They played a confidence trick on Olusegun Mimiko, Governor of Ondo State.
When the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced Jimoh Ibrahim as the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2016 Ondo gubernatorial polls, the idea was to spoil the broth for the party. It was a ploy to weaken the support base of the party in the state. It was also a well-worn plot to cut down the Iroko by ensuring that he does not produce his successor.
Mimiko, the man who has weathered a lot of political storms since his ascension as governor, could not fathom the subterfuge. He was scandalised by it all. It looked to him like a joke. And he said so. In order to make meaning out of the confusing scenario, he had to set sail. As the chief security officer of the state, he warned that anarchy was lurking in the shadows, if that set-up was not reversed. For that reason, he went in search of the President. He needed to alert the President of the looming danger. He needed the President to call INEC and the courts to order.
That was a deft, political move. It was devoid of confrontation and tough talk. The governor’s approach was mature. It was supposed to endear him to Mr. President. And that, I believe, encouraged the President to give the governor a listening ear. But then, the politics of Mimiko’s action was not lost on President Muhammadu Buhari. He was clearly aware of the need to address Mimiko’s concerns. But in doing so, the President was very wary. He would not commit political harakiri on account of Mimiko’s civility. While there was need to give Mimiko a soft landing, there was also the recognition that the President must not do so at the expense of his office or his party. To achieve this balance, however delicate, the President had to act in a manner that would appear fair and equitable to all concerned. Change of tactics became imperative. If the initial plot was to use Jimoh Ibrahim’s candidature to nail Mimiko, something different needed to be done to assure the governor that the President did not plan to supplant him from his exalted position of governor. Even though the tête-à-tête between the President and the governor was private, we could glean from afar that the governor was reassured. He was told that something would be done to address his grievances.
Mimiko, obviously, was taken in by the antic. He returned to Akure happy.
In line with what the governor was promised, something was done. The courts, in one fell swoop, uprooted Jimoh Ibrahim. They threw him out as the PDP candidate and ordered that Eyitayo Jegede, the original and authentic candidate of the party, be reinstated. INEC promptly obeyed the judgement of the courts. The courts also dismissed all the cases brought against Jegede’s candidature overnight. The favours, which the courts and INEC dished out to Jegede within hours, were too good to be true. They did not follow a familiar pattern. They were not in line with the nature of our politics. They were masterfully tailored to achieve an objective, which was to give Mimiko the impression that Buhari was responding and had, indeed, responded to his complaints about the way INEC handled the dispute over who should be the candidate of the PDP in the Ondo governorship election.
No doubt, the President made concessions to Mimiko. But it was a case of too little too late. The President, through his intervention, may have got INEC and the courts to give Mimiko what he wanted or desired. But by the time he got it, his desire had gone stale. It had become useless in his hands. With the restoration of Jegede’s candidature, Mimiko got what he wanted. But that was sheer symbolism. It did not translate and could not have translated into anything concrete or significant. With only one day left for Jegede to campaign, there was very little he could do to move from Point A to Point B. He was simply stagnated by the circumstance in which he found himself.
How then were Mimiko and his candidate, Jegede, expected to salvage the situation? The matter was straightforward enough. INEC was supposed to postpone the election in order to provide a level playing ground in which Jegede would have some time to sell his candidature to the Ondo electorate. A shift in the election date would have afforded Jegede and Mimiko an opportunity to recover lost ground. Mimiko would have used the period of postponement to galvanise support for his candidate and get back those that had pitched their tent with either the Alliance for Democracy or the All Progressives Congress in the absence of PDP. If those who pretended to be helping Mimiko meant business, they would have prevailed on INEC to shift the polls. But they did not. INEC stuck to its guns. It said there was no reason for postponement even when reason was everywhere competing for space. By refusing to shift the polls, INEC was merely acting out a script. It was working towards an already-made answer.
Under the present INEC, led by Mahmoud Yakubu, postponement of elections and rerun elections have become a huge political tool. Mahmoud’s INEC deploys them dexterously to achieve determined objectives. Just a few weeks ago, the electoral commission arbitrarily rescheduled the Edo state governorship polls for security reasons, even when there was no scintilla of security threat in the state. But when it had very good reasons to shift the polls as in the case of Ondo, it single-mindedly insisted on going ahead with the election.
Going by INEC’s body language, one can understand why the Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, has been insisting that the commission has a dangerous agenda in the case of Rivers’ rerun polls. In Rivers State, Yakubu’s INEC has severally failed to conduct rerun elections on the grounds that the state was not safe for such exercise. But those who know, particularly Wike, have wondered why the commission was able to conduct general elections in terror-infested states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa and posted impressive outcomes but could not do so in Rivers, where people move freely without fear of molestation. INEC practically left Rivers State in the cold. It took an ultimatum from the Senate for the commission to choose a new date for the rerun polls. We are only hoping that Yakubu and his co-conspirators will not come up with last-minute excuses.
As things stand in Ondo State, Mimiko has been conned to the extent that he no longer has bite. Having believed that the President, rightly or wrongly, was fair to him, it is now too late for him to raise eyebrows. Whereas the PDP has rejected the outcome of the ejection, Mimiko has accepted it. He has congratulated the governor-elect, Rotimi Akeredolu. That is the end of the story. Mimiko may have been disappointed. But he cannot weep as much as Jegede. That may explain his malleable disposition in this matter.