Tuesday, 28th June 2022
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Election war in Nigeria

Any mention of the war in a country that lived firsthand the attritional horrors of the civil war of 1967-70 is bound to evoke strong feelings and open old wounds.

Ballot Papers

Sir: Any mention of the war in a country that lived firsthand the attritional horrors of the civil war of 1967-70 is bound to evoke strong feelings and open old wounds. Such is the power of words, the power of language to take people on flights of fancy and horror. Today, there is even reluctance to brand the raging conflicts occupying the attention of many parts of the country as war because the word carries in its unspoken weight many woes and wounds.
In 1999, Nigeria returned to the path of democracy, and for the first time in decades, there was genuine hope that the country could relinquish its troubled past scarred in many spots by scores of military coups and the consequent depredations of the public treasury by each military dictator who swept into power.

This path of democracy invariably meant a return to the pristine gift of the ballot box and the world of possibilities it opens up during elections. A giant country stood sorely in need of that gift and that alternate world, especially after the trauma of the botched 1993 presidential elections won by the inimitable MKO Abiola and his tragic death while in detention that would always remain the hallmark of dictatorial wickedness.
The election that brought the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) into power in 1999 was not perfect but at least it was something to build on. But any such hope that it could be built on was quickly and harshly extinguished as the chicanery of the 2003 elections soon turned into a merciless mockery of democracy. In 2007, salt was yet added to Nigerian injuries as even Musa Yar`Adua (of blessed memory), who was elected president, bemoaned the irregularities in the elections that brought him to power.
In 2011, Muhammadu Buhari, who would be elected president four years later in historic elections, openly bewailed the conduct of elections he lost handsomely. The election of 2015 was still marred by irregularities. The same can be said of the exercise of 2019.
Elections in Nigeria have continued to improve with each year as the adoption of technology by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the increasing sophistication of the average Nigerian voter gain traction. However, many grey areas remain. These grey areas have a lot to do with the mentality of the average Nigerian voter and Nigerian politician.

As the structures, which contribute to free and fair elections have been improved, another problem has sprung up, one which is perhaps uglier than all its predecessors put together: vote-buying. Simply put, vote-buying implies the exchange of votes for cash or any other item deemed valuable during elections. This has quickly become a huge problem as it is predictably more difficult to combat than the sheer plunder of ballot boxes.

Now, the average Nigerian politician knows the role cash can play over choices in Nigerian elections. Thus, before elections, more time is spent pooling funds and powering the war chest with which to buy votes than on preparing detailed manifestoes, complete with proposals and action plans.
Among Nigerians, there is an overwhelming and overriding mentality that Nigerian politics is dirty, irredeemably dirty at that. This is because, for many stakeholders in Nigerian politics, it is a do-or-die affair, a cut-throat rat race where everything, including assassination, witch-hunt, blackmail, betrayal and mudslinging, is permitted.
So, when Election Day comes around, elections become war chiefly because, in the prevailing atmosphere of impunity in Nigeria, power is a ticket to practically anything. The 2023 general election in Nigeria is less than a year away and indications are that it is going to be as fierce a contest as the country has had in recent memory. Yet, all stakeholders must tread with caution. The biggest players must especially call their supporters to order and drum into them that Nigeria is not at war and will never again go to war for any reason.

When Goodluck Jonathan, who showed uncommon graciousness when he lost the 2015 presidential election even as an incumbent, stated in the run-up to the election that his ambition was not worth the blood of any Nigerian, his words resounded across the whole of Africa where many times elections are as much about counting votes as counting corpses.
It is in the gift of the ballot box that democracy bestows what is perhaps its greatest gift, and guarantees that which is so dear to every citizen: the power of choice. This gift is central to the destiny and development of countries like Nigeria, which aspire to move from the third world to developed countries.

Nigeria must continue to work to see the day when elections are seen not as a war but as the expression of democracy`s greatest privilege. To get to this day, all those who save their sharpened swords for Election Day must be forced to change tack.
• Kene Obiezu.