Opinion: Nigerian politicians, Ekiti, and the Myth of Sisyphus By – NIYI AKINNASO
What happened in Ekiti on Saturday during the governorship primary of the All Progressives Congress recalls the violence and wanton destruction of ballot boxes during the governorship election rerun in the same state nine years ago. The participation of many of the 2009 actors in last week’s debacle indicates clearly that no lessons have been learnt in nine good years! Besides, the recent incident further confirms that different results cannot be expected when the same actors, tools, and methods are involved in solving the same problem.
Like the chaotic conclusions of the APC ward congresses across the country last weekend, the futility that attended the botched APC governorship primary in Ekiti portends a very bad omen for the governorship election in July and the 2019 general elections, when there will be multiple primaries and various inter-party competitions.
The parallels between the 2009 rerun debacle and the recent chaotic primary in Ekiti are so sharp that my comments on the earlier incident are worth reproducing from The PUNCH of May 7, 2009. The Peoples Democratic Party was in power then. Now, it is the APC. But the story remains the same. Now, over to 2009:
“As I reflected on the just concluded re-run governorship election in selected wards in Ekiti and its aftermath, the twin problems of failure and futility kept popping up. And my mind went straight to The Myth of Sisyphus, a 1942 philosophical essay by Albert Camus in which he introduced his philosophy of the absurd. The central theme is man’s futile search for meaning and fulfilment in the face of an unintelligible world devoid of truths or values. Camus compared the absurdity of man’s life in such a world with the situation of Sisyphus, a Greek mythological figure, who was condemned to repeat forever the same meaningless task of pushing a rock up a mountain, only to see it roll down again.
As an allegory of the human condition, the myth is particularly relevant to the Nigerian situation in which failure and futility are both endemic and enduring. Nothing works as they should. On top of it all, the people cannot freely elect their representatives because the simple democratic acts of casting, counting, and collating votes could not be managed. Yet, citizens go about their lives in a futile search for fulfilment, hoping against hope that one day, salvation will come.
Our politicians are notorious for contributing to this state of affairs by reproducing various corrupt and fraudulent practices. They are like Sisyphus, powerful, cunning, and mischievous. He blackmailed a god that shared secrets with him and put Death in chains. However, Death was eventually liberated by the other gods, who then decided to punish Sisyphus for his mischief. He was sentenced to futile and hopeless labour.
The question is: Who will liberate Nigerian citizens from the mischief of their politicians, who misbehave with impunity, because they control all sources of power?
Since independence, politicians have used the ballot box as the starting point of their mischief, by turning every election into a political theatre of the absurd in which the rule of law is replaced by the rule of the street. They engage in various malpractices in collusion with electoral officials and law enforcement agents.
These malpractices were reproduced in Ekiti recently, when a rerun governorship election ended in a fiasco. Political leaders, who have a conscience, should cringe at the details of the mayhem that greeted the election, more so when such gory details have been documented in print and audio-visual media for posterity. They also should be ashamed of the new twists added to the already abysmal election routines, including the disappearance, resignation, non-resignation, and re-appearance of the Ekiti Resident Electoral Commissioner; the beating and detention of journalists and election monitors; and the withholding of election results by the Independent National Electoral Commission for as long as 10 days.
Coming against the backdrop of the universally condemned rigged Nigerian elections of 2007 and the universally acclaimed successful elections in Ghana and South Africa afterwards, the Ekiti debacle could only heighten Nigeria’s negative image and future poor ranking on international indices, such as the Failed State index.
It would be unfair to pin the badge of shame only on the chest of Ekiti people. Our political leaders nationwide and in Ekiti in particular should also wear the badge of shame.
Security officers also have their share of the blame. Of what use is the deployment of 10,000 policemen to monitor about 70,000 voters, if they could not maintain peace? The corresponding failure of INEC to conduct a free and fair election and release the results on time points to the collusion of all institutions of government. The arrow points ultimately to the ruling PDP, which controls these institutions and is the leading gladiator in the Ekiti debacle. This is the same party that has put Ekiti through much political stress since it rigged itself into power there in 2003.
The scale and intensity of the battle shows that the real issue at stake was not so much the internal squabble for power within Ekiti as of the battle for the control of the South-West by the PDP. With the determination of opposition politicians to forestall the PDP’s plans, Ekiti became the terrain on which two elephants staged a big fight. Blaming Ekiti people, who are the immediate victims, is like criminalising a rape victim. Our political leaders are the criminals and Nigeria and Nigerians the ultimate losers.
The PDP may have “won” the election but the repercussions of the purported victory are great. Already, the United States State Department has issued a travel advisory on Nigeria, citing violence as a key factor. Reports of violence in Ekiti during the re-run election could only aggravate an already negative image. The violence in Ekiti was both physical and symbolic. In addition to the use of weapons, people were also robbed of their votes and conscience…
Given what has been reported so far, the President’s statement on Saturday, May 2, 2009, that the “PDP cannot win at the expense of popular will”, rings hollow. It sounded more like an afterthought, arising more from the people’s outcry than from a deliberate policy of fairness. If the President was genuinely concerned about the events in Ekiti, why delay his reaction for a whole week, and why send a surrogate to speak to the press, instead of speaking directly to the nation himself? Compare our President’s method here with that of President Barack Obama of the United States, who interrupted an ongoing Presidential press briefing to announce the resignation of a Justice of the Supreme Court, saying to pressmen and the nation, “If there is an important job to do, you have do it yourself.”
Finally, the Ekiti debacle shows that our politicians still have not learnt their lessons, despite the Operation weetie episode of the 1960s; the various military interventions between 1966 and 1999; a devastating civil war; the Ondo killings of 1983, following the theft of the people’s mandate; and the record number of litigation and reversals of rigged electoral victories, following the 2007 elections. What else could the people do to teach our politicians an eternal lesson like Sisyphus?
Here, I think, is the relevance of Camus’s recommendation on the central philosophical question as to whether the right response to the absurd life is suicide. Translated to the Nigerian political theatre, the question would be: Should Nigerians commit suicide because they can no longer live to die in the hands of their absurd politicians? Camus’ answer to the original philosophical question might be relevant. He said, unequivocally: “No. The realisation of the absurd does not require suicide. It requires revolt.”
Camus was not talking about the revolt of the gods, as against Sisyphus, but of the people against a selfish and mischievous political class.” Punch