Dr. Ogaga Ifowodo

 

Delta LGA Elections 2014: The Mockery of Democracy Continues!

By Ogaga Ifowodo

 

Instead of my regular column, I have elected to publish instead my exchange with His Excellency, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, on the subject of the Local Government Area (LGA) elections that took place in Delta State on Saturday, 25 October 2014. Readers will recall that my last column here was also on the subject. I am bringing the exchange to a wider audience because Governor Uduaghan clearly intended a public debate, hence his rejoinder to me on an Isoko social network platform, the Umeh Need Road (deliberately in pidgin English) Facebook advocacy forum. Besides, the matter is of utmost importance as the concept of democracy, especially at the proverbial “grassroots,” is now so thoroughly bastardised by our politicians that every legitimate tool and avenue must be used to restore its meaning and a modicum of confidence in government. The governor, who gets plaudits from me for not only reading my interventions on the subject but also taking time off his busy schedule—in the even busier-than-usual moment of the eve of an election—would be glad, I believe, to have his own side presented in full. Those who wish to read my regular column would see it here http://www.vanguardngr.com/2014/10/delta-lga-elections-2014-mockery-democracy-continues/.

   

My reaction to the farcical elections of Saturday, 25 October 2014:

ANOTHER BLACK EYE-DAY FOR DEMOCRACY IN DELTA STATE AND NIGERIA!

Even while ending on an optimistic note my last column "As Delta State Gets Set for the Charade of LGA Elections” http://saharareporters.com/2014/10/15/delta-state-gets-set-charade-local-government-elections-ogaga-ifowodo, I knew I was hoping against hope. Here is how I ended it: “I have heard through the grapevine that Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan is intent on a free and fair LGA election as his parting gift to Delta State, as one incontrovertible evidence of his ‘finishing strong.’ He does not wish, I hear, to create needless tension and animosity, assured results of rigged elections, which might mar his plan of going to the Governors’ Retirement Home, GRH, known as the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. For the sake of democrac, I hope this is the case. In two weeks’ time, we shall know whether or not it is time to abolish state electoral commissions.” Of course, I was sober enough to close with that final sentence!

Well, let me start, once again, on an optimistic note since what will follow is very bleak. This afternoon, I took the first step towards the change we all pine for by voting at my polling unit in Oleh for the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the Delta State LGA elections. That was after about four hours of waiting for the arrival of ballot papers and other election materials. But while voting took place in Ward I, no single ballot was cast in Ward II.  The PDP, no surprise, was not going to allow a free and fair election. So its local chieftains (in some cases) and thugs came with the tried-and-tested plan of hiding original result sheets (to be used for false results after collation) or to snatch ballot bags (we no longer use boxes!). In the inevitable violence that followed wherever there was resistance from the opposition parties, election materials were destroyed. I am reliably informed that this was the scenario generally not only in Ward II Oleh but also in Emede (where the violence included a shooting incident), Ozoro, four units in Otor-Owhe, Uzere, Irri and parts of Igbide. I have no doubt that the violence and mockery of democracy was far more widespread than these indicate.

But come Monday, new chairmen and councillors will be sworn in as ELECTED custodians of democracy in our state! No shame, no remorse. It will be done in the name of democracy. The aggrieved and angry candidates, never mind the short-changed and abused electorate (they never matter in our peculiar democracy), will be told in biting scorn to go to court. I am sad beyond consolation for now that among our ruling and ruining elite, there is none whose heart harbours a thought for the people who are ridiculed every time we go through these charades of LGA elections. None who can rise above petty politics and personal gain to respect the principle of democracy, which alone can unbound the spirit of the people and throw forth service-minded individuals to run for public office. So that we are condemned, in the time being (for this political savagery will end some day soon), to being governed by people whose only creed is self-first-and-last-and-the-people-can-go-to-hell, who have the greatest disdain for the very thing they purport to practise: democracy. If there is some consolation in this black-eye day for democracy, it is that the opposition stood its ground and resisted fiercely the attempt to spit in the people’s faces by rigging the elections. And the day also shows beyond any iota of doubt that the PDP leopard will never change its spots, that its vaunted strength lies only in control of the levers of government and security agencies to compromise every election. Still, I voted. And so I will post these images in homage to the dream of truly free and fair elections in which the people’s will prevails. Some Saturday for sure! I will address the question of whether or not to scrap state electoral commissions very soon in my column.

 

Governor Uduaghan’s Rejoinder:

Good afternoon my brother Ogaga Ifowodo. I am having to respond to your post on the elections yesterday. I know the elections will soon be the subject of debate in the media and of course the PDP will be the 'wiping boy'. As a background, I am a regular reader of your column and the one on the Delta LGA elections challenged me more than ever. In all the meetings with my party members I have always stressed the need for people to vote. I am also aware that LGA elections being grassroots elections tend to generate more interest.
What happened yesterday? I have reposted some of the pictures I saw on Facebook on some of the voting experiences. Fortunately you and I voted so we have the right to make comments. I am also happy that our brother Jerry made a comment on your post which gave a clearer picture of the situation yesterday. I will need to state some facts as I know your party APC will soon bombard the press with stories to blackmail PDP. The truth my brother is that APC and to some extent labour party did not prepare for LGA elections.
First APC is yet to get itself together in delta as was clearly shown in the advert in vanguard a day before the elections by one of the members. In such a divided state, there was no way the state organ of the party, which ever is the accepted one, can lead a party to election victories.
Secondly, during the campaigns only PDP campaign trains were virtually on the field throughout the state. Instead APC members were in the media especially in the social media blackmailing PDP. Some even claimed PDP had prepared results. And so to deal with this, APC and labour mobilised people, mainly youths, some of them thugs to block DSIEC offices and police stations were materials are kept across the state. This was one major reason voting did not start early. This was a big security challenge and it took the ingenuity of some of the security agencies and the Grace of God to deal with this, so that voting can commence. We refused to be pushed to the extent of using minimal force. These youths, if they had voters cards should have gone to their units to vote.
In moving forwards we all have a role to play. Individuals, communities, press, govt, civil societies etc.
In all, we had some flash points but the elections went well generally.

 

My response:

A Response to His Excellency Governor Uduaghan on the Fiasco called Delta State’s LGA Elections of 25 October 2014

Good evening Your Excellency. First things first, so sixty happy cheers on your turning three score and in good health. I felicitated with you via the last avenue on which you last communicated with me one-and-half years ago. I got no reply, but it is possible that my humble greetings got lost in the avalanche of good wishes you received on that day and even before and well beyond the day itself. Permit me, then, to repeat here the greeting I sent you four days ago: “Your excellency: This is to send happy birthday wishes to you on the 60th anniversary of your eventful sojourn on earth. Yours is the story of elevation from humble beginnings to the high echelons of society by dint of hard work, tenacity and good fortune. Sixty, proverbially, marks entry into the revered circle of elders. I have had only one encounter with you and can testify to the humility in power for which you are known. As you prepare to depart the office of Governor of our state, may all the experience of your many years in governance guide you in all your future endeavors. Sixty happy cheers, sir!”

Why have I opened myself to cheap blackmail by posting my birthday greeting to you? Because, in your response to my Facebook reaction to our state’s delayed-far-too-long LGA elections – and which thereby made it even more imperative that they be absolutely free and fair – you saluted me as “your brother.” A mere courtesy, of course, but I choose to take you literally, especially as I have indeed had the honour of your acquaintance. Besides, that will set, I believe, the proper tone for our exchange in this matter of utmost importance to democracy in our country generally, and the political health of our state, the Big Heart, in particular. Lastly, you paid me high compliment by saying that you are a “regular reader” of my column and that the one on the Delta LGA elections “challenged” you “more than ever.” As a columnist, I often wonder if those in power read me and my tribe at all. “Let them have their say, we will have our way,” I often imagine power to say to itself each time a disgruntled element’s latest laments are brought to its (just to use a neutral pronoun!) attention. Sir, I thank you for finding my opinions worth your time, an even rarer commodity to a governor than ordinary citizens.

Now courtesies aside, to the issues. If I understand you correctly, Your Excellency, sir, the reason the opposition parties, meaning the All Progressives Congress and the Labour Party did not “win” (note my inverted commas) a single councillorship seat—never mind chairmanship—(to the best of my knowledge, though I would be gladly corrected) is that both parties did not campaign or prepare for the election (“The truth my brother is that APC and to some extent labour party did not prepare for LGA elections”). By contrast, your party, the Peoples Democratic Party, was the only party that campaigned (“during the campaigns only PDP campaign trains were virtually on the field throughout the state”) and so won lopsided victories in virtually every constituency where voting managed to take place. Mark my word “managed,” sir, for I will return to it presently. Secondly, that the violence that marred the elections irredeemably (in my view) was, actually, instigated by the opposition because some of its members  were under the (false) assumption that the election results had already been prepared and so “APC and labour mobilised people, mainly youths, some of them thugs to block DSIEC offices and police stations were materials are kept across the state.” And this led to the inordinate delay in the arrival — and in some cases, non-arrival as, for instance, in Polling Units 2 and 3, Ward II, in Oleh — of election materials.

Reading through the comments [readers responses to the governor’s own rejoinder], I see that much of what I would have liked to say by way of a contrary argument has been said. And persuasively so, much of it being in the form of positive denial of your understandably very generous appraisal of what transpired yesterday. In particular, the pictorial evidence of destroyed ballot papers strewn all over the ground as a result of the violence and outright mayhem that characterized a civic duty that should be no more complicated than standing in a line, verifying one’s name in the voters register, receiving a ballot or ballots, thumb-printing and dropping it/them in a transparent plastic bag, and then exiting the polling unit with an ink-stained finger. The tragedy of the transformation of this simple civic ritual which others in more civilized climes take a thirty-minute break from work to perform and return to their offices to continue the labour for their daily bread is the subject of my column “Elections as Military Operations” (http://www.vanguardngr.com/2014/08/elections-military-operations/ ), but I digress if ever so slightly! There is thus only one incontrovertible fact established through your rejoinder and many instances of violence and non-voting cited in a good number of the responses to you, sir, that I had read before I began to write this reply. And it is that in whole towns (Irri, Emede, Olomoro, for example) and large sections of other towns (Oleh, Otor-Owhe, Emevor, Uzere, Igbide, for instance), voting either did not take place at all or it was marred by violence. It is anyone’s guess what happened outside the limelight in the villages — such as Canaan, Edhomoko, Orie, Iyede-Ame, etc. Perhaps no violence, but we know that skirmishes resulted from the opposition’s resistance to attempts to compromise the elections, often with official complicity, through actions like the withholding of original or genuine result sheets or the snatching of ballot bags by agents of the PDP.

But this brings me to your claim, Governor sir, that it was the opposition that perpetrated the violence wherever it occurred. This claim seems to me counter-intuitive. It strains the logic of what we know usually happens during state elections, and even federal elections until fairly recently. Which is that the party in power, enjoying the monopoly of the coercive machinery of the police, army and state security service agents — not to mention the influential role of money which, again, the governor and his party always have to a far greater advantage than the opposition — is the party that seeks to use its unfair advantage to win ALL the councillorship and chairmanship seats. As I pointed out in my column which you cited, this obnoxious tendency cuts across the parties. You will recall, I hope, sir, that I cited the case of Kano State, where APC won all 44 LGA chairmanship positions. If I was not minded towards similar objectivity in my first reaction to this election — I intended devoting my column next week to a post-mortem and prescription for our terminal electoral disease, with specific attention to how to make state electoral commissions TRULY INDEPENDENT) — it is because I think that a greater burden of leadership by example falls on the party in power than on the opposition. You have informed us, sir, that during meetings with your party leaders you always stressed the need for people to vote. As a commentator has pointed out, your party leaders must not have listened to you, if the outcome of yesterday’s attempt at elections is anything to go by.

Thus, when I cried out loud whether there isn’t anyone among our “ruling and ruining elite” to rise above petty partisan politics to be a statesman, a nation-builder, who would allow the will of the people to prevail, it was because I expected you, my Governor brother, to be the first to meet this challenge and justifiably add a truly free and fair LGA election to the more credible evidence of your “finishing strong.” No doubt, you would have stood alone! In my opinion, homilies at your party meetings couldn’t possibly come close to achieving that end. LGA elections, as you must know, sir, are not simply a party affair, let alone one party’s, but a matter of the democratic health of the whole state, the overwhelming majority of whom do not belong to any party but do not thereby have a lesser stake in free and fair elections than the ruling party’s leaders. If I may ask, sir, why didn’t you think it necessary to address all the people of the state directly through a radio and television broadcast? Or paid advertorials in the papers? Or a series of townhall meetings? Or any combination of these steps, given the seriousness of the problem? Might you not have dispelled the fear, or rumour if you like, of pre-prepared result sheets that you allege drove the opposition to self-help remedies that in turn delayed the arrival of electoral materials in polling units? What in the absence of clear and unambiguous intent on your part that the freely expressed will of the people SHALL PREVAIL THIS TIME was to stop them from believing that it was a waste of time bestirring oneself to queue in the sun or rain endlessly for voting to start when the ruling party is assured 90-100% of the seats? Is there any democratic polity in the world — unless we count the erstwhile one-party socialist states and communist China and North Korea as paragons of democracy — where the people can be so sheepishly devoted to a party that has been in power for a decade-and-a-half with an indifferent, or at best average, score-sheet? Even then, we all know what is happening in Hong Kong at present.

I have already gone on longer than I intended, but the seriousness of the subject demands that we exhaust the issues, so I will quickly turn to two more. Your excellency, sir, you claim that the opposition did not campaign. This may be so in the 23 other LGAs of the state, but certainly not so in the two Isoko LGAs. I have been home almost exclusively in what I often jokingly call “the political salt mines,” meaning the proverbial “grassroots,” for the last two months. And I can testify that the contrary of your assertion is, in fact, the actual scenario: that APC was the more vigorous campaigner. The peak of the individual candidates and collective campaigning was the two rallies that APC held across the towns and villages of the two LGAs: on 12 September in Isoko South through Oleh, Olomoro, Enwhe, Igbide, Emede, Irri, Aviara, Araya, Edherie (even with a stop in Okpe), Idheze and back in Oleh which came to a standstill as a mammoth crowd proceeded on foot from Yanga market at the Oleh-Irri-Emede junction through Emore Rd down to St Michael’s College, then crossed over to IDC Rd before gathering at the IDC Rd/Emore Rd junction where Hon Okiemute Essien, myself, and others addressed the crowd.  The party’s candidates in the LGA elections as well as aspirants in the state and federal elections were introduced. On 18 October, just a week before the LGA election, it was the turn of Isoko North whose rally moved from Ozoro to Owhe-Ologbo, Otor-Owhe, Akiewhe, Emevor, Iyede, (passed through Oleh to) Oyede, Okpe, Ofagbe, Ovrode, Aradhe and culminated in Ozoro. At each stop and in Ozoro, the party’s North LGA chairman, local leaders and Senator Francis Okpozo addressed the enthusiastic crowd. APC’s candidates in the LGA elections as well as the aspirants for state and federal seats were also introduced. Sir, the truth is that it was the APC that campaigned while the PDP gummed a few posters on walls and went to sleep, assured that its candidates did not need to persuade anyone to vote for them when their victory was already signed, sealed, and delivered. Up till today when I asked a store attendant why she did not vote, her response was that she had better things to do (minding her shop) than wasting her time casting a useless ballot. When I pointed out that her attitude was a self-fulfilling prophecy, that changing it and voting, then staying to monitor the result from her polling unit, might very well be the way to ensure her civic right is respected, she retorted thus: “Na today we know say yansh dey for back?” I think you grasp her meaning. It is not APC and LP members alone who believe in the conspiracy theory of the ruling party winning every seat in LGA elections which, it appears, magically turn all the people of a state into one mind that finds credible and trustworthy candidates only in . . .  you guess it, the ruling party!

On the other hand, I have it on good authority that the cause of mayhem in several instances — Olomoro and Igbide, for example — was the imposition of unpopular candidates on the people by the PDP demi-gods in Isokoland. Security reports, I learnt, warned of dire consequences of precisely the sort that we witnessed in those two places. I think a commentator has already said as much about Olomoro. I don’t think, your excellency, that APC or LP can be blamed for preparing this gunpowder of imposition of candidates and then going ahead to strike a match to it on election day! Surely, sir, you couldn’t possibly accuse APC of burning down its own secretariat in Effurun, pictorial evidence of which one of the commentators here has supplied (though, perhaps, subject to verification) or would you? Lest I be mistaken, I have not said that there was no peaceful, and even free and fair, voting in pockets of polling units. I have testified to voting in my Unit 6 Oleh, with photos to show that there was no violence in that unit. My claim, however, is that violence, mayhem, and non-arrival of materials were so widespread as to have substantially altered the result and made the entire exercise manifestly not free and fair.

You ended on the note of what is to be done moving forward. I will end on it as well, not comprehensively as I still intend that for a column. It is as clear as daylight to me, however, what the immediate solution must be. Your Excellency, you are obliged to cancel the election and order a fresh one. In saying this, I go by the legal standard of justice that insists on justice not merely being done but being seen to have been done. In other words, an election cannot merely be said to be free and fair BUT MUST BE SEEN TO BE FREE AND FAIR. If in Oleh, half of the town was disenfranchised, the probability — and election cases are decided on preponderance of evidence, except where a criminal offence is alleged within the trial in which case that specific charge must be proved beyond reasonable doubt — is that the whole election was irredeemably marred. We need not speak of those towns where voting clearly did not take place at all, even if we overlook what atrocities must have been “freely” but not “fairly” perpetrated in the remote, out-of-the-limelight places I adverted to earlier. What this means, sir, is that you are morally, if not politically, estopped from swearing-in anybody purportedly elected yesterday. Since you assert that the PDP alone campaigned, and so won deservedly, you can have no qualms about this. If the PDP wins all or nearly all of the seats again when no justifiable claim of violence or other electoral malpractices can be made, then you will have proved your claim. You will also have removed any possible taint or stigma from your candidates who would otherwise be viewed with the suspicion of having climbed to power on the back of the violent abuse of the power of incumbency. I cannot speak for all of the PDP candidates, but I think I know one or two who would indeed be happier to exercise an untainted mandate than one beclouded by the hisses and curses of the very people whose representatives and servants in government they are supposed to be. In conclusion, I still stand by my claim that 25 October 2014 was a black-eye day for democracy in our state. And that the litmus test of a free and fair LGA election would be whether the PDP wins all or virtually all of the contested seats. If a single picture is worth a thousand words, the thousands of words spoken by the photos below urge cancellation and fresh elections on you as the only principled thing to do if we are to begin to lay the evil ghost of rigged elections and perverted democracy to rest. 

 

Governor Uduaghan’s response:

To Ogaga Ifowodo, my write up was not about Isoko but generally about the state. I have also not said the elections were perfect. I have also seen the reactions. They are not different from what we are used to. I will leave the debate on scrapping state electoral commissions until I leave office. Have a good nite rest.

 

 

 

 

 

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