The closer we get to the start of this year’s general election in late February, the fuzzier everyone becomes about the possibility the elections might not hold. The elections are increasingly looking like a game of hide-and-seek, no thanks to the chairperson of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Mahmood Yakubu. He has developed the habit of using growing insecurity as the basis for threatening the cancellation of the elections.
On Monday, January 9, 2023, Yakubu forewarned the nation that the elections might not hold as scheduled owing to insecurity. He said the elections could be cancelled or postponed, if there was no significant improvement in national security. Yakubu spoke during the validation of election security training resources that took place in Abuja, where he was represented by the chairman of the Board of Electoral Institute, Abdullahi Zuru, on Monday last week.
Specifically, Yakubu said, “If the insecurity is not monitored and dealt with decisively, it could ultimately culminate in the cancellation and/or postponement of elections in sufficient constituencies to hinder declaration of election results and precipitate constitutional crisis.”
That kind of alarm was most certainly intended to cause uneasiness among voters. Yakubu’s incessant warnings about insecurity have prompted the question: What does the INEC chairperson derive by creating nervousness in the public through frequent notifications about the likely impact of violence on the coming elections? He has issued alerts so many times now that they are no longer helpful.
In his address, Yakubu said: “We all appreciate the fact that election security is vital to democratic consolidation through provision of enabling environment for the conduct of free, fair, credible, and inclusive elections and thus strengthening the electoral process. Consequently, in preparations for the 2023 general elections, the commission is not leaving anything to chance in ensuring that intensive and extensive security are provided for election personnel, materials and processes. This is particularly significant to the commission given the current insecurity challenges in various parts of the country and the fact that the National Youth Service Corps members constitute the core of the polling unit election officials.”
A day after Yakubu issued his warning, the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, panicked and issued assurances. He said: “The position of the Federal Government remains that the 2023 elections will be held as planned. Nothing has happened to change that position. We are aware that INEC is working with the security agencies to ensure that the elections are successfully held across the country.”
We have seen INEC chairperson Yakubu previously issue cautions that tend to set fire on the polity and, therefore, unsettle citizens. The danger in Yakubu’s constant warnings is that they fit nicely into the mindset of people who propound conspiracy theories about the likelihood that the elections might be postponed in order to extend the current government’s term in office. If the elections are dropped because of insecurity or violence, that decision would justify the conspiracy theories.
During the 2019 elections, INEC postponed the start of the elections by several days for reasons known only to Yakubu and senior INEC officials.
Right now, concerns and questions about whether the elections would hold and whether growing violence could compel President Muhammadu Buhari’s government to declare a state of emergency that would prolong the government’s tenure appear to be gaining followers, traction, support and strength in the public sphere. Everywhere you go, everyone you speak with, there is uneasiness about the approaching general election.
Speculations around the elections abound. Yakubu has not helped by issuing his weekly screams regarding insecurity. Unending warnings about violence or rising insecurity across the country can aggravate public nervousness or provoke more restlessness among members of the public. Surely, that is the not the mood you expect to see weeks out from the start of the elections, particularly considering many portentous predictions about what would happen during the elections.
An extraordinarily high level of interest shown by political parties and their candidates in the coming elections has amplified public apprehensions over the possibilities of outbreak of extreme violence. The atmosphere is packed with forewarnings about the scale of violence that could erupt to disrupt the elections.
It is not only predictions about violence that have given the polls a note of unpredictability and concern. The success of the elections is generally seen as a test or indicator of political stability in Nigeria, going forward. If the elections are sullied by widespread misdemeanours, violence, disregard for the rules, or massive rigging, and if the public perceives the outcomes of the elections as heavily compromised and predetermined, Nigeria might well be on the road to an unstoppable firestorm that would consume whatever the country has achieved over previous decades.
Attempts by hoodlums to display improper behaviour, to disrupt the voting process, to aid cheating or corruption, to obstruct free and fair election or to sabotage the elections could trigger a chain of unpleasant events, political instability, and civil disobedience, all of which could lead to one outcome – the disintegration of the geographical entity known as Nigeria. The fear is not unfounded. There are sound reasons to worry.
Politicians and their agents have consistently portrayed the upcoming general election in ghoulish language. Some presidential candidates were recorded or captured on digital devices encouraging their supporters to go all out to win the election by any means possible. As the saying goes, desperate times call for desperate measures.
So far, the presidential election is the one that has attracted most public attention. Every presidential candidate would like to win it. But it is also the election that candidates without prospects would want to disrupt. These are candidates who do not see defeat as an option. The stakes are high.
If we evaluate the existing atmosphere by what is happening on the ground and what is being muttered in sotto voce in private spaces and in the public domain, it could be concluded that Nigeria is primed to explode politically. If that prediction is upheld, the country could become a land of bloodshed and repugnant sacrifices. Surely, inter-ethnic and religious violence across the country will test the readiness of citizens to tolerate one another and the preparedness of politicians to allow voters to decide who should succeed Buhari as President.
The coming elections will reveal or confirm a few things about Nigeria and Nigerians. The global community will get to see the way we conduct elections in Nigeria, the kind of democracy we practice, and the strategies we adopt to elect political leaders. The elections will also offer an opportunity to less privileged citizens who are mostly impoverished to demonstrate whether they would auction their Permanent Voters’ Card (PVCs) and therefore forfeit their votes to crooked politicians. Or the elections could be an opportunity for voters to elect competent, honest, credible, and well-informed candidates. The choice is theirs.
As the D-Day approaches, voters must understand they have the ultimate power to determine election outcomes. They can hold on to that power by refusing to be controlled by politicians, by refusing to sell their votes, and by underlining the point that political candidates have an obligation to present logical and clearly articulated programmes of how they plan to improve the socioeconomic conditions of ordinary citizens.
The forthcoming elections are critical. Voters who place their faith and future in the hands of crooked politicians based on false promises would, unfortunately, hand over their destiny to professional robbers.