By Sunday Ani
With the clock ticking towards the 2023 general elections, palpable fear, anxiety and tension, have enveloped many Nigerians, particularly those who desire a new set of visionary leaders, different from those that have dominated the political scene since 1999. Characteristic of general elections in the country, the atmosphere is already charged and discussions on politics have suddenly become the preoccupation of majority of Nigerians.
All manner of permutations and calculations as to which political party is likely to win or lose in the elections have become the pastime of many Nigerians, including the self-acclaimed prophets and marabouts. Many, especially the youth, continue to show willingness and preparedness to participate actively in the electoral process like never before. However, despite the apparent enthusiasm, they are afraid and concerned that the electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), might not be able to deliver free, fair and credible elections in 2023. There are speculations that the electoral process may be compromised due to some subterranean moves by certain unscrupulous elements determined to thwart the popular will of the people.
Analysts agree that such fear and anxiety might not be unconnected with some events like the destruction and dumping of Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) in gutters in some states allegedly by some dubious characters believed to be working in cahoots with some officials of the INEC; the clandestine moves in certain quarters to frustrate the use of Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) in the elections as evidenced in the alleged threat of a court action by some politicians and groups in that regard; as well as reports of widespread fake voter registrations in some states, like Imo, as alleged by the Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) and others.
The massive turnout of the youth population during the last Continuous Voter Registration (CRV) exercise across the country by INEC, which was a clear indication of their readiness to take active part in the 2023 electoral processes, has sent shivers down the spines of old political war horses, such that they are alleged to have deployed the antics of destroying and dumping hundreds of thousands of citizens’ PVCs in gutters in some states as was recently seen in the social media.
Close watchers of political developments in Nigeria have described the cataclysmic change in the youths’ political behaviour as a kind of revolution, which must not be toyed with by the electoral body or anybody for that matter. They all agreed that from East to West, North to South, the level of enthusiasm and political awareness among the youths, and Nigerians in general, as evidenced in the mad rush to register with the INEC and get their PVCs during the last registration exercise is a pointer to the fact that any attempt by any individual or group to deny them that opportunity to partake in selecting their leaders in 2023, either by throwing their PVCs into the gutters or secretly destroying them, would spell doom for the country, as they may not take it lightly with the government.
Looking at the odds popping up on a daily basis against the electoral body as it prepares for the 2023 elections, Nigerians are constrained to ask: “Can INEC deliver credible elections in 2023, considering all the twists and thorns constantly being concocted against its preparations by some disgruntled politicians and groups? How can it ensure that all those Nigerians of voting age who have registered to vote are given their PVCs to be able to carry out that very crucial civic responsibility?
For the president of the Middle Belt Forum (MBF), Dr. Pogu Bitrus, elections in Nigeria had always been manipulated by politicians, but he expressed confidence that with the use of BVAS, the 2023 elections would have some level of credibility.
He also noted that whether or not the BVAS could really take care of double registrations was something that would be determined after the elections. “So, politicians will always manipulate elections; that will not stop because even in the developed nations, it is still a problem. Remember that in the last American presidential elections, former President Donald Trump queried so many things.
“But, we are moving forward. We know that the system will not be perfect. Some people may even try to hack the system as they tried to do in the recent elections in either Osun or Ekiti, according to INEC. So far, these fears are there, and some politicians, knowing full well that the BVAS will certainly stop them from doing what they used to do, like changing voting figures and all that, will go to court to stop its usage, but it doesn’t mean they are going to win, or that Nigerians will sit back and watch them to mess everybody up,” he noted.
He urged Nigerians to be optimistic, in spite of all the identified odds, saying, “We will fight and ensure that something credible comes out of the elections. Let Nigerians be prepared for the transformation that many of us are trying to bring about.”
National Publicity Secretary of the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Alex Ogbonnia, lamented that the kind of democracy being practised in Nigeria was the bane of all the electoral problems in Nigeria. He noted that Nigeria has failed to separate the state from the government and that is why it has become so difficult to have free, fair and credible elections in Nigeria.
He said: “I have always maintained that there is a difference between the state and the government. The state is something that is distinct or abstract but the government is a component or the machinery of the state. There are certain structures or institutions of the state that should not be run by the government. You say the electoral body is independent but it is not independent. The government has no business with the manipulation of INEC in the first place, dictating who should be the chairman and all what not. If the ruling party wants to rig the 2023 election, it has started with the appointment of the INEC chairman, the Resident Electoral Commissioners and national commissioners.
“So, talking about the capacity of INEC to deliver free, fair and credible elections in 2023, it doesn’t surprise me if they don’t do that. However, I think every person has to be alert because evil thrives when good men go to sleep. If everybody is alert, the activities of the evil ones would be adequately monitored and checked by good people who are in the majority. They will overwhelm the evil men and that will be the beginning of a new Nigeria; a kind of revolution.
“Another fact is that social media is entirely a new kind of revolution because awareness now is different from what it used to be in the past. The youths are now an embodiment of change; they are no longer willing tools that could be used in elections by politicians. The youths are now the agent of change. Hooliganism will be reduced because a lot of them are now aware. So, I look forward to achieving a great departure from what used to be in the past.”
Continuing, he said: “Electoral management body ought to be an institution of the state and the meddlesomeness of the government should not occur at all. In other words, allegiance should be to the state and not to the government, but here, it is the same government that appoints INEC leadership. Geography, population, government and sovereignty are the components of any state. Government should be a component of the state but here in Nigeria, it is the other way round. It is the institution of the state that creates the government but in Nigeria, it is the government that creates the institution of the state and that is the bane of our problem.”
President of the Arewa Youths Consultative Forum (AYCF), Alhaji Yerima Shettima, believes that no matter what the enemies of the country might do to dampen the morale of INEC in its march to deliver free, fair and credible elections in 2023, the INEC chairman, Prof Mahmud Yakubu, has demonstrated in previous elections that the expectations of Nigerians would be met.
He also described as a welcome development the allegation of threat by some politicians to go to court to stop the use of BVAS because, according to him, it would put the government and the ruling party on their toes.
“So, for me, it is just normal but Nigerians generally have a lot of confidence in the INEC and we have no doubt in our minds that INEC will deliver. It was INEC’s idea under Yakubu’s leadership that the issue of BVAS came up and he has pursued it vigorously until it became a reality. So, it is natural for people to sit down and create unnecessary tension and claim it is for the general interest but often, it has been proven to be for selfish reasons. We are not bothered by what people think or do to frustrate INEC because we know that INEC is equal to the task and has demonstrated that ability,” he said.
He urged Nigerians to continue to encourage INEC because they would not expect any person from outside Nigeria to conduct elections for Nigerians. “It is strictly a Nigerian affair and our business. So, all we need to do is to encourage them. Rather than blackmail them where we find them wanting, we should draw their attention to that. They cannot do it alone; they need the support of all Nigerians including the security agents so that they can do it right,” he noted.
For the former second Vice President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Monday Onyekachi Ubani, whether INEC would be able to deliver free, fair and credible elections in 2023 is largely dependent on Nigerians.
He urged Nigerians to insist that the right thing must be done, saying, “If we discover any defect in any of the processes, we should raise alarm to the public and let INEC know what our fears are, and probably wait for their reactions, whether they will address such issues or not. If we don’t raise those issues which we have found out in the system, the politicians will think that everybody is ignorant, and if they want to manipulate, they can go ahead to do that. So, I like what CUPP and other activists and NGOs are doing in order to ensure that INEC gets prepared to deliver credible elections, because if we don’t have credible elections, then the result is that we will produce the kind of leaders that will not be able to take the country anywhere. It also means that such elections will not reflect the will of the people, but a reflection of the will of those criminals that have actually hijacked the system over the years.”