Thursday, August 21, 2014 1:36 pm
It is easy to distinguish between a plastic and genuine smile. With regard to the former, the lips move, while the eyes are gun-metal cold. When a man is simply happy, it shows from the belly and radiates through the body system. The mouth, eyes, cheeks and ears grin. The election which took place in The State of Osun on 9 August, threw Governor Rauf Aregbesola up as a veritable specimen in this psychological theory. When Aregbesola talks, he does so with all his body. At political rallies, he jumps with the agility of an alley cat, a proof of a strict exercise regimen. And when he laughs, it is not only his mouth that extends from East to West. The radical politician smiles with his entire face; his eyes brighten and his cheeks curve in multiple parentheses. He displayed his acrobatics last week as he won the Osun election. Victory is sweet!
The same level of glee was exhibited by Ayo Fayose when he won the Ekiti governorship election. In fact, he and other political leaders in the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, like generals and field marshals, went into the war room, strategising, with great élan, on how to widen the party’s area of influence in the South-West. After his victory, Fayose walked with springs to his heels and there was a kind of triumphal swagger in his gait. Victory has pleasant aroma!
I was in the same “situation” room with Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State when the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, was announcing the results of the 14 July 2012 election. As the figures were tumbling in, local government by local government, the Comrade’s eyes, bulging for lack of sleep (all of us kept vigil), lit up, he rotated on his own axis, did some gigs like never before and moved round, clinking his glass with everyone’s in the room.
It was like the return of Julius Caesar into Rome after his defeat of Pompey or the Duke of Wellington after routing Napoleon in the battle of Waterloo. Oshiomhole had every reason to feel upbeat. That election was a form of Waterloo for Chief Tony Anenih, a grand old man of PDP who, because of his ability to cause political earthquakes simultaneously at different locations with a gentle nod, was nicknamed Mr. Fix It. The Edo Governor knew quite well that behind Anenih’s quiet mien lies a keen sense of political calculations and that an opponent underrates the old man, a retired senior cop and sleuth block buster, at his own peril. So, Oshiomhole fought a good fight and won, a feat that many referred to as a David and Goliath equation. Therefore, one could not blame the comrade if he, on that occasion, danced and sipped wine on behalf of the proletariat. Victory is good!
While political leaders sustain this level of enthusiasm and confidence from the day they win election till when they leave power (they make sure nothing will make them tumble from that throne), I have not seen the same éclat among our voters. Maybe they do not realise how powerful they are now. Perhaps, this is because of the situation of the Third World, where once leaders get hold of power they forget the citizens who voted for them and work daily to pay taxes that sustain them in office. In other words, political leaders treat Nigerians like dung.
However, the recent elections in Ekiti and Osun have thrown up some sudden awareness on the path of those in power and the people they govern. First, the leaders have realised the power of voters. That is why the Peoples Democratic Party swooped on Osun like hungry jackals while the APC fired on all cylinders to defend its “territorial integrity”. The battle has been lost and won, the rest remains for historians and political analysts. The level of energy the two parties put into the campaign clearly shows that the days when power seekers had no regard for voters are over. This was actually demonstrated even by the states that will hold elections in 2015.
They have started reviewing certain policies that they think did not go down well with the people. For example, Lagos has reverted to the old school fees at the Lagos State University, promised to review the policy restricting commercial motorcycle operation and ordered traffic offences enforcers to be humane. The okada voters have become the new brides in Lagos. As the APC government tries to increase the number of roads the motorcyclists can ply, PDP has also promised them new motorbikes. Let me advise here that whatever politics the two parties want to play with okada riders, the situation must not be allowed to degenerate to the level of the past, when skulls cracked incessantly on the roads and legs and arms broke with no more effort than plucking some twigs. The contest will soon shift to the National Union of Road Transport Workers where, as I foresee, ogogoro will flow freely as if from a leaking faucet.
While Edo too has taken it easy with teachers (to the extent of recalling those it gave the boot), Ogun has slashed tertiary institution fees by 65 per cent, a process that will take effect from the 2014/2015 academic session. These are commendable people-oriented moves that must be maintained across all parties, not restricted to when elections are inching close. In other words, the people must be the centre piece of all policies, notwithstanding the circumstances in time and space.
On the other hand, the voters have a lot to do. It is one thing to realise the power that one possesses, it is another to be able to use it in a sustainable way. In my opinion, it is the worst form of humiliation for voters to trade this power for rice or salt or money…It smacks of selling the future of their children because of plates of pottage, packaged in different forms. To sustain this power across Nigeria, it will not be a bad thing (to borrow the idea of Kayode Soremekun, a professor of Political Science) for voters to form pressure groups that can whip government at all levels into line when they come up with policies that can put their present and future in jeopardy. It is a process that should be kept alive at all times, not only when elections approach and politicians leave their well-appointed offices to come and ask for votes.
The greatest challenge that the Edo, Ekiti and Osun elections brings up is election logistics, on the parts of INEC and the federal government. Ekiti and Osun elections went the way they did because of the concentration of efforts on each. How, then, will Nigeria deploy the same available human and material resources to handle elections in about 28 states the same time with the same effectiveness? With INEC timetable, it is not quite possible to accommodate the suggestion that the entire election should take place in each zone at a time before moving to others.
This leaves all of us – the political leaders and ordinary Nigerians – with the only option of treating election as a sacred exercise that must not be abused. This is where the government, political parties, INEC, religious bodies, and the ordinary voter need re-orientation. Whether such messages will sink in is another matter, which leaves us with the fact that Nigeria still has a long way to go in terms of better political culture.