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Governorship election and lessons of the postponement

By Editorial Board
10 March 2023   |   4:30 am
Disappointing as the postponement of the governorship elections in the country may seem, given the anxiety and preparedness of Nigerians to cast their votes tomorrow, the rescheduling of the elections from March 11 to March 18, 2023, may be blessing in disguise.

[FILES] Officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) taking materials to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) for the Edo State gubernatorial election in Benin City… yesterday PHOTO: NAN

Disappointing as the postponement of the governorship elections in the country may seem, given the anxiety and preparedness of Nigerians to cast their votes tomorrow, the rescheduling of the elections from March 11 to March 18, 2023, may be a blessing in disguise. T

The postponement followed a ruling by the Court of Appeal in Abuja, sitting as the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, granting the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) the right to reconfigure the Bimodal Voters Accreditation System (BVAS) machine; and the commission’s statement that it will need five working days to reconfigure BVAS used in the 176,974 polling units where voting will take place for the election.

The development provides perhaps a rare chance and privilege for INEC to execute a credible election that will be acceptable to majority of Nigerians and the international community. This time around, Nigerians expect nothing short of a free and fair election. In the long run, if all the chequered events are anything to go by, the 2023 elections may well be the litmus test for the survival of Nigeria’s fragile unity and democracy.

It is gratifying that the court took reasonable steps to protect the rights of political parties challenging the result of the presidential election to preserve and inspect election materials to support their claim of a flawed election of February 25, 2023; while at the same time making it possible for INEC to conduct the gubernatorial election. Specifically, the court ruled that the two political parties disputing the presidential election results, Labour Party (LP) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), can apply for certified true copies of backend data of BVAS.

The ruling, delivered by a three-member panel, led by Justice Joseph Ikyegh, effectively removed fears that the aggrieved parties might not get justice if INEC was allowed to reconfigure the BVAS machines. No doubt, many Nigerians are disappointed with the postponement of the election, but it seems to be inevitable if the commission is to be held accountable for the election’s conduct.

Already the stakes are high and last minute permutations are taking on frenetic and violent dimensions in many states of the federation. On the one hand, a new political consciousness generated by youth social media advocacy is wrestling power with the old politicking class. Regrettably, none of the two divides appear devoid of money politics, nepotism and cronyism.

On the other hand, incumbency is in a desperate fight not to succumb to change; and this fact has been noticeable in many states including Lagos, Ogun, Delta, Rivers and Kano. Sadly, pockets of violence and tragedies springing up are being given political colouration that may complicate the prevalent high tension.

Never before has the southern elite been so bitterly polarised along ethnic and religious lines as this present moment. The bigotry has been so inanely conjured that it is worth questioning why such bitterness has been pent up for so long in the minds of the elite. This is sad for a country with so much potential and a promising youth population seeking guidance.

With a generous budget provided for the general elections amidst biting economic crunch, INEC could have performed better than it did at last Saturday’s presidential election, particularly in the light of obvious malfunction and technological drawbacks of the BVAS machine which the commission described as ‘technical hitches’ Moreover, INEC had assured Nigerians that the results would be transmitted electronically to prevent any suspicion of fraud. Now that the commission has assured that all data of the last elections are secured, it must ensure that its configuration of the BVAS machine does not distort the rights of the complainants to preserve election materials.

This distrust does not befall on INEC alone, as security officers appeared to have been overwhelmed or caught napping in the last election. Notably, however, some arrests of troublemakers were made nationwide; the police should follow this up to ensure that the guilty is sanctioned appropriately.

Some security personnel neither enforced the law nor secured their polling units as some voters were reportedly attacked or assaulted by political thugs in some polling units, and in the presence of security operatives.

Despite efforts by the government and well-meaning Nigerians to ensure that citizens exercise their civic responsibility without fear of molestation, there are unscrupulous Nigerians bent on truncating this democratic process by intimidating people and violently compelling them to vote for candidates against their wishes.

To ensure adequate delivery of proper law and security enforcement, police officers and civil defence operatives must be satisfactorily mobilised for the task. Security operatives should be disciplined enough not to be partisan and be willing to deter miscreants from fomenting trouble at the polls.

It is important for the courts and judicial authorities to manage grievances on the elections professionally and without bias. Public sentiments now indicate apparent distrust for the establishment as well as perceived misgivings for the capacity and willingness of the judiciary to execute justice.

Past events of judicial infelicities in which courts became the handmaids of politicians and the recent supposed disregard of the Supreme Court ruling by state authorities are examples of executive rascality that sends dangerous signals to the public.

The argument here is this: if courts as sacred temples of justice could be wantonly abused, disregarded and desecrated by the power and financial weight of politicians, then they cannot be trusted to execute justice for the insignificant common man.

Nevertheless, Nigerians should be aware of the power of their voices and votes, because the triumph of the people’s power is evident in the turn of events. This is the time for Nigerians to be calm, orderly and circumspect. Elections as means to an end, should not be taken as a matter of life and death. All hands must be on deck for the common good.

It is time also for legal teams representing politicians to rise above the narrow-minded interests of their clients or the pecuniary benefits of their services as they pursue the cause of justice. They should put on the moral armour of sagacious thinking, courage and a sense of the public good. This is the time to think Nigeria. And all these demand sacrifice, patience and persistence.

The postponement of the governorship election provides Nigeria with a second chance to reverse the missed opportunities of past elections. Much as the electorate and party officials should organise themselves to elect the candidates of their choice, they should be diligent in exercising their franchise in accordance with laid down rules as provided by the Electoral Act.

They should be reminded that the right to campaign for candidates of their choice is not a licence to engage in criminality and whip up ethnic and religious sentiments. Party chieftains, religious groups and community associations should enlighten their members on the extant laws against hate speech and all forms of discrimination.

While INEC deserves commendation for the management of the election process by many of its well-meaning staff and field partners, the much acclaimed BVAS machine that was touted as the game changer performed below par.

Nigerians expect that with the approved reconfiguration, the BVAS machine will perform with far better output than last Saturday’s elections. Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu and his staff must deliver credibility and justify the resource and excellent manpower expended on the 2023 election.