There is urgent need to strengthen key institutions while security agents on election duties must be professional
Although majority of the local and international observers have adjudged the 23rd February presidential and national assembly elections fairly okay, what transpired during the exercise highlight the challenges of holding free, fair and credible elections in Nigeria. Going forward, there is an urgent need to strengthen key institutions and improve on the use of smart card readers while security agents on election duties must remain neutral and professional before, during and after the ballots are cast. That is the best safeguard for deepening democracy in Nigeria.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu in the early hours of Wednesday declared the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari re-elected for another term of four years. But the main opposition candidate, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar has declared the results as fraudulent and pledged to seek legal redress. Even the re-elected President Buhari underscored the fact that there were problems with the poll. “Election is not war, and should never be seen as a do or die affair. I pray that we all accept the democratic approach to elections, however contentious,” said Buhari.
With violence becoming a defining feature of elections in the country, we agree on the need for some fundamental reforms in our polity. The presidential and national assembly elections were marred in some states by outright brigandage, abduction of election officials, burning of election materials and shooting to death of some innocent citizens. In Lagos, security agents, aided by thugs, invaded some polling centres, disrupted the process, manhandled voters, destroyed and burnt electoral materials, including ballot papers and boxes. In Bayelsa, two people were killed, including the official photographer of the state government. It was a similar story in Amukpe near Sapele in Delta State where two men were also killed. But perhaps the real theatre of violence is Rivers, a state with little history of political compromise and where mindless killing has become a way of life.
Four years ago during the 2015 general election, Rivers State witnessed an orgy of blood-letting with no fewer than 60 lives lost. In the present one, elections in six local governments were cancelled because of violence, some of it inflicted ironically by law enforcement agents. At a particular centre, INEC officials accused some soldiers, policemen and Directorate of State Security (DSS) operatives of disrupting collation of results while shooting sporadically into the air. The post-election statement by INEC indeed confirms the culpability of security agents in the malpractices that occurred in some states of the country.
It is sad that 20 years after the restoration of democracy in Nigeria, what is being replayed in 2019 is desperation for acquiring power at all costs. Unfortunately, it seems also rewarding to indulge in violence as there were no reports that anybody was ever punished for such crimes; and perhaps the reason for the prevailing culture of impunity. Yet, we are worried about the resort to violence, especially when there is really no evidence that the interest of the downtrodden (often used as cannon fodder) is being served. It is very clear that with eyes to the enormous spoils of office attached to the nation’s political positions from the presidency to local councillorship, many of our politicians would do anything, (including killing their opponents) in order to ensure easy ride at the polls.
Therefore, as we have canvassed in the past, there is need for a review of the remunerations and other perks of public office holders in our country. Perhaps we will begin to see a reduction in this violent approach to politics and elections if and when the fat allowances attached to the elective offices are slashed considerably. Meanwhile, as we approach the governorship and houses of assembly elections next weekend, we again call on all the authorities, particularly the law enforcement agencies, to stick to their professional duties while INEC should be alive to its responsibilities.
When innocent lives are lost in the course of elections, even where the outcome conforms to popular expectation, the end does not justify the means!