The sudden and dramatic death of Prince Abubakar Audu penultimate week, shocking as it was, has thrown spanners into the works for the All Progressives Congress and the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC. It was bad enough that the Kogi state governorship election was marred in some locations by irregularities such as ballot box snatching, violence, failure of card readers, omission of names from the voters’ register, to mention but a few. For an election being held in just one state, which, therefore, afforded INEC enough opportunities and resources, including an avalanche of manpower, to still end up in a quagmire does not engender much confidence that the electoral body will perform to satisfaction when it squares up to elections nation-wide. The same problems that reared their ugly heads in Kogi were the same that the nation has had to grapple with one election after another. When, if we may ask, shall we get out of the woods? For the new INEC boss, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, this should be food for thought.
As if the hiccups were not bad enough, the election was also declared inconclusive. In the midst of that confusion, news of Audu’ death broke. The situation became, like Afro-beat king, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, would say, “confusion break bone”! Did he or did he not die? Eventually, it turned out that, truly, Audu did die; at the point that he did, he was leading his nearest challenger, incumbent Gov. Idris Wada, who is the Peoples Democratic Party candidate, by over 41,000 votes. According to some analysts, INEC erred by declaring the election inconclusive instead of returning Audu elected. The argument being that the number of voters with Permanent Voters Card in the polling booths where elections could not be held – 91 polling units in 18 local government areas – might not have been up to the margin of votes with which Audu led Wada. INEC, however, possibly based its calculation on the number of voters (with and without PVC) and decided on supplementary election, now slated for December 5.
Already, some of the parties that participated in the election have refused to go along with INEC. The Democratic Peoples Congress, for instance, is calling for fresh polling. While it appears the APC is receptive to the INEC decision, the PDP has expressed reservations. Constitutional issues are involved; hopefully, this will not degenerate into a political impasse or logjam. One of the issues to be resolved has been decided upon by INEC, to wit, that the APC should go ahead through a “supplementary” party primary to produce a replacement for Audu. PDP has already kicked against this decision. Opinion is divided on what is the correct position of the law on this. It is likely that the issues involved will be tested in the law court. One school of thought is that political parties are those recognised by the law in election matters; cases cited include those of Atiku Abubakar, when, in 1999, he stepped up from being the elected governor of Adamawa state to become presidential running mate to PDP’s Olusegun Obasanjo and Atiku’s deputy governor-elect, Boni Haruna, assumed the governorship; Chibuike Amaechi who, though not on the ballot, was nonetheless declared winner of the Rivers state governorship election since he was deemed the lawful candidate of the winning political party, PDP, leading to the sacking of Gov. Omeiha; to mention but a few.
In that wise, there are those who think the running mate to Audu, James Abiodun Faleke, ought to step up to become the APC governorship candidate in the coming supplementary election. Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, was, however, evasive on this score. He merely said the law allows APC to bring forward a replacement for Audu without saying whether the replacement should be Audu’s running mate (Faleke) or the person who came second in the APC primaries that produced Audu (Yahaya Bello, who scored 703 votes to Audu’s 1, 109 votes). APC chairman, John Odigie-Oyegun, did not help matters when asked about the fate of Faleke. Will the erstwhile running mate step up as the governorship candidate in the looming APC supplementary primary or will he still maintain his position as running mate to whoever emerges as the new APC candidate? From the body language of Oyegun, it would appear as if the situation is fluid. Faleke could become the new APC governorship candidate; he could maintain his running mate status; and he could lose out completely in the new ticket. A new dimension had been introduced into the crisis with the demand by the late Audu’s political machine that one of the late Audu’s sons should step into the father’s shoes. Whatever decision the APC eventually arrives at, there are fundamental questions begging for answers.
Are we saying that personalities have no place in politics and in elections? If so, why do parties go to great lengths and pains to pick their candidates? Why all the permutations and zoning formulas? Are we saying only the party influences the outcome of elections and that the personality of politicians plays no role? As much as the acceptability of his political party, a politician’s popularity also helps the outcome of elections in this country. I make bold to say that if Audu was not the governorship candidate of APC, the outcome of the Kogi election would have been different. So also with the last presidential election: If Muhammadu Buhari had not been the APC presidential candidate, the outcome would have been different. If the law is blind to this fact, then, we need to cure it of its blindness in the overall interest of our renascent democracy.
In the Kogi election, I dare to say that many of those who voted did so for Audu in the main and to a lesser extent for his running mate, Faleke. Audu being no longer on the ticket irreversibly changes the equation. If fresh elections were to be held in Kogi without Audu (whether Faleke steps up or maintains his running mate position or an Audu Junior becomes the new APC gubernatorial candidate), I will not be surprised if the outcome becomes significantly different from what is on the plate right now. We cannot wish away the impact that Audu’s popularity and grassroots acceptance had on the outcome of the election so far. Therefore, if either Faleke or a new candidate steps in, with the results so declared by INEC kept intact, then, they will be reaping where Audu had sown. Besides, only the few voters who will vote in the supplementary election will be able to exercise their franchise of taking into consideration the new situation. For the over 90 percent who are deemed to have already voted, they will lose the opportunity to review their position –to affirm or change their mind either for APC or PDP. Yet, the man they voted for or against – and the promises or reservations that determined their choice for or against – are gone with the man! Can we rightly call such an outcome the people’s free will – and the mandate the people’s mandate?
*Bolawole (email@example.com 0803 251 0193)