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No excuse, 2023 elections must hold

By Editorial Board
14 February 2022   |   4:10 am
No alarm can be louder than that sounded the other day by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), warning about real possibility of the 2023 elections not taking place by reason of insecurity.

Festus Okoye

No alarm can be louder than that sounded the other day by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), warning about real possibility of the 2023 elections not taking place by reason of insecurity. Speaking through its Commissioner for Information and Voter Education (IVEC), Festus Okoye, INEC cast doubt on free and fair elections next year because of insecurity in many parts of the country.  Okoye specifically noted that security concern has limited the capacity of the agency to 811 locations out of 2,673 areas earmarked to carry out the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) nationwide. He cited similar challenges hindering the commission to conduct elections to fill vacancies in Zamfara and Kaduna Houses of Assembly. Mr. Okoye insisted that unless relevant security stakeholders rise to neutralise the brewing threat and assure the people of peaceful atmosphere and elections in the troubled Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) areas in 2023, there might be problem.

Ominous as the commission’s alarm might be, it is nevertheless easily conceivable given the free reign of fear, terror, killings, kidnappings and other unimaginable vices being regularly visited on hapless Nigerians, with the government at all levels seemingly too overwhelmed to stop the madness. If Nigerians are confounded by the near national mayhem, their government has proved to be roundly clueless and complacent, if not complicit.

Yet, after 22 years of democracy that has produced very little dividends, the least Nigerians deserve is a premonition that the next election would not be free and fair, if it holds at all. As imperfect as past exercises were, elections remain the only hope of Nigerians to reap peace and progress. There should therefore not be any conjecture that insecurity, or any other reason for that matter, would hinder elections from taking place next year. Indeed, considering the very negative scores posted by the incumbent government at the federal level on vital areas of citizens’ lives, Nigerians earnestly yearn for a crop of new leaders that will reverse the huge misfortune associated with the current leaders.

This is not the first time INEC has expressed security concerns that threaten the performance of its function. It did at the start of its year-long Continuous Voter Registration on July 19, 2021. The insecurity picture being painted is of course real and ominous; It poses a grave challenge to President Muhammadu Buhari to fulfill his duty of staving off insecurity and thus paving way for the crucial election to take place as scheduled. To INEC, political actors, and above all, the Federal Government, no excuses are acceptable for not holding elections as scheduled for Nigeria and her people, come 2023.

The Federal Government should be particularly concerned first because it is the ‘parent organisation’ that established, in accordance with the Constitution, INEC; and it is legally and morally bound to do whatever is necessary to enable the electoral body discharge freely and fairly its constitutional obligations to Nigeria and its people as provided for in the Third Schedule, Part 1, Section 15 (a-i). Second, the Federal Government, as put in Section 10 of the Constitution, has as its ‘primary purpose’  ‘the security and welfare of the people’, including, it must be emphasized, every structure of government constitutionally established to further that dual purpose.

A free and fair election as and when due is critical to that purpose of government. In view of Sections 64 (1) and 135 (2) of the Constitution on the four yearly periodicity of elections, any act of omission or commission on the part of government that denies the electorate the right to vote for the political leadership of its choice as and when due constitutes a threat to the security and welfare of the people and indeed the country.  Muhammadu Buhari, as President and Commander–in-Chief of the Armed Forces’ will be fully held to account for such grave and grievous lapse. It is worth emphasizing that the insecurity situation in Nigeria, though real, is not insurmountable if governments adopt the right approach at the right time. Certainly, the situation does not call for any speculated postponement of the election, as that will occasion more harm than good.

Whereas it is undeniable that Nigeria is confronted with the evils of insurgency, acts of terrorism, kidnapping, robbery and other nation-crippling menace, Nigeria nevertheless is not in a ‘state of war’.  Nigerians should refuse to be taken in by various forms of deceit by vested interests to drive a dishonourable, self-serving narrative that this country is ‘at war’.

For a decade or so, parts of the country have, for political, ethnic and religious motives, been under attack by insurgents. Even as recently as 2019, INEC not only conducted elections in, for example, the Boko Haram- ravaged Borno State in Northeastern part of the country but reportedly had the highest percentage of 41.18 of voters’ turnout in the country from that part.  INEC’s collating officer, Prof. Saminu Ibrahim, announced that 919, 786 valid votes were cast while 35, 419 were rejected votes. Elections similarly held in other insurgency-affected parts of the country and results were declared.  This is one glaring proof that where there is the will, there is a way to do what ought to be done. Therefore, INEC, the three arms of government, and Nigerian politicians must do absolutely nothing to disenfranchise the citizens. No excuse contrived is acceptable against free and fair elections in 2023. President Buhari should put the armed forces on due notice about this.

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