THE GOVERNORS' RASCALITY
The crucial moment is feverishly very close. It is less than two weeks to the start of the general elections. But a curious state of affairs has enveloped the land. Things are getting worrisome. Uncertain days lie ahead. It's a sad imprint that has given politics a bad name in Nigeria. We have reached groundbreaking record of how not to conduct political campaigns. If you are in doubt, see what incumbent governors are making of their positions.
They have turned the power of incumbency into one of those black holes that astronomers are always trying to make us comprehend; a force so large and intimidating that it is capable of crushing anyone who stands on its way. Politics ought not to be so. So far, political campaigns which the electorate eagerly look forward to as a pristine moment to assess the manifestoes of the parties and their candidates no loner resonate with the people.
What we have witnessed in the last one month leading to the elections is a very awful, miserable, shameful and unremitting intolerance and brutality that resemble the classic image of villainy that Shakespeare captured in the play, Richard III. From different parts of the country, Abia to Imo, Ebonyi to Akwa Ibom, Niger to Katsina, Benue to Bayelsa, Ogun to Oyo states, its all contemptible development.
The arrowheads of this despicable behaviour are state governors. The most delinquent is the bunch elected on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). In some of the states under reference, the governors have either by themselves, or through their agents, restricted, or totally barred campaign rallies of opposition political parties within their domain. These include access to public facilities like stadia, while bill boards of opposition parties' candidates have been pulled down with the flimsiest of excuses. In so doing, opposition candidates are denied the platform to sell their agenda to the electorate in their states.
Some states governors have made themselves look like agents of thunders. Few instances will suffice. Abia state governor, Chief Theodore Orji has constituted himself as a present danger to democracy.
Among those who have been at the receiving end of T.A. Orji's benighted, cheeky chicanery are his former benefactor and predecessor in office, Chief (Dr) Orji Uzor Kalu. Chief Kalu is running for Abia North Senatorial seat on the ticket of the Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA). But the governor and his aides have created roadblocks at every campaign stump of chief Kalu. Kalu is however not alone in the T.A. Orji's executive rascality. The governorship candidates of PPA, Comrade Chris Akomas, that of ACN and APGA standard bearers in the state, Prince Paul Ikonne and Ochiagha Reagan Ufomba, have had one sad tale to tell about the intimidation by the state government.
Ufomba has alleged that Abia is now a Gestapo state where intimidation has reached a frightening dimension. He has also accused the state of plans to eliminate opposition candidates. According to him, his party, APGA, has been denied all permits to hold its rallies in the state, even after the party has paid the necessary fee. The same bizarre development is happening in nearby Imo state under governor Ikedi Ohakim. Only recently, some tricycle (keke) operators in the state were locked up for days.
Their offence? For putting the posters of the APGA candidate, Chief Rochas Okoroha, on their tricyles. Not only that, no billboards or posters of any opposition parties' candidates, except that of the governor are allowed in the state capital Owerri. Last month, the ACN governorship rally in Owerri was stopped. Days later, the state government barred its fangs again by stopping the presidential rally of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) planned to hold at the Dan Anyiam Stadium, Owerri. The party was forced to shift the rally to Emekuku, few kilometers away from the capital. It has been a season of political attrition and intimidation in Imo. Both Abia and Imo are getting close to that infamous 'axis of evil'.
The two states are now hot spots that must be closely watched with few days left to the elections. An equivalent of political tsunami is very likely in Abia, Imo and Ebonyi states where the governor, Chief Martin Elechi also of the PDP, attempted but failed to stop the flag off of the ANPP presidential rally. His excuse was that the state capital, Abakaliki does not have the capacity to host a big rally. But it was simply a ploy to deny a staunch critic of his government, and National Chairman of ANPP, Dr Ogbonnaya Onu, who hails from the state, a platform to shine.
Elsewhere, the sad tale is not remarkably different. Only the actors are. In Bayelsa state, Timiprye Sylva's administration has not hidden his do- or-die politics. His obsession is to stop the Labour Party (LP) governorship candidate, Chief Timi Alaibe, who by all standards, is a formidable opponent. Alaibe's interests in the state have been attacked on several occasions by agents allegedly sponsored by the state government. In Niger state, the presidential campaign team of Buhari was denied the use of the stadium in Minna, forcing it to hold its rally at the Polo Field. Same happened in Ibadan Oyo state, where the state authorities locked the main gate of Mapo Hall, Ibadan where CPC rally was scheduled to hold.
These unconscionable acts of muzzling the opposition are by all accounts, provocative. The implications are worrisome for our democracy. To be fair, non-PDP states have responded in similar fashion in recent weeks. The attack on the PDP secretariat in Gombe, purportedly by CPC supporters teaches at least one lesson: that no single party holds the monopoly of violence. However, violence cannot be justified by any means. The recent calls by the House of Representatives, the State Security Service (SSS) and the Chairman of INEC, Prof. Attahiru Jega, all underscore the present danger that these acts portend for the April polls.
While the House of Reps and INEC boss have called for a level-playing field for all, the alarm raised by the Director General of SSS, Mr. Eta Ikpeyong, pointedly shows how potent the poison of intimidation by the ruling parties could wreck on the polity. The SSS boss called it an 'emerging trend' that could divide the country rather than unify it. His words, 'the emerging trends are becoming sources of great security concern'. The use of violence on political opponents and inciting comments, the SSS noted, 'constitutes great challenges to the election'.
That much we have seen. No vile utterance could be as inciting as the one made recently by governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom during the campaign rally at Ibesikpo council area, the home town of the former governor and currently his main political foe, Obong Victor Attah. During the campaign, governor Akpabio made a mock burial of ACN symbol, the broom, the rival party in the state which is reportedly being financed by Attah. Similar scurrilous comments have also been reported across the states.
Nigerians need from the SSS more than just raising alarm. Crying wolf is not the job of the SSS. Its job is to catch the wolf. Crying wolf is like throwing hands in the air, signifying a state of helplessness. What Nigerians need is a firm assurance that they will not be in harms way during the election. All of these entail role definition and enforcement. The SSS must be proactive and save us from the peril of this executive rascality. Unless the politicians in particular, those who hold the levers of power like the governors reform themselves, their altitude toward politics, and hold their supporters in check, not much will change. Maturity is for responsibility. Most of the governors are yet to reach that age. Neither have they imbibed the virtues required of their status.
True leaders who have done well in office need not be afraid to face the electorate. Resorting to intimidation as many of the governors are currently doing implies a guilt complex. Many of these politicians do not have the calling that politics demands of its practitioners. They pretend they have. But, in truth, their main motivation in politics is money and raw power. And when politicians are driven by these, the impact on the polity can only be tension. When a politician campaigns on the basis of money and power, rather than on the basis popularity and a full political agenda, democracy is put at risk. That is exactly the nexus at which we are now. Time is running short. And the people's patience as well.