Ogbeni’s victory; Omisore’s defeat: the 1965 Western Regional Elections Revisited
Be se tiwa, bee si se tiwa, Demo a wole [Whether you are with us or not, Demo will win]
Declaration on radio and television by Chief Remi Fani-Kayode on the eve of the 1965 Western Regional Elections
Free, fair and credible elections are to a genuine democratic order what oxygenated blood that flows without blockages, clots and hemorrhages is to a healthy human body. In this case, the human body is like a nation’s body politic: a nation on the brink of becoming a failed state, a nation that hobbles from one nation-wrecking crisis to another is like a diseased human body whose arteries and veins are so blocked that the vascular and circulatory systems are prone to, and sometimes give way to cardiac arrest or stroke. Fortunately, and thanks largely to the wonders of modern medical science, cardiac arrest and stroke are not always fatal. A quick and effective intervention can bring a person stricken by stroke or heart attack back to life and the chance to gradually recover either completely or with a fairly good chance of a long and productive life. These thoughts were at the back of my mind on Sunday, July 10 when around 8 a.m. Berlin time (7 a.m. in Nigeria) I went online and discovered to my great relief and satisfaction that Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola had soundly defeated Iyiola Omisore in the recent Osun governorship elections. To me, the Ogbeni’s victory was like a successful triple bypass heart surgery to an electoral system that has hovered for a very long time on the edge of political cardiac arrest. Please note that I say that these thoughts comparing the diseased human body to a national body politick in a perpetual terminal crisis were at the back of my mind and not in the foreground of my consciousness. Let me explain.
Now, the regular reader of this column ought to know by now that I am not a supporter of any of the ruling class parties in Nigeria. I am resolutely against the ruling party, the PDP, which, in my opinion, is one of the worst, one of the most corrupt and one of the most mediocre ruling class parties in the world. But I do not consider any of the opposition ruling class parties a sufficiently consistently progressive and clean counterforce to the PDP. As political parties aspiring to power, the only claim that all the opposition parties have is the fact that any other group or party can and will do better in office than the PDP. The most telling fact of the absence of a real or true choice for voters between our ruling class parties is the quite phenomenonal scope of the perpetual crossing and re-crossing from one party to another by members of our political class. In other words, in the present political order in power at the centre and in the states in our country, you can never be so corrupt, so mediocre, so cynical and so devoid of any ideas as a politician that you cannot move from being a chieftain in one party to becoming a kingpin in another party. Nothing, absolutely nothing, disqualifies you from being a power broker in one party today and a strongman in another party tomorrow. This situation is similar to the phenomenon in the linguistic philosophy of the identity of the letters of the alphabet in which, say, the identity of the letter A is established, not by anything in itself, but by the fact that it is not B, or C, or D or any of the other letters in the alphabet. Thus, by the logic of this philosophy, in the Nigerian political context APC is APC not because of some things inherent in the party but because it is not PDP
But real choice for the voter in Nigeria is fortunately not completely absent. For if it is the case that, at least for now there is no real choice between the political parties as parties with programs, policies and worldviews that distinguish one from another, there is sometimes a choice between candidates. In the Osun State governorship elections last week, there was a real choice for the voter between the Ogbeni and Omisore, quite apart from the election being a pre-2015 showdown between the APC and the PDP. Indeed, so palpable, so stark was the choice between the two candidates that it was like a choice between day and night or between light and darkness. The most evident indicator of this is the fact that Aregbesola is quite possibly the most articulate governor on the ideals and practices of good governance in our country at the present time while Omisore, on the evidence of his unscripted speeches and impromptu pronouncements, cannot put two or three coherent thoughts together on responsible and accountable governance.
To expatiate a little more on this distinction, Aregbesola belongs to the rather rare order of politicians in our country at the present time who actually think; who actually have progressive and compassionate ideas about obligations that governments have for their constituents; and who actually have sophisticated knowledge regarding where our country and our continent stand in relation to the rest of the world and the contradictory forces of modernity, especially in the new millennium. By contrast, Omisore is a political operator whose vocation begins and ends with making the best for himself politically by following party diktats and carrying out the will of his superiors in the party apparatus.
Last week as I waited anxiously for the results of the Osun state elections, I began to think, rather subliminally about the analogies between a diseased human body and our national body politic. And as I did so, I worried greatly that the PDP might have completely buried the real choice between the Ogbeni and Omisore under the weight of pre-2015 showdown between the APC and the PDP. In the entirety of my experience as a Nigerian very much aware of the precarious nature of electoral politics in our country, no incident stands out more in my consciousness as the ultimate negation of the voter’s choice than the chilling declaration of the late Chief Remi Fani-Kayode on the eve of the legislative elections in the Western Region in October 1965. This is the declaration that I have appropriated as the epigraph to this piece: “Be se tiwa, bee si se tiwa, Demo a wole”. I have given an approximate translation of this declaration: “Whether you are with us or not, Demo will win”. By “Demo”, Fani-Kayode who was the Deputy Premier to Chief S.L. Akintola, meant the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP), perhaps the most fascist, right-wing party this country’s politics has ever produced. But what does this observation have to do with last week’s Osun state elections? Again, let me explain.
Among other things, all fascist parties have this in common: the votes – and the will of the electorate – are always already subjugated to the control of the Party. Last week, the ghost of the fascist political legacy of the late Deputy Premier of the old Western Region in the mid-60s appeared and stalked the length and breadth of Osun State. The choice between Aregbesola and Omisore seemed about to be completely abrogated and denied the good people of the state. But Ogbeni’s victory sent it back to the shades of the netherworld of bad conscience and troubled and troubling memory where it belongs.
We must not be complacent. PDP is determined to make every election before the 2015 showdown a prologue, a foreshadowing of the total elimination of choice and popular will in our country’s electoral politics. The militarization of the electoral process is particularly apposite here. Most commentators have said of this phenomenon that it is meant to intimidate voters, especially those voters that wish to exercise their choice, not only between parties, but also between candidates. While this is true, I think there is something more sinister, more ominous in this militarization of the electoral process that Jonathan has taken to a far much bigger scale than we had hitherto ever seen in this country. The sheer size of the military presence can mean only one thing: anticipation of mass uprising, of widespread popular rejection of election(s) that people in their hundreds of thousands or even millions perceive as rigged, stolen. Ekiti and Osun: two gone, more still to come before 2015. I repeat: we must not be complacent; we must not tire of protesting to the high heavens and to the whole world that we reject the militarization of the electoral and political processes in our country. Ogbeni’s victory is enormously gratifying in itself; it had the additional advantage of reminding us that the popular will counts and must be defended.
“Congrat osun people, congrat APC, and congrat Nigerian, people have spoking and God have spoking too”
From a tweet by someone self-identified as “Musco”
I encountered the epigraph above when I was reading the reactions to the defeat of Omisore on the internet. The bizarre and colorful murder of language in the tweet made me laugh hard, very hard. It reminded me of the language of Chief Zebrudaya Okoroigwe Nwogbo, alias 4:30. The language of tweets on the internet is often so awful that it seems to come from undiagnosed cases of mental leprosy. But in the particular case of this tweet commenting on Omisore’s defeat, it seemed to come straight from the heart. And at any rate, it read like vintage Zebrudaya English. But consider the following strangulation of logic, syntax, tense and grammar from a letter that Omisore wrote to the press on the night of Saturday, July 9, to protest what he saw as premature release of elections results by the APC in order, according to him, to delegitimize the true results of the elections which he was confident would end up in his favour. The statement was personally signed by Omisore who, by the way, added the title “Dr.” to his name. Here goes:
“I hereby condemn the APC candidate, Raufu Aregbesola declaring his own version of the results without recourse to INEC. With the facts of results, its apparent the PDP candidate, Dr. Iyiola Omisore, is leading. This act of APC is in conflict with the provisions of Electoral Law 2010 whereby a candidate can concoct figures and released to confuse the public thus make this election inconclusive until facts behind the figures are released by the INEC. The peace and stability of this state is such under an unprecedented threat. The result so far by APC remained cancelled.”
A use of language protesting defeat that paradoxically ends up in a thorough defeat of language. It is unintended but is revealing, very revealing.
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