As the dust in Ekiti settles in the aftermath of the gubernatorial election, memories of the grueling and hard fought campaigns have already started fading from the nation’s collective consciousness. And as we witness the end of one chapter and the beginning of another in Ekiti state, there is one central lesson that Nigerian politicians can take away; one example that reverberates a very strong message of hope in our political practice.
In the wake of the PDP victory in Ekiti, when Governor Kayode Fayemi conceded defeat in the Ekiti elections with grace and humility, he did something that was extra ordinary. Conceding defeat, in of itself, in a normal setting is nothing extraordinary, but with the kind of extraordinary atmosphere in our political structure, where elections are seen as ‘do or die’ affairs and obvious defeats are challenged by those who, for one reason or another, have a sense of entitlement, yielding to an electoral loss, often becomes an impossibility.
Losing at anything in life is always very difficult and losing in politics is bound to be even tougher being that it takes place on a very public platform. But even beside the publicity involved, the reality of any campaign is that a large sum of money must have gone into supporting that campaign. Therefore, apart from the public let-down in addition to a bruised ego at the thought of being beaten by a rival, the loss of an election carries with it the loss of a fortune as well. The combined loss of so much must be very hard to come to terms with.
It is a credit to Governor Fayemi that he has such decency and the altruistic carriage to appreciate that there is so much more to life than being in political power. It is refreshing to see a government official who understands that it is not the end of the world when one moves out of the government house.
It is a relief to finally see an example of an aspirant who doesn’t put too much value to being driven by endless motorcades and sirens or having their picture draped in all offices and business houses in the state or having their name mentioned in the front pages of newspapers. The grace and poise in which Governor Fayemi conducted himself since the election is very inspiring and should set a standard in elections that are relatively freely and fairly conducted.
Current and aspiring political office holders should indeed take a cue from Governor Fayemi’s “dignified demeanor” as he gracefully accepted defeat and duly congratulated his opponent sportingly. In other saner climes, this is the norm amongst politicians as they unassumingly concede defeat and accordingly congratulate their rivals. This seemingly trivial but salient act alone is essential for the enhanced political development of the polity. It largely dissuades post-election violence/conflicts and also ensures that the elected official focuses explicitly on their mandate. In Nigeria however, the “do or die” mentality amongst some of our politicians has largely been the bane of our political development.
Since the democratic dispensation of 1999, the likes of Governor Fayemi (an incumbent) gracefully conceding defeat and relinquishing power to an opponent from a rival political party is indeed a “rare breed” and one of its kind. It is a well-known fact that the power of incumbency plays a vital factor when politicians are vying for political offices during elections. As such, politicians in this dear country of ours characteristically hold on to power, not wanting to relinquish it until they are forcibly removed from office; this is why such archetypal leaders like Governor Fayemi need to be glorified and commended. Such leaders need to be recognized and credited for conducting themselves in the best interest of the society and in a manner that advances peace.
Sadly, many leaders especially in Africa hardly ever relinquish power with the kind of grace and demeanor Governor Fayemi exhibited in the aftermath of the Ekiti elections. Such rare and quintessential leaders like Governor Fayemi are true democrats, inadvertently advocating and promoting democratic principles. Majority of our African countries are plagued with conflicts, some emanating from incumbent leaders who do not want to relinquish power until they are forced out. The likes of Hosni Mubarack, Muamaar Ghaddaffi, Mobutu Tse Tse Seko, Idi Amin and so many other all held onto power until they were forcibly removed.
Thus, a salient question props up here; why is it that some leaders hold on to power until they are forcibly removed? Perhaps it is because of the “fear of the unknown” after exiting Government house or the unlimited access they have while in office to Government coffers for their personal use. Perchance, it is the unlimited power they yield while in office, the endless motorcades and sirens used in various official and personal functions, the amount of “sycophants” at their disposal, the “godlike” mentality they assume while in office, et cetera. Possibly, it is a combination of all these factors that deters such leaders from relinquishing power, the bottom line is that these incumbents largely engenders conflict, particularly in cases where a free, fair and credible elections are held, and the incumbent refuses to accede defeat and vacate office.
Pertaining to elections, particularly gubernatorial elections in Nigeria, it is a well-known fact that within our political structure, incumbent governors does “everything” in their power to resist defeat. Alluding to the power of incumbency, which remains an important factor in Nigerian politics and many a Nigerian do not believe in the possibility of an incumbent governor being beaten at the poll. As we have so often witnessed in this country, incumbent governors are generally believed to employ various means to force election results in their favour in order to stay in power.
Intimidation, coercion and harassment, as well as cajoling voters with financial and material inducement during elections are methods that have been witnessed in Nigeria. More often than not, gubernatorial elections are marred with irregularities as the incumbent usually has an unfair advantage due to the security apparatus and the unbridled use of financial inducement at his disposal. In certain cases also, officials of INEC who are meant to be independent umpires of the election, allegedly manipulate the process in order to ensure the victory of the incumbent governor. However, in Ekiti, this was not the case as the power of incumbency wasn’t utilized and the wishes of the people via the ballot boxes prevailed.
In Ghana, undoubtedly regarded as an epitome of democracy and good governance in Africa, the likes of Governor Fayemi could be found there, with akin grace, honour and poise, as majority of the country’s politicians at various times have put the interest of their country ahead of personal interest. In 2000, when Rawlings mandatory 8-year governance ended, many thought he would seek a third term in office or refuse to step down. However, not only did Rawlins supervise a free and fair elections, he also honourably handed power to an opposition leader, M. A. Kuffor, who won the elections.
This landmark moment in the country’s history marked the first peaceful transfer of an incumbent to an opposition. President Kuffor in turn also supervised a free and fair election and handed power to Late President Atta Mills, the opposition presidential candidate in the 2008 general elections of Ghana. In Zambia also, the country set an example for the rest of Africa about how power can be transferred peacefully via the 2011 elections, when Michael Sata, the long time opposition figure, defeated the incumbent Rupiah Banda. There was a peaceful transition of power as Banda conceded defeat.
Compare this to such leaders like Cote d’Ivoire’s Laurent Gbagbo who refused to stand down as president until he was disgracefully forced out of power, despite the country’s Electoral Commission’s pronouncement that the opposition candidate Alassane Outttara had won the presidential elections of the country. This single act almost made the country to slip back into civil war, causing undue mayhem and violence in the process.
Retrospectively, Nigerian politics has witnessed the blatant abuse of the power of incumbency; incumbents lacklustre deportment at supervising a free and fair elections and conceding power when defeated at the polls. For example, during the 2007 elections, the rightful elected gubernatorial candidates, Governor Adams Oshiomole of Edo state and Governor Segun Mimiko of Ondo state, were denied their electoral victory by the “power of incumbency” and these candidates had to go to court before their victory was upheld. In Edo state, the elections were massively rigged in which the candidate of the ruling PDP, Oserheimen Osunbor had initially been declared the winner.
However, in 2008, the Federal Appeal Court sitting in Benin City upheld the ruling of the state’s elections petitions tribunal, declaring Oshiomole to be the rightful Governor of Edo State. The decision was based on several voting irregularities. In Ondo state, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko competed in the gubernatorial elections of April 2007, against the incumbent Olusegun Agagu and “lost” the election according to the result released by INEC.
However, Governor Mimiko contested this decision at the election tribunal and Agagu lost office in February 2009 following an Appeal Court ruling which cited irregularities in the 2007 election, and was replaced by Mimiko as governor. Also, during the 2007 elections, Governor Fayemi fell victim to the power of incumbency factor when he was adjudged to have lost the gubernatorial elections. He however went to the courts and after three and a half long years of fighting through the legal system, the appeal court sitting in Kwara state declared him the duly elected Governor of Ekiti State.
Commendably, Governor Fayemi did not exploit the people of his state by using the power of incumbency to his advantage, compared to others who have come before him. He duly supervised a free, fair and credible election and allowed the independence of the process to prevail via the polls. After the elections, he went ahead to congratulate the victor, a humble, patriotic, gallant and decorous act that is uncommon amongst our indigenous politicians.
This shows that Governor Fayemi is indeed a true democrat and progressive, devoid of the do or die mentality of majority of Nigerian and African politicians. This singular act has thus forestalled any form of post-election violence or conflict in the state and it is unquestionably worthy of emulation by every politician in this great country of ours.
I really wanted Governor Fayemi to win his election and I prayed hard for him to do so. I wanted him to win because he is a truly good, honest, capable and decent person by every standard and by anyone’s definition; a man who is guided by his faith and committed to his family. Everyone who knows him knows these facts about him and now with his one act that gives way to both defeat and hope, the whole world will know it too.
Commiserations to Dr. John Kayode Fayemi and Mrs Bisi Feyemi and congratulations to the good people of Ekiti state for conducting themselves in a peaceful manner during the election.
Ms. Musawa, a lawyer and development thinker, writes a syndicated column for Premium Times. Please give her a feedback @hanneymusawa. You can also visit her Website- www.hannatumusawa.com