By Bunmi Makinwa
The campaign season in Nigeria is widely visible, just as are frequent kidnappings, abductions, terrorist attacks, and killings for all kinds of reasons. As in many countries due to a combination of international and local factors, economic problems keep mounting, inflation is high and prices of almost everything are rising.
In March 2023, the presidential elections will take place alongside elections of many governors, representatives to federal and state houses. For politicians, their hangers-on, political jobbers, and beneficiaries of political hand-outs, it is the once in four-year cycle to rake in financial rewards. For the country, it is a repeat of a journey that has been characterized with worsening conditions in all sectors of the economy and human well-being. It is a journey to nowhere as the fundamental rules of engagement for political leadership are thoroughly enmeshed in corruption, cronyism and prebendalism – a system of sharing government revenues to benefit self, supporters, and members of their network no matter how much it impoverishes the larger society.
Ahead of the presidential election, on June 18 this year, a hard jolt to politics will present itself when Ekiti State votes to determine its governor. Known in decades past for their natural determination to stay their ground, the election will determine whether the Ekitis’ democratic tradition which received severe setbacks and was overcome by money, official violence and manipulation during recent gubernatorial elections, has returned.
In 1983 in then Ondo State from which Ekiti State was carved out in 1996, the gubernatorial election highly contested for by NPN and UPN, two major parties, tested the fury of Ekiti people. The voters’ choice was upturned by the federal government’s ruling party, as was usually the case in many parts of the country. The people of Ekiti decided that the popular, obviously elected candidate, Mr. Michael Ajasin, must be declared winner of the gubernatorial election. Rigging was not new and some resistance was not unusual. However, the unpopular declaration of Mr. Akin Omoboriowo as winner saw an unprecedented show of people’s will in the state.
The massive resistance, burning, killing and mayhem that followed the announcement of Omoboriowo as winner was uncontrollable by security forces. In defiance but hidden away, he broadcast an acceptance speech. Yet, he was not able to assume office. Fortunately, a court judgment reversed the decision and Ajasin was legally, and appropriately, declared winner of the election
In Ekiti State, the political landscape has been dominated since Nigeria’s independence by left-leaning parties such as Action Group, UPN, ACN, and AD. The All Progressives Congress (APC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have dominated politics in the state more recently. Until just about two months ago, the candidates of APC and PDP were billed for a straight competition and one of the two would decide the next governor.
The situation changed after the parties carried out their primaries and chose their flagbearers. Many of the interested candidates were either out-manoeuvred or blatantly pushed aside in the process of party nominations. In anger, several of them decided to depart from their erstwhile parties and move elsewhere.
A major aspirant to gubernatorial position who contested the PDP primaries, former governor Segun Oni, felt deeply aggrieved and left his party to emerge as Social Democratic Party’s (SDP) gubernatorial candidate for Ekiti State. Until Oni’s position became public, SDP was a nominal party and considered as a relatively small player in the state. It has been transformed by the candidature of Oni and without doubt both PDP and APC are re-calculating how to overcome the challenge posed by SDP and its new candidate.
According to the electoral rules for the June 18 election in Ekiti State, the winner must receive the majority of the votes and at least 25% of the votes in at least two-thirds of the state. It means that the winning candidate must have widespread support of Ekitis.
There are three candidates for the coming June18 gubernatorial election in Ekiti State. Or more correctly, there are two candidates and one.
Those who are familiar with voters’ inclination in Ekiti argue that the contest is a performance assessment of former governors – Segun Oni and Ayodele Fayose, and current governor, Kayode Fayemi.
Fayose and Fayemi are seen as strong leaders of respectively, PDP and APC in Ekiti State, and expressly targeting national political relevance and leadership. Their candidates, APC’s Abiodun Oyebanji, a former Secretary to the government, and PDP’s Bisi Kolawole, a former Commissioner, emerged from their parties’ primaries. The two candidates are important pillars for the future steps of Fayose and Fayemi in national politics. Hence the coming state election is a vital stepping stone for the future goals.
As governor of Ekiti State between 2007 and 2010, the admirers and supporters of Oni affirm that the period has been the most prosperous and stable era for the state. They maintain that Oni’s administration developed and implemented policies that encouraged investment, included all groups in governance, discouraged corruption, and attracted the best minds from Ekiti State and elsewhere for growth of the state.
Compared to Fayose and Fayemi, it is maintained that Oni’s commitment and passion for the ordinary people of the state was never in doubt and that he deployed the limited resources of the state competently to achieve astounding results.
However, Oni’s style of governance has been criticized for being less strategic in understanding political games in the Nigerian ways. For example, he is known as not having any material means or wealth to cater for his wide base of supporters. Despite being at the highest level of both PDP and APC at different periods, he has not overtly restructured and manoeuvered the parties to align with his ambitions or personal whims, a path many of his political colleagues take all the time.
Yet, his supporters within and outside Ekiti respect his style of leadership. They see a new, proven model of governance that points to true public service and ethical political leadership to renew the society.
Elections in Nigeria are won and lost often based on massive use of money to buy people and support, control of security machineries of state, use of violence, ability to corrupt electoral systems and institutions. It was not always this way. Voters’ choice in Ekiti used to matter greatly. The renewed interest in politics for the coming gubernatorial election seem to show that on June 18, Ekiti State will choose anew the resolve of their people to decide.
Also in Osun State, gubernatorial election will take place on July 16 this year, almost one month after that of Ekiti State. Both states will set the tone for how future elections will play out in South West of Nigeria and many parts of the country.
Will the coming election rewrite the political direction of Ekiti State to reflect the wish of the people through a free and fair electoral adjudication process? Will June 18 in Ekiti confirm that votes matter and people’s choice does determine who wins? The questions and many similar others occupy minds of millions of people who watch and monitor the coming gubernatorial election in the state and political actions in Africa’s most populous country.
Bunmi Makinwa is the CEO of AUNIQUEI Communication for Leadership. Previously, he was Africa Regional Director of United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)