Polls: Lessons from Akwa Ibom
Nigeria’s much anticipated 2019 elections lived up to expectation. Pundits had predicted surprises, violence, voter apathy, partisanship by security agents and even INEC officials. It had all of them, and in good measure. The build-up was frenetic and febrile. The atmosphere was fired up by vitriol from vested interests. The umpire, INEC, was thought by many not to be adequately primed for the election, and it showed. As you read this, the election which took INEC four years to prepare for, and which was once postponed, is still inconclusive in some states.
Now, by hindsight, these pundits were right. INEC was not ready. Rather than improve on previous polls, the commission this time manifested more incompetence than ever. Security operatives became major actors, even more partisan than politicians. The Army particularly turned itself into an umpire in spite of assurances of professionalism by the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen Tukur Buratai ahead of the elections. The Army was unprofessional, and that is putting it mildly.
In some states, it was obvious that the political gladiators were the chief architects of the violence. They instigated thugs, monetized voting and heavily militarized what ordinarily was supposed to be a festival to celebrate democracy. For indeed, election ought to be a feast, a public-oriented festival of casting ballot, counting ballot and announcing results. It ought to be that simple. It ought to be a celebration of the popular will. But not in Nigeria.
Nigerian elections present case-studies for scholars to do an inquisition on the mindset of a typical politician. Why do some politicians easily get sucked into the pipe of filth and miasma; why do some politicians fall from Neptune to the nadir of infamy during polls while others seize the moment to rise from grass to grace? Yet, for some, elections offer the opportunity to glow from glory to glory. The case of Akwa Ibom pops to prominence here.
In Akwa Ibom, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is writ large. It is the dominant party as it is in all South-South states, except Edo State which historically aligns with the politics of the South-West. Akwa Ibom has its full dose of militarized election. Ahead of the polls, there were reports of clandestine plans by some politicians to flood the peaceful state with thugs and hirelings whose sole duty was to disrupt the polls through violence and subsequently rig the result to the advantage of their hirers. It was all wrapped up to get the incumbent Governor Udom Emmanuel out of power. Leaked videos of one of such plans trended for days. Social media sizzled with reports of busloads of thugs apprehended by security men on their way to the state. All of this heightened tension in the state famed for its tranquility and hospitality.
Yet in the midst of these storms and forebodings of an impending maelstrom, Governor Udom Emmanuel kept calm. He did not fret; neither did he resort to use of vile words against the mounting garrison of merchants of blood. He kept to his mantra ‘Only God’. He resorted to prayers and good deeds. He roused his people to seek peace and pursue peace. He rocked the rabble with ennobling words that inspired hope. He kept his campaign clean. He waxed strong in faith in his God. He reminded the people that no matter the circumstance, ballot cannot be substituted for blood, human blood. His weapon were words of encouragement to his people. His weapon was his achievements in four years; his industrialisation efforts, wealth and job creation initiatives; the birthing of a new consciousness of self-confidence, self-worth and priceless values in his people through the Dakadda philosophy.
Governor Emmanuel did not rely on the might of AK-47 or the muscles of any mortal man. He simply turned his back at the motely crowd of blood-thirsty, violence-hungry political merchants. Every good leader must learn to turn his back at the orchestra when the music changes from soothing melody to notes of insults. Governor Emmanuel did just that. And he did it with the people of Akwa Ibom. He diverted their attention from fear to hope. He showed them his deeds, his works, his performance report. Political leadership is a social contract. Those seeking re-election or renewal of terms must have something tangible as evidence of a good outing in the first term. The governor merely reminded the people of the social contract he signed with them.
He had said on May 29, 2015: “I place a demand on all Akwa Ibom people, at home and abroad, to come with hoes and shovels, and let us bury the twin evils of ethnicity and tribalism, which could slow us down in the race of development.
“I stand before you today not as a master but as a servant and not as a boss but as a co-labourer. I accept, with great humility and sense of responsibility, the mandate you have freely given to me to hold power in trust for you as your Governor. You have kept your part of the covenant and I intend to keep my part by executing the programmes I enunciated to you during my official declaration to run for the office of Governor”. And when the time for reckoning came, he looked boldly into the eyes of his people and said: “I kept my words, I delivered on my promise”.
Yes, the Nigerian voter may not be as sophisticated as his counterpart in the Western world. But he is sophisticated enough to recognize good work when he sees one; he can decipher deceit from reality. The Akwa Ibom voters simply rewarded their leader. The governor polled 519,712 votes while Nsima Ekere of APC, his fiercest rival, polled 171,978. A huge difference of 347,734 votes.
The lesson here should not be lost on all of us. In politics, you don’t need guns and cudgels to win election, you need good deeds. You need good character. The values you evince are the collaterals that would speak for you. The Governor trusted in his God, his people and his deeds. The Akwa Ibom exemplum typifies the limitations of man; the transiency of evil and the inviolability of God. He is the grand architect of the Universe. He rules over the affairs of men (even King Nebuchadnezzar at the summit of his reign testified to this).
Nigerians politicians should imbibe the virtues of Governor Emmanuel – never respond to violence with violence. As Michelle Obama used to say, ‘when they go low, we go high’. When they offer violence, offer the people peace; when they trot out fear, offer hope. And when they incline themselves to butchery and destruction, offer the people development and advancement. That’s what happened in Akwa Abasi Ibom (the only state named after God). Good triumphed over evil; boastful mortal man was taught a lesson in humility. And here’s the clincher: In the darkling blackness of darkness that pervades the nation’s horizon of leadership, there are still rays of light casting their incandescence on the people and assuring them of the dawning of a better tomorrow.