The critical stakeholders must strengthen the system by playing fair
In compliance with the guidelines and timetable of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for the 2019 general election, many of the registered political parties have submitted the names of their candidates to the electoral body. In a matter of days, we expect the campaigns to begin. However, we cannot gloss over the process through which many of these candidates emerged. If anything, the primaries of the leading political parties offered glimpses of the formidable challenge ahead in 2019. In the case of the fringe parties, names of candidates were just announced against different offices after some hollow rituals. But the real challenge was with the main political parties.
Ordinarily, the essence of the primaries was to give party members the opportunity to help the democratic process by nominating for election people with character and competence. But in most instances, the process turned out largely to be impunity writ large. The manipulations, the brawls, the bad blood and even killings, particularly in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), and to some extent, the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), heightened the political temperature and rekindled ominous memories of the past.
From Lagos to Delta to Akwa Ibom and Imo, and from Kaduna to Zamfara to Gombe, the APC and PDP primaries in many of the states, particularly for the governorship and National Assembly, were marred by widespread fraud, monetisation and lack of respect for democratic norms and competition. In the APC for instance, despite the good intention of the Adams Oshiomhole-led National Working Committee (NWC) to give everybody a level-playing field, the process was hijacked in many of the states by sundry godfathers and overbearing out-going governors. At the end, even the INEC had to join the fray by announcing that it would not allow the APC to field candidates for Zamfara State for flouting its deadline for the conduct of the primaries. The APC has vowed to challenge the action in court but we commend INEC for standing firm on the issue.
To the extent that a free and fair election is a basic requirement of democratic governance and an antidote to civil disorder, it is important for critical institutions of state to discharge their responsibility in a dispassionate manner. But we are increasingly worried by the posture of the Inspector General of Police, Mr Ibrahim Idris who has shown himself to be very partisan. He has already created in Akwa Ibom an atmosphere that violates the environment for free, fair and credible poll with the manner the state government was harassed over the issue of APC billboard that ordinarily should not be his concern.
Given the foregoing, as we race towards the 2019 election, some awful questions stare everyone in the face: If intra-party primaries could be deeply flawed, vicious, chaotic, polarising and bloody, what should we expect during the election when the stakes will be much higher? What can be done to ensure that the 2019 election is conducted in an atmosphere of peace? How do we ensure that political campaigns do not degenerate to open combat? And what can be done to ease the task of INEC in conducting a free and credible election next year? How can the police stay out of the political fray by not acting in manner that suggests its men are out to rig the election for the party in power?
These are difficult questions that must be answered as we inch towards the 2019 general election against the background of recent reports of attempts to smuggle in some weapons and guns into a country already teeming with all manner of weaponry and ammunition. Although the authorities have issued some tame assurance about containing the situation, what is paramount is to ensure that the rules and regulations governing the election are binding on every participant and that critical stakeholders play fair. That will create confidence in the system and save the country from the apparent storm ahead.
If intra-party primaries could be deeply flawed, vicious, chaotic, polarising and bloody, what should we expect during the election when the stakes will be much higher?