The essence of democracy is to give citizens equal access and conducive atmosphere to elect their leaders. Anything less is a threat to democracy. The current progressive decline of the quality of elections in Nigeria is worrisome because the issue is pushing the country’s democracy to its grave. The just concluded supplementary elections in Kano, Sokoto, Plateau, Benue, Bauchi were not better than the one conducted on 9th March 2019 by Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). No matter what the outcome of these elections, Nigerians are losing confidence in the system.
There were high levels of abuse of human rights in the recent gubernatorial elections. The desperation exhibited by both the incumbent and the opposition to get the result in their favour by all means is taking us back to square one. Desperate politicians deployed every trick in their hats to disrupt the peaceful conduct of the election with a view to swaying voters to their side. In fact, the electoral guideline did not matter at all, going by the level of intimidation of voters especially women, observers and journalists witnessed during the elections. The political actors from both sides had a field day destroying the sanctity of the democratic process.
More controversial was the Kano rerun election described by most election observers as nothing but a sham and a charade that turned the tenets of democracy on its head. In broad daylight, politicians deployed political thugs that overpowered the security agencies and forced the electorate to leave the polling units. There were clear instances where party agents and political thugs tortured and intimidated voters into voting their candidates. In Nasarawa, Dala, Bichi and Minjibir local governments for example, political thugs restricted the electorate access to polling units, stoning them and violently disrupting the peaceful elections. In a nutshell, several observer groups report showed a lot of irregularities, harassment of voters, INEC officials and abuse of the exercise. All these power tussle and desperation was as a result of the political value of Kano State and the political calculation ahead of 2023 elections. However, these desperate political elite have little or no interest of the masses at heart.
Let’s not talk about Benue, the battle ground. Despite the heavy security deployment in the state an INEC returning officer was shot dead by political thugs in Gboko, where election materials were burnt to ashes, polling officials assaulted and disallowed to perform their duties. This is not the kind of elections that Nigerians need. Democracy is supposed to provide enabling environment for everyone to feel safe. While Sokoto and Plateau recorded little incidents except issues of underage voting and voter inducement, in Bauchi the election was peaceful as reported, but there were incidences of policemen leaving polling units as a result of rancour among the party supporters and agents. This is a clear indication that we are not ready to move from the present political madness.
Many public affairs commentators are of the belief that all elections should be conducted in one day. This will enable the country to cut down on election expenses, and above all discourage voter apathy. They opined that this is doable only if the relevant sections of the electoral law are amended, by adopting simple majority system just like in the national assembly elections. Furthermore, INEC should be given the power to disqualify any candidate or political party that causes electoral violence from participating in such elections.
The factors that resulted in inconclusive elections such as violence, over voting, underage voting, and cancellation have repeated themselves in the just concluded supplementary polls. Sadly, the factors became worse due to the desperation of politicians who turned elections into a do or die affair. For instance, in Kano State, the war of supremacy between Kwankwaso and Ganduje reached its peak with the supporters of the duo brandishing and using dangerous weapons against one another. The quest for power among Nigerian politicians is borne out of the huge financial benefits attached to the offices. We need to make politics less attractive.
––Idris Mohammed, Program Officer, YIAGA Africa, Abuja.