Barring last-minute maneuvers, Nigerians shall file out on Saturday this week – March 28 – to elect their President and National Assembly members, and on April 11 to elect their governors (in affected states) and state legislators nationwide.
The elections, which were initially scheduled to hold on February 14 and 28, 2015 respectively, had been rescheduled under controversial circumstances for security and logistic reasons.
The nation had swirled through somber political clouds of uncertainties, hate speeches, advertisements and propaganda in the last six months or so to arrive at this moment – one week to the election – where the signposts of apprehension, fear and uncertainties refuse to disappear.
Without mincing words, the tone, form and content of the campaigns make the 2015 elections the most threatened and endangered polls in the nation’s 56-year-old political history and 16-year-old ongoing democracy. The election will go down in history as one whose campaigns were short on issues and long on hate and spurious propaganda. It will also be remembered as the election which gave the international community the greatest concern and left them with no option but to intervene.
The concern of the international community and the nation is justified. In the previous elections, campaigns were relatively peaceful, issues-based and showed no invitation to violence at periods when the nation’s security situation and the state of the economy were better. Yet, those elections were tainted with electoral violence – killings, rigging, ballot box hijack, arson, etc-. In the 2015 elections, campaigns have been characterized by hate propaganda, chaotic and directionless campaigns and open attempts at discrediting the process at a time when the nation’s security and economy are in dire straits.
Last week, there were still alleged clandestine and sponsored moves to heat up the polity. For instance, there were calls, two weeks to the election, by alleged sponsored groups, for the removal of the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Professor Attahiru Jega. The media was also awash with the news of alleged nocturnal meetings to derail the process and create a stalemate despite public angst and intervention from the international community.
The situation appears to have said the stage for violence. Yet, the card reader, which INEC said would eliminate electoral malpractice and, by extension, violence has come under attack by even organizations and people that should know better.
This is preposterous and unacceptable. A week to general elections should be a period of consolidation by parties and their candidates and a moment for the electoral body to perfect its logistics and election processes. Not a period to heat up the polity and distract the election umpire.
No doubt, there can be no reason for further shifting of the elections one week to the poll, especially now that the military authorities have confirmed that they are on top of the insecurity in the North East; now that INEC has assured the nation that over 85 per cent of registered voters have collected their permanent voter cards; and now that the card readers have been confirmed to be functional and the grey areas have been addressed by the electoral umpire.
With the political climate adjudged clement and with President Goodluck Jonathan assuring the nation that May 29 handover date is sacrosanct, the stakeholders should show responsibility by playing the electoral game according to the rules.
During this week of consolidation, the two leading parties and their candidates should heed the voice of reason from local and international quarters by reining in their belligerent aides and sheathing their swords.
All forms of hate propaganda – speeches, advertisements, documentaries – protests and obnoxious political intrigues capable of heating up the polity must cease.
When political parties and their candidates concentrate on issues, the quality of campaigns will be robust while the polity will have the possibility of growth and development. Besides, the candidates of the two leading parties, themselves leaders of the nation in their respective capacities as former and incumbent leaders of the nation, wear the garb of elder statesmen with pride and dignity. The events of the last six months have put a stain on that garb. But the events of this one week ahead provide an ample opportunity to extinct the stain.
When the elections are finally won and lost, the loser should be gallant in defeat while the winner should be magnanimous in victory. As elder statesmen, they should realize that their services to the nation earned them that status and that their ability to bow to the majesty of democracy and the verdict of the people will make them to retain that status.
All the political parties should desist from embarking on acts that may compromise the electoral process and the elections, while also reining in their unscrupulous members who have the tendency to engage in electoral malpractices and ignite violence.
When elections are held, the people speak. When they speak loudly enough, the winner emerges. But when they don’t speak loudly enough, they speak again through a run-off. Any other option is illegal, unconstitutional and null and void. The 1999 Constitution (as amended) and the Electoral Act 2010 [as amended] are the only guiding rules for the election. Both books must be observed to the letter.
Their Lordships before whom there are a plethora of litigation on the 2015 elections should discharge their duties bearing in mind the sacrosanctity of the security, peace and unity of the nation. They must realize that where there is a conflict between legal propriety and the security/integration of the nation, the latter takes precedence.
While the civil society should engage in full participation in the elections, the security agencies should shun any compromise from any quarters as their loyalty must lie with the nation, especially at this defining moment.
More than ever before, the citizenry needs to troop out en masse to vote and ensure that their votes count.
INEC, the electoral umpire, has received too much flak and battering not to do a good and impartial job in these elections. The body’s insistence on the rules and delivering a free, fair and credible election is the only vindication it has in this period of trial. The body has restated that the use of reader cards is the only guarantee for eliminating electoral malpractices and entrenching free, fair and credible elections.
The nation and the world believe the electoral umpire, support it and wait to see it lead the nation to successful polls after harrowing and horrendous months of apprehension and uncertainties.