The July 14, 2018 governorship election in Ekiti State is months’ away but the gladiators, especially in the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC), have started serious groundwork. Anambra State governorship election comes up in a few days but the Ekiti poll is generating more attention because of some factors. Gov. Peter Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti state, who is also the Chairman of the PDP Governors’ Forum, has been a major critic of the APC-led Federal Government. Apart from this, he has weathered many political storms that have made many to see him as controversial.
It was in the light of this that, when the United States Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr William Stuart Symington, paid a courtesy visit to Ekiti State last Tuesday, the issue of the Ekiti governorship election was in the front burner. The US, by virtue of its having embraced democracy for centuries, is regarded as the father of democracy and its major protector. And the major plank of democracy is credible electoral process. Symington minced no words about this when he said, “Every individual, group, and State matters. It is not about size. Everybody counts and we must care for all, irrespective of political or any other differences. Elections must not only be free, fair, credible but must also be violence-free. Those involved in organising elections must always ensure that they improve on their performance. America is interested in the sustenance of democracy in Nigeria and we know how important elections are to the process.”
Commenting also on political agitation in the land, the envoy said his interactions with Nigerians have shown that the people love their country. “Nigerians are resilient and are proud of their country. They have a sense of unity and purpose. The leaders only need not betray the confidence reposed in them.” It is on record that the United States Government wrote a letter commending the peaceful and credible conduct of the June 14, 2014 governorship election in the state, which saw Fayose coming in as governor for a second term, trouncing the incumbent governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, in all the 16 local government areas of the state. In that letter, the US had also recommended the election, which opposition politicians later made futile efforts to discredit, as a benchmark for future elections in the country.
Fayose’s incessant but well-meaning criticism of the APC-led Muhammadu Buhari administration pits him against the powers-that-be now and again. In a season when principled opposition has virtually taken flight from the land and what should have been the main opposition party, the PDP, was crippled and disorientated with simulated internal crisis, Fayose had stepped into the void to champion the rights of the masses. When the menace of herdsmen threatened the peace and security of his state, he drafted the anti- grazing law to checkmate the murderous and rapacious herdsmen. Derided at first, the Fayose’s anti-grazing law has now been copied by seven states in the country.
Not one to let an opportunity pass him by, Fayose made the best use of Symington’s visit. He informed the envoy that democracy would lack the necessary strength if the voice of the opposition is silenced. He described impunity as the greatest problem confronting the country. “Corruption is just one of the issues we are contending with in the country. I believe in the rule of law; and that it is not right to intimidate the opposition. Without justice, we cannot move forward. Equity must be our watchword. We must be united and stay together but justice must prevail”, he said. Fayose could not have forgotten to mention what irks many Nigerians about the Buhari administration: “A situation where we apply double standards to issue won’t help us. What we have now is the hunting of opposition figures and labelling them as corrupt while those in the APC are seen as angels. For instance, in Ekiti State, despite the numerous petitions and complaints about former Gov. Kayode Fayemi, he has not been investigated or charged to court when it is clear that his administration plunged the state into huge debts” , he said.
On the coming governorship election, Fayose called on the American Government and the international community to bring men of honour to monitor the poll. He then threw a bombshell: “We are also telling INEC that we don’t need card readers that have been pre-loaded; and a situation where voters will be intimidated. Once again, we want the American Government to pay special attention to events before, during and after the election. We want a level playing field for all”
INEC may have to respond to the question of pre-loaded card readers while the military must take note that while tight security may have to be provided at elections, this should not be used as a decoy to intimidate voters, thereby helping to rig the election in support of those who control the military. The forthcoming Anambra governorship election affords INEC an opportunity to disabuse the minds of apprehensive Nigerians on these two critical issues.
Symington in his speech touched on Fayose’s presidential ambition and the governor in his response assured that he had what it takes to lead the country. “I have managed the economy of one of the poorest states in the country successfully and have delivered on our promises to the people. In the US or the United Kingdom, if you are seeking a job, they won’t emphasise your paper qualifications but what you can do. What I have done (in Ekiti) is a testimony to what I can do if given the chance to lead our dear nation,” he noted.
That tussle is still far away; the one that looms on the horizon, however, is the July 14 governorship election in the state of “Fountain of Knowledge.” Fayose must first secure the home front to retain the much-needed pedestal to make forays abroad.
Adeshina, a seasoned journalist, works with the Ekiti State Government.