Level Playing Field

Level Playing Field

Tuesday, June 3, 2014 2:05 pm

By Ademola Adegbamigbe – 08055002056

His name, till today, stands as a symbol of riches and how to enjoy the good life. Candido da Rocha was a rich Lagos entrepreneur and property owner. From the balcony of his one-storey building, called Casa d’Agua or Water House on Kakawa Street, Lagos, he would throw down coins to children who would, in a tangle of bodies and flailing hands, struggle for them. Da Rocha was a fulfilled man in his own field.

However, his statement which was popular among politicians is not about throwing coins but what he told the electorate one day. His friend, Herbert Macaulay, nominated him as a candidate in one of the elections of the time. And when da Rocha met the people, he told them: “I am Candido da Rocha, your candidate into the House. Vote for me if you like. And if you don’t, all well and good.” Some mischief makers even gave that statement a savage twist, saying: “If you don’t vote for me, you can go to hell!” I believe the former, though.

According to Dapo Thomas, in a piece, “The Generous Capitalist”, published in People In TheNEWS, da Rocha’s grand daughter, Yewande Oyediran, argued that the statement was not out of arrogance but that, given all the good the old man did in the past, the people should vote for him. Papa, in her words, “was a modest man”. However, since politics is largely about perception, the people of Lagos, as Thomas wrote, “dashed” Da Rocha some 20 votes! In other words, he lost and he went back into his business, from whence he came.

This, to me, means that politicians should not take the electorate for granted. That is why I like periods preceding elections. In fact, I enjoy the spectacle the way a white man relishes his cigarette. That is the time when a president can dance Azonto and governors, legislators, local government chairmen, councilors and others leave their well-appointed offices and mount the rostrum to campaign. Dear reader, see the people you would fill in forms for months and sit for hours on end in their ante-chambers to see. It is as if they do not excrete or their feet never touch this terra firma. Right now, they are before you, sweating, shouting themselves hoarse, and veins in their necks as tout as piano chords. You cannot blame them; it is dangerous to take the people for granted. Ask da Rocha.

In the First Republic, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Aminu Kano, Nnamdi Azikiwe and others campaigned so vigorously that Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna and Prince of the Sokoto Caliphate, had to leave behind his royal splendour to hit the road, enduring the dust so that some political predators would not steal his electorate. These politicians did not take voters for granted.

The Ekiti State governorship election will hold on 21 June. With the countdown to that day, politicians are out, pumping hands, slapping backs and making promises or renewing vows in the villages and towns. Now, I write this piece, not as a detached observer but as a citizen of Ekiti, a state of hospitable and hardworking people, undulating hills and primal gardens.

When one looks back at the story of these people, one cannot but be tempted to romanticise about them. This is because Ekiti has produced a lot of greats. In his 21 October 1986 Guardian feature, entitled “Building Ekiti on A Heritage of Erudition”, Moses Ayo Jolayemi wrote that Ekiti, in 1867, produced Dr. Mojola Agbebi, the first black holder of a Ph.D; Lady Jibowu, first woman B.Sc holder in Nigeria in 1946 and Mr. J.B. Daramola, the first Nigerian permanent secretary, in 1948. Before then, Jolayemi went further, Ekiti “was said to have produced six medical doctors who operated on ships between 1500 and 1830AD and who, according to Chief Bamidele Alonge, a First Republic politician, were all educated overseas…”

It is in this land – which became a state in 1986 – that a big political event is about to take place. The campaigns are on, the people are free to make their choices come 21 June. With the great people that the land has produced, the wonderful individuals who have made it in their different walks of life coming from there, and a coterie of stars that are about to be made, it should be our hope that, for us, it is forward ever, backward never. We are to look for greater things – growth and development. This, to me, should be the mantra, the premise for reaching political conclusions.

As Ekiti people prepare for 21 June, arguments shift back and forth like sand dunes. On a recent visit to the state, I heard such views as “one candidate is too debonair or cosmopolitan for us” or that another “drinks alcohol and eats boli (roasted plantain) with us, the masses” as bases for making electoral choices. This is one of the most dangerous and egregious arguments any group of voters could put forward in the 21st century when other nations are marching majestically to higher levels of fulfilment. My advice here is that my people should put all the candidates on a scale of performance and see where the pan settles; rather than basing their choice on mundane matters. Who, among the candidates, can make the state and individuals prosper better? Alcohol or roasted plantain by the road side should not be mistaken for progress. Ekiti people, shine your eyes!

The candidates have come out. They are selling themselves to the people, who are weighing them on the scales of their hearts. What we can do is to persuade them either directly or subtly to be careful about who they vote into office so that in the next four years, they will not regret buying themselves a pile of troubles.
For outsiders, I advise the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to be a good umpire on 21 June. We all know those tricks in the book for favouring a particular candidate. Electoral materials could develop wings and land in God knows where or arrive late at some remote areas, called “strategic vote reserves”. This could be made worse by outright cooking up of figures to favour a candidate.

The police and other members of the armed forces may be brought to Ekiti to maintain peace. Remember, those uniforms you wear and the guns you carry were bought with tax payers’ money. Protect the people and their ballots. Do not render yourself an instrument in the hand of any party.

Now, the Peoples Democratic Party-led Federal Government is salivating over Ekiti. So also is the Labour Party. Governor Olusegun Mimiko of Ondo State, who once introduced himself to us as the chairman of Labour Party Governors’ Forum, was in Ikere-Ekiti to garner support for the party. These are legitimate ambitions. The ruling party at the federal level should allow Ekiti citizens to elect their own leaders; do not use any instrument of state to manipulate their choice.

Why do I warn? Remember Operation wet e in the First Republic and what happened in the Second Republic. Ekiti people are peace loving. They love their women, pounded yam and heady palm wine. And they are highly cultured.
However, it is when there is an attempt to cheat them that they can react with the fury of molten magma. Do not take the people for granted. Allow a level playing field; let the election be free and fair. Nigeria can hardly afford to join another crisis to Boko Haram.

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