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59 years of election fiasco : Combating political haemorrhage

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Nigeria’s 59th anniversary gives us another opportunity to reflect on our nation-building experiences. One area I would like to focus attention on is grassroots participation in the electoral process. We salute the courage and vision of the founding fathers, who toiled to secure independence and set Nigeria on the path of popular participation.

However, synergy between the people and their representatives has been ruptured. Current electoral statistics in Nigeria indicates the existence of political haemorrhage. Fifty-nine years on, Nigeria’s litany of electoral imbroglio has not abated. Haemorrhage is employed as a metaphor to depict the state of politics in Nigeria as manifested in consistent electoral violence, political killings and sundry electoral manipulations.

Let me quickly present some graphic expressions of this haemorrhage which has a regional dimension. Between 2015 and 2019, the total votes cast in the NE and NC increased but SW suffered a decline. In this year’s general elections, SW recorded the highest percentage of rejected and wasted votes; voter turnout was 34% in the region in 2015 whereas it was 50% in NW. In 2019, it was 27% in SW but 44% in NW; SW figure was far lower than those of NC, NE and NW. Thus vote bleeding is severest in the SW. Fringe political parties had a noticeable outing in SW in 2019. Yet, in the market place of politics, votes are the main negotiating instruments.

Rather than pointedly and frankly addressing these challenges as deriving from the failure and absence of strong ideological roots at party formation stage, drowning of dissenting voices within the party structure and absence of elite consensus in SW, they are being approached primarily from the monetary angle. Even then, the rage has not abated. The truth is that an average voter is becoming more confident, resilient and rebellious with the increasing deployment of technology in the electoral process.
To avert the unfolding trend and for there to be a reduction in the cost of conducting elections, we need to revive our embedded cultural and ethical assets and deploy them more in the service of our electoral process both at the front and back end. Nigeria’s President Mohammadu Buhari was able to parade formidable ethical assets rather than raw cash in the 2015 and 2019 general elections.

But as Nigerians, we need not be consistently sceptical or despondent about our own goodness or even remain on the edge of the Slaughter’s Slab in our practice and conception of politics. We should struggle to search for more Pockets of Ethical Islands in Nigeria’s Sea of Scoundrels. The future of Nigeria’s democratization process should, therefore, be anchored on a strong ethical foundation in the context of internal party democracy if robust participation by the people is to be induced in place of peripheral engagement with the electoral process. My message to our political leaders is to plough more ethical assets to drive the electoral process and thereby terminate political bleeding.
All of us as leaders in the Nigerian project need to fine-tune our mindset away from ‘I must win at all cost mentality’ to ‘Let votes determine my political destiny.’ The right to anoint leaders must be conceded to Nigerians. Nigerians must remain resilient. I can see some light at the end of the tunnel. We need to amplify synergy between the state and society and simultaneously remain positive about our country’s prospect.
. Olurode is a distinguished professor of sociology at the University of Lagos and a former electoral commissioner.


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