Ensuring violence-free elections to secure united Nigeria

By Ishaq Yusuf

The year 2015 is significant to Nigerians, as the arrival of the year was already being greeted by a plethora of negative predictions as far back as 2012. The predictions include outright disintegration, violence, coup, civil war et cetera.

The common denominator for all these predictions is the general elections coming up in the year. The predictions are therefore expressions of what people believe will be the consequence of the election in terms of its conduct and outcome. The basis of the predictions ranges from mere conjectures to rigorous analysis of facts, information and projections.

While the 2015 general election will not be the first election in Nigeria, it is instructive to note that a number of factors will shape the course of events in the year’s election.

First, the incumbent, President Goodluck Jonathan from the South came to power to complete the tenure of late Umar Yar’Adua of Northern extraction. After completing the tenure, the incumbency factor favoured ‘Mr. Goodluck’ to secure a four-year tenure of his own in 2011.

Going by the tradition of rotational presidency between the North and the South, the North felt that after the eight year tenure of Olusegun Obasanjo as President it is only fair and just that power remains in the North for eight years. But with Yar’Adua’s death, the feeling that a candidate from the South is taking over their turn led to the agitation that power returns to the North.

By the same argument, the people of South-South geo-political zone canvassed the position that President Jonathan, being the first candidate from the zone to ever occupy the number one position since independence and considering the immense contribution of the region to the national income, deserves to have two uninterrupted tenures, hence, the demand to have another shot at the presidency.

The situation however became rather complicated by the failure of Mr President to fulfill the gentleman agreement he had with the stakeholders of his party- the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, to run for only one term in office so as to pave way for a Northern candidate, with a view to placating the aggrieved North which in the first instance never wanted Yar’Adua who was willy nilly imposed on them by the second factor. In my view, this defines the issues in this year’s election which is underscored by the strength of the political parties.

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In the past general elections held in 2003, 2007 and 2011, there was no time the ruling PDP ever contested with a very formidable opposition. But with the merger of the hitherto weak political parties, there emerged a formidable one, the All Progressive Congress. APC benefited immensely from the internal crisis within the PDP that led to the decamping of a number of governors and deft politicians with political war chest.

The APC today is therefore generally perceived to be capable of standing up to the ruling PDP in the forthcoming election. With the emergence of General Muhammadu Buhari from the North as the APC presidential candidate against President Jonathan from the South as the PDP flag bearer; not only is the battle line drawn between the two dominant political parties, the fault lines of Nigeria as a political entity are also put under a litmus test, and that is why the 2015 election is widely perceived to be a make or break one for the country.

I have gone this length to highlight the factors that are shaping and will shape issues in the 2015 general elections to give context to some of the negative predictions, to enable the reader appreciate the issues at stake and thereby stress why the predictions cannot be dismissed with the mere waive of hand.

Violence remains a key instrumentality of bringing about any of these eventualities and that is why the Peace Accord signed by the candidates of the major political parties is commendable. It should however be noted that violence has never solved any human problem; rather, it multiplies and complicates it. Whenever violence is deployed in any conflict, no one is immuned, even the most prepared and the well fortified fall victims.

Events in the ongoing electioneering campaigns simply reinforce the position that the possibility of violence is real. It is in the light of this that all hands must be on deck to prevent violence and ensure free and fair polls.

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It is pertinent to realize that free and fair elections can only be a product of collective commitment of all the stakeholders in the process. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the politicians, the electorates, the judiciary, the security agencies, the civil societies and the international community all have roles to play.

The role of INEC as the umpire is very crucial. From the preparation for the elections, the deployment of materials, the voting process to the announcement of results; all must be seen to be fair, transparent and efficiently handled.

The starting point for the evaluation of INEC’s preparedness for the election is the distribution of the Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs).The late distribution of PVCs does not augur well for the process. There can hardly be any excuse for the distribution of the cards more than three years after the last exercise. INEC does not seem to have factored in apathy on the part of people.

That millions of cards are not yet collected few weeks to the elections is worrisome, and that some cards are still not ready is even more worrisome. It is this kind of situations that provide subterfuges for politicians who are jittery of the outcome of the elections to burrow into their acts and discredit the election process through allegations of rigging.

INEC should learn from its past experiences. It must avoid a repeat of shoddy preparations of Anambra, rigging allegations of Ekiti and executive lawlessness of Osun. A situation where a single official was bought over to compromise the integrity of the process must be avoided. INEC should perfect its strategy in the deployment of election materials and deploys credible and incorruptible officials to man strategic positions. The atmosphere is already tense and cannot withstand any further shock from INEC.

The conduct of the politicians is also very critical in our collective search for a violence-free election. They should refrain from conducts or activities that are capable of heating up the polity or undermining the electoral process. They must conduct issues-based campaigns and not the ones characterised by calumny and hate speeches.

They must also have faith in the process and ensure a level playing ground is created for all to campaign and canvass for support. The victors must be magnanimous in victory and the losers must accept defeat with equanimity. Dr. Kayode Fayemi’s acceptance of defeat as a sitting governor in the last governorship election in Ekiti is exemplary in this context.

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Similarly, supporters of each party must canvass for votes peacefully and refrain from mutilating posters and other campaign materials of opponents.

Another category of people that is very crucial to the success of the process are the electorates. Every Nigerian of age should perceive voting both as a civic duty and a right. Millions of PVCs that are not yet collected is a demonstration of apathy towards the process on the part of the electorates. Your vote is your voice, so let your voice be heard and vote according to your conscience. Do not sell your vote for whatever price.

Our youths should also be wary of unscrupulous politicians who might want to use them as instruments of violence. They must realise that politicians who call to violence are not driven by any collective interests but selfish ones. Attempts to whip up ethnic or religious sentiments under the guise of political campaign must be resisted at all costs.

The police and other security agencies must discharge their duties professionally without fear or favour. They should respect the age-long tradition of non-partisanship in the course of their duties and turn down all entreaties to act as agents of any particular candidate or party.

Finally, the judiciary, should uphold its independence, guard it jealously and refuse to be used to scuttle the process as is being speculated in some quarters. Post-election disputes should be resolved expeditiously and impartially. Above all and as the last bastion of the common man, the overriding interests of the country should be held in high esteem.

In conclusion, we must all be peace ambassadors and keep Nigeria’s interest in our perspectives even as we pray for a successful outcome.

Ishaq Yusuf
Legal Officer, Center for Global Peace Initiative (CGPI)
Lagos.

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