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March 9 elections Nigeria must win too

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[FILES] Staff of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) carry an installed ballot stand at a polling station. PHOTO: Yasuyoshi CHIBA / AFP

This Saturday, March 9, the Governorship, State Houses of Assembly and the Federal Capital Territory Area Councils elections will be held, following the conclusion of the Presidential, Senatorial and House of Representatives’ elections that held on February 23. The importance of the election should be noted too by all active citizens.

Notwithstanding the strange postponement, as well as pockets of untoward incidents that marked the exercise, the first round has been given a pass mark as peaceful by some observers. Besides, results announced are though being contested, there are no fighters in the street: the runner-up has signified intention to challenge the outcome in a court of law. This is a democratic process that will certainly dignify our 20-year-old unbroken democracy. There is therefore a sense in which we can claim that Nigeria’s democracy culture is emerging.

However, to improve upon the next round of elections this weekend, there are lessons that stakeholders must learn from the February 23 elections.  The postponement of the first round of elections was blamed on logistics failure. This overarching failing caused the delay in the commencement and therefore, an extension of voting in some places. The embarrassment was not of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) alone, it reflected on Nigeria as a nation with a weak organising capability.  This should not at all happen again and it is gratifying that one outcome of the INEC post-election review is its determination to rectify the challenges before Saturday elections.

There were too many complaints with the malfunctioning of the smart card readers. And where they were not faulty, there were reports that some electoral officers curiously refused to use them. These can indeed happen again so, INEC must devise a preventive measure to check this rather than rely on the option of cancelling and conducting supplementary elections at a future date. If the nation is not yet ready for a technology-driven process, by all means let us employ a method that works and is trustworthy. Furthermore, it seems the interest of physically challenged persons was not sufficiently provided for in the last election. There are media reports of visually impaired persons who could not vote because of the shoddy manner that the braille ballot guide provided by INEC was handled at various locations. This needs to be corrected.

Security has been generally adjudged inadequate with the consequence that hoodlums could invade polling stations and even collation centres to disrupt activities.  Not a few polling units were covered by only a single -and possibly unarmed- police officer who could certainly do little in a crisis situation. A video coverage in the social media of a hapless policeman trying so ineffectively to stop thugs overturn ballot boxes is humiliating and unacceptable. Where were other officers in a second concentric circle of security that he could and should have called up as advertised? That is not good enough. For the important assignment of a national election, will it be out of place for the Federal Government to avail INEC of more policemen drawn from the many personnel protecting the countless Very Important Persons (VIPs) across the country? We should think not. If only for a few days, one expects the highly placed will be patriotic enough to make such sacrifice for the higher collective good. The INEC has noted that while most security personnel did their duty in a professional manner, “the conduct of certain members of the security agencies in some states is a matter of serious concern to the commission.”

The election management body has promised to fix the challenge within the relevant committee on election security.

It is, however, regrettable that in disregard to a subsisting judicial order, soldiers have to be deployed during the conduct of a purely civil affair such as an election. In March 2015, Justice Ibrahim Buba of the Federal High Court in Lagos described this as “anti-democratic,” as be ruled that, “the armed forces have no role in elections” and that “the state is obligated to ensure that citizens exercise their franchise freely and unmolested.”

While it may be understandable that military personnel can be drafted to support the recognised function of the overstretched police in times of election, we insist that the military role must be minimal and operate only within the third and outermost concentric circle of security. The reported behaviour of some military personnel during the presidential election in parts of the country is wrong and anti-democratic. That can impair cohesion and violate human rights and freedom, one of the most visible dividends of democracy.

All blame for a flawed electoral process cannot, in fairness, go to the electoral umpire alone; the electorate and the political contestants have their shares of responsibility.

The desecrating behaviour of the political class that takes the contest ‘more like a war’ in which they not only mobilise the thugs but fund vote buying has been noted.  Some monitors of the last election have remarked that the misconduct by political parties has undermined the integrity of the elections and the ability of some citizens to vote. What is worse, these electoral offences would not occur without the collusion of Nigerians. There will be no vote buying without vote selling. This is not an INEC inadequacy.

Even as INEC bears the pivotal burden for the conduct of a peaceful and fair election, the voters have both a duty and a very crucial role to ensure such an outcome. Tip O’Neil, former U.S. House Speaker reminds us all the time that, ‘all politics is local’. So too are all elections: local, after all. The elections to fill the positions of governors and members of state houses of assembly are of great importance to the grassroots because these officials, governors and state legislators conduct governance affairs that have immediate and direct impact on the lives of the people. For this reason, we strongly urge all qualified citizens to take keen interest in and participate in the March 9 elections to elect leaders of their choice.

Besides that it is a civic duty of every responsible person of age, a citizen may only claim the moral right to interrogate and to comment in favour of, or against the conduct of government he has voted for in an election. Men and women of capacity must take active part in the affairs of their nation or be condemned to suffer under the mis-governance of incapable leaders. So, we have a responsibility to ensure that this weekend’s local elections take place peacefully. The outcome of the exercise too will enhance our bid for federalism. Combined effects of the quality of governance in the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Government will, in the main, determine the level of development of the country. So, show interest in elections in your state this weekend. The majesty of democracy we often talk about will be a mirage if its foundation is wobbly in the states.


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