Long before INEC fires the starter’s gun, political candidates and their parties have started campaigning vigorously for public support.
Everywhere you go, everyone you speak with, there is growing uncertainty about the 2019 general election. The uneasiness is aggravated by fear of unprecedented violence. An unusually high level of interest shown by candidates for limited political offices has amplified the atmosphere of tension and terror.
Long before the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) fires the starter’s gun, political candidates and their parties have started campaigning vigorously for public support. The political atmosphere is bursting with predictions of disaster to befall the nation. It is not only the high level of interest shown by candidates that has given next year’s elections a note of unpredictability, it is also politicians’ disagreement over the order in which the elections should be held. Should the presidential election, for example, be accorded priority and moved to the front position in the election calendar or should that election be conducted last?
There are strong reasons why political candidates are contesting the order of the elections. Whichever election is designated as a precursor to the rest will be perceived as the true test of the success or failure of the rest of the elections. This is why political parties, their candidates, and ordinary citizens are so focused on INEC’s pre-ordained order of elections. Early confirmation or resolution of the order of the elections is very important because it will give political parties opportunities to engineer plans to persuade voters or sufficient time to contrive sinister plans to commit electoral transgressions.
All these must be considered in the context of an environment in which candidates do not accept official election results. We live in a society in which many people believe that, good or bad, election officials and political parties always collude to manipulate results. There are also cynical comments that suggest that the only way to emerge triumphant in national elections is by offering inducements to officials. These sentiments are based on previous experiences in which candidates were seen stuffing ballot boxes prior to election dates, or political candidates audaciously snatching ballot boxes in broad daylight, and fraudulently tampering with results.
It is against this background that we must understand why political candidates often describe forthcoming elections in frighteningly ghastly language. They believe the stakes have been raised deliberately to bar them from achieving their political ambition. Regardless of the prevailing situation, every candidate makes the point about their determination to win in fair or foul weather. There is an element of decisiveness about the way political candidates prepare for elections. To many of them, defeat is an intolerable option.
Only last week, former Foreign Affairs Minister, Ibrahim Gambari, said events in the country suggest Nigeria has reached a defining moment in its political history. Speaking at the fourth yearly lecture of the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC), titled “Broadcasting and Nigeria’s Ethno-Cultural and Religious Divide: Bridging the Gap,” Gambari said the nation has never been as fractured as it is
now. He argued that ethnicity and religious affiliation were not the actual cause of division in Nigeria. In his view, the split in the country is caused by differences in economic status of citizens, as well as inequity in levels of development at the regional level.
Looking back at the forces that contributed to an atmosphere of peaceful elections in 2015, he said: “Peaceful and credible 2015 elections were the outcomes of combined efforts of stakeholders, including civil society organisations, individuals and the international community. These forces must again be mobilised once more to build on the gains of the last general election. The 2019 elections must be the game changer!”
More significantly, Gambari said that, ahead of the 2019 national elections, provocative speeches are becoming prevalent. Certain actions must be taken, he said, to check further spread of animosity in order to avoid cultivating the seeds of lawlessness in the country.
Similarly in an interview published in The Sun of last Saturday, September 8, 2018, Major-General David Jemibewon (rtd) expressed dismay over the disorderly situation in Nigeria months ahead of the 2019 elections. He said: “I am very disappointed in the way things are moving in the country. Nigeria does not seem to be making progress in areas where we think we would have improved and moved forward. We seem to have gone back to the reverse so that we are far behind what we used to be. We should be making progress in every field but we do not seem to be making progress anywhere except in negative efforts.”
It is not surprising that these high-profile citizens are disappointed with the state of affairs in the country. If the aggressive language being deployed by politicians on campaign platforms is a foretaste of what is to come in 2019, then everyone must worry. Politicians are assembling weapons of war while preparing for what ought to be a free and fair election. The intransigence of political candidates and their parties, the winner-takes-all approach of contestants and how they perceive the big prize, and the hostile language being tossed around by candidates suggest the stability of Nigeria and its fledgling democracy are under threat. Part of the reason why people are concerned about the events leading up to the elections next year is the impact on the wobbly unity of the country.
Elections at state and federal levels that are marred by unprecedented violence next year could trigger a chain of events that could lead to the disintegration of the country. National elections that are riddled with indiscretions could send the wrong message to the international community that Nigeria prefers fraudulent practices during elections to preservation of rule of law, as well as free and fair conduct of elections.
At stake is the readiness of Nigerian politicians to recognize, respect, and uphold election rules, to put up with their colleagues, and to accept official election results. How politicians conduct themselves during campaigns and during the elections will test their willingness and the readiness of their political parties to allow voters to decide who should govern them. Next year’s elections will speak to the world how we elect leaders at state and national levels. Do we prefer political intimidation and manipulation of results to the long-held traditions in other democracies where freedom of choice is respected? The choice rests on every one of us.
Our politicians are not known to hasten to participate in political events, which would not be valuable or favourable to them. In essence, when Nigerian politicians put their lives on the line, it is typically for purposes of increasing, improving, or expanding their power, wealth, influence, or economic and financial status.
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Regardless of what happens, voters have definitive influence over the outcome of the 2019 elections. They can deploy that inalienable power by refusing to be manipulated by politicians and by refusing to sell their votes. Every election must lead to an improvement in the welfare, security, and socio-economic conditions of citizens.