We commend the governments of the United States and Great Britain for their moral and material support for the Nigerian general elections scheduled to begin on February 16. This support comes when Nigeria needs it most to advance its aspirations for the enthronement of democracy and an enduring culture of plebiscitarian politics.
The US was emphatic that it “does not support any specific candidate or party,” but a “free, fair, transparent and peaceful electoral process.” The British has pledged support for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and civil society, to help deliver credible elections. Both nations continue to engage the Nigerian society especially the main actors to encourage them to respect the rules and maintain an atmosphere of peace.
The British government has promised to deploy an extensive observation mission and to coordinate with the robust European Union Election Observation Mission (EUEOM). These efforts are geared to monitoring any attempts to encourage or use violence to influence the elections and if such is detected, the consequences for offending individuals could include travel bans, restriction of access to UK-based funds, and prosecution under international law. The US has also promised consequences for all those who interfere in the democratic process, who initiate, instigate violence against the civilian population; it could extend the sanctions to family members.
We appreciate the US and British efforts and urge other friends of Nigeria, European and Commonwealth democratic nations, to play a part. Nigeria needs external help in democratic elections, given our relative inexperience. We also need to keep the elections as open and as transparent as possible. These elections do not have room for risks, errors and omissions. The anxiety of Nigerians as they approach the elections is truly high. First, they would not wish to have an election rated below their 2015 standard, results of which raised Nigeria’s profile among democratic nations of the world following the unprecedented ousting of the ruling party by the opposition. For the first time, an incumbent president conceded defeat and had the gallantry to call and congratulate the winner.
Nigerians worry a great deal about the coming elections because when elections go awry in Nigeria they are fraught with grave consequences and the lessons of 2007 presidential election and other incidents of election violence are still fresh in the memory of Nigerians. A free, fair and peaceful election uplifts the country but also portends the strengthening of democracy in Nigeria and Africa.
The sanctions promised the electoral offenders are appropriate. Nigerian politicians are globe-trotters and use the foreign trips to shop or squirrel away their ill-gotten wealth. Threatening to deprive them of that privilege might make some of them think twice before unleashing violence to ensure they win at all costs. On the whole, however, punishment for electoral offences is literally non-existent in the country. There is no record of anyone in jail for serious electoral malpractices. It is one of the ironies of Nigeria’s democracy that no one pays a price for grievous electoral offences. In numerous elections in the past, ballot boxes had been stolen or damaged or snatched by violence by thugs and political militias. Most times, the identities of the culprits are known, sometimes, even video evidence is available. Yet no one is prosecuted. INEC officials, who literally write out results from thin air, even when caught red-handed with the cash, barely ever get prosecuted. Yet, it is obvious that until we begin to punish electoral offences with sanctions commensurate with the gravity of the crime, political thuggery and the stealing of elections through electoral officials will continue to pose a danger to democracy in Nigeria.