Ehi Braimah argues the need to build strong institutions that can protect the integrity of our democracy
I woke this morning and my wife told me the elections had been postponed. I replied her by saying that must be another piece of fake news because we have too many misleading and false stories in circulation these days. After I checked several news outlets, it turned out my wife was right.
And I asked myself a very simple question: what’s going on here? Clearly, the postponement looked like a joke taken too far; the kind of stunt you pull on April Fool’s Day. To start with, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has put our lives on hold even if the electoral umpire had good grounds to postpone the elections – the same announcement at the eleventh hour could have been made last week; at least one week before the elections. It is now evident that INEC was not prepared to conduct these elections or they were just deceiving Nigerians and other stakeholders.
Unfortunately, what INEC has done has become a familiar pattern; an egregious culture of impunity at all levels and we are supposed to just accept what has happened as normal and move on with our lives. But it is not that simple. The economy has been practically shut down because of the elections – movements are usually restricted. This is actually strange in the age of information technology and social media opportunities; so many degree programmes are now run online without students seeing the four walls of a classroom. We can now also run virtual meetings without the participants physically coming together.
February 23 is a special day in the Rotary calendar because that was the day in 1905 that Rotary, a global humanitarian service organisation, was founded by Paul Harris, a Chicago attorney. The Rotary family worldwide marks the day with different activities. Here in District 9110 Nigeria, a public lecture had been planned for February 23 – venue booked; chairman, guest speaker, discussants confirmed and invitation cards printed. When we received news of the postponement, the planning committee of the event immediately reached out to all our guests to confirm a new date that was not agreeable to some of them for obvious reasons. In fact, our guest speaker and chair of the occasion have scheduled trips outside Nigeria but we had to appeal to them to accommodate the new date. Please begin to count the cost of the postponement – economic activities that are grounded at a time the economy is coming out of recession; lost time, anger, frustration, disappointment and so on. Next Saturday, we are required to just vote and sit at home; no economic activity will take place. Each time the economy is shut down, commercial activities cannot take place and the country bleeds.
I have friends who travelled so they could vote where they registered and you can imagine their sense of frustration and negative reactions to the postponement. The same thing can be said of election monitors/observers and journalists on assignment around the country and wedding ceremonies and other events shifted from February 16 to February 23 because of the elections. I have checked with family and friends in different places, it is the same story of woes and disappointment everywhere. What will be the impact of the postponement on the elections now scheduled for February 23? Your guess is as good as mine.
I watched Prof Mahmood Yakubu, INEC chair, on television announcing the postponement of the elections and I was not impressed. I could tell from his body language that he was not sure whether he was doing the right thing – he did not appear convinced; he looked disengaged, distracted and worried. The INEC chair said the postponement was a very difficult but inevitable decision for them to take but the last minute decision is very suspicious. Prof Yakubu, the postponement at the time is was announced damages the credibility of the entire electoral process and makes us look very bad on the world stage.
How do you plan for an election that has a cycle of four years and issues of postponement would arise in this day and age? I thought it would be different this time because Prof Yakubu and his colleagues ought to know the implications of the postponement in a country where we are highly suspicious of each other. This is the same man who said many times over that there would be no postponement because INEC was fully ready to conduct the elections. So, what do we believe? As a friend noted, this is Nigeria and anything can happen.
This is precisely why we should begin to ask ourselves very hard questions about building strong institutions that can stand the test of time and protect the integrity of our democracy as well as the future of our children. The good news is that Nigerians – both at home and abroad – are becoming more aware of the roles we all have to play in the task of building a better country. The stakes in this election and in every subsequent election would be high because of the increased awareness – we need redemption to change the culture of engagement that would lead to progress and a better society.
It has never happened before in the history of this country that you will find several young presidential aspirants seeking to make a difference in the way the affairs of this country is run; it’s a new culture taking root and I can predict that in the foreseeable future, the scale will tilt in favour of these ‘angry young men and women’ with winning mind-sets who are determined to chart a new course for Nigeria. More of their tribe would change the narrative that ‘politics is a dirty game’; instead of staying away from politics, this new generation who live on ideas day and night would go into politics and take control of the destiny of our country because the world runs on ideas. Their mandate would be to tackle key issues such as unemployment, poverty and a stagnating economy.
Their number one goal, in my view, would be to dismantle the so- called ‘vested interests’ holding the rest of us captive and this characteristic was demonstrated by some of the young presidential aspirants during their campaigns and media interviews – you could feel their energy, sense of purpose and vision for a better Nigeria. The answer to Nigeria’s numerous problems will come from Nigerians – and that would be very soon. It might take some time to build a critical mass required but it will surely happen. May God bless Nigeria.
Braimah is public relations and marketing strategist based in Lagos