Doubts Swirl Over 2023 General Elections – Punch Editorial



Doubts Swirl Over 2023 General Elections - Punch Editorial

OMINOUS clouds are hovering over Nigeria where the increasing anxiety over the 2023 general elections has conflated with social and economic turmoil. The fear of an implosion, for long simmering just beneath the surface, is rising again.

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Pervasive insecurity, pre-election violence and the prolonged petrol and new naira banknotes scarcity, and lately conspiracy theories, are threatening to derail the polls. The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), must fulfil his promise to ensure peaceful, fair, and credible elections.

With the Presidential/National Assembly polls just 10 days away, repeated assurances by the Independent National Electoral Commission are hardly comforting. In December, INEC Chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, raised the alarm that if the attacks continued, balloting might not hold in many areas. This fear was reinforced on Monday when he announced that polling would not hold in 240 polling units spread across 28 states and the Federal Capital Territory because of insecurity, leaving 176,606 PUs.

In the three years to December 2022, there have been 50 recorded attacks on INEC facilities where vital equipment and assets were vandalised or burnt. More are being perpetrated, especially in the South-East, deepening doubts on the polls.

In response to the ensuing conspiracy theories, the Nigerian Army issued a statement denying that it was plotting a coup or planning to scuttle the polls. Nothing should be taken for granted, considering Nigeria’s ugly past of military incursion in politics. The military should probe the allegations swiftly.

A former President, Olusegun Obasanjo, and Yakubu’s predecessor at INEC, Attahiru Jega, and a host of other stakeholders are also expressing concerns over the polls. In addition, there are allegations of a plan to emplace an interim government contraption if the elections are inconclusive, postponed or derailed. These are perilous scenarios that should never come to pass.

Rightly, Jega identified the main villains in Nigeria’s arrested development: politicians. “Their (politicians) mindset is to achieve victory at all costs; to win elections deploying ‘all means necessary;’ seeing electoral contests as a ‘do-or-die’ affair,” he said. “As they have done since 1999, they have continued to do, and are likely to do in 2023. As their impunity has remained unchecked, so have their criminal and fraudulent predispositions increased. This may constitute the major challenge to the 2023 general elections.” This assessment is accurate; Nigeria’s current crop of politicians is irredeemably irresponsible.

Their deployment of violence threatens democracy and the fragile union. Yakubu reiterated this recently saying, “Violence makes deployment for elections difficult, particularly, where some of the attacks are targeted at INEC facilities, the electoral process and participants.”

Obasanjo, president between 1999 and 2007, said, “I have been in Togo, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire from the beginning of the week; and they are as concerned about what happens in Nigeria as every Nigerian should be.”

The conspiracy theories flying around have been stirred by the prolonged petrol scarcity and the chaotic naira redesign policy of the Central Bank of Nigeria. Harrowing queues at banks of anxious customers seeking the new naira banknotes underscore the monumental mismanagement of an otherwise routine exercise by the Godwin Emefiele-led CBN. Petrol scarcity and the attendant queues have persisted for several weeks with slight improvement noticed in Lagos and Abuja only. Potentially, the two occurrences combined with insecurity could disrupt the polls.

Buhari should for once, take full charge and immediately end these national embarrassments. He should mobilise all the security and administrative resources to ensure credible elections. The state governors should drop their shameful preoccupation with partisan skirmishing and self-interest and join hands with the Federal Government to resolve the current challenges.

The 2023 elections are like no other since 1999. The federal and state governments should secure the country to ensure its success. The violence is pervasive, not sparing even security agents; travelling is hazardous and violence is ever close by as many are kidnapped in or outside their homes. The South-East is under siege from killers masquerading as separatist agitators who have vowed to prevent elections from holding in that region.

Nigeria should end the cycle of violence and threats to elections. Since the Boko Haram Islamic insurgency began in 2009, general elections in 2011, 2015 and 2019 have faced disruptions. In 2015, terrorist attacks – mainly in the North-East – forced INEC to shift the polls by six weeks. In 2011 and 2019, INEC had also shifted the schedules by one week over logistics failures. The Human Rights Watch said over 800 people died in the three days of post-election rioting that engulfed 12 Northern states after Goodluck Jonathan defeated Buhari in 2015 for the Presidency.

Nigeria lost at least 8,058 lives to non-state actors in 2022, including 202 military personnel, 186 police officers, 154 vigilantes, 14 security guards and 17 others, according to the Nigeria Security Tracker, a project of the Council on Foreign Relations. Thousands of others were kidnapped, and ransom calculated at N13.66 billion paid out to bandits, terrorists and kidnappers between July 2011 and July 2022, according to tabulation by The PUNCH.

Undeniably, Nigeria is a failing state. In the annual Fragile States Index conducted by Washington DC-based The Fund for Peace, out of 120, it scored an average of 99.45 index points between 2007 and 2022. Its best was 95.6 points in 2007; it came in at 103.5 points in 2016 for its worst score. It was No.16 with a score of 97.20 points in 2022, in company with Ethiopia, Mali and Zimbabwe.

Squarely, Nigerian politicians are to blame; greedy, selfish and unscrupulous, they operate with unbridled impunity. They refuse to learn from past mistakes and cannot be trusted with a basic task of holding credible elections.

Such behaviour has cost the country dearly. Political rascality bungled the first federal elections in 1964 after Independence. Similar criminality in the defunct Western Region elections in 1965 led to a conflagration that eventually crashed the First Republic and facilitated the military’s hijack of power in 1966. Politicians also killed the Second Republic (1979-83) through massive rigging of the 1983 elections by the ruling party, facilitating yet again, another military usurpation. Ironically, the 1993 presidential election, adjudged to be the country’s freest, that was to usher in the Third Republic was criminally annulled by the military dictator, Ibrahim Babangida.

The Fourth Republic must not fail as the benefits of democracy far outstrip regimented leadership. After spending long periods under dictatorships, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, Estonia and Croatia are now stable democracies. Nigeria’s atrocious politics should give way to public service-minded upright citizens to stabilise the country, and end the culture of ‘do or die’ electoral practices.

As politicians continue to mess up every aspect of national life, it is left to the people to take their own destiny in their own hands by refusing to be cajoled on February 25 and March 11 (governorship and state assembly elections). They should make the right choices, eschewing financial inducement, narrow ethnic sentiments and falsehood.

Buhari should neutralise all the man-made hurdles of petrol and naira scarcity. He should mobilise the security system immediately to counter the Islamic insurgency, banditry and the violent criminals spreading disorder and bloodshed across the land.

INEC must perfect its system before the polls, guarding against saboteurs and external influence and ensure the integrity of Nigeria’s elections. This will deepen democracy, promote stability and prevent the troubling practice of the courts determining election winners instead of voters.

Source-Nairaland Forum



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