The postponement of the February 16 Presidential and National Assembly elections by the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, a few hours to the beginning of the exercise, has attracted nationwide condemnation. The INEC boss while announcing the shift in the dates of the elections explained that the postponement was as a result of logistic challenge. The cheapest estimate of the cost of the postponement is $1.5 billion. No one has attempted to put a tag on what it has done to the nation’s self-esteem and its estimation in the eyes of the international community. Such failures demonstrate the emptiness of our occasional arrogant posturing and deflate our national ego. But this is not the time to dwell on the events of last week. We have an even more crucial task today to elect Nigeria’s National Assembly, our next president or to renew the tenure of the incumbent.
To return to the good books of the Nigerian people, INEC must ensure that its officials are at their posts at 7 am today and ready to facilitate the casting of ballots by Nigerians. We expect the electronic card readers to work, given all that the commission has said. The image of former President Goodluck Jonathan spending what looked like eternity to clock into the card reader four years ago still sends a shudder into Nigerians. The INEC chairman has promised a seamless process. We hope this would not be like his earlier promises.
We expect Nigerians to have a sense of security and a feel-at-home atmosphere as they approach every polling booth, with the police being absolutely unobtrusive. The military, on its part, should be out of sight, standing by just in case the police encounter difficult situations, which we don’t expect, anyway.
We urge every Nigerian given a responsibility in our democracy to take his or her task seriously and to bear in mind that Nigerians, after 30 years in the wilderness of dictatorship, have cast their lot with democracy as a preferred method of government. Any acts or omissions to thwart or undermine the system must, therefore, be condemned and punished adequately. That is why it is a pity that the National Assembly could not find time to clearly codify electoral offences and felonies and INEC itself is not sure who should handle their prosecution when violated.
The argument on how to deal with ballot box snatchers and political thugs has been stimulating, with President Muhammadu Buhari urging a “ruthless” treatment, which has been liberally interpreted to mean harsh treatment including summary execution. The President’s mind seems to be in the right place, although he would appear to have characteristically ignored the need for due process. But it is an important debate which should continue after the elections. Thuggery and violence are among the most pernicious problems of democracy in Nigeria. Hardly a day passes without some blood-chilling assassinations, murder, or politically-motivated communal killings. Most of these heinous crimes are committed by hired thugs, personal militias. Nigerians have not forgotten last year’s gubernatorial primaries in some states where thugs upturned tables and ballot boxes thereby destroying an ongoing democratic process in the presence of hundreds of voters. The perpetrators wore no masks but till date no one has been prosecuted. Until the thugs and their employers begin to receive appropriate punishment, the phenomenon will continue.
We also expect an orderly and speedy execution of the voting process. The pain of registering to vote, collecting the permanent voters’ cards has taken a toll on the patience and endurance of the Nigerian electorate. Our hope is that they would not have to go through similar pains to vote today. The average time it takes to vote in the United States is said to be 11 minutes. We hope INEC could match or improve on that time frame.
We expect polling to end early and collation to be done in a most transparent manner. Collation centres are notorious for being the hall where Nigeria’s democracy goes to die. We hope today is different. We appeal to political parties to cooperate with INEC and get their supporters to behave themselves. We expect a free, fair and transparent election, a peaceful atmosphere and a conclusive poll. We expect the loser to do the needful. The patience of Nigerians has been tested last week. We believe in redemption and a second chance. INEC should seize that opportunity to make sure that every vote counts in a manner obvious to the naked eye.