Amid growing insecurity and tension pervading the land, Nigerians are understandably concerned about the 2023 general election: its feasibility, credibility, and whether their votes will count.
Necessarily, however, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and other relevant agencies or organs of government must not relent in perfecting the election machinery to a reasonable level. It is true, as INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu said, that amending the Electoral Act without a commitment from stakeholders to do things differently, cannot guarantee free and fair elections. Nevertheless, the first step of amending the law to plug loopholes for irregularities will be a huge step towards achieving free and fair elections in the country.
The proposals now sitting before the National Assembly are based on observations of previous elections, recommendations by critical stakeholders comprising security agencies, political parties/agents, domestic and foreign observers and members of the public. Nigerians have witnessed how politicians continue to take advantage of the loopholes in the current electoral legal framework, to exploit the process and truncate the will of the people. There is need for an electoral legal framework that will amongst other things, guarantee the autonomy of the Commission in the management and operations of its affairs, without the undue interference of the government of the day. The critical players involved in the passage of the amendment bill should appreciate its importance to the development of our democracy and should not allow themselves to be swayed by political sentiments.
But the INEC boss was succinct when he said: “The Constitution and Electoral Act can enhance the electoral process if the electoral management body, political parties and the electoral actors, the security agencies, the media and civil society organisations, effectively play their roles.” Indeed everyone has a role to play. Religious, traditional and community leaders should openly but sincerely speak out against violence, irrespective of the partisan leaning of the community. In the run-up to the 2020 governorship election in Edo State, many observers had feared that the process would be marred by violence owing to the acrimony between the major actors and that the ruling party might deplore its “federal might” to influence the election’s outcome. However, the process, though not perfect, was adjudged to be relatively fair, partly because critical stakeholders played by the rules.
The Commission plays perhaps the most critical role in the electoral process serving as both facilitator and regulator. Incidents of missing ballot sheets, late arrival of materials and other logistics such as last-minute postponement of elections only serve to discourage the electorate who already entertains a deep mistrust for the process. The lack of confidence in the system is largely responsible for the attitude of most Nigerians refraining from playing an active role of either voting for candidates of their choice or vying for political office. The Commission must thus ensure that adequate preparations are made for a smooth process.
Politicians on their part must understand that irrespective of their party affiliations, the common goal is the provision of good governance for the people. Election should never be a ‘‘do or die affair’’ and no aspirant is worth spilling blood for. Political positions are a call to service, not personal enterprises motivated by profits or bloody sports for which violent and fatal competitions are means. Experience has shown that arms provided for political thugs during elections, end up being tools for robberies and kidnappings after the election.
Nigerians must realise that ultimate power rests with the people, and the best way of exercising this power is through the electoral process. In spite of the number of intellectuals, men and women of integrity that straddle the various works in the country, Nigerians have had the misfortune of being led by persons of questionable characters who rob the nation of her commonwealth and put her development in reverse gear. This is because those who know better chose to disassociate themselves from the process thus leaving the political space to urchins. As the saying goes, evil triumph when good men do nothing in the face of tyranny. Nigerians must own the electoral process, first by acquiring their permanent voters’ card, turn out to vote on days of the election, and make sure that their votes count to elect a responsible and responsive government whose ultimate interest will be the security and welfare of the people.