NIGERIA: Osun Election and the Resort to Violence

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Yinka Kolawole takes a cursory look at the crisis between Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Chief S.L. Akintola in 1962 and warns that Osun could slip into a repeat of the crisis if care is not taken
 
As Nigerians, especially the people of Osun State countdown to the governorship election in the state, judging from political developments in the state, it appears history is about to repeat itself. About two and a half months left to the governorship election, the issue of violence has continued to be one of serious concern to the citizenry.
 
There has been series of reports of accusations and counter accusations by the political gladiators regarding allegations of importation of thugs and plans to cause mayhem and violence before, during and after the election. It is surprising that political players, who are supposed to be students of history, are beating and singing the drums of war as against issue-based campaign.
 
Presently in Osun State, Governor Rauf Aregbesola of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Otunba Iyiola Omisore of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Alhaji Fatai Akinbade of the Labour Party (LP) have had cause to raise the alarm on threats to their lives at one point or the other since they joined the governorship race. It would not be surprising if Senator Sunday Fajinmi who has just joined the race, according to sources, do the same.
 
The political class should have learnt from the mistakes of the Old Western Region in the First Republic which culminated in violence, wanton killings, and a total breakdown of law and order as a result of the selfish desires of political gladiators to impose themselves on the people, contrary to their desire. This was evident in the rigging and various malpractices carried out then that made the election unacceptable to a large spectrum of the society.
 
For the records, below is a rehash of how, when and why violence broke out in the old Western Region of Nigeria in the First Republic, in a bid to serve as lesson to the political elite who may inadvertently plunge the state into another round of political violence capable of truncating the present democratic experience. There’s no doubt that the various re-alignment in political parties as a result of personalities and partisan considerations led to the emergence of new groups.
 
According to Emmanuel Ojo, “The NCNC’s participation in the post 1964 federal government election served the purpose of dousing the unprecedented electoral tension that had built up throughout the country thereby retrieving the country from chaos. Also since the compromise did not remove the fundamental causes of the crisis, the reprieve was transient as events in Western Nigeria in the last quarter of 1965 brought back the electoral debacle on a scale earlier unattained in the country’s democratic process.”
 
Looking at the Awolowo and Akintola clash, popularly known as the Action Group Crisis of 1962, the NPC-dominated federal government had declared a state of emergency in Western Nigeria, sacked the AG-controlled regional government under the premiership of Chief S.L. Akintola and appointed the Prime Minister’s personal physician, Dr. Majekodunmi, as the Region’s Sole Administrator. The state of emergency ended on 31 December 1962.
 
The people of Western Nigeria had expected that a fresh election would be held at the end of the emergency rule, but the federal government merely reinstated Chief Akintola as the premier on the grounds that the political atmosphere in that Region was not conducive for holding fresh elections.
 
However, going back to 1965, Chief Akintola never faced the electorate as he was appointed premier of the Western Region by the AG leadership in 1959 to succeed Chief Awolowo, following the latter’s resignation to contest for the position of prime minister. Another regional election was however due on 11 October 1965. Generally, African politics is conceived in ‘zero-sum’ terms, that is, the notion that the winner takes all.
 
The above often makes the ruling party to mobilise every available state apparatus to entrench itself in power to the detriment of the opposition. In African post-colonial states, there are only very few instances where ruling parties had been removed by means of the ballot box or in truly competitive elections. It was therefore not surprising that with the aid of all sorts of electoral irregularities, the NNDP ‘won’ the election.
 
There were however conflicting reports of election results. While the National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) and the Daily Sketch declared the NNDP winner, (Both the NBC and the Daily Sketch were controlled by the federal government and NNDP respectively), on the other hand, UPGA’s private radio station at Chief Awolowo’s residence in Ibadan and the NCNC’s controlled West African Pilot announced that UPGA won 68 out of 94 seats.
 
Also the formation of an interim government headed by Alhaji Adegbenro, who became the acting leader of the Action Group following the incarceration of Chief Awolowo in 1963, who was subsequently arrested with nine others and charged with “illegally forming an executive council and false assumption of office,” Akintola announced his 50 member cabinet on October 22, 1965.
 
The then results announced by the Western Region Electoral Commission were NNDP (73 seats), AG (15 seats) and NCNC (2 seats), while results from Ondo Central, Egba South and two from Mushin, Lagos, were stood down because of violence.
 
In Nigeria, as in other African countries, ‘the-winner-takes-all’ approach to politics implies that the loss of an election is synonymous with the loss of patronage and access to socio-economic benefits.
 
In extreme cases, the loss of election by an ethnic group could mean the loss of access to qualitative education and healthcare, potable water, good road network, credit or loan facilities, etc. Although this is an anomaly, it has remained a means of ‘punishing’ those groups that did not vote the government of the day.
 
The AG had been excluded from government patronage since 1962 and an NNDP victory would mean the continuation of the exclusion of the members and sympathisers of the former party from the system of rewards for another four or five years.
 
It was therefore not surprising that when it became clear that the NNDP had ‘won’ the election, violence broke out. UPGA supporters trooped out in large numbers to protest what they described as notorious irregularities that characterised the election.
 
An open letter to Sir Odeleye Fadahunsi, the Governor of Western Nigeria, had the Electoral Commission Chairman, Esua, confirm that irregularity was the hallmark of the 1965 election. Thus, in 1965, pre and post-election violence in the defunct Western Region created unprecedented political instability in Nigeria.
 
Unfortunately, the ethnic and other interests of some of the leaders of the Structural Frame made a quick resolution of the crisis impossible and on 15 January 1966, the military intervened in the Nigeria democratic process to “restore law and order.”
 
As Osun sets for another governorship election on August 9, 2014, would the political gladiators allow a repeat of what led to the end of the First Republic? If the picture of the current scenario is anything to go by, then the pending Osun election is a cause for concern.
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