The moment of truth
February 16, 2019. The moment of truth is upon us. We have witnessed months of mega rallies and mammoth crowds. In less than 24 hours as you read this column, a little over 84 million registered Nigerian voters go to the polls tomorrow, to help us make sense of the true meaning of the mega rallies and the mammoth crowds in terms of the popularity and acceptability of the two front runners in the presidential election. Despite all the shakara by the politicians, the political fate of the men and and women struggling for elective offices in the executive and the legislative branches of government at the federal level tomorrow lies firmly in the hands of the poor electorate.
As we troop to the thousands of voting booths throughout the country, one thing should weigh on our minds as Nigerians: the future of our country. The future of our country, for good or ill, would be determined by who gets our vote tomorrow. We could either fall into the temptation of selling our conscience for the crumbles from the tables of the power seekers or we could resist it and act in a manner that puts our collective interests as a people and as a nation above personal financial gains. Either way, it is our call.
I know this has never been an easy decision by the electorate in our dear country. The intrusion of money on the conscience in an electorate ravaged by poverty in the midst of plenty does not help matters. When the gale of financial inducement or intimidation, bends the voters in the direction not of their choice, it does some harm to the spirit of democracy as well as the fairness and the integrity of our elections. The consequence would be the crippling cynical attitude of the people to the discharge of their civic and other critical responsibilities. The other is voter apathy. People tend to resort to the unproductive sit-don look option if they feel that their votes would not count and that giving them a chance to vote is a well-oiled ruse. Experience has repeatedly taught the electorate not to believe their choices would be respected by the men who own the land.
Voting in an election is more than a mere civic duty. It is the means by which a sacred bond of trust is forged between the people and their leaders in a democracy. The ballot box and the ballot paper are the sacred instruments of this bond of trust. It is a pity that quite often both the ballot box and the ballot paper are profaned in the mindless contest for power. Still every election offers the people the chance to strengthen that bond both by retaining old faces or injection new blood into the system. The choices we make at each election season should be informed by what we believe would be best for our country.
This has not always been an easy decision to make. Part of the problem is that Nigeria is forced to contend with some fault lines that tend to intrude on our sense of judgement. But we are in luck. For the first time in the political history of our country, neither religion nor ethnicity would, be factors in our decision in the presidential election because it does not easily fit into the familiar fault lines that agitate the nation. The two leading presidential candidates, President Muhammadu Buhari (APC) and the former vice-president, Atiku Abubakar (PDP), are both Hausa/Fulani and northern Muslims. All things being equal, this should make it easier for the people to make their choice based on variables other than tribes and religions.
The emergence of the two men in their respective political parties throws up something that should be of more than passing interest to those who cynically exploit our ethnic and religious differences. The people are not bothered by them. Recall that in the 1993 presidential election, the SDP Muslim-Muslim ticket of the late Moshood Abiola and Baba Gana Kingibe was the choice of the people. In saying this, I am not unmindful of those who are bent on resorting to the frightful spectre of ethnicity and religion to win political support.
This year’s elections should bolster our faith in the deepening of our democracy and the conduct of free and fair election. And this, for good reason. The electoral umpire under the chairmanship of Professor Mahmoud Yakubu is more prepared than ever to conduct elections whose outcome would be accepted by both the winners and losers. Yakubu has taken every step he deemed critical to strengthening the integrity and the competence of INEC as the pillar of our democracy.
You can judge how well he has done so far by the fact that the politicians are not pleased with him. Instead, ever suspicious, they choose to weave conspiracy theories to denigrate the commission and its chairman. It is all borne out of fear of losing. But it is both unfair and irresponsible.
And that brings us to the fact there is a mounting fear of election violence throughout the country although some states are more prone to this than others. Genuine efforts have been made to stave off this long before now. The National Peace Committee headed by the former head of state, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, persuaded the parties and their presidential candidates to sign a peace accord months to the elections in which they committed themselves to a peaceful conduct of the elections. This has not engendered confidence in the people. So far, none of them has strictly adhered to the terms of the peace accord. The electioneering campaigns failed to live up to the billing as issued-based. This leaves the electorate in a quandary. The basis on which each man gets our votes ought to be clear to us by now.
It would be such a great pity if the elections are marred by violence for any reasons. We have a collective responsibility to ensure that no one remains in or steps into public office on the bodies of fellow Nigerians. The greater portion of this grave responsibility for this lies squarely on the shoulders of Buhari and the ruling party. These elections are being conducted under the president’s watch. Whatever happens tomorrow and March 2 would either make or mar his legacy as a Nigerian leader. He must fail to be mindful of that. Power tends to imprison those who love it.