The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has, once again, assured Nigerians and members of the international community that the 2023 elections would hold as scheduled. The chairman of the electoral agency, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, who gave the assurance at Chatham House, London, disclosed that insecurity or any other factor would not lead to the cancellation or postponement of the forthcoming general election. Yakubu also reiterated that the commission had put up measures to conduct a runoff in the poll if no clear winner emerged in the February 25 presidential election.
The fears over the 2023 polls stem from the relentless attacks on INEC offices by hoodlums in some parts of the country. Many Nigerians believe that if such attacks are not curbed before the poll, it is likely that elections may not hold in some of the affected areas. Despite the concerns, the INEC chairman is optimistic that the poll will hold. Although the assurance by INEC boss is timely, the government needs to urgently curb the insecurity in some parts of the country before the poll. That is the only way it can make Nigerians believe that the election will hold.
The challenge before the commission goes beyond mere declaration of willingness to deliver on free and fair polls. The ongoing collection of the Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) in some parts of the country has been generally marred by corruption and discrimination. While many registered voters could not get their PVCs at the designated points of collection, others were allegedly discriminated against in some areas on account of their state of origin. Some INEC officials were also accused of extortion. Considering the significance of the PVCs in the election, we urge the electoral agency to fully investigate the allegations and punish those involved in the illegality.
The government must deploy adequate security throughout the country for the election to hold peacefully. All the security agents deployed for election duties should be apolitical and observe the rules of engagement. They must consider the assignment as a patriotic and national duty. Their loyalty must be in defence of the Constitution and the people of Nigeria and not to any party or candidate. In other words, they must not be partisan. Under no circumstance should mischievous elements and their sponsors be given the room to compromise the election or derail the process.
The disclosure by the INEC chairman that 70.4 million of the 93.4 million registered voters are youths and young adults between 18 and 49 years is instructive and points to the significance of the election to the future of Nigeria. This is, indeed, one election that must not be mismanaged or compromised.
Nigerians are hopeful of a successful outing by INEC. Good enough, President Muhammadu Buhari has promised of a free and fair election in 2023. His vow to institute a culture of credible polls must not be vitiated. INEC and other stakeholders should ensure that the election is peaceful and transparent. The world is watching and Nigerians are watching too. That is why INEC must work hard to deliver the best election ever in the history of the country. Having a free and fair election in Nigeria will rub-off on other democracies in West Africa and beyond.
What Nigerians need is a free and fair election where the votes will be made to count. Nigerians would want the outcome of the polls to reflect their wishes and aspirations. The pledge by Yakubu that the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) and other technological devices would be deployed during the election is encouraging. At the same time, the electoral agency’s disclosure that it would conduct mock elections in some selected states to test the use of the technology in the poll is welcome. Doing so will go a long way in determining the efficiency of the devices and those to man them.
So far, INEC has done well in its preparations for the elections. Therefore, it should not be distracted. Let it focus on delivering the best free and fair election in the country.