On Saturday, Nigerians will be going to the polls again to elect leaders who will steer the ship of the Nigerian state for another four years in line with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution as amended, which has been in operation since the country returned to multiparty democracy 20 years ago.
The exercise will result in the elections of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and members of the National Assembly. This will be followed in two weeks by the elections of state governors and members of the state Houses of Assembly.
These exercises are indeed very crucial moments in the country, hence the need to allow eligible voters perform their civic responsibility in a manner that harmonizes with the universally acknowledged dictates of democracy.
Democracy, as a system based on the consent of the governed, requires that citizens exercise their responsibility without hindrances and encumbrances of any sort either by the state and its agencies or political parties and individuals. Therefore, the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC), must, as a duty, ensure that no eligible voter is deprived of the right to vote. It should not be the case where people are herded into the polling booths to vote without making proper choices. The leaders chosen must reflect the will of the people.
To boost and instill the confidence of the people in the elections, INEC should also remain an impartial and independent umpire in the exercises by refraining from actions that are capable of giving electoral advantages to a political party. In the last two or three months, the Nigerian electorate has been inundated with the news on how the electoral umpire is being pressured to use the power conferred on it by the Constitution to swing victory in favour of the ruling party. This is very worrisome given the number of appointments by the INEC in recent times as part of its preparation for the elections.
Therefore, to assuage Nigerians, and as well guarantee their confidence in the elections, INEC should live above board by ensuing the credibility of the elections by nipping in the bud any act it deems has the potentials to diminish the credibility of the polls. Because, aside from Nigerians, members of the international community are also watching, hence the authorities in INEC must not fritter away the confidence that has been reposed on them by doing the needful, which is ensuring that the elections are free and fair.
As part of this effort, the security agencies will do well not to interfere in any form with the election. While security is not within the sphere of INEC, the electoral umpire must give directions on how the credibility of the elections can be guaranteed in order to prevent overzealous members of the security agencies from messing up the exercise.
Previous experiences have shown how unscrupulous politicians and party officials connived with security agencies to harass and intimidate voters while aiding and abetting electoral offences.
For the security agencies, this is the time to prove their neutrality especially in regards to elections. Election history in Nigeria is replete with cases of how some unpatriotic members of the security agencies had been adept at frustrating efforts to ensure credible elections. This is also the time for the new Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, to prove that he is equal to the task entrusted on him by Nigerians. The outcomes of the elections will make or mar him. Hence, it is against this backdrop that we appeal to him and the authorities of other security agencies in the country to see these elections as a call to duty to their country by scuttling efforts by mischievous individuals and groups to mar the objective of the exercise.
Secret vote or other equivalent free voting procedure must be adhered to, as the secrecy of the ballot is a crucial element of many democracies. Hence, in order to protect against the purchasing of votes or coercion, ballots should be cast in secret. Equivalent free voting procedure means that one’s ability to vote should be unhindered by others, in that the electorate should be free to vote in line with their views rather than by force or coerced into voting for what others would like.
The secrecy of the ballot is an easier way of limiting election fraud, which is why it is the most common way of voting. The universality of elections as well as their integrity includes efforts to ensure that elections are never to be discriminatory for reasons of gender, ethnicity, faith or disability. Similarly, elections should always be trustworthy.
The contestants should know that their ambitions are not worth the blood of Nigerians. On this score, we counsel that whoever emerges winner in a free and fair election should be magnanimous in victory while the losers should remain patriotic and gallant in defeat. It should never be a do-or-die affair. This is not the last election to be held in the country. We should all join hands together to make democracy thrive in our country for the overall good of the society.