Olé to British and Nigerian politicians

By Casmir Igbokwe

Published: Sunday, 6 May 2007

In English, “olé” is an exclamation. It means bravo! In Yoruba, the word means thief. In this season of elections, we are presented with the best opportunity to say olé to politicians in our midst. Your interpretation of the word depends on your perception of what I will tell you now about the characteristics of some of these politicians.

I had earlier stated on this page that there would be local and National Assembly elections in some parts of the UK on 3 May. I also related some big issues in the campaigns for the elections; and how I got my polling card even when I didn’t queue to register anywhere.

Well, the elections did take place as scheduled from 7am to 10pm. And I made sure I cast my vote for the candidate and party of my choice. Not that I know much about the candidates, but I was just determined to satisfy my curiosity. As a non-British citizen, I was pleasantly surprised that I could vote and thus, determine the fate of politicians in Britain. If I had wanted to contest as a candidate, I would have done so as well. Irish and Commonwealth citizens resident in the UK are entitled to vote and be voted for in elections to the National Assembly for Wales. European Union citizens also have the same privilege.

On this Election Day, I particularly moved round Cardiff looking for thugs who might hijack ballot boxes; or security agents in combat gear; or party agents who would either bribe or compel me to vote for their candidates. I saw none. Not even a bottle of coke from anybody. Perhaps, they are afraid of the electoral offence called ‘treating’. Under their electoral laws, a person is guilty of treating if either before, during or after an election, they directly or indirectly give any food, drink, entertainment or provision in order to influence any voter to vote or refrain from voting.

Smart Brits! They are always afraid of breaching their laws. In April, for instance, a new law prohibiting smoking in public places came into effect in Wales. Suddenly, cigarette smokers abandoned pubs, bars and even residential houses. I don’t blame them because these laws are no respecter of persons. When I went to cast my vote, I made sure nobody saw my ballot paper. I was just careful not to breach the secrecy requirements of the electoral law that could fetch me a fine of £5,000 (N1.250m) or imprisonment for up to six months.

Even, what the parties are allowed to spend at elections is also regulated. It is £40, 000 per region contested and £10, 000 per constituency contested. And all spending during the campaign period must be authorised and included in the party’s spending return to the Electoral Commission. The Commission will in turn review the returns.

It is not as if Nigeria doesn’t have its own laws. We have. But we choose the ones to obey and the ones to ignore. The Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, has been shouting and fighting official graft in Nigeria. The man has delivered a series of lectures in which he identified official theft as the greatest human tragedy to have affected our people since colonialism. Earlier this year, Ribadu was quoted as describing a chieftain of the People’s Democratic Party, Chief Lamidi Adedibu, and the Oyo State Deputy Governor, Chief Adebayo Alao-Akala, as unfit to be leaders. Today, Alao-Akala is the governor-elect of Oyo State and Adedibu, the undisputed godfather.

In Anambra State, the issue now is not whether Andy Uba won the gubernatorial election or not. The new agenda is the struggle by some opposition candidates to win his favour. Yesterday, they called Uba’s election a fraud, a sham, a charade. Today, these turncoats see nothing wrong in his election. They have indicated their intention to work closely with him to achieve peace, security, human and material progress of the state. Uba must be grinning by now. Smart politicians!

In Imo State, the gubernatorial election held on 14 April was cancelled while that of the state assembly held the same day was upheld. The election was rescheduled for 28 April. To ensure that its unfavourable candidate, Ifeanyi Araraume, did not emerge, the PDP went to court to compel the Independent National Electoral Commission to accept Charles Ugwu as its candidate. When this failed, the ruling party abandoned its candidate. The result is that Araraume lost the election he won in the first balloting to the candidate of the Progressive People’s Alliance, Chief Ikedi Ohakim.

I won’t be surprised if Ohakim declares for the PDP tomorrow. I will also not be surprised if the opposition presidential candidates that recently visited the president-elect, Alhaji Umar Yar’Adua, to congratulate him and declare their satisfaction with the conduct of the election, eventually join the ruling party. Nigerian politicians have no shame. They have no ideology. They have no character. To them, anything goes. Any party that promises to butter their bread the most is where they migrate.

As for INEC, there is no Nigerian institution today, perhaps, that is as ingenious as that electoral body. It promised to give Nigerians free, fair and the most credible elections in the annals of the country. But so far, it has taken one step forward and two steps backward. It printed excess presidential ballot papers in South Africa, but chose to abandon some of them to the printers there. In the rescheduled elections, INEC was accused of using wrong ballot papers in some parts of Rivers State.

In Anambra State, opposition candidates accused the electoral body of conniving with the ruling party to rob them of victory in the rescheduled National Assembly elections. Tomorrow, the same opposition candidates may pay solidarity visits and pledge their unalloyed support to the ruling party. In some other parts of the country, some INEC officials were also reported to have connived with security agents and party thugs to stuff ballot boxes in favour of the PDP.

As we wobble along in our march for a true democracy, there is need to learn a few lessons from the Governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. In spite of the do-or-die win of the PDP in many states, Tinubu still delivered Lagos to the Action Congress. Perhaps, he out-rigged the octopus. In an interview with Saturday Punch in November last year, the governor had admonished Nigerians not to allow the subversion of democratic institutions and the rule of law to continue beyond 2007. According to him, “It is a trend they will want to continue, but we will call the people out. Let there be a revolution, let there be resistance. Liberty is not given easily. Sometimes, you have to spill your blood, you have to make the sacrifice.”

Bravo! Tinubu. Bravo! Nigerian politicians. Bravo! INEC. Hip! Hip! Hip…! Olé!

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