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Recently, the media has been awash with reports of some state governments making it almost or totally impossible for parties other than their own to hold campaign rallies in their domains and denying them the use of public facilities such as radio, stadia and even streets and open spaces. A week ago in Benue State, the Action Congress of Nigeria [ACN] was denied access to hold its presidential campaign rally initially planned for the IBB Public Square in Makurdi, the State capital, forcing the party to shift the venue to Gboko.

Though the Benue State Government spokesman, Cletus Akwaya, denied the allegation that the government refused the Party access in the state, his ACN counterpart, Ibrahim Modibbo, said the Party had been facing difficulties trying to secure venues to conduct its political campaigns insisting that ACN has faced the same problem from “host PDP state governments” everywhere it has apply to hold its campaign rally. The Party had earlier alleged that it was denied staging of its Presidential rally in Jigawa on February 21 on the excuse that the state Governor, Sule Lamido was also billed to host his rally on the same date, a development which forced the party to shift the event to February 28.

Also in Abakaliki, the Ebonyi State capital, Governor Martin Elechi equally placed huddles on the path of the major rival party, the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), banning it from starting its national campaign in the state. Dr Ogbonnaya Onu, the ANPP National Chairman and a son of the state, had earlier announced that the kick-off of the party’s presidential campaign would be in Abakaliki, the state capital. But Elechi alleged that the plan of the party was to destabilise the state.

And in Niger State, the state police Command refused to allow the North Central zonal rally of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) to hold in the state on March 3, 2011. The police refusal was the climax of a week of altercation between CPC and the Niger State government over the venue for the event.

According to the State police commissioner, Mr. Michael Zuokumor, “The police received security information that if the two rallies are allowed to take place at the same time, there could be clashes and destruction of lives and property”.

Five days later, precisely on Tuesday, March 8, 2011, a dangerous dimension was added to this political anomaly when the aircraft carrying the Vice Presidential Candidate of the ACN, Mr Fola Adeola and other party chieftains crash-landed in Bauchi where the Party had gone to hold a Presidential campaign rally. The chartered aircraft was forced to land on rams at the Bauchi Airstrip while another aircraft conveying the Presidential Candidate, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu and other party leaders was forced to hover for about 40 minutes before getting clearance to land.

The question that naturally arises from this ugly development is; why are they afraid of the opposition? If, indeed, we are practising democracy in its true sense, then why should some parties be denied access to free association and expression in areas other than their control bases? In denying the opposition parties access to their states, these governors are actually denying their citizens the right to make a choice. In a country with more than 50 political parties, it will certainly tantamount to muzzling the electorate (apologies to Daily Trust) to debar other parties from campaigning in states other than their control bases.

Again, denying the opposition access to campaign in their domains is a subtle admission of failure by these state governments. It is an admission that the government has performed abysmally. This can even be discerned from the myopic reasons advanced by the governors and the police commissioners of the concerned states. Take Ebonyi State for example. Ageing Martin Elechi accused the ANPP, led by a son of the state, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, of attempting to pull down his government.

According to this Governor, who is constitutionally the Chief Security Officer of Ebonyi State, “ANPP has mapped out various strategies to accomplish its evil agenda, which include waging a vicious propaganda against me. Others include massive arrests of key supporters of my government and sending them to police zone 6, Calabar, for interrogation, detention and possible imprisonment, burning of PDP party structures in rural areas as well as brutal attack on its adherents, tearing and or burning of governor’s posters and billboards”. Considering the fact that Dr. Onu is just a national chairman of a political party (which is not even the ruling party), one wonders where he will get all the powers to carry out all the activities ascribed to him.

But that is not all. Elechi also said he could not allow the ANPP to hold its political rally in Abakaliki, “because Abakaliki is a small provincial capital struggling to measure up to the status of a capital and inadequate for state function’’. This is the sloppiest reason that could ever be given for such a breach of the constitutional rights of the members of the ANPP to hold their political rally in the state especially when it is considered that the ruling PDP had held its own rallies within the same week in the same state capital.

Dr. Onu, it could be recalled, was the pioneer Governor of Abia State from which Ebonyi was carved out. The records are still there today that Ogbonnaya Onu was the most performing of all the governors that emerged under the Military Presidency of General Ibrahim Babangida. It stands to the credit of Dr. Onu that the chronic and devastating problem of erosion in Umuahia, the Abia State capital, and its environs was checked to a large extent. The creation of Ebonyi State, hitherto inhabited by a largely unknown and, comparatively, one of the most backward people in the whole of Nigeria, was largely the work of Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu who worked assiduously, during his short term as Governor of Abia State, to brush up the primitive people of that area and bring them to limelight.

Beyond its undemocratic tag, this attitude of the governors exposes them and the party they represent as incompetent and non-performing. If after four years of leadership, a governor is not willing to face the challenge by the opposition or critics, then he has not performed. Any performing governor will be proud to allow the opposition to come into his domain and challenge his administration. It offers him an unsolicited opportunity to showcase his achievements.

Not very long ago, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) held its Presidential campaign at the Tafawa Balewa Square, Lagos. Right there in the centre of the Centre of Excellence, the President and Presidential Candidate of the party for the 2011 election, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, boasted that the Party would “capture” Lagos. Barely a week later, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) used the same venue to launch its Governorship Campaign for the State. There, the Party took the opportunity to respond to the boast of the President telling him that he would not only fail to capture Lagos but stands the risk of losing the states the ruling party still presides over in the South West. That is the beauty of democracy.

Given the unprecedented achievements of the ACN government in Lagos State led by Mr. Babatunde Fashola (SAN) in the last four years, it is always a pride for the government and the party to welcome opposition parties into the State. But, meanwhile, aside from the PDP, which has been struggling to find its feet in the State since the kick-off of its campaigns, no other party has had the courage to come into Lagos to campaign for votes. It is not altogether surprising. They are intimidated by the monumental transformation that has taken place in the State especially in the last four years.

It is, indeed, a sad commentary for the concerned governors and the party they represent that, even before the elections proper, they are already perpetrating electoral fraud. This is why Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Attahiru Jega, must intervene. It is not enough for the electoral umpire to condemn the practice. Many Nigerians have already done so; but it would not go away by mere condemnation. Something must be done by the INEC boss, and urgently too, to stem this evil tide which, as he has rightly observed, is inimical to the growth of democracy in the country.

MAC DURUGBO is the Personal Assistant (Print Media) to the Governor of Lagos State.

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