I know what you’re thinking: the Edo State governorship election is still almost two weeks away. Why, then, write a caption that suggests that the PDP won the election?
Well, because President Goodluck Jonathan and Tony Anenih as well as their shared outfit, the PDP so desperately want to take over Government House in Benin City. And what the duo and their party want, they get. It’s the simple, fundamental rule of Nigerian politics: any state (or office) that catcheth the PDP’s fancy, the PDP taketh.
So we might as well allow that the PDP has “vanquished” incumbent Governor Adams Oshiomhole and “conquered” the people of Edo State.
The signs of the PDP’s “conquest” were writ large last week when our asset-undeclaring, no-damn-giving, jet-hopping-whilst-Kaduna-burns president swooped on Edo. A hapless Governor Oshiomhole was at the airport to warmly welcome the man whose mission was to prepare the ground for the PDP’s seizure by hook and by crook of the incumbent governor’s post.
Of course, if you were the gullible or politically naïve sort, you would have been duped by Mr. Jonathan’s rhetoric. The president’s speech at a campaign rally in Benin City was all so high-minded, but the sentiment was feigned and to the discerning ear perfumed bunkum.
A headline in the The Vanguard of July captured the ruse: “President promises free and fair Edo guber poll”. The opening paragraph stated: “Ahead of the July 14, 2012 governorship election in Edo State, President Goodluck Jonathan yesterday, vowed to ensure security, free and fair election in the state, just as he urged members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state to mobilize properly in order to ensure victory.”
Speaking at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium, Mr. Jonathan waltzed down memory lane. According to the Vanguard, he “thanked the people of Edo State for voting massively for him during the last presidential election and recalled that it was in the state that [he] started the campaign for one man one vote, adding that the forthcoming election will not be an exception.” Then the president added, “So, this time around, no stuffing of ballot paper. No thuggery, no thuggery, no thuggery. It must be one man one vote. I came here to promise the people of Edo State that they should keep faith with that promise. Edo State is going to be one state that will show that example.”
Apparently, our president didn’t want to leave matters at the level of exhortation. So he apprised his audience of actions he’d taken to advance the ostensible cause of electoral transparency. His words: “Let me assure you that even this morning, before I came, I called the Inspector General of Police, are you ready for Edo State? He said yes. I called the Chief of Defense Staff, are you ready for Edo State? He said yes.” And then this: “I guarantee hundred per cent security for your election and there will be no manipulation, election results will be entered at the various units and nobody will change figures. PDP is the dominant party. As long as you mobilize and vote, the PDP will win.”
Mr. Jonathan’s speech was many things, but it was far from being reassuring. In fact, it was primarily disturbing, if not alarming. One suspects that the president designed the speech precisely to convey a chilling message to the people of Edo State. That message is, “Forget it, folks, your state and yourselves are a conquered people. Your state is as good as taken!” When Mr. Jonathan asked the IG and the CDS if they were ready for Edo, he knew that both men understood him to mean, “Are you ready to pour in police and soldiers into the battlefield of Edo to sack Oshiomhole and impose my (and Tony Anenih’s) beloved candidate?”
Nigerians know to be afraid very, very afraid whenever a PDP president takes to the hustings to promise an electoral contest devoid of ballot stuffing and violence. Nigerians know to lose sleep when a certified PDP president proclaims himself an apostle of one man, one vote. The PDP excels in the technology of electoral fraud and outright subversion of the popular will. That’s the bitter medicine President Jonathan has prescribed for Edo.
Schooled by harsh experience, Nigerians know to be terrified when their president invokes the names of the Inspector General of Police and the Chief of Defense Staff in the context of an election. It may be a truism that all political parties in Nigeria participate at some level in electoral fraud. However, the particular distinction of the PDP does not lie simply in the fact that the party out-rigs all others. The party’s dubious genius lies in two areas. One is an open disdain for the principle of credible elections. The other is that the party arrogantly commandeers the tools of state coercion the police, the military and the secret services and deploys them as an essential part of the party’s rigging arsenal.
Mr. Jonathan is no political fool. When he disclosed that the IGP and the Chief of Defense Staff had assured him of their readiness for Edo, he was delivering a dangerous political message. That message, hardly coded, could be translated thus: that the PDP is set to steal the damn governorship election and they don’t give a damn what anybody thinks about the heist!
It was Mr. Jonathan’s variation on former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s doctrine of elections as do-or-die affairs. From the days of Mr. Obasanjo through deceased President Umaru Yar’Adua to the era of the Jonathan, the PDP has perfected a scheme for stealing gubernatorial and other polls. The incumbent president flies into a contested state with a retinue of the party’s biggest thieftains to speak to a rented “mammoth” crowd. As happened in Ekiti, Adamawa and now Edo, the president or some other “heavyweight” declares that the police and military are alert to their responsibilities (to aid and abet rigging), proclaims the PDP “dominant,” and predicts victory.
The presidential “mobilization” provides cover for the (mis)deed. It inaugurates and empowers the impunity of rigging. In the misshapen, criminalized space that’s Nigeria, the president’s presence seals the deal. How many electoral officials in Nigeria have the spine to call a result that goes against the president’s man? With the IG of Police and Chief of Defense Staff on the side of the president’s (and Anenih’s) man, who can be against him? The Nigerian president has called on the IG and CDS. Is Governor Oshiomhole going to call on the inspector general of the “Area Boys of Ikpoba Hill”?
The stakes are extraordinarily high in Edo State. By all accounts, Mr. Anenih, who basks in the sobriquet of “Leader” and “Mr. Fix-It,” nurses an Olympian grudge against Mr. Oshiomhole, the upstart labor leader turned governor. Part of Oshiomhole’s sins is that he’s shown scant respect to an Anenih who holds himself and, alas, is held as Nigeria’s preeminent political fixer. And in the absurd calculus of Nigerian politics, many forces are already aligned to teach Oshiomhole a lesson or two in humility. If an election is to be stolen in broad daylight to teach that lesson guess what so much the better!
Here, then, is the sum of it: whether the people of Edo like it or not (in fact, especially if they don’t like it), the PDP will “win” the governorship election of July 14. The president of Nigeria will see to it. As commander-in-chief, he can order the law enforcement and security agencies to get cracking to achieve the objective. If Edo voters ever felt that the announced results were at odds with their choices, tough luck.
After all, the PDP does not necessarily agree that a matter as important as the making of political choices should be left in the hands of mere mortals. For this, the grandest of parties in Africa, political power is a divine bequest. As PDP officials are wont to say, it’s “god” that gives power, not voters. The power-bestowing “deities” are the select men the party calls stakeholders (properly understood as steakholders) or party chieftains (more appropriately spelt thieftains).
The resolve of the gods in the PDP to snatch Edo is not in doubt. The only force to stop them, in the end, is the will of the people. Unless impunity is resisted, stoutly resisted, its reign will continue. So here’s an emendation: The gods and goddesses of the PDP may already have decided that the Edo governorship belongs to them; they will get away with it, too unless the people of Edo are willing to stand up and say, “Hell, no!” The people’s will is superior to all the police and soldiers the president will mobilize to do the PDP’s crooked will in Edo.