It is also a fundamental human right of every citizen who wishes to participate in the process of electing political leaders.
Campaigns for the 2019 general elections have got off to a glittering start but the quality of political candidates, their knowledge and understanding of voters, their ability to articulate their programmes unambiguously, and the clarity of their political philosophy remains pathetic.
Since 1999 and even beyond, politics in Nigeria has been defined by the idea that voters’ tummies must be kept satisfied closer to election. This is akin to former Ekiti State Governor Ayo Fayose’s so-called “stomach infrastructure” gimmick. In previous years, ethnicity, religion, and regionalism were the key factors that determined the success or failure of candidates. While these elements remain as relevant today, they have been replaced, to some extent, by the menacing and sinister role of money in national politics.
With money, many crooked politicians are able to buy votes and influence the outcomes of elections. With money, politicians denigrate national laws and live a flashy but phoney lifestyle. With money, politicians of low and high status are guaranteed special protection by agencies that are supposed to uphold law and order in our society.
Unfortunately, money is not everything in life. Life a woman’s beauty, money is short-lived. Money offered to and accepted by voters during election, no matter how hefty, will not lift them out of their state of economic and financial deprivation. It can only provide temporary relief. A bag of rice or beans or garri will not last an entire year. That incentive will not yield happiness, a feeling of contentment, or a sense of unparalleled achievement to those who sell their votes.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo once said during the 2007 election that “Nigeria must show example to the rest of Africa and the world that we are capable of choosing our leaders peacefully and democratically.” That was a flawed statement. In every election, our politicians always find a way to demonstrate to the rest of the world their uncanny capacity to engineer fraudulent practices and to disregard the rules governing fair conduct of elections.
While international and national election observers believe that Nigerian voters have the unhindered ability to choose their political leaders peacefully, fairly, and in an unfettered manner, those pretentious viewpoints are always compromised by duplicitous officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the rigging machinery of the major political parties. It is paradoxical that officials who are appointed to oversee the conduct of free and fair elections are the ones first in line to undermine the regulations that are designed to support and sustain credible elections.
Elections ought to be an opportunity for every Nigerian of voting age to send a strong message to politicians at every level of government – federal, state, and local council. If voters believe that some politicians who are qualified to contest elections have performed very well, then, by all means, voters should express their appreciation by casting their votes to re-elect those politicians, except of course in cases where certain politicians have served the maximum term stipulated in the constitution.
If voters feel that politicians and the party in power have achieved little or nothing in the past four years, voters have the obligation to dismiss the politicians through the ballot box. By dismissing politicians through the election process, voters would be making a strong statement about their dissatisfaction with the performance of their political representatives. That is one of the advantages of democracy.
Voters can empower politicians but at the same time they can withdraw the mandate they gave to politicians. That is why citizens are advised to guard their voters’ cards carefully. Citizens cannot be denied their natural right to participate in the political process. The right to vote is an inalienable right. It is also a fundamental human right of every citizen who wishes to participate in the process of electing political leaders.
In countries that practise genuine democracy, elections are regarded seriously but not as an act of war. During election, every voter is given a chance to deliver a report card – adverse or favourable – on the performance of their elected representatives. In next year’s general elections, every eligible Nigerian voter will have a great opportunity to assess the performance of those who have been representing them for the past four years, as well as the potential of those who have not served before but are keen to be voted into office. Everyone must keep in mind that elections are not conducted every year. Voters are presented with an opportunity to elect their political representatives once every four years.
Every citizen has an underlying obligation to ensure that the report they write on their political representatives or aspiring political candidates is not contaminated in any form or unduly influenced by hopeless politicians, aspiring candidates, and their political parties. The 2019 general elections are critical in many ways. They will provide everyone with valuable opportunities to demonstrate that power actually rests with the people and not with politicians. In the coming weeks and months, dishonest politicians will be pleading to voters for their support. The nature of the next government and the quality of men and women who will be delegated with the responsibility to govern at national and state levels will depend on how wisely every voter uses their voting power.
No one should be scammed by desperate politicians. This is the time when politicians make grandiose promises, pledging to serve us rather than ask us to serve them. It is that time when politicians remember that voters have basic needs that ought to be addressed or catered for. It is that time when promises flow rapidly, such as promises to provide instant employment to the multitude of unemployed graduates, as well as promises to refurbish all decrepit roads, to force all water taps to produce potable water instantly, to provide uninterrupted electricity across the country, and to equip all public hospitals with essential drugs and state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment.
If voters could be vigilant for one moment, they would notice this is the best time to distinguish between false and lousy politicians (whose mouths constantly spray pledges) and the quiet achievers. In politics, those who make the loudest noise are most often those with empty brains. While this should not be regarded as a fail-safe proposition about how to determine political achievers and those with nothing to offer, in general it should furnish everyone with an idea about the key features of worthless politicians.
As national elections approach amid rising drums of war, voters must start to ask serious questions about the way the country and the states were governed over the past four years. Why do Nigerian politicians bluff about their magical powers to transform the lives of ordinary citizens only when elections are on the horizon?
No democratic nation prepares for national elections as if a war is about to break out. No nation prepares for elections by allowing politicians and political parties to assassinate their opponents. Democracy is about giving citizens the free choice to elect political representatives. It is also about the freedom of citizens to contest elective positions. Democracy is not about violently eliminating your opponents from the political process.