The seething pot has been spilling its content in Ekiti State as political parties and their candidates round off their campaigns ahead of the governorship polls slated for Saturday, July 14. It has been a vitriolic campaign from the very blast of the whistle. The tempo of campaigns has stretched political ties to the limit. Many have fallen, some were wounded, yet many live in fear of the coming moment - July 14, the decision day.
Although the election has about 35 political parties participating, the campaign stage is dominated by Nigeria's two leading parties, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC). It is, therefore, expected to be a straight fight between the Ayo Fayose-led PDP and the APC candidate, Kayode Fayemi.
Although Mr Fayose is not a candidate contesting the governorship polls, Saturday's election would literally be a replay of the 2014 polls. Mr Fayose, then in his effort to return to office as governor after his 2006 controversial impeachment, defeated then incumbent governor, Mr Fayemi, in all the 16 local governments in the state. Mr Fayemi, now on a 'revenge' mission, is seeking to oust the incumbent governor and his continuity apparatus in the manner similar to his 2014 defeat at the hands of the PDP machinery.
Both parties are staking so much on the election. As has been observed by many political watchers, when the hurly burly is done, the loser will be losing all. This is even so with the 2019 general elections in sight. Leaders of both political parties have underscored the strategic importance of the Ekiti election. At a rally in Ado Ekiti last Thursday, leaders of the PDP boasted that the defeat of the APC in 2019 begins at the Ekiti polls. The performance at Saturday's outing will set the stage and provide a foretaste for the 2019 polls. This is one of the reasons why the parties are deploying all available arsenals to prosecute the "battle" for the Ekiti Government house.
The background of the free for all between the two parties has been linked to the anticipated backlashes from the expected outcome of the polls. Mr Fayose has been a persistent critic of the Buhari administration. His is already facing severe pressures from the federal government now prepared to slam corruption charges on him once he exits his office and the cover of constitutional immunity. A defeat of his anointed candidate, Kolapo Olusola, will be a double tragedy of losing a strong home support base and facing the fangs of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, presently trying some of his associates over the 2015 election funds from the Office of the National Security Adviser. Mr Fayemi has not failed to rub it in whenever he has the opportunity that the incumbent governor was on his way to jail as soon as he leaves office to answer questions on how he "mismanaged" the funds allocated to him during his tenure.
For Mr Fayemi, he is approaching the election, not to suffer another humiliating defeat from a less polished and educated politician, whose pedigree in subterfuge and un-gentlemanly politicking is well documented. At the risk of tearing down the APC, Fayemi delved into the race "to finish the unfinished business." His stream of "development programmes" in Ekiti State was truncated by the "destructive" machinations of Mr Fayose, and nothing should be spared in "reclaiming our land."
Besides the normal campaigns of promises, the gladiators have resorted to outright blackmail and character assassination in order to paint their opponent really black. The allegations and counter-allegations have been well balanced across the lines. Both sides have raised allegations of corruption, mismanagement of funds and cluelessness in governance. Both have slung allegations of plots to use government apparatus to rig the elections. Most appalling is the allegations of attempt to compromise officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission to rig election in favour of their opponents. These allegations and counter allegations underpin the anxiety and unbridled desperation with which both sides have approached the contest.
The corollary is the heightened hostilities across the battle lines, raising fears that the election itself would be marred by uncontrolled violence. This is drawing from the fact that electioneering activities in the last few weeks with records of pockets of violence have already supplied casualties.
A tensed atmosphere is always certain to be created when the two rival parties cross paths. On Monday, a stakeholders meeting was brought to an abrupt end in the presence of the Inspector of General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, the Chairman of INEC, Mahmood Yakubu, and other major stakeholders in the election. The PDP and the APC are running roughshod over each other. They shouted themselves over at the meeting until decorum gave way to a tumultuous milieu, rendering the meeting inconclusive.
There have been reports of shooting and other violent attacks attending rallies in towns and villages across the state. The PDP has been consistent in its allegation that the security agencies were harassing members of the party by way of arrest and intimidation. The alarm had been further raised after three teachers were reportedly arrested by the State Security Services over allegations of buying of PVCs.
Responding to these fears, the police say they deployed a total of 30,000 personnel to Ekiti to man the election; the number is almost double what was deployed in 2014. A total of 18,000 police personnel participated in the 2014 election. Then, the deployment was heavily criticised as over militarisation of election. Federal lawmakers have already criticised the new deployment. An additional 4,390 soldiers and other paramilitary personnel would also be deployed to complement the efforts of the police.
The police boss had warned politicians and their supporters to refrain from arming thugs, stating that those arrested would be prosecuted in line with the relevant laws.
"We want all party supporters to refrain from all acts that can precipitate violence at the polling booths such as canvassing for votes, wearing of party insignias, dissuading voters from voting for candidates of their choices, loitering and blaring of siren on the day of election," he said.
"We will also not tolerate ignoring of restriction of movement orders by the police. Don't see election as a matter of life and death. Let me state that police will not hesitate to deal with anybody no matter how highly placed found flouting electoral laws," he said. These warnings are familiar refrain.
In spite of the brawl currently ongoing between the two major parties, the campaign strategies have been novel and down to earth. Mr Fayemi, apparently learning from the advocate of stomach infrastructure himself, has learnt to find a way of identifying with the people. He had since thrown away the toga of being too academic and urbane, and living too far away from the people whose votes made him the governor of Ekiti State. Picking up the governorship ticket, he first apologised for his mistakes while he served as governor, and assured the people that he was a changed man. He demonstrated this change when in December 2017, he distributed rice and other gift items to Ekiti people for the Christmas celebration. He reportedly ensured the distribution of "Christmas rice" in all the 177 wards in the state, and made another consignment available to residents irrespective of party affiliation.
On Monday with the election close by, the APC candidate distributed free petrol to okada riders ahead of the rally, and advised them to convey supporters to the event venue free of charge.
Mr Fayemi has also latched on to the current economic situation in the state to woo voters, particularly civil servants whose salaries have not been paid for some months. The attacks had been on Mr Fayose, even though the electorate would be casting their votes for Kolapo Olusola on Saturday. It has been the effort of the Fayemi campaign to drive it into the people that the continuity agenda of Mr Fayose was to continue to control the resources and the people's destiny while the governor is out of office.
With the slogan, reclaiming our land, restoring our values, Mr Fayemi is making great efforts in reminding Ekiti people of the strides of his 2010 to 2014 tenure as governor, promising to revive the policies and programmes and even doing better if voted again as governor into office.
The PDP campaign is not lacking in identifying where it would really hurt before launching an attack. The Fayose-led group picks on its opponents missteps and leaves him to channel his energies making amends. For instance, when Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo failed to pay homage to traditional rulers when he visited Ekiti to herald Mr Fayemi's campaign, the PDP harped on his disrespect for traditional institution, and the hoopla attending it forced Mr Osinbajo to return to Ekiti 24 hours after his departure to meet with the states traditional council.
The state government had pre-empted the former Minister of Mines and Steel Development's governorship ambition, when it initiated a probe of his tenure as governor of the state, raising a number of allegations for which a report was issued, indicting him and banning from holding public office for 10 years. Although this is become a matter for legal contention, the engagement and efforts by the Fayemi campaign to wipe off the smear from this singular attack from the Fayose continuity group, had been enervating.
Mr Fayose has also tried to sow the seed of discord between the APC and the people of Ekiti, accusing the APC of withholding funds meant to pay the salaries of workers. He had always boasted that he would not leave office owing a single Ekiti worker. Now that it had become obvious that paying all outstanding salaries is going to be difficult, he had offered the excuse of the "frustration" caused by the federal government in not releasing the funds to his administration.
That Mr Fayemi would sack teachers and workers if elected into office or that okada would be banned from operating in the state if Mr Fayemi becomes governor reverberates among supporters of the PDP candidate and sends fear in the minds of the target group. These lines of fear is attributable to the PDP campaign, leaving the APC with the huge task of reassuring workers, teachers and okada riders that their jobs were safe with Mr Fayemi in the saddle.
The Centre for Democracy and Development, a civil society organisation paying keen interest on the Ekiti Election, has observed that activities towards the coming election, had thrown up a number of election-inducted violence.
CDD noted in its comprehensive analysis of the political scenario, that there had been cases of politically motivated killings. "Recently, Willy Ayegoro, an APC member, was killed by suspected assassins at Igbehin area of Ado-Ekiti, the state capital on 13 June 2018," CDD noted.
"Earlier on the same day, there was an early morning gun attack on the hotel owned by former APC governorship aspirant, Dr Wole Oluyede by yet-to-be-identified shooters. Also on 20 June 2018, Mr Ayo Ayodeji (aka Omo Ijoba), was shot dead around Oke Ori Omi area of Ado-Ekiti. All these cases constituted the basis of the APC's petition to the Commissioner of Police in Ekiti state (The Nation, 25 July 2018)."
The organisation warned that the situation could only worsen as the election draws closer, cautioning that it was essential to pay attention to areas with a history of electoral violence in the state. Such areas that may constitute flashpoints in the 2018 governorship election, CDD stated, include Ishan and Ikere Ekiti, homes of Messrs Fayemi and Olusola, respectively.
CDD concluded that the outcome of the coming election would be defined and shaped by money, and incumbency (both at federal and state), spiced with a monopoly of violence.
"The election seems to have gone beyond a contest on who governs the state, to that of two foes in the person of Fayemi and Fayose in a replay match. The campaign is being rife with hate and intimidation asides violence playing out in the street and on the pages of newspapers," the organisation observed.
If the prediction of CDD is anything to go by, then the fears generated by the hostilities so far, coupled with the usual reaction from the security forces to militarise the process, the turnout of voters on election day may be adversely affected which in turn might dwarf the credibility and quality of the election.
The assurances that the votes would count and the technology to be deployed by INEC would frustrate any sharp practice, may be the strength of the voters in discountenancing the show of political power by the gladiators. The battle will assuredly be lost and won. When the dusts finally settle, the mighty will fall. But the voters and Ekiti people must remain united.