Towards ensuring credible, violence-free elections in 2015
ONE of the most critical targets that have continued to elude the country right from the period of independence to date has been the issue of how to organise and conduct a free, credible and violence free elections in the country. An election that is transparently free and fair, devoid of malpractices and violence. Elections that would further unite rather than divide the country. Such elections have remained one of the many sad, saddening failures of the Nigeria government for a long while.
This is evident in the Nigerian political history which is heavily replete with horrifying details of electoral crises resulting from either the inability of the electoral body to conduct elections that truly represent the wishes and desires of the Nigerian voters or allowing itself to be influenced unduly by the political class with some of them resulting to crises and instability.
For example, the first military coup in Nigeria which took place on January 15, 1966, was part of the fallouts of the electoral crises of 1965. In 1983, the military struck again following squabbles over which party between the National Party of Nigeria, NPN and Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN, won the presidential election.
Sadly again, in 1993,the country’s unity was severely tested following a cancelation of the presidential election widely presumed to have been won by the Social Democratic Party’s candidate, MKO Abiola. In fact, the country’s inability to conduct credible polls had resulted in a situation where almost if not all the electoral results in the country were usually challenged in courts as people seemed to have so lost hope in the electoral body to believe the results it declared.
But Nigeria can still right its electoral wrongs, reduce if not totally eradicate the controversies and violence that often accompany most elections in the country, build voter’s confidence on the electoral body and brighten the country ‘s electoral image among civilised nations. There is the chance to do this in the forthcoming February 2015 General Elections in the country. In the light of the security challenges bedevilling the country and escalating ethnic and religious suspicions, our nation can only be saved from disintegration by ensuring that the forthcoming General Elections are free, fair, credible and free of violence.
To achieve the very important objective of credible and violence free election next month, the President, Goodluck Jonathan, the chairman and management of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, all the participating political parties, political players, security agencies and, of course, the electorate must be ready to stick to all the rules and regulations guiding both the conduct of elections and public order and decorum.
For example, the President and Commander-in-Chief of Armed Forces, Dr. Jonathan, although a participant in the election, must understand that he is under oath and moral obligation to uphold the constitution and to protect the lives and property of the Nigerian people. He should, therefore, resist any temptation to meddle or interfere with the outcome of the election which is capable of impugning its credibility and integrity. He should as a contestant, keep away from anything that is capable of influencing the normal course of the elections.
In the same vein, the Independent National Electoral Commission under the leadership of Prof. Atahiru Jega should do well to read the national mood of zero tolerance for malpractice under any guise. The agency should treat and relate with all political parties equally and transparently, organise its workforce and materials on time as Nigerians will not be tolerating the late arrival of election materials to polling stations. Rather than give excuses during and after the elections, INEC should begin now to put every logistics in place to forestall such occurrence and be ready to announce results at each polling booth before proceeding to the collation centres. INEC should do away now with any thought, no matter how minute, of manipulating elections to favour any political party or candidate.
To ensure free fair, credible and violence free elections next month, participating political parties and political players across the country themselves, have roles to play. First, political parties should begin to unveil their manifestoes and programmes of action towards convincing voters. The endemic tendency among political parties to ignore this and instead rely on hired thugs and hoodlums to intimidate electors into voting candidates against their choices will not be tolerated. Any political party or politician seen using thugs to disrupt the election should be deemed to have violated the exercise and should be severely punished. Also, political parties and politicians should be ready to accept the verdict of the electorate and forget the idea of inciting youths to violence when they clearly lose.
To have credible and violence free election without the security agencies is to be imagining the impossible .To this end, the Nigeria Police, the Directorate of State Security, the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps and all the relevant security agencies should begin now to train and equip their men towards the election. They should show patriotism and avoid partiality to any party or politician, shun corruption and protect the citizens from harassment by parties or politicians. Security agencies should be making arrangements to deploy security personnel to communities and polling centres across the country few days before the election to prepare grounds for an orderly and peaceful conduct of elections. The idea of waiting until the Election Day has proven dangerous as cases abound of how unscrupulous elements perfect plans for violence and election riggings days ahead of the election. Such elements move guns and fake materials around. Security personnel should be moved days before the election to forestall such an ugly occurrence.
The electorate, of course, also have a big role to play. Nigeria has come to such a bad pass that we need in this country credible leadership to tackle the myriad of our challenges headlong and move our country forward. But can credible leaders be elected without credible elections? No. The Nigerian electorate owe a duty to their conscience and to this nation to cast their votes only for those political parties and aspirants who have the competence, sense of service, selflessness and patriotism needed for the overall transformation of this country. Voters should not engage in vote-selling through collection of cash or material things from political parties or politicians to vote persons without vision and sense of service, unless we want this country to remain in the current condition.
If all the stakeholders in the forthcoming General Election would agree to play by the rules, stick to the above stated responsibilities, rules and regulations and eschew violence, then Nigerians’ dream of free and fair elections next month, as well as its quest for a functional Nigeria, would be possible.
• Chijioke lives in Abakaliki