ON Saturday, Nigerians will troop out to exercise their civic rights in the first phase of this year’s general election, namely the presidential and National Assembly elections. The desire to set up a government of their choice through the ballot box is palpable. For the most part in the country’s collective history, this quest to elect a democratic government has been impeded by official insincerity and fraud, the exceptions being the 1993 presidential election and the 2015 general election. In 2015, the Goodluck Jonathan administration gave impetus to electoral reforms under the Professor Attahiru Jega leadership of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The latitude to emplace a procedure for relatively free and fair elections paid off handsomely. Not only did the opposition form a government at the Centre for the first time, the country earned the respect of the international community and the message of peaceful polls resonated across the continent. It was one of its finest hours since the return to civil rule in 1999.
In the hope that the electoral procedure initiated in 2015 which made peaceful change of government possible is still in place, Nigerians are primed to observe the ritual of going to the polls to elect a new government for another four years as stipulated in the 1999 Constitution. The events building up to this point have nonetheless been quite taxing, with INEC being inundated with ceaseless requests from citizens for the Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs), which obviously rattled the electoral body because it could not live up to expectations on that score. Many voters now have to wait until some future date to exercise their voting rights. For now, they have been disenfranchised.
It is imperative for Nigerians to exercise their right to vote and set up a government to run their affairs for the next four years. Even if INEC has not lived up to its billing in terms of comprehensive registration of voters to make for adequately representative democracy, it is still expected to ensure a transparent and credible election. It will be absolutely impossible to exculpate the commission from any detraction from the standards of fairness and transparency in the forthcoming polls. To be sure, elections into public office in Africa and most of the developing and underdeveloped world are still largely susceptible to violence, a phenomenon that is strange to the democratic ethos. It is therefore expected that the various security agencies in the country will live up to their billing during the polls. Their interventions must be professional, prompt, courteous, anticipatory and proactive. It is the ability of the security agencies to perform when stretched by the demands of special situations like elections that can reveal their level of professionalism.
Besides, the conduct of the various gladiators in the elections is also of importance as they go into the elections. It is easy for them to be ensnared by their egos and to resort to violence.But no politician or leader can be greater than the country he or she intends to lead. The contestants are therefore expected to play by the rules and display circumspection in their utterances. Up till now, many of them have failed on this score. They have threatened that foreign election monitors who ‘interfere’ with the elections will go home in body bags and asked their supporters to eat their fill before leaving home, in order to be able to unleash violence. But they are expected to put their country over and above their ambitions. The implosion which they fuel with their incendiary and provocative remarks may not serve their interests ultimately. Ideally, elections are not, by any stretch of the imagination, do-or-die. Elections will always come and go and only those who are alive will participate in future elections. We urge the various gladiators to play by the rules so that they can fight another day if they lose now. Ultimately, the corporate existence of this country should be the core considerations for all the contenders.
Election monitors and the media must be allowed to carry out their responsibilities without hitches. They must not be harassed or intimidated in any from while carrying out their lawful duties as citizens of the free world. The sad situation witnessed in recent elections in the country wherein election observers were reportedly harassed by thugs and security operatives must not recur. Elections must not only be free and fair; they must be seen to be free and fair. In this regard, the objective assessments of monitors will go a long way in strenghtening the country’s democracy.
We implore all the various stakeholders in the general election to give the country the opportunity to enjoy hitch-free polls and be counted as part of the civilised countries of the world. Nothing less will suffice.