Everywhere you go, everyone you speak with, there is a growing unease about the approaching 2019 general election. There are questions about whether the elections would hold, whether President Muhammadu Buhari would be fit enough to seek re-election, whether the All Progressives Congress (APC) would remain united ahead of the elections, whether the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) would raise a presidential candidate credible enough to appeal to voters, and whether Olusegun Obasanjo, with all his bluster, would be able to determine the outcome of the presidential election in particular.
Speculations are aplenty. There are many apocalyptic predictions about what would happen next year. Other than Buhari who has said he would contest the presidential election, no other political party has confirmed yet the identity of the candidate who would fly its flag during the election. There are posters in circulation and social media messages proclaiming the virtues of Atiku Abubakar but there is yet no clarity about the platform or the political party on which he would contest the presidential election, if he remains steadfast in his current ambition. The widespread assumption is that Atiku would contest the presidential election under the aegis of the PDP.
Confronted by these uncertainties, there is palpable fear in the land. The uneasiness is fuelled by fear of unprecedented violence. An unusually high level of interest shown in the coming elections by political candidates has also heightened the fear of violence. Long before the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has fired the starter’s gun, aspiring candidates and their political parties have been out and running, canvassing voters’ attention, and marketing their political manifestos. The political atmosphere is imbued with warnings about a disastrous future.
It is not only the level of interest shown by candidates in the approaching presidential election that has given the 2019 polls a note of fickleness. The presidential election is seen as the most important and critical of all the elections scheduled for 2019. It is seen as the true test of political stability next year. If we get it wrong, if the election is marred by massive rigging, and if the public perceives the elections as heavily compromised and predetermined, the country might as well be on the road to destruction.
Any attempt by any political party and their candidates to cheat, to obstruct free and fair election, or to subvert the course of justice in the presidential election in particular could trigger a chain of events, instability, violence, and civil disobedience, all of which could lead to one outcome – the disintegration of the geographical entity known as Nigeria. The fear is real. Public concerns are warranted.
The stakes are high. Politicians and their parties are investing in schemes designed to win the elections as if there would be no life after the elections. As the saying goes, desperate times call for desperate measures.
There are reasons for everyone to be apprehensive of the political atmosphere leading up to the elections. Politicians and their thugs have been portraying the upcoming general election in macabre language. Next year’s presidential election is one that every contestant would like to win but it is also one that candidates without hope would want to disrupt.
There is an element of decisiveness and determination about the way political parties are preparing for the elections. If you listen carefully, you will hear them say the elections would be, in the language made popular by Obasanjo, a “fight to the finish.” Many politicians do not see defeat as an option. To them, nothing other than violence would be an appropriate measure to resolve the disappointment that would follow defeat.
The signs are not good for civil society. If we judge by what is already out there in the public sphere, it would not be an exaggeration to suggest that the country could be turned into a land of grisly sacrifices.
The weapons of war being assembled, the charms that are being formulated, the goats, birds, cows, and rats that are being slaughtered are aimed to cause maximum harm on citizens whose votes the politicians are seeking to capture. The uncompromising position being adopted by politicians and their parties, the winner-take-all manner in which politicians and political parties are viewing the big prize, and the offensive language being exchanged by parties and candidates constitute a major threat to the stability of the nation’s democracy and the unity of the country.
If the first election next year is marred by widespread violence, you can be sure it will set a dangerous tone for extreme atrocities in the presidential election that will follow later. An election riddled with malpractices will send the wrong message about other elections. Overall, ongoing violence across the country will continue to test the readiness of citizens to tolerate one another and the willingness of politicians to allow voters to decide who should govern them.
Next year’s elections will expose to the world the kind of democracy we practice and the strategies we adopt to elect political leaders. We have an opportunity to show the world our preference, whether we prefer to auction our votes to politicians, whether we prefer political intimidation and cheating, or whether we cherish the true principles of democracy evidenced by freedom and evenhandedness in our decision-making process. The choice is ours.
Research shows that Nigerian politicians do not usually express eagerness to participate in a political system in which they are required to give and give without an opportunity to enrich themselves. Elected officials see their victory as a path to a pot of gold through which they will acquire wealth illegally. The moment politicians discover the lucre that would accrue to them following successful election, virtually everyone else seeking political office would be tempted to grab the golden pot. This is why many politicians want to win at all costs.
When politicians put their lives on the line, which is rarely the case, it is usually for reasons of personal financial exploitation. Let me be clear here. Nigerian politicians do not fight to kill their opponents literally because they want to serve their people. That is not the case. Politicians fight for opportunities to enhance their financial position, and to enrich themselves unlawfully on the excuse that they want to serve their local constituency. Self-immolation is not one of the key attributes of Nigerian politicians.
Ahead of the 2019 elections, voters must know they have the ultimate power to determine the outcome of the elections. They can exercise that power by refusing to be manipulated by politicians, by refusing to sell their votes, and by ensuring that political candidates are compelled to present clearly articulated programmes of how they plan to improve the living conditions of the less-privileged members of our society. Judging politicians by their promises is like placing your trust in the hands of certified robbers.