NIGERIA is currently at a critical and defining moment in its political history as millions of citizens are set to cast votes on February 14 (presidential election) and the subsequent ones in the month – elections in which the international community has shown a groundswell of interest. From all accounts, the upcoming elections would either make or mar the country depending on the way and manner they are conducted, as well as how all the candidates and their political parties and supporters comport themselves before, during and after the elections. In this regard, transparent, free, fair and peaceful polls, based on international standards and the universally acclaimed principle of one-man-one-vote, would expand the frontiers for democratic consolidation and political stability in Nigeria. This is apart from setting the stage for a formidable political order in the country driven by forthright leadership and the associated boundless opportunities.
On the other hand, shambolic elections, accentuated by vote-buying, vote-rigging, voters’ intimidation and violence, would not only cast aspersion on the credibility of our electoral system, it would also undermine the underlying principles of democracy like popular wish and freedom of choice. Notably, failed, disputed or stolen election is one of the apparent reasons the democratic process in many developing countries including Nigeria is often thrown into question. This is because the beneficiaries of such elections, besides having an integrity problem, are largely seen as governing without broad consensus – a kind of situation that dwarfs people’s confidence in government and fuels political violence, as evident in a whirlwind of political upheavals that eventually led to the collapse of our first and second republics following the military intervention. Again, flawed elections mostly give vent to office-holders who look at the key issue of dividends of democracy with disdain owing to their lack of popular mandate – a sad development that often spawns a various, corrupt, callous, irresponsible and unresponsive political leaders.
In view of the foregoing, the imperative for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to be resolutely committed to conducting credible and hitch-free elections on February 14 cannot be underscored. Thus, the Professor Attahiru Jega-led INEC is besought not only to provide the level-playing field for all the candidates in the coming polls, but also to be equal to the task of ensuring that every vote counts in the interests of democratic sustainability, political stability and social peace in our time. For local and international monitors and observers of the national elections, they should be perspicacious in their assignments without exhibiting any tinge of partiality and bias, just as expected of the mass media in their reportage of the event.
Relevant security agencies like the Nigeria Police and Department of State Services (DSS) would also have a crucial role to play in ensuring successful conduct of the forthcoming elections. Basically, this is in the area of discharging their duties and obligations in a very professional manner devoid of partiality and partisanship in order to be on full alert to forestall acts as electoral malpractice, voters’ intimidation and political thuggery that could throw a spanner in the works of holding free, fair, credible and peaceful elections. Those apprehended for such electoral malfeasances should be immediately prosecuted by police, no matter whose ox is gored, as a salutary lesson to others. It is on this note that the overriding necessity of a bill in the National Assembly (NASS) for the establishment of Electoral Malpractices and Other Related Offences Commission (EMOROC) should be given serious consideration. Suffice it to say that until the vexed issue of electoral offence is criminalized and penalized in Nigeria, the problem would remain a recurring decimal that would continue to militate against the democratic system.
On the part of members of our political class, they are implored to eschew name-calling, blackmail, bitter recriminations, inflammatory utterances, sectional incitement and any form of violence ahead of the February 14 polls. They should understand that tolerance and pluralism are the X-factors for political stability and democratic viability, unlike intolerance, which is now putting party politics on a violent trajectory. Having said this, politicians should wholeheartedly view politics not as a war front or a do-or-die affair, but as a normative game of sportsmanship geared towards promoting general good.
As obtained in Western democracies, elections should be a hopeful occasion for citizens to vote political aspirants of their choice, not time of palpable fear and anxiety in anticipation of violence and the precipitate bloodshed and depredation – as made glaring in recent years in Nigeria and other African states like Kenya, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, Mali, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Uganda and Central African Republic (CAR). It is on this score that all political contestants are duty-bound to imbibe the spirit of the recently signed Abuja Peace Accord for violence-free elections, which is a good omen for the efforts to safeguard our fragile democracy. To this end, apart from avoiding rigging that often provokes electoral violence, they should pursue issues-based campaigns. This is especially on how to use their manifestos or policies and programmes to engender good governance, political stability, popular participation, national security, peaceful coexistence, national unity, responsible citizenry, inclusive system, economic reconstruction, functional infrastructure and social services, sustainable development, industrialisation and entrepreneurship as a means of alleviating poverty and generating jobs, social justice, the rule of law and respect for fundamental human rights.
However, it is hoped that after the February 14 elections, the worrisome issue of high cost of governance in Nigeria would be put on the front burner of national discourse. For one thing, this is considering that the unbelievably stupendous salaries and allowances of certain political office-holders in the country today are a major contributory factor in the quest for elective positions at all cost by some politicians and the resultant electoral fraud and wanton destruction of lives and property.
It is expected, therefore, that a downward review of such emoluments, as canvassed in many quarters, would be an effective way of discouraging politicians with self-seeking intentions of gaining affluence, influence and fame from jostling for power, while encouraging those with the irresistible urge to render selfless service to their fatherland to join the political bandwagon.
For the electorate, the February 14 polls are a special moment to seize to discharge their civic responsibility by shunning voter apathy and vote selling. This is because their votes remain their only power to effect the kind of change they desired in the political society. What is more, unpatriotic acts like voter apathy and vote selling would affect them in the long-run through emergence of unaccountable leaders who would ignore their yearning for living space.
Apart from the overwhelming need to maintain total vigilance, which is the price to pay to ensure that their votes count in the forthcoming polls, the electorate is also enjoined to rise beyond the confines of base ethnic, religious and regional sentiments to enable them choose candidates with reputable track records and common touch and who will be eager to change things for the better in Nigeria now bedeviled by myriads of political and socio-economic crises. In other words, they should vote for their future, not fears as often instigated by self-serving politicians who are wont to use primordial attachments to canvas for votes. The voters are equally called upon to guard against being used as pawns for political violence, as no vaulting ambition of any politician in Nigeria is worth the sacrifice of their blood, peace or happiness. And at a time of political ferment like this in the country, with so many things at stake, voters would have to recourse to the heavenly father in supplication to bless them with the kind of leaders reflected in the prayer of J.G. Holland, who said: “God give us men. A time like this demands strong minds, great hearts, true faith and ready hands – men whom the lust of office does not kill; men whom the spoils of office cannot buy; men who possess opinion and will, men who have honour and will not lie; men who stand before a demagogue and scorn his treacherous flatteries without winking – all men, sun-crowned who live above the fog in public duty and private thinking”. So, as we vote on February 14 (and 28th), we should be watchful, prayerful and wise in exercising our franchise as citizens.