In less than four weeks, the general elections would be upon us. The major political parties have been crisscrossing the country trying to woo the electorates with the usual promises of milk and honey flowing all over the nation of their dreams, within the next four years. And the lesser parties have also been grasping at the sidelines trying to puncture the fabulous balloons of tales by the moonlight spun by the larger entities.
Unfortunately, most of our citizens, tired of failed promises and the same old unchanging misfortunes, have developed a mindset that takes what they are given now as their “only dividends of democracy”, and worries less about the future consequences of their actions today. After all, their situations would not have been any better if they had been more careful with their civic responsibilities, and voted in those considered most responsible and vibrant. The result is virtually the same: negligence, crass corruption, unapologetic suspension of pro-people policies, and such criminal acts of unprincipled political actors and charlatans.
Yet, here comes another opportunity to put to test the lessons of the past painful election cycle misfirings. Are we ready to do something different this seventh attempt at choosing national and state leaders in this Fourth Republic? Are the improvements and amendments in our electoral laws robust enough to help us achieve a truly credible and free electioneering? Can the operators and managers of our current election protocols remain unbiased, incorrigible and apolitical in the conduct and management of these elections? Or are we being naive and unduly optimistic expecting our contemporaries to soar above the prevalent decadence of our society, and produce extraordinary results under remarkably extraordinary pressures, when we cannot vouch for ourselves to perform at such a level?
These and many other questions will no doubt agitate the minds and meetings of countless Nigerians who labour in silence, hoping and praying for a seismic change in the way we choose our representatives, and the quality and stature of those representatives. While many look forward to the effective and comprehensive deployment of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BiVAS), a supposedly scrupulously effective system of voting which has been successfully used in a few other democracies with similar demographics to Nigeria, it is still a shot in the dark. Providing BiVAS at a polling booth is one thing, insisting that if either of the means of accreditation fails (that is by biometrics (fingerprints) or facial scanning), then the luckless voter cannot vote – that is the big deal. Managing disappointments, frustrations, delays, voter apathy, excessive voter turnout, vandalism, violent threats, and such incidents capable of disrupting the smooth conduct of the elections would sorely impact on the credibility and success of the 2023 elections. It is hoped that staff and ad-hoc staff of INEC, usually in hundreds of thousands, managing each polling unit in all the wards across this vast country should maintain the rules of engagement, be scrupulous in dealing fairly and equally with all party agents; be civil but firm with all voters on site, including illegal and underage voters, and courageously act where appropriate sanctions should be meted in accordance with laid down regulations – without equivocation, after due consultation with available participants.
One of the highpoints of this electoral exercise is the confirmed process of electronic transmission of results instantly from the polling unit source to the national database of INEC. If followed accordingly, even where voting becomes impossible to conclude because of disturbances or violence, the whole world would have a copy of the results from all the thousands of polling units scattered across the country (including cancelled polls), and all parties and non-parties can be abreast of same collated figures, without fears or threats of stuffed ballot boxes creeping in from the creeks or bushes in the dead of the night, to explode original figures.
Nevertheless, being a process largely driven by human beings, who happen to be Nigerians by Providence, we should not expect the hours between 25 February and 27th to be textbook precise. There will be sundry hiccups: administrative, technical, logistics, security, personnel’s welfare… There will be attempts to disrupt proceedings, engineer cancellations, especially where opponents suspect they are not doing well… There will be sporadic attempts to buy votes, despite the valiant efforts of CBN to wipe out the old vote-buying-sized naira notes (₦200, ₦500 and ₦1000), and the expected inadequate and ineffectual “monitoring spirits” from the EFCC and the DSS.
In these intervening weeks before the presidential election, of course, the politicians would do the “needful” to conjure as many votes as possible in order to have an upper hand in the electoral contest, while their supporters and admirers would sing their praises, and flaunt their antecedents to any ears willing, or unwilling, to listen. What is clear from what I have observed from 2022 is that quite a large chunk of people have made up their minds on whom to vote for amongst the three leading contenders. The noises, dialogues, rallies, abuses and counters we shall be witnessing on the husting road to 25 February are principally to regale their support base, and irritate opponents. Expectedly, more salacious disclosures would be unearthed, and others re-heated to provoke, incense and sour the already muddy waters.
The voters are advised to keep their eyes on the ball…if all the three-year-long preparation of INEC would end well for the benefit of a truly liberated economy, and produce a disciplined and visionary governance, the Nigerian voters must choose to sacrifice their time, resources and energies to collect and protect their permanent voter’s cards (PVCs); identify and confirm their polling units ahead of time, which must be easily accessible to their homes, since Nigeria still stands still during elections; be tolerant of opposing views you find quite objectionable, and refrain from provoking arguments and allegations that can easily lead to disruption of public peace, especially near a polling unit. In all situations, bend all the way backwards to prevent agents of darkness and enemies of progress from imperiling the chances of the 2023 elections from choosing the proper leaders needed for the restructuring and the renewal of a country bogged down by incompetence, brigandage and impunity. All the best, Nigeria.