There are lessons in the Ekiti governorship election for all political actors in the country, writes Vincent Obia
Just hours after the keenly contested governorship election in Ekiti State, signs of change were evident. The incumbent governor and candidate of All Progressives Congress, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, conceded defeat and congratulated the winner, Mr. Ayo Fayose of Peoples Democratic Party, hours after the announcement of the results by Independent National Electoral Commission. And within the next 24 hours, there were banters and embraces at Government House as Fayose and his team paid a visit to the governor and both men promised to work together for the good of Ekiti State.
It was a rare act in a country where politicians do not have a reputation for fair play and good sportsmanship. The choice of sportsmanship over against swordsmanship is a lesson in post-election behaviour, which every politician in Nigeria needs to take.
Despite the relative success of the Ekiti election, there are scary blemishes about it that bear testimony to the difficult electoral future that Nigeria is faced with.
The election was terribly over-policed, with dare signals for future polls.
There were about 40, 000 security personnel, including over 12, 000 police officers, reportedly, deployed to man the elections in the state of 2.4 million people, 732, 166 registered voters, and 2, 805 polling units. Besides the police, there was a massive deployment of soldiers, personnel of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, and operatives of the State Security Service.
It is good to have adequate security for elections, but no state should be turned to a police state or be militarised because of election.
In addition, election is a civil affair. So soldiers deployed to Ekiti for the poll ought to have operated mainly behind the scenes, leaving the police, the central internal security organisation, to coordinate security operations. But that did not happen. Soldiers were visible throughout the state and they maintained checkpoints at several border areas between communities. The soldiers were also involved in arrests, which should not have been the case.
Perhaps, most meddlesome and unjust was the barring of Rivers State Governor Rotimi Amaechi from Ekiti State during the APC rally on June 19in support of their candidate. While Amaechi was stopped at a border town in Ondo State, the aircraft that was to bring Edo State Governor Adams Oshiomhole to the rally was grounded by the federal government at the Benin airport. And the plane that brought Amaechi to the Akure airport from where he had proceeded by road to Ado-Ekiti was not allowed to fly out of Akure.
All these were barely a week after PDP had held its own rally in the state with the full presence of many of its governors, officials from other states and its national headquarters, and its national leader, President Goodluck Jonathan.
The federal security agencies must learn to operate in ways that would not give the impression that they are biased in favour of any of the parties in a political contest.
The Inspector General of Police, Mr. Mohammed Abubakar, has tried to defend the heavy police deployment during the Ekiti election as a precautionary measure meant to avoid a repeat of a 1983 governorship election violence in that part of the country. But that explanation leaves everyone curious as to why previous elections in the South-west states, which were in the old Western Region that had experienced even bloodier and more violent election crisis in 1965, had not been so massively policed.
The scary message sent out by the extraordinary security deployment during the Ekiti election seems to be that future elections in the country would not be properly policed. About 40, 000 security personnel were said to have been deployed for the poll. If this figure is correct for a state in a country of 36 states, it follows that 1.44 million security operatives would be needed to hold a general election. That is given that all the states are of equal population, which is not the case. And if the Nigeria Police would send 12, 000 officers to hold an election in a state, then 432, 000 police personnel would be required to properly man a general election in the 36 states. With the about 350, 000 policemen and policewomen in the country, it becomes doubtful if the country can provide adequate police security for its general elections.
The governorship election in Ekiti State was fraught with obvious missteps, which the federal authorities must strive to correct.
Yet the election is full symbolism. But it is not clear if it offers a clue into what would happen in the future. The federal authorities are doing their best to talk up the electoral prospects, based on the peaceful conduct of the poll and the exceptional sportsmanship of the APC candidate. But more conscious steps are needed to turn the hopes and optimisms to reality.