By Abdulganiyu Abdulqadir
“Our freedoms are vanishing. If you do not get active to take a stand now against all that is wrong while we still can, then maybe one of your children may elect to do so in the future when it will be far riskier – and much, much harder” – Suzy Kassem
These words in the book titled: ‘Rise and Salute the Sun: The Writings of Suzy Kassem,’ are most apt at this present point in Kwara State. A time when the pretence that voter fraud does not exist is putting the integrity of our voting process at risk. A time when a government is deploying lies, divisive sentiments, coercion, and fear to dupe average people. A time when officeholders choose to perpetuate themselves in power against the will of the people they are in office to govern. The 2023 elections in Kwara State are a perfect portrait of this situation. The polls will be remembered as the most undemocratic election in the annals of Kwara State. It is a period when anti-democratic elements seized the democratic space and process.
Months ahead of the polls, there were indications that the political contest in the State of Harmony was going to be keen. The expectations ended up in anti-climax. The expectations for a free, fair, and credible poll fizzled into thin air, courtesy of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). The election was marred by electoral malpractices, financial inducement, negative propaganda, and intimidation, all of which the APC political hounds deemed fair. For them, the election was a war and all is fair in war.
Having initially embraced the deceitful ‘O to ge’ mantra in 2019 and saw that it was an empty package, the Kwara people felt used, disappointed, and couldn’t wait to get back to where they were before the mantra hit the town. It was like living up to the Yoruba saying, ‘Oosa bi o le gbemi, semi bi o se ba mi. (If the gods cannot improve my fortune, it should leave me as I was). The APC realized that the die was cast against it. They could see defeat staring them in the face. The acceptability of their platform was at its lowest ebb, but it decided to cling on to power, by hook or by crook.
The ruling party’s headache was compounded by the crack in its fold. Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq’s greed and winner-takes-it disposition shattered the marriage of convenience between the disparate tendencies which conspired to edge out the PDP in 2019. Things fell apart and the center could not hold any longer. More aggrieved individuals and groups deserted the sinking ship to join the newly revitalized Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP). That put the Kwara APC in disarray and left the ruling party with no other choice but to toe the part of dishonour if it ever wanted to remain in power.
Propaganda was a tool they exploited from the word ‘Go’. It was a tool used to instigate the people against the former Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki. Not until after the APC got to power in 2019 that most claims were found to be false and vindictive. The former Governor – the best Kwara has had – was vindicated on all grounds. Not even the government at the center could pin any alleged act of malfeasance on him, despite the probes, plots, and ploys. Many members of the conspirators’ group felt sour and remorseful. They saw the 2023 election as a way to right their wrongs and put things back in shape. Unfortunately, the evildoers will never rest on their oars. They intensified their propaganda level and habitually attributed whatever went wrong at the Government House to Saraki, who left the state office more than a decade ago, for greater offices.
The last of such was a make-believe video released in the twilight of the election, claiming that charms were planted in the Government House by the previous administration in Kwara state. How they detected, and identified the spots and did not discover this until the eve of the polls beats one hollow. Such could only be for the very gullible who believe anything no matter how illogical it is. Yoruba will say, ‘Ko si eni ti ko mo ogbon ka fi eran si enu, ki a wa ti. (We all know the trick of putting a piece of meat in the mouth and making it disappear).
The acts of intimidation started days ahead of the election day. There had been threats and attacks on supporters of the PDP individually and as a group. Members of the Opposition usually gathered for political events with utmost fear. Some were arrested by compromised security operatives and incarcerated on fabricated allegations. Many sustained injuries from attacks orchestrated by thugs who enjoyed official protection. This reign of terror was then not just starting. it was the AbdulRazaq administration’s stock-in-trade. This same government had mobilized miscreants to attack labour union members when workers squared up with the government, asking AbdulRazaq to fulfill the promises he made en route to the Government House. Even, journalists in Kwara had their fair share of oppression by the AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq administration. Dare to publish an unfavorable story about him or the government and you see the attack dogs come for you. The strong-minded like Olusegun Olushola (Shollyment), Kayode Ogunlowo, and the Akogun brothers – for their doggedness – had their days in court and prison. The face-off with the Akoguns particularly attracted criticisms from within and outside the shores of Nigeria. No doubt, the AbdulRazaq government will go down in memory as the most suppressive in the history of Kwara.
The desperation of the AbdulRazaq administration cost the people of Kwara a whopping lump of state funds, with the APC government, luring the electorates by way of financial inducement. The money politics started several weeks before the election, prompting some Civil Society Organisations to fault the direct transfer of state funds to voters and warn against the dire consequences of such practice without due process. The development at the polling stations was an eyesore, as APC agents financially rewarded voters without caution. Billions of naira were diverted from state coffers and devoted to the business of buying and selling votes.
Traditional rulers in the state are not left out of the intimidation and financial inducement regime. They became victims who were then used to victimize their subjects and forced to cast their votes for APC. Some traditional rulers were coerced into becoming vote canvassers for the ruling party.
In identified opposition strongholds, the voters were intimidated by APC thugs who stoked violence and disenfranchised the people, except those identified to be supporters of the ruling party. The level of violence on election day was a vindication of a report by the Cleen Foundation, which had hitherto, identified Kwara as one of the states prone to violence and insecurity. This explains the abysmally low turnout of voters on election day. Of the registered 1,695,927 voters in Kwara, a meager purported 470,771 took part in the election, courtesy of the dreadful political atmosphere engendered by the incumbent government. As Larry Sabato put it, every election is determined by the people who show up to vote.
The 2023 General election has come and gone, but the ripple effects will linger on for a long, agonizing time. It is unfortunate to admit the fact that the government of the day in Kwara has taken us many years back in our democratic progress. It has cast a huge shadow over the future of democracy in Kwara State. Many now see our dear state as a place where anything goes. A government known for scoring extremely low marks in all indices of development and good governance managed to get a result that states that it has been re-elected. What an irony!
Abdulqadir writes from Ilorin, Kwara State