On Saturday, 6 January 2018, the seemingly unending national shame of Local Government elections, conducted by so-called State INDEPENDENT Electoral Commissions, continued unabated in Delta State. It is true that the embarrassment of a party winning all or nearly all seats (when one or two councilorship seats are conceded) in state-conducted elections cuts across the parties: the party in power in a state sees it as the very definition of democracy and a fundamental duty to declare only their candidates' winners.
And so it was that the Delta State government improved on its 2014 performance when the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) declared all of its candidates' winners and even swore them in without result sheets and other voting materials which were either destroyed or confiscated by irate voters in several polling units. This time, fake election materials, identified as mere photocopies, were distributed while numerous units did not even have the courtesy of fake result sheets. There were, of course, the traditional instances of ballot snatching, instigated violence and intimidation, late and/or inadequate ballots (as in Units 2 and 8 in Ozoro, Isoko North LGA), etc.
In Oleh, headquarters of Isoko South LGA where I should have voted, voters stoutly resisted this mockery of “grassroots democracy,” a notion to which our politicians never tire of paying lip service. They refused to vote in virtually all the polling units and insisted that the fake electoral materials be returned and the LGA elections postponed. Curiously, in some units, armed youths believed to be working for PDP chased voters away from polling units where their candidate was unpopular and seemed headed for defeat, then proceeded to destroy ballots and other election materials, as was the case at Unit 7, Ward 1, in Oleh. So brazen was the sense of outrage that in Ughelli North, voters incensed beyond description set fire to the offices of the Delta State Independent Electoral Commission (DSIEC). In Owhe-Ologbo, Isoko North LGA, the fake ballots were shredded and strewn like confetti in the streets. In yet another twist in the tale of our never-ending electoral disgrace, agents of the state government and the PDP resorted to cajoling people to vote! In short, throughout the state, the charade went on with variations only in particular details of the shame. Photo and video evidence of the current episode of the unmitigated mockery of democracy is already circulating across social media platforms.
It is also true, however, that in a handful of units, too few to change the general character of the charade, genuine materials were delivered and voting took place (as in Otor-Owhe Ward, Isoko North LGA where the APC candidate councilorship candidate was declared the winner). This appears, however, to be a clever ruse to confer legitimacy on an exercise irredeemably tainted by irregularities and violence. We wait to see if pre-prepared results will not announce the governing party’s candidate the winner!
But the message is loud and clear: the people will no longer accept the states’ assault on their constitutional right to choose their leaders. The Delta State LGA elections of Saturday, 6 January 2018, did not hold in the overwhelming majority of polling units. Voting in the few units where anything of that nature purportedly took place was so marred by irregularities and violence as not to have taken place at all. In the few and isolated units where genuine materials were available and voting did, against all odds, take place, that small “victory” is bound to be turned to ashes in the mouths of the voters by the assured announcement of pre-prepared results.
I call on His Excellency Governor Ifeanyi Okowa to allow the good people of Delta State to exercise freely their right to vote for leaders of their choice. He should, and must, be willing to allow the LGA election be a referendum on his much-trumpeted achievements in the past two years. That is one of the primary roles of elections in a democracy. The 2018 Delta State LGA elections must be cancelled and fixed for another day, within three months. Before a new date is announced, however, DSIEC must be reconstituted to guarantee its independence, principally by including representatives of all of the registered political parties.
It is not a defense to answer that the practice of wholesale rigging of LGA elections cuts across all the parties. There must be a point where we say ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. Let this be that point and let Delta State be the Big Heart” (as its motto proudly proclaims) of democracy by being the light-bearer to the rest of the country. This is how democracy, and so the people, can be the winner. I call on Dr Okowa, as I called on his predecessor Dr Uduaghan in 2014, to be a hero of democracy by respecting the right of the people to self-determination, especially at the much-abused “grassroots level” of our government.
[NB: Ifowodo is a member of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and a failed aspirant for the House of Representatives during the 2015 General Elections]