The time has come again. The Nigerian political landscape is once again agog with plethora of political activities. Political gladiators are rolling out campaign drums and scrolls of carefully crafted manifestoes. There is a fierce contest of ideas by politicians traversing the Nigerian political space. It is yet another election year, and the nation is once again held in the seasonal anxiety about the unknown.
Elections in Nigeria come with great apprehension. This is because preparing for election in our nation is like preparing for war. While elections in other climes are a means of peaceful power transition, in Nigeria, elections have become a do or die affair. The result is that many politicians play up ethnic, religious and other primordial sentiments, to selfishly manipulate the masses to their electoral advantage. In the process, they heat up the polity with hate and sentimental speeches, turn the masses against themselves and set the nation on edge.
While elections are a critical means of deepening democracy and driving the process of national development, a virile, strong and sustainable democratic institution germane to national growth cannot emerge in a political process where elections are seen as warfare and electioneering campaigns are rendered in the language of hate, calumny, intrigues and mudslinging, resulting in violence and bloodbath.
As we prepare for the 2019 general election therefore, it has become highly imperative for us to remind ourselves that those who seek for our votes are aspiring to serve the people. If they genuinely aspire to serve, they must surrender themselves to the objective judgment of the electorate and not resort to the use of force to gain electoral victory.
The foregoing is particularly instructive because the breach of peace, law and order in Nigeria during and immediately after general elections has often undermined the democratic process and threatened the unity, stability and corporate existence of Nigeria as we witnessed in the First and Second Republic. It is therefore our collective responsibility to ensure that the 2019 elections are not only free, fair, credible and acceptable, but that the elections are held in a peaceful environment devoid of rancour and acrimony. It is by so doing that we can deepen the democratic process and reposition our nation on the path of sustainable growth and development.
It is heart-warming that President Muhammadu Buhari and Presidential aspirants of other major political parties have already committed themselves to a peace pact for the 2019 polls. All Nigerians, especially the political elite, opinion moulders, traditional and religious leaders as well as the youths and women must abide by the letter and the spirit of this pact by our Presidential aspirants.
As our politicians commence the electioneering process, they must note that despite the differences in tribe and tongue, religion and creed, Nigeria is one country ordained by God. Accordingly, they must eschew all forms of hate, inciting and provocative utterances capable of heating up the polity and causing undue tension in the land. Campaigns should be based on issues clearly articulated in party manifestoes and not mindless vilification of individual opponents, groups or institutions.
In the same vein, our traditional and religious leaders should see themselves as role models and apostles of peace, national unity and integration. The tendency of some of our leaders to equate their personal interest with that of their community and to appeal to ethnic sentiments as a campaign tool for mobilizing support for politicians has often fanned the embers of inter-ethnic and inter-religious discord. Our traditional and religious leaders must lift themselves beyond the narrow confines of ethnic and religious jingoism to the broader concern for our national unity and development. As people who command wide followership and the trust of the people they have the responsibility of promoting peaceful election by showing good examples and leading the people on the path of peace.
The media is also very critical in ensuring free, fair and peaceful elections. As the watch-dog of the society, the media must live up to its professional responsibility of creating awareness on the code of ethics for the election as well as reporting credibly, constructively and objectively. The media must be aware that only duly designated officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) have the power to announce results. The process of rushing to announce results when votes are still being collated have severally ignited violence in the past and must be avoided by the media. In this era of citizen journalism made viral by social media platforms, caution and restraint must be the media practitioner’s byline towards a responsible electoral conduct.
The Independent National Electoral Commission must see itself as an umpire whose responsibility is to create a level playing field for all political parties to freely contest. For there to be peaceful, credible and acceptable elections, INEC should not only be neutral and unbiased but must be seen to be truly so.
The role of the Security Agencies in maintaining law and order before, during and after elections cannot be overemphasized. As law enforcement agencies, the role of the police and other security organs is to ensure that elections are held in a peaceful environment and that the electorates are allowed to freely exercise their franchise without let or hindrance. They are also to ensure that the game is played according to the rules and that minor disagreements are not allowed to escalate to violence. The Security Agencies are deployed to voting centre for all political parties and situations where they look at the other side when electoral offences are being committed would only make people take the law in their own hands.
As experience has shown, the youths are often the cannon fodders for electoral violence. They are those often used by some unscrupulous politicians as army of bodyguards and thugs to rig elections, snatch ballot boxes and cause violence. It is regrettable that politicians who recruit innocent youths as political thugs send their own children to the safe havens of foreign universities for academic pursuit. Unfortunately for the youths, once the politicians acquire political power, they lock their gates against them, until such a time when their services will required for the dirty jobs. The youths must therefore ensure that they do not put their life on the line for the politicians who would only use and dump them.
Equally, Nigerian women have a key role to play in propagating and promoting peace towards 2019 elections. Indeed, women own the key to peace in the world. As mothers, wives, sisters and aunties, the women are endowed with the natural capacity of walking themselves into the heart of men.
Dr. Adewole writes from Abuja
No doubt that in his New Year message to the world, the Pope said “the love of the mother is foundation for humanity and the cure of a world often divided and filled with bitterness”. He stressed that humanity “is built upon mothers” and that “a world in which maternal tenderness is dismissed as a mere sentiment may be rich materially but poor where the future is concerned”. The implication of this pontific admonition is that the key to peace in the world lies largely with the women who must use their position to influence humanity for peace.
It is noteworthy that when violence erupts in the society, it is usually the women and children that are the worst victims. Majority of Nigerians currently in our Internally Displaced People’s camps are women and children. This is why Nigerian women must work hard in ensuring that there is peace and social harmony in Nigeria during the elections and at all time.
The various Civil Society Organizations in Nigeria, Development Partners, Election Monitors and our foreign friends must work with the Election Management Bodies, particularly INEC, in ensuring a Peaceful Election and a smooth political transition in 2019. As the most populous country in black Africa, the stability of Nigeria is key to the stability of the continent and the world. Africa and the world cannot manage Nigeria refugees that may arise from political violence resulting from a failed general election. The success of the 2019 General Elections in Nigeria is therefore of paramount interest not only to Nigeria but also to Africa and the rest of the world. This is why all hands must be on deck in ensuring peaceful, free and fair elections.
Finally, the fulcrum of our response to social engagement is our culture and indeed, our culture speaks peace. It behoves us to reverse the narrative of electoral violence by avoiding all cultural malpractices such as vote buying, ballot stuffing and ballot box snatching. We are the determiners of the peace we seek when we ensure peaceful conduct at the polls.
Dr. Adewole writes from Abuja