It is twenty days to the 2019 General Elections. It is also 20 years this year since democracy was restored in Nigeria after prolonged military rule. Unfortunately, there seem to be far more than twenty ailments bedeviling both Nigeria and her democracy. And the problem is growing by the day. Indeed, there seems to be a resolute mindless determination in some quarters to cripple democracy and whatever basic pillars that sustain it. All the same it is election season and things are happening.
After years of planning and positioning its facilities and personnel for the 2019 elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission [INEC] recently commenced what can be called the final descent into the election arena. The offices of the Election Management Body across the country has gradually exploded into a vast theatre of final training and consultative engagements with stakeholders in the electoral process, all activities geared towards prepping all segments of the society for the ultimate challenge called general election in Nigeria.
War is not more elaborately prepared than a general election in Nigeria. Money is mopped up from financial houses and stacked at homes. Food stuff too. The elite class ferry their family abroad to watch what may happen from afar. Schools are even closed down. The military is put on alert, with chances that some of the troops may be deployed on Election Day for duty. The Police continue to undergo relentless training and retooling, with eyes set on covering a vast area of challenges that are as varied as the colours confronting the eye during political rallies. In some instances the hapless Police has the rather confusing task of securing campaign rallies from mischief makers and hoodlums who spring not from political opponents but from within the very party holding the rally. For instance in Imo State recently, the Police had to be stretched as it tried to separate an internecine war within a party whose faithful were thickly divided and went viciously against each other. One side cheered the party’s governorship candidate while the other side booed the same candidate, preferring rather to cheer a stranger running for the same office on another platform.
Both sides seemed very determined to outdo and undo the other thereby causing substantial chaos and what law enforcement people call a breakdown of law and order. How to identify who is a proper party faithful and who is a hoodlum in that setting gave an insight into the task before the Nigeria Police during the war called election in Nigeria.
Not to talk of such other new critical tasks for the police as tracking vote buyers. Curiously some of those involved in this new line of trade have reportedly chosen such compromised zones as beer parlour as the place for their nefarious trade. For police men on duty, this must count as one of those peculiar hazards of the job. Look at it this way; how many people will believe that a policeman in uniform coming out of a beer parlour was on duty to track suspected voter buyers. Just think of the mischief in it. As if the Police do not have enough problems to contend with. This is by the way.
As INEC commenced training of various personnel for election duties last week, the lingering problem of politicians plotting against elections and electoral democracy in Nigeria came to the fore once more. The proclivity in the political class to cheat and undermine elections is yet to abate. The critical process of training and recruiting ad hoc election staff which the EMB embarked upon last week remain one of those steps it must take to conduct elections. Not having the almost one million manpower it requires to conduct general elections, INEC must find ad hoc staff to undertake the necessary assignment. Politicians never stop exploring how to corrupt these ad hoc staff and rig elections. The struggle for the control of the mind and behaviour of election ad hoc staff has remained one of the abiding headaches of INEC every election season. Now it is time once again. And nothing seems to have changed.
In 2006 INEC took the creative step of signing the first Memorandum of Understanding [MOU] with the National Youth Service Corps, a development that sought to substantially transfer election ad hoc duties to young, educated and easily identifiable citizens. That very initiative remains a major landmark in the structural arrangement for the conduct of general elections in Nigeria. But then the corps members are not yet enough for the number required for the task. INEC continues to search, identify and define the right sources from which it can draw other ad hoc election personnel who will exhibit the needed neutrality on the task.
From all indications, the politicians seem to be marking the EMB bumper to bumper on the matter of ad hoc staff. Instead of focusing on their campaigns and working hard on prospective voters, virtually all sides in the electoral contest seem out to track, poach and possibly compromise the election ad hoc staff even before they are hired by INEC.
The rigorous process that has been established by the Commission for selecting election ad hoc staff does not seem to deter the prospective ad staff buyers. Twenty years down the democracy lane in Nigeria, the setting for the 2019 elections cannot be more troubling. The political class seem uncompromisingly determined to turn Nigeria’s electoral democracy into a bazaar. The market is even expanding; party nomination buying, ad hoc staff buying, Permanent Voter’s Card and vote buying. Name it.
The mindset and the environment that promote the warped notion that an election cannot be won unless it is undermined and rigged remain perhaps, the biggest hurdle that electoral democracy must cross to become respectable in Nigeria. The battle of wits and grits that the Election Management Body fights with sundry traders operating in the electoral process every election season will remain a huge distraction and impediment to the proper development of electoral democracy in Nigeria.