EDITORIAL: As Nigeria Goes to the Polls

FILE PHOTO: Voters casting their vote (3)
FILE PHOTO: Voters casting their vote

All eyes will be on Nigeria as the country goes to the polls over the next two weeks. The stakes are very high in what is most likely going to be the closest election in Nigeria’s history. It is imperative that we get these elections right. This would of course involve the commitment of all stakeholders: the electorate, the Independent National Electoral Commission, the government, security agencies, political parties and their supporters as well as election observers. Everyone has a role to play to ensure that these elections are free, fair and credible. Even more important, the elections must be devoid of incidents of intimidation and violence.

It has been an acrimonious and violent campaign up until now, understandably so. The history of elections in Nigeria has been one of acrimony and violence. More than two months ago, political parties and their presidential candidates signed a peace accord on “the prevention of violence and the acceptance of elections results”. Part of that accord included a commitment “to run issued-based campaigns at the national, state and local government levels.” They signed a pledge “to refrain from campaigns that will involve religious incitement, ethnic or tribal profiling, both by ourselves and by all agents acting in our name,” and a “commitment to fully abide by all rules and regulations as laid down in the legal framework for elections in Nigeria.”

Unfortunately, the letter of that accord has been observed more in the breach than in their actions and statements. Since the signing of the peace accord, the two main parties, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) have not only upped the fiery political rhetoric, they have failed to rein in their members on the campaign trail. There have been widespread reports of hate speech, violence, intimidation by politicians, their supporters and, even more disturbing, security agencies. Even journalists doing their jobs have been victims of aggression.

These are ominous signs heading into the elections. Add to these the several questions that have dogged these elections: the partisan role of the military and other security agencies, the security challenge in the north-east, difficulties in the distribution of the permanent voters’ cards (PVC), and the controversy over the use of the electronic card reader, it is safe to say this is one election that will test the resolve of Nigerians.

While eventually a broad consensus developed on the success of the distribution of PVCs and the advantages of using the electronic card reader, the same can’t be said on where the military should be and what they should be doing on election day. The government has further muddied the political waters by ensuring that there is no clear position on the role of the military in the elections.

On the issue of the role of the military in the election, there can be no better clarification than that offered by Justice Ibrahim Buba of the Federal High Court in Lagos who, while ruling on this issue a few days ago, granted an order of perpetual injunction restraining President Goodluck Jonathan and the Service Chiefs from deploying soldiers, without the approval of the National Assembly, at polling units during the general elections. We expect the government to comply with the law in this regard.

After the initial fears arising from a six-week extension, it is heartwarming to know that the rescheduled elections will go ahead as expected. As Nigerians look forward to exercising their franchise on March 28 and April 11, it is important that all state institutions, particularly the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the agency with the constitutional mandate to supervise elections, conduct itself professionally and impartially. INEC must ensure that election materials and officials arrive as and when due, that results are released on time and that any problems encountered by the Commission are communicated to Nigerians timely and through the appropriate channels.

Security agencies, particularly the police, must show respect for the laws governing elections and the rights of voters. Equally, the electorate must show restraint and respect for the views and choice of others.

These elections must not just be free, fair and credible but must be seen to be so. Whoever wins, we at Premium Times insist that Nigerians must avoid any conduct that will endanger the political stability of Nigeria. We can’t highlight enough the need for all those concerned to help prevent violence during and after the elections.

It is imperative that this exercise does not leave the country more fractious than it already is. Nigeria and democracy – the will of the majority – should be the winner at its conclusion. We urge all parties to abide by the accord they signed to accept the results of the elections as announced by INEC. Where there is disagreement, they should be resolved according to the law.

Nigerians ought to be able to come together after these elections to confront our myriad of problems. Nigeria is in dire straits and whoever emerges winner after the presidential election on March 28 has their work cut out for them: How to make Nigeria work for Nigerians. As we go to exercise our franchise, let us be conscious that the real work of consolidating democracy and developing our economy is ahead of us. Let’s make these elections a transition to a greater Nigeria.

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