Nigeria Matters

One Victory, Two Clear Lessons

Nigeria’s President, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, is certainly a happy man right now. On the night of Saturday, 21st of June, 2014, he got two victories. His party’s candidate, Ayo Fayose, won the gubernatorial election of Ekiti State by a landslide. The second victory of the day was the Super Eagles’ well-deserved victory over Bosnia and Herzegovina at the World Cup in Brazil. For a President whose luck seemed to have waned, those two victories came in very handy and on time. Whereas, the joy over Eagles’ victory was one he shared with all Nigerians, Fayose’s victory was personal to him and, of course, his party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

With the legendary grip of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu – former Governor of Lagos State and strongman of the opposition, the All Progressives Congress (APC) – on the South-West geo-political zone of the country, political pundits have been quick to profess that the South-West will have a casting or deciding vote for the presidency in 2015. As it stands today, the North-West and North-East belong to the opposition. President Jonathan has the South-East. There are several factors or, if you may, self-inflicted hurdles, which may limit his electoral preponderance in the South-South region in 2015. But, even if he eventually carries the day in the South-South, the votes from the South-East and the South-South cannot guarantee him a return to Aso Rock. Kogi and Plateau States may go with him, but Nassarawa, Benue and Kwara are firmly in the hands of the opposition. Considering the democratic value of Ekiti State, one need not wonder why the PDP held a victory party at the Presidential Villa on Sunday, 22nd June, 2014.

With that victory, PDP seems to have burst the myth of Senator Bola Tinubu’s impenetrable influence on the South-West. With their eye on Osun State, the Presidency and the PDP seem to have found the magic wand for recapturing the South-West. Once that is done, the APC will die a natural death, and PDP will rise again and continue in its rule unhindered and unperturbed.

Two questions are pertinent here. The first question is: what did the Presidency and the PDP do right? The second, which is the flip side of that question, is: what did the APC do wrong?

The Presidency “rigged” the Ekiti election in a very sophisticated way, in a manner that cannot be discerned by the ordinary eye. In his campaign visit to Ekiti State, President Jonathan assured the people of the state of patronage if they voted in the PDP. For a people who view the Presidency as the owner of the proverbial national cake with the unfettered discretion to allocate it to friends and deny same to foes, that message was bound to make an impression. With the amount of rice and other “gifts” that Fayose perfected his campaigns with, it is obvious that he was well-empowered to win that election. There are stories that the PDP had, well before the election, recruited and dispatched as many as 25 vote mobilizers for each and every ward in the state. Money was never the issue for Fayose. All he needed to do was to fashion how effectively it was to be used to win the election.

Having won the vote deals and locked down the voters, the Presidency went for the jugular. It arrested Governor Kayode Fayemi’s campaign stalwarts. That strategy hardly goes wrong. Candidates with limited money usually wait for the eve of the election to do their last-minute campaigns during which people with premium electoral values are “settled” and voters are mobilized with monetary incentives. It is also on the eve of the election that logistics are perfected. Party agents and foot soldiers are mobilized on the eve of the election. Once those in possession of the campaign funds are cut off from the rest of the party members and the voters, it will take a miracle for the party so affected to win the election. So, whereas Fayose’s electoral engine was well-oiled, Fayemi’s was knocked down by the Presidency’s cavalier actions.

Just like players in a football match need the presence of their coach and supporters to spur them on, voters also need that psychological succor on the eve and the day of the election. Knowing what the influence of APC Governors would have on the psyche of the electorate, the President’s horsemen denied these governors entry into Ekiti State for electioneering. Sam Nda-Isaiah describes the tale of the two candidates – Fayemi and Fayose – on the back page of Leadership of Monday, 23rd June, 2014 in the following words “While Fayemi’s APC associates, especially the governors, were being denied physical access to Ekiti for the election,… Fayose’s PDP associates were escorted by armed men into Ekiti on election eve.”

By bullying and browbeating Fayemi and his friends, the Presidency dampened the morale of Fayemi’s supporters and strengthened Fayose’s fans. This may explain why less than 51% of the registered voters turned out to vote.

The fault may however not lie entirely with the PDP. The APC lost, in the first place, on account of its over-reliance on the performance of its candidate. The party was overly confident that the work of its candidate would work for it on Election Day. Not even the PDP will deny the fact that Governor Fayemi performed well above average and that he managed the resources of the state very effectively. But the APC missed the aspect of democracy that matters most on E-Day. Votes are not a reward. They are heart-generated decisions and choices. If the candidate is too sophisticated for a generally rustic electorate, the very good deeds of such an aristocratic candidate will work against him. Fayemi was seen as too elitist and too standoffish. He was too concerned with programmes aimed at connecting that rural state with the modern developmental train; he neglected those things that could help him win the hearts of the masses. It is true that Ekiti is the home of professors, but the majority of its active electorate is not sophisticated enough to be connected with Fayemi the Philosopher-Governor. This seems an affirmation of the perspective of someone who recently observed that “Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’”

Fayemi has a future in Ekiti politics, no doubt; but for now, it is time for him to go and study real politics. It is also time for APC to take a look at issues concerning its internal democracy. PDP can afford to handpick its candidates and damn aggrieved members because it has the federal purse. APC cannot afford to do that. Lagos and Tinubu are not rich enough to put up a strong financial challenge to the PDP. Tinubu should hands off the party and allow it to be structured and managed along the hallowed lines of democracy. It is only then that the party can stand on a solid moral ground to ward off PDP from the South West.

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