Posted by News Express | 26 June 2014 | 3,968 times
Although I have told the story before, I do not think of anything better which speaks to a time like this. In March 1993, the then two political parties, the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and National Republican Convention (NRC) had their national conventions to elect their presidential candidates. While the NRC members went to Port Harcourt to pick their flag bearer, it was to Jos that the SDP members went. As a Senior Staff Writer with African Concord magazine, I was one of the people detailed to cover the Jos convention where our Chairman, the late Bashorun MKO Abiola, was a contender.
In the editorial meeting held shortly before we left Lagos, it was decided that we should delay the production of our magazine’s edition for the following week so we could run the story of the convention that would take place at the weekend. While such may have been easier today given advancement in printing technology, it was not a good business decision then. At that period, the cover stories of every magazine had to be ready for press by Wednesday night for the copies to be on the streets by the next Monday and here we were, contemplating reporting an event that would only be concluded by Sunday, may be even Monday. But what followed was more unsettling: It was decided that the cover design be produced that same day, six clear days before the exercise, with the photograph of Abiola on the bromide and the headline, “How Abiola Won”.
Given my understanding of the political dynamics at the time, there were three main contenders in SDP. Aside Abiola and Ambassador Babagana Kingibe, there was also Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, even though the general calculation was that it would be a straight contest between Abiola (who enjoyed a broad national appeal with a heavy war chest) and Kingibe (who had the support of 12 of the 14 SDP Governors). After the meeting, I went to the editor to tell him of my misgivings about what we had just decided and the conversation went like this: “Sir, I know Abiola is our candidate but it is better we err on the side of caution. I think we should put the photographs of both Abiola and Kingibe and use the headline, ‘How the Battle Was Lost and Won’.”
Shaking his head, the editor retorted, “I am putting only Abiola’s photograph on the cover page”.
“What if he loses?” I asked and then he dropped the bombshell: “In the event that happens, the photograph of Abiola will still remain on the cover. We will merely change the headline to read, ‘How Abiola Was Rigged Out!’”
What the foregoing story depicts very clearly is not only the extraneous factors that sometimes impinge on reportage of events but also the fact that in Nigeria, there is already a mindset about elections that makes acceptance of defeat unfashionable. It is essentially for that reason that we must commend the defeated Ekiti State Governor, Dr Kayode Fayemi. Immediately the votes were in last Sunday morning and Mr. Ayodele Peter Fayose of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was declared winner, Fayemi called to congratulate his opponent. For sure, Fayemi had a thousand and one reasons to complain about the process that led to his defeat but he is also an honest man who could come to terms with the fact that, all factors considered, he lost the ballot.
In his book, ‘Almost President: The Men Who Lost the Race but Changed the Nation’, Scott Farris traced the history of the concession-speech in American politics and how it has helped to strengthen the democratic process. The essence of his thesis is that the way losers take their defeat is almost as important as how winners accept their victory. Unfortunately, in Nigeria, losers never accept defeat, and that includes electoral no-hopers who may not have secured the votes of members of their immediate families in contests they probably should not even have taken part in.
I am aware that pundits have begun to posture about “why Fayemi lost to Fayose” and you read all kinds, from the ridiculous to the outlandish. It is not unexpected at a time like this. But few would deny that Fayemi was a good governor for Ekiti State and he can always be proud of his achievements. Those of us that are associated with him are even more proud that he is not a desperate man that would be associated with violence in the bid to retain power. And when he lost, he chose the road less travelled in our climes by doing the four critical things that have helped to define democratic ethos in civilised societies: he accepted defeat, he congratulated the winner, he looked forward to a future that still holds much promise and finally, he called for the unity of his people. Those were acts of statesmanship that can only be demonstrated by men of honour and integrity and we don’t have many of them in our polity today.
Nobody should be under any illusion that it is easy to lose an election and it may be necessary here to situate what Fayemi did within the context of Ekiti State so we can understand its significance. At a local government election campaign ten years ago in Oye-Ekiti, (on March 22, 2004 to be specific), then Governor Fayose boasted: “Nobody can snatch power from me the way I snatched it from (Otunba Niyi) Adebayo because I am not only in government I am in power and I am ready to guard the power jealously.” Of course, Fayose went on to win virtually all the seats in that dubious local government election in Ekiti State for his party’s (PDP) candidates at the time.
The point here is that if Fayemi had also gone into last weekend gubernatorial election in Ekiti with such do-or-die predisposition, the state cannot be peaceful today because as the incumbent, there are several things he could do if he is also desperate to hold on to power. It is therefore my hope that Fayose has learnt the hard lessons from his first misadventure as Governor when the issue was not about his performance (which was fairly good) but rather about his character.
However, that Fayose enjoys the support of a vast majority of Ekiti electorate is not in doubt and fortunately, his comportment shows that he is now a changed man. In his first interview after victory, he displayed a maturity not common with his past: “My charge to every politician is to target the poor people. They will not ask you for contracts, all they want is to have their lives improved. So the strategy is, when you are voted to power, don’t forget that four years is a short time. This is Ayo Fayose who is older and wiser and ready to work with everybody. They said I am an HND holder and that Ekiti is a state of professors. You do not need to be a professor to know that someone is hungry. You do not need to be a doctor to know that somebody needs support. It is innate for you to show love and kindness towards people...”
While there will be another day to interrogate the new Fayose who deserves to be congratulated on his victory (and I congratulate him), my column today belongs to Fayemi, essentially because I have particularly been fascinated by the rituals of gracious concession in defeat. It all dates back to 1860 in the United States when the defeated candidate of the Democratic Party, Mr. Stephen Douglas, urged the slave states to accept the victory of his Republican opponent, Mr. Abraham Lincoln, after a very divisive election. However, the idea of messaging the winner did not commence until 1896 when William Jennings Bryan sent a telegram to William McKinley that, “We have extended the issue to the American people and their will is law”.
Interestingly, it is not only in Nigeria that you have bad losers, there have been many in American politics too and at all levels, including the presidency. In 1964, for instance, Barry Goldwater who was defeated by a very wide margin by President Lyndon Johnson waited until the day after the election to concede. And in the “concession” speech, Goldwater was petty enough to remind Johnson that the popular votes were not as many as the one that elected his predecessor, the late John F. Kennedy (to whom Johnson was VP) four years earlier!
Yet, the only way our democracy can grow is if people begin to understand that for every electoral contest, there must be a winner as well as a loser. According to statistics from the chair of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Dr. Chidi Odinkalu, “arising from the 2007 general elections alone, there were 1,299 election petitions challenging official results out of a total of 1,496 elective offices contested, yielding an astounding 86.5 percent...”
While there is nothing wrong in challenging a flawed election, it makes little or no sense to rush to court after every defeat. That is why I will enjoin the All Progressives Congress (APC) not to take the legal option, reportedly being contemplated about the Ekiti State election. The glaring lapses can, and indeed should, be identified, codified and reported to the relevant authorities. But nothing will be served by a court action that seeks to challenge the election of a man whose opponent had already conceded defeat.
While I have stated earlier that I will interrogate the Fayose phenomenon another day, the Ekiti election has brought to fore other issues. One, the APC doesn’t come out of this election looking good and there are serious question marks about the BolaTinubu factor, with all its inherent contradictions and what it portends for the 2015 general elections, in the light of the opposition’s ethno-religious permutations for the presidency. Two, by all accounts, the performance of INEC was a significant improvement on what Nigerians have become accustomed to. Is this a one-off achievement or is it sustainable? What will happen when INEC has to deploy country-wide in one day without the advantage of massing assets on one location? Three, the role of the security agencies calls for critical appraisal with the pertinent question being: how do we deploy security for elections without making it look like they are there to intimidate the people?
These and many others are issues to ponder on. But as I said, today belongs to Kayode Fayemi who, in defeat, has behaved like the quintessential Yoruba Omoluabi. He deserves our applause and respect.
•This piece by Adeniyi (shown in photo) originally appeared in his column “The Verdict” in today’s edition of ThisDay. He can be reached via email@example.com
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