It’s 50 days, today, to the much-talked about general election in Nigeria. Gradually, February 25, 2023, the date Nigeria has with history, draws near. That day, all eligible voters are expected to exercise their franchise for the election of the next President of the country.

Many months ago, the presidential, National Assembly, governorship and state Houses of Assembly elections looked far away. Then, when people talked about the 2023 elections, it seemed as if election day would never come, as if the elections were coming in the next century. Today, what looked far away before is now close. The elections are as close as the eyes are to the nose. This is an important event in the life of the country.

This year’s elections are imperative for many reasons. The elections would firm up democracy in the country. It would be the seventh time (1999, 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015, 2019 and 2023) Nigeria is holding a general election, since the return of democracy, after many years of military rule. It would be the third time (2007, 2015 and 2023) Nigeria would experience transitions from one government to another. They are elections of consolidation, which would be a testament to the effect that democracy has come to stay in Africa’s most populous country.

With all these in mind, expectations are high. Nigerians are looking forward to going to the polls to choose their next leaders. They want to go out to vote. They want peaceful elections, devoid of disruptions and violence. They want their votes to decide who would be the next President, the next federal lawmakers, the next governors and the next state lawmakers. The voters want to be the kings in the electoral process.

It is gratifying that Nigerians as a people and Nigeria as a country are taking the coming elections seriously. President Muhammadu Buhari has repeatedly promised that the elections would not only hold but would also be credible. He had warned those planning to manipulate the process to steer clear and allow the will of the people to prevail.

President Buhari’s promises are reassuring. He should, however, do everything humanly possible to match his words with action. The coming elections should not only be transparent but also seen to be so. Credible elections should be a cherished legacy for President Buhari. If the President ensures that the next general election meets the global standard and that the process is flawless and produces the will of the people, Nigerians may overlook his other failings. This is a task that must be accomplished, no matter what it takes. There are some actions that would be a pathway to this.

Since security is important in everything, the Buhari government should ensure that the elections hold under secured environment nationwide. Those who want to sabotage the elections using insecurity must be stopped. Officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the ad hoc staff of the commission must be protected. Electoral materials must be protected. Voters must be protected. Nigerians must be free to vote for candidates of their choice, wherever they live. Allowing thugs or miscreants to visit violence on voters they suspect would not vote for their preferred candidates would make a mess of efforts for free and fair elections.

To ensure adequate security during the elections, the government may have to look, once again, at the non-use of armed security personnel at polling booths or precinct of the voting areas. A critical situation needs a critical action. Since the absence of armed security personnel is giving political thugs the boldness and impetus to harass and intimidate voters as well as disrupt the electoral process, there may not be anything wrong having armed security personnel around polling booths this time, to serve as deterrent to troublemakers. When miscreants know that they could be arrested when they try to cause problems, they would think twice before taking the risk.

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Related to security, personnel charged with the responsibility of securing the electoral process must do their job with every sense of responsibility, shunning partisanship and being neutral. There should not be any situation where security agencies would go out of the rules of engagement to support any political party or any candidate, thereby constituting themselves as impediments to credible elections. They should be professional and responsible.

The determination of the INEC to make the general election credible is commendable. INEC chairmen, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, had, on many occasions, promised that the commission would conduct not only credible elections but also the best elections ever in the country. This should not only be said but also done. Outside external factors, the commission should give Nigerians elections that they would be proud of. Today, everybody talks about the 1993 presidential election and describes it as the “freest and fairest” the country has ever seen. This is not to say that everything was perfect about the election. Certainly not! However, the pluses in the election were far higher than the minuses. That’s why Nigerians reckon with it.

There is no doubt that INEC has the capacity to not only repeat the 1993 feat but also to exceed it. INEC as a body should stick to the rules it has made. Having said that the Bimodal Voters Accreditation System (BVAS), for instance, would be deployed in the voting process, this should be adhered to. There should not be room for compliance in some areas and non-compliance in other places. The commission had said that there would be electronic transmission of election results. This must be strictly adhered to nationwide. The INEC should not apply the electronic transmission process in some areas in the country and adopt manual method in other places. The commission should create a level playing field for every political party and every candidate so that the electoral process would produce indisputable result. The INEC should ensure that election materials get to the polling booths on time and see that they are deployed accordingly.

Much is also expected from the voters. There will never be a successful election if there are no voters. Therefore, voters must come out en masse on election days. Voters must conduct themselves properly and adhere to the rules governing elections. Voters must exercise their franchise responsibly. Times are hard but no voter should fall into the temptation of selling his or her vote. Doing so means that whatever result produced is money-induced. A money-induced election would produce the wrong set of leaders, who would not have much to offer in governance. A money-induced election outcome will not augur well for the country.

The electorate should also be ready to cast their votes and protect them. The era of casting votes and not giving a damn what happens to the votes is gone. Now, Nigerian voters must vote and follow the process to make sure that their votes count. This will frustrate manipulation or circumvention of the electoral process. This would produce a better result in the elections.

Nigeria is at a critical time. The country is polarised. The economy is bad. There is insecurity in the land. There is so much discontent in the country. Many Nigerians have lost faith in the country and government. There is agitation for self-determination by groups. There are shouts of restructuring. There is mass exodus as Nigerians migrate to other countries. These are indices of a troubled republic.

The country, therefore, needs a government arising from the general election that would restore hope by its emergence, composition and deeds. There are 18 candidates vying for the office of President. The candidates may be qualified to vie for the office but one of them is the best for the country. That candidate who deserves to be President of Nigeria must be one who has a clear vision, one who has a uniting tendency, one whose emergence would, first and foremost, restore confidence and cause a rebound even before he assumes office, one who would do what he said, one who is not dogged by controversies, one who would be more interested in the needs of Nigerians and not his own greed.

The 2023 general election should be a watershed in the country. The government, INEC, security agencies and voters have major roles to play to make it work. If we get it right, the country would be laying a foundation for the election of good leaders and emergence of good governance. If we get it wrong, everybody, irrespective of social or political status, will pay the price.