By Olabisi Deji-Folutile
The Ekiti State governorship election can perhaps rank as the most anticipated since the Muhammadu Buhari-led administration came to power in May, 2015. This is so for many reasons. Firstly, Ekiti is the only state in the South West still being controlled by the opposition Peoples Democratic Party and, as expected, the ruling party would like to have a total control of the South West states as the nation prepares for the general election in 2019.
Secondly, the governorship candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress in the election, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, is a former governor of the state, who lost to the incumbent governor, Ayodele Fayose, in 2014. In the 2014 governorship election, Fayemi lost in all the 16 local government areas of the state. The result of that election has been consistently contested by the APC and the general belief is that Fayose, with the assistance of the Federal Government, backed by former President Goodluck Jonathan, manipulated the results in favour of PDP. So, now that the pendulum has swung in favour of APC with the party having the federal might to offer all the required support for its candidate, Fayemi is believed to stand a better chance. On a personal level, the election will offer Fayemi the unique opportunity to prove to the world that the Ekiti people have always been behind him; that they love and accept him; that he served them well; and that they would always rally behind him. It would give him the opportunity to also reinforce the party’s belief that the people he governed for four years couldn’t have rejected him in all the local governments in the state but for the federal might that brought the opposition to power at that time.
But the third and perhaps the most critical point here is that the Ekiti election will be a test case of the popularity of both President Muhammadu Buhari and his APC- led government. Ever before Buhari emerged as the President, Fayose had been a chief critic of the ex- military leader. In a series of political advertisements during the presidential campaign in 2014, he had made it his main business to warn Nigerians against voting for the President. At the height of this campaign, he placed an advert that many considered to be in bad taste, where he catalogued Nigerian leaders that had died in power and insinuated that the same fate awaited Buhari if he became President. Even long after Buhari’s victory at the poll, the governor has continued to be one of his ardent critics. It appears he is always looking for an opportunity to slam the president. So, it is not surprising that there has been no love lost between the two of them.
Beyond the natural inclination of a political leader to support the party’s candidate in an election, President Buhari would more than love a situation where one of his “arch-enemies” is thrown out of power. Though the governor is not a candidate in the election, he is strongly behind his deputy, whom many believe is his stooge and, generally, analysts have said that victory for PDP’s Prof. Kolapo Olusola is as good as Fayose continuing in power.
Buhari has openly campaigned for Fayemi. The Federal Government has also provided necessary support and clipped Fayose’s wings so that he won’t be able to use any power of incumbency against the APC candidate.
So, today’s governorship election could be described as a contest between Buhari and Fayose on the one hand and Fayemi and Olusola on the other. This is more so as the election is coming at a time that President Buhari’s administration seems to be losing popularity among Nigerians.
Despite voting en masse for the change that Buhari canvassed during his presidential campaign, the citizens have not witnessed much of positive change in their lives. Some even claim they have been much more impoverished under the APC-led administration. Unfortunately, Nigeria hasn’t fared better in global ratings on poverty since this administration came to power. The easiest way to measure the poverty in the land is by simply looking at the exchange rate of dollar to naira in 2014 and what it is now. In a country that is heavily dependent on imports, an exchange rate that moved from N170 to N360 to $1, without any commensurate increase in income, would have no doubt left many pauperised.
The biggest challenge of the government right now is that of insecurity in the land due to the activities of herdsmen. This has done a lot of damage to the President’s reputation. Meanwhile, as the President is still struggling to stem the tide of herdsmen/farmers’ clashes in the country, Fayose seems to have found a temporary solution to the problem in Ekiti with the anti-grazing law which, for now, appears to be working.
This election is also holding at a time the APC is facing some internal crisis with the party being officially factionalised. Some of the party members have just approached the court to cancel the results announced at its convention held last month. There are all kinds of skirmishes going on in the party.
If Fayose’s candidate and the PDP win in the Ekiti election, in spite of the Federal Government’s backing for Fayemi, it could be a bad omen for Buhari and his APC-led administration. Many people may interpret it to be a confirmation of the dwindling popularity of the President and his party which may affect its fortunes in 2019.
Already, analysts are saying the result of the Ekiti State election would be a forecast of what will happen in 2019. While victory for APC could connote a smooth cruise for President Buhari in his second term ambition, a loss could indicate the danger that lurks ahead.
If the APC wins, it means President Buhari in spite of all the criticisms against his administration, is still popular after all. It would also mean that there is hope for the ruling party in 2019 and above all, it would mean that the people of Ekiti love Buhari above Fayose in spite of the latter’s seemingly larger than life image of being a grass -roots governor, who has Ekiti people in his palms.
But the most important thing for now is for the people of Ekiti to be allowed to make their choice, not just through a free and fair election today, but in an atmosphere of peace and tranquility. That is the essence of democracy.