignoble elections to the past. Sadly, he did not live long enough to conduct any election but President Goodluck Jonathan, who took over the mantle, did his best to ensure that elections were free and fair. He was in office when Adams Oshiomhole ran for election in an opposition party, and won, though the courts had to help validate his mandate.
I have laid the background above to give kudos to President Muhammadu Buhari for resisting the temptation to interfere in last Saturday’s election in Edo State. He kept to his word to bequeath the nation with a history of free and fair elections. We must give it to him, given that he could have intervened and skewed the election in favour of his party, and the heavens would not come dropping down. Some of his party members, especially those who wanted to teach the re-elected Governor Godwin Obaseki some lessons, would have loved such a move. But the President chose to be the President of his country, not his party. The President deserves commendation for staying above board on that matter.
I have heard it said that Edo people were on a movement that would have defied any interference; they wanted to reward Obaseki for good governance, and also finally bury godfatherrism in the state. It was an irony that former Governor Adams Oshiomhole had killed the phenomenon when he faced the godfathers in the state, and sough to install himself as one. It is said that people do not attract what they despise. He could not have become a kingmaker when he literally brought down those before him. However, if his desire is to give the people good governance, he should accept the olive branch extended by Obaseki, and work with him in the interest of the people.
Someone made a joke about the final vote to be cast by the Supreme Court. I do hope that the wishes of Edo people would not be sacrificed on the altar of legal technicalities. For now, I hold that President Buhari is the ultimate winner in Edo. He has restored the confidence that votes do count. There would be a reduction in voter apathy, and a return of power to the people. Voters would henceforth troop out to elect their leaders, knowing that their votes count.