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INEC’s nightmare before elections

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Not so long ago, some wise folks got together under President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration and decided to solve Nigeria’s election problems once and for all. At that time, most people agreed that the country needed an electoral Act to help contain some political anomalies that has eaten into the fabrics of the nation’s election process. The electoral Act, it was argued could help bring about regulations to govern Nigeria’s political activities, by way of stipulating limit of campaign finance and transparency, curb campaign language to avoid hate speech and allow Nigeria’s democracy a robust space to evolve among others. This is because, each time Nigerian voters are called to the polls, the options before them are often worse than the previous exercise.

Therefore, in no small measure one has to pity Nigerian voters because they are being subjected to a barrage of distortion, dissembling and disinformation without precedent in the founding fathers politics of ideas and inclusiveness. Aside the bottleneck voters have to endure before exercising their franchise to vote, the political parties on the ballot especially the major parties that have over the years steadily grown further apart as they project self as lord of the ring, in their stronghold areas causing electoral violence and anarchy. Therefore, Nigeria’s electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is already having nightmares as the eyes of the world will soon be focused on it during the 2023 general elections. Of course, the country is acutely awake as the polity is already feeling some mild heat. Nowadays, barely a day goes by in the social media or the public square being the stage ground for discussions regarding the contradictions and tempestuous atmosphere that the elections may bring. To betray the above thinking INEC and the political elite should deal with every election issues speedily, openly and honestly.

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As the matter stands now, there is no foretelling to which end, the pendulum may swing, is it, East, South, West or North the presidency would switch? However, one thing is sure, INEC’s eyes are focused on the 2023 elections, but its mind is potentially occupied with multiple worries about how to achieve free and credible polls irrespective of the proposed amendments of the electoral Act. This consuming fear came to bear the other day, when the commission’s chairman, Mahmood Yakubu through his representative INEC’s National Commissioner of Information and Voter Education, Festus Okoye, at a three-day retreat of the joint technical committee on the electoral Act amendment Bill 2020 said that amending the Electoral Act without commitment from stakeholders to do things differently cannot guarantee free and fair elections.

As a demonstration of good faith and the exemplification of an unbiased umpire, INEC should also try to clean up its house that is littered with widespread problems in the registration of voters and poor conduct of some of its officials among others. This is to avoid revealing the real character of any political party or politician in Nigeria which is much better understood through defeats in election than through victories. In reality, Nigerians have known the answer to a free, fair and credible election for a long time. In a different clime where rule of law and the Constitution is respected, free polls are achieved without any issues. Like INEC rightly pointed out, 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. However, it is important to note that historically, election umpire’s image in Nigeria is not so palatable. No thanks to the ugly irregularities that further produce disquieting results, either victorious or failure, because it sometimes chokes the candidates to death.

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Taking aim at various fashionable absurdities of political activities, there is need to focus in the aftermath of the previous polls, which recorded among others the worst underage voting, curious figures of registered voters and votes in the history of elections in the country. Therefore, the electoral Act is another indicator that the call for amendment is fast becoming a defining line in Nigeria’s politics. Hence, INEC once again noted that, the renewed drive is timely and must be sustained and approached with a sense of history and urgency. Notwithstanding, achieving that vision looks further away among political parties in light of the fact that parties no longer thrive under any strong ideology, hence the indiscriminate cross-carpeting of politicians between parties. The great disappointment in all this is that it weakens the opposition parties and creates a gap of bitter animosity among them. Of course, there is no smooth path through this perilous mess, but if political institutions and politicians do stand up as it should and obey the rule of law, then free, fair and credible polls will flourish.

Of course, it is no longer news that Nigeria’s politics is now host to the virus of lies, deception and digital skullduggery all in the name to win elections. Hence, political transitions from one civilian era to another have always been problematic since independence. Indeed, the political class owes itself a huge duty to ensure that individual, selfish ambition and narrow political considerations should not stand in the way of free, fair and credible elections. This will indicate faith in the rule of law, and a commitment to the cause of peace during electioneering period.

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INECOlusegun Obasanjo
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