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#KogiDecides: As Kogites chooses lesser of two evils

Idris Wada (left) Abubakar Audu (right)

As you read this, the people of Kogi state are likely steeped in the process of electing a governor today. At the end of voting, it is either incumbent Idris Wada or former governor Abubakar Audu would be crowned as the build-up to the polls had narrowed the race to both gladiators. Sadly, the conclusion in some quarters is that the contest is actually a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea.

Both men and the political parties fielding them have concomitant doses of drawbacks coming into the race. Instructively, both politicians have each done one term as governor, the only difference being that while one is running as incumbent, the other is attempting a come-back into the office he was booted out from after what was generally considered a dismal performance between 1999 and 2003. The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) which is providing platforms for Wada and Audu respectively are drawn in a bitter battle of wits and whims, the result of which amounts to either decimation or consolidation for each. Thus, the battle for Kogi is one of winner-takes-all not because one face of the coin is necessarily prettier than the other but because both sides carry the same value of the currency. As a friend of mine in civil society activism put it, the choice between Wada and Audu is one between two equal evils.

However it is, there is always a lesser of two evils and it is left to the electorate of Kogi to decide whom between both men fits the bill. And this must be done through a free, fair, credible and transparent electoral process. But events leading to this day are helpful in hazarding a guess as to which is the lesser burden that the people would have to bear in the next four years although nothing suggests that the winner of the polls cannot break from his inglorious record of past stewardship and post a positive legacy of performance after another four years. In fact, there can be no better and more important challenge for both men and their parties.

As indicated in the October 3rd, 2015 of this column, the good people of Kogi cannot be continually condemned to a choice between bad apples and rotten mangoes; they surely deserve and have the capacity to produce choices of fresh varieties of fruits. If politicians succeed in getting away with making offerings of poisoned chalice this time, they should not expect to serve the people vinegar next time. This is because political consciousness among the people is maturing incrementally. If nothing else, that is one great lesson that can be credited to the outcomes of the general elections earlier in the year where incumbents lost in contest even in their supposedly comfort zones.

Unfortunately, this is one lesson the APC which ironically is the biggest beneficiary of the last elections, has yet to come to terms with. That is why it has the temerity to field a man with mind-boggling corruption allegation hanging on his neck as governorship candidate. It is a slight on the sensibilities of the Kogi electorate to present Audu who is still in court over an N11 billion sleaze suit, as the right person to become governor.

There is no way, the election would not record some protest votes against the APC by some of its supporters and enthusiasts because of this poor choice. For a party chanting a mantra of change and anti-corruption to openly encourage the scourge is a shot on the foot. Yes, Audu may have the political muscle to confront an incumbent in Wada but for the APC to display a puzzling contempt for the moral content of its trumpeted ideology (or lack of it) of change is a move that would earn it some backlash today in Kogi. Not unexpectedly, the PDP has made capital out of this unfortunate situation by saying through its spokesman, Mr. Olisa Metuh, that “It is, to say the least, an embarrassing miscarriage of justice that the same President who rode to power on much publicized anti-corruption credentials, would endorse a man facing corruption charges as his governorship candidate.”

It is perhaps an attempt to mitigate this moral and political fiasco that made President Muhammadu Buhari stay away from raising the hand of the party’s candidate at any of its campaign rallies. The president’s advisers must have told him of the incalculable damage a widely circulated picture of him raising Audu’s hand as the preferred choice for Kogi would have done to his famed anti-corruption credentials. They must have also told him that offering background support to Audu was a way out of courting the controversy of soapbox association and also silencing APC hawks who would have conveniently accuse him of failure to identify with the party’s candidate at rallies.

But while Buhari may have safely navigated the landmines strewn around open association with Audu, he appears to have failed to convincingly dodge the darts thrown at him by the opposition PDP on the Kogi case. In the last few days the presidency had been forced to defend Buhari against allegations of interference in the electoral process. The opposition had fired the first salvo accusing the president of meeting with officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the security services with a charge to secure victory for his party. A statement by Metuh made very pointed and daring allegations to the effect that Buhari had given a matching order to concerned parties to ensure Audu won today’s polls.

Part of the statement read: “We have incontrovertible records of separate meetings, late last week between the Presidency and the new INEC leadership as well as with some top security officers, which were coordinated by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Babachir Lawal, who boasted that he has President Muhammadu Buhari’s orders to ensure that Kogi State is wrestled from the PDP by all means. We alert all to be aware of this planned ‘coup’ against democracy again, by the now ‘new sherrif’, who though, being the biggest beneficiary of free and fair election in the history of Nigeria, is now out to corrupt the electoral system and destroy our democracy, all in the obsession to foist a one-party state in the country.

Intelligence information available to us shows that at the meeting with the new INEC leadership under Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, the commission was given orders regarding the posting of compromised personnel to strategic areas in the state to manipulate the card readers as well as the actual voting process in favour of the APC, with assurance of adequate protection by government security agencies, particularly the Directorate of State Services (DSS). We are aware that in another meeting also held in Abuja, the Presidency directed summoned security officials to ensure that the forces are maximally used to intimidate the people with a view to pave way for compromised INEC officials to manipulate the process, alter ballot figures and announce doctored results.

In a swift reaction, the presidency accused the PDP of mischief and clarified that the meeting between the president and INEC was towards ensuring a free and fair polls. Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media, Mallam Garba Shehu said in a statement thus: “The President called the meeting cited by the PDP to warn, in particular, the INEC and the police to prepare and give the nation a credible election. He said he expected nothing short of a free, fair and credible election. He said he had suffered election manipulation in 2003, 2007 and 2011 and would not like to have any Nigerian to go through that again. He warned against the intimidation of voters in any way and vowed that he was prepared to move with all the forces available to him against anyone who undermines the rights of any citizen. The meeting was short and straight to the point. It ended after five minutes. He asked Vice President Yemi Osinbajo if he had anything to say and he added nothing.”

Much as this exchange of political raps between the presidency and the PDP should be seen for what it is- politics- the diminishing returns value it has exerted on Audu’s candidacy or governorship if he wins today cannot be discountenanced going forward. The controversial non-release of Kogi’s share of the federally-disbursed bailout funds is another sore point for the ruling APC in this election.

An impression the Wada administration has managed to create and sustain in the minds of civil servants who have gone without salaries for months is that the APC-led federal government is withholding the funds because of the election. Whether this is true or false, the reality is that Audu’s acceptability in today’s ballots would likely be adversely affected by this impression. And whether he wins or not, the moral quagmire on the APC will hang for long.

In much the same manner Governor Wada has been buffeted with the lack of good governance he has put Kogi through in the last four years. Many commentators have berated the governor for lack of performance and even conclude that he hardly deserves a second term in office. Wada’s supporters on the other hand have pointed to the diminishing amount of revenues accruing to the state as a constraint. But that notwithstanding, it is clear that the Captain-governor has hardly displayed any convincing vision and accompanying mission to take Kogi out of the doldrums of backwardness. That there is no landmark project (not even an ongoing one) to advertise his stewardship in four years is quite uncomplimentary to his re-election bid. But by and large, between Wada and Audu the die today is cast.