Ekiti 2014: Violence is overriding theme of gubernatorial election

L-R: Kayode Fayemi (All Progressives Congress, APC); Opeyemi Bamidele (Labour Party, LP); Ayodele Fayose (Peoples Democratic Party, PDP)

“The decibel of accusations and counter-accusations of violence, threats, and intimidations has become almost deafening since official campaigning commenced”.

Seeking elective positions in Ekiti State is not for the faint-hearted. Historically, elections in the state have been marred by violence, intimidations and long-drawn legal tussles.

Unfortunately, from all indications, the June 21 governorship election could stay true to this tradition.

Last Sunday’s police attack on the governor of the state, Kayode Fayemi, and other members of the All Progressives Congress, APC, during a rally in Ado-Ekiti, may be a new low; it is no doubt in tune with what, unfortunately, has become the norm in the state.

Witnesses said hell broke loose after men of the Mobile Police unit shot teargas canisters and live ammunition into the crowd. A supporter of the governor, Taiwo Akinola, died after he was shot in the head.

The APC claimed that attack on the governor was unprovoked and was orchestrated by the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. In fact, Mr. Fayemi told journalists on Monday that the attack could be an attempt to assassinate him.

The decibel of accusations and counter-accusations of violence, threats, and intimidations has become almost deafening since official campaigns commenced. There has never been a lull in clashes among the various opposing political interests in the state.

In November, Funsho Ogundare, a supporter of Opeyemi Bamidele, the Labour Party, LP, candidate, was shot and killed after clashes between Mr. Bamidele’s supporters and people believed to be APC members at Emure Ekiti. A member of the Ekiti State House of Assembly from Emure Constituency, Kehinde Boluwade, with six other APC members who were charged with murder over the killing are still in court.

Following the killing of Mr. Ogundare, Mr Bamidele, who was a close associate of the governor, wrote an open letter to Mr. Fayemi accusing him of being a threat to peace in the state.

“If you really ask me, your Excellency, I fear that you, probably without knowing it, constitute the greatest threat to the realisation of a free and fair election in Ekiti State in 2014 owing to your seeming allergy to any form of opposition as well as the intransigence of many of the political gladiators you surround yourself with in Ekiti and who seem to have finally boxed you into a corner,” Mr. Bamidele said.

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Mr. Bamidele had also suspended his campaign in protest of the alleged incessant attacks on his supporters which he claimed led to some of them being killed and their property destroyed. He accused the incumbent of sponsoring the attacks on his supporters.

Nigeria’s ruling PDP, led by its candidate and former governor, Ayo Fayose, has also complained of intimidations and threats against its supporters mainly by the APC. While reacting to the attack of the Mr. Fayemi’s rally on Sunday and the allegation that the PDP orchestrated the clash, Mr. Fayose, on Tuesday, told reporters that one of his supporters was attacked by machete-wielding members of the APC, resulting to the killing of one of them.

He said when the Mobile Police Unit intervened to rescue his supporters; Mr. Fayemi’s convoy interfered by blocking the police officers with cars to stop them from reaching the scene of the incident.

Nothing is more symbolic of the overriding theme of violence that has underscored the election like the bulletproof vest worn by Mr. Fayose to one of his campaign rallies.

The wider significance of this election is not lost to political watchers. Judging from the overwhelming power of governors in Nigeria, analysts have argued that the elections in Ekiti and neighbouring Osun State are tests of what will become of next year’s presidential election. A close look at the support base of the PDP and the APC shows that the outcome of next year’s election in the South West may well decide the overall outcome of the presidential election. The APC controls the whole of South West minus Ondo. And the PDP desperately needs to shore-up its support base in the region if it intends to remain in power.

To buttress how important the election is to the presidency, Last April, Vice President Namadi Sambo took a break from his characteristic lethargy and declared that the PDP will be going to war in Ekiti and Osun to reclaim what he termed the party’s stolen mandates.

Similarly, a national leader of the APC, Bola Tinubu, also declared that anybody that attempts to rig the elections in those states will be roasted.

“I say it again, if you want to arrest me, come on, arrest me. If you rig this election, we’ll roast you,” he said at a fundraising dinner organised by supporters of Mr. Fayemi.

Both politicians have been criticised for their comments which analysts believe are capable of further stoking the embers of violence already raging in the state.

The candidates

At least 18 parties have presented candidates for the election. However, the contest is realistically between the APC, PDP and LP. As it is usually the case around these parts, the incumbent, Mr. Fayemi, is the favourite.

However, survey conducted by NOI Polls in May placed the PDP candidate, Mr. Fayose, slightly ahead of him.

The polls scored Mr. Fayose 31 per cent; Mr. Fayemi scored 29 per cent; while Mr. Bamidele scored a mere 3 per cent. The APC and Mr. Fayemi promptly rejected the result of the poll. They claimed the co-ordinating Minister of the Economy, Ngozi Oknojo-Iweala, owns the company that conducted the poll and so as an interested person any survey conducted by a firm she is associated with should not be trusted.

Another survey conducted in June scored the incumbent 85.29 per cent. Mr. Bamidele was placed second with 11.76 per cent; and Mr. Fayose was ranked third favourite with 2.94 per cent. Expectedly, supporters of the PDP claimed the poll was commissioned by the APC.

The credibility of polls aside, the top candidates have displayed strength and weaknesses.

For instance, the incumbent’s re-election campaign is pitched on performance. Mr. Fayemi claims to have embarked on massive infrastructural development in the state. The government claimed to have either constructed or rehabilitated over 1300 km of roads across the state, with many of the roads opening up farm settlements. This, the governor argued, will improve the economy of the largely agrarian state.

Other infrastructural projects embarked by Mr Fayemi’s administration are the rehabilitation of secondary schools, the building of ultra-modern edifices such as the 12,000 capacity Pavilion, the Civic Centre, agricultural initiatives, the Funmi Olayinka Cancer Diagnostic Centre, etc.

However, the government has been criticised for its management of the N20 billion bond it raised from the capital market. Critics argued that the government has no business building fancy edifices like the Pavilion and Civic centre with the money.  But the governor’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Seun Odewale, said the Pavilion is a potential money-spinner for the government as it could be rented out to religious and corporate organisation for handsome returns.

According to him, despite being under construction religious organisations are already showing interest in renting the structure for their events.

For all its rural development projects, it appears the incumbent might not be as popular in the grassroots as he wants people to believe. An indication of this was the administration’s frenzied reaction to the emergence of Mr. Fayose as the PDP candidate.

The governor’s hitherto hibernating twitter handle came to live in an instance with a barrage of tweets. In fact, the APC even issued a statement condemning the process that led to the emergence of Mr. Fayose as the PDP candidate.

Unlike the prim and proper Mr. Fayemi, Mr. Fayose of the PDP is unabashed and down-to-earth. This has endeared him to many ordinary people of the state. Some supporters of Mr. Fayemi have, however, argued that Mr Fayose is not as popular in the grassroots as claimed. They say despite his acclaimed street credibility, in 2011, he lost the Ekiti Central Senatorial election to the APC’s Babafemi Ojudu.

Irrespective of what happened during the 2011 election, it would be foolhardy to dismiss Mr. Fayose’s strength as a grassroots mobiliser. This, in fact happens to be his strongest point and he has displayed this capacity since he joined the fray to become governor attracting sizeable crowds at his rallies.

Coincidentally, Mr. Fayose played a major role in helping Mr. Fayemi to victory in 2010 against the then incumbent, Segun Oni of the PDP. Mr. Oni has thrown his weight behind Mr. Fayemi for the June 21 election.

Depending on whom you talk to, Mr. Fayose’s reputation as a troublemaker and his uncanny ability to attract violent clashes is blight on his chances. Though he claimed to have been reformed, his involvement in recent pre-election clashes as well as some of his utterances shows that Mr. Fayose is dry clay; and appears unable to be moulded into a fine piece of pottery.

Undoubtedly, the greatest impediment standing between Mr. Fayose and his bid to become governor is his performance during his first time as governor. After months of rancour and allegations of financial impropriety, he was eventually impeached alongside his deputy in 2007 and initially charged to court for stealing N1.2 billion state funds, an amount later reviewed to about N400 million.

Prosecutors from the Economic and Financial Crime Commission, EFCC, told the court that Mr. Fayose converted the money meant for a poultry project for his personal use.

The case has dragged on for seven years with the EFCC accusing Mr. Fayose of using every trick in the book and more to prolong the case. Of course, his opponents have used the case to question his integrity.

In other climes where indictment for corruption is an absolute no-no for public office seekers, this would have automatically disqualified him. But this is Nigeria.

Mr. Bamidele, a member of the House of Representatives, emerged as the Labour Party flag bearer after a rift with the incumbent. Mr. Bamidele left the APC in protest after alleging the lack of internal democracy within the party and the imposition of Mr. Fayemi as the party candidate for this month’s election barely two years into his first term in office. Mr Bamidele, who claimed he invited the incumbent to the APC from the PDP in 2006, is relying on his popularity to unseat the governor.

The Labour Party candidate’s decision to contest against his old party bemused many as he was a very close aide of Bola Tinubu for about 8 years. Mr. Tinubu, the most prominent leader of the APC in the South West, tried to settle the rift between Mr. Bamidele and the governor. Unable to, he has declared support for Mr. Fayemi.

Whatever the outcome of the election, political parties unfortunately failed in not breaking from the violent tradition associated with elections in the state. The noise from the clashes has regrettably drowned other issues like development plans, agricultural plans to harness the enormous agricultural potential of the state as well as the provision of amenities to better the lives of the people that cshould have ideally been the talking points of the poll.

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