President Muhammadu Buhari recently assured the international community and indeed Nigerians that the 2019 election would be free, fair and credible. We are glad for the reassurance and we have no other choice but to hold the president to his word.
It should not surprise anyone the attention the forthcoming election is attracting all over the world. The 2019 election is perhaps the single most important event on the continent for next year. Nigeria is Africa’s biggest democracy and whatever affects her, affects at least a quarter of the entire continent. So, it is in the interest of everyone, the international community inclusive, that we get it right and deliver a credible and successful general election.
The 2019 election would represent the 6th attempt at a democratic change of administration and it is therefore crucial to our growing democratic culture and its sustainability. There is perhaps enough evidence that our practice of democracy is not quite there yet, with many optimists holding the view that things would improve with more time. But we cannot wish away the many difficulties this preferred form of governance has suffered in the hands of key stakeholders and actors, hence the need to be on the alert.
In advanced democracies, elections are a celebration of the culture of freedom and the right to free choice. These rights are guided jealousy by the people and preserved by all means. In our own previous and recent experiences, the attempts at democratic governance have suffered several deliberate attacks sometimes by the very people who should be in the forefront of sustaining it. This has led to the premature sacking of three previous republics. Now that we have enjoyed almost 20 years of unbroken democracy, nothing should be done to truncate it.
This should be the real essence of the president’s assurances. Elections should be free, fair and credible. This is the irreducible minimum standard. But for this to be attained, it would require more than the assurances of Mr. President. Other relevant stakeholders such as the electoral umpire, the political parties, security and other support agencies must play their roles.
There can be no denying the fact that one major drawback to our attempts at conducting credible and acceptable elections has been the desperation of political actors to win at all cost. As a consequence, they have continued to devise unethical strategies to beat the efforts of the umpire to checkmate them. From premeditated inflation of the voter registers and underage voting, they have graduated to ballot box snatching and maiming and killing of opponents and vote buying. In their desperation to win at all cost, politicians seek to compromise the electoral umpire, ad hoc staff and more importantly security agencies to skew the outcomes in their favour.
Overall, this has resulted in the monetisation of our electoral processes which often tend to put their integrity in doubt. From the badly conducted general election of 2003 and 2007, things have improved a lot leading to the last election in 2015 which was adjudged to be substantially free and fair. It witnessed the milestone of seeing the first peaceful handover of power from a ruling party to opposition party in the country.
This is the good legacy that the forthcoming 2019 election must build on. We cannot afford to go back. The President must walk the talk and the electorate must play their roles in ensuring that the outcome of the election is credible and seen to be free and fair to all parties involved. To further achieve this, all the support institutions, including the laws and processes that guide the elections should be strengthened. In this regard, we are concerned that some of the proposed laws including the one that plans to set up the Electoral Offences Tribunal have not been passed by the National Assembly. If these laws are in place and strictly enforced, then some of the lapses that were noticed over the years with our electoral processes could be corrected. Our laws must provide strong deterrents for electoral offenders and their would-be accomplices.
There are enough red-flags already. The recent governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun states left much to be desired. In the end, failed elections are not in the long-term interest of the country, and all stakeholders must work concertedly to ensure that the 2019 general election is successful.