Editor's note: Yetunde Bakare, a public commentator and Senior Program Officer, YIAGA AFRICA-Centre for Legislative Engagement, writes on the dearth in Nigeria's democracy, especially with the incidents that characterized the just concluded 2019 general elections across the country.
The just concluded (or better yet, almost concluded) general elections have left in its trail, the imprints from the violence that claimed lives of some Nigerians and destroyed properties. It was an election that saw the disregard for electoral laws/guidelines, abuse of the power of incumbency as the only means of emerging successful from the election.
The keenly contested elections will remain one of the most controversial in our history of elections and while some have argued that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) failed in its mandate to organize, undertake and supervise credible election the argument remains incomplete if the liability is not shared with the stakeholders who are also liable in the quest for credibility and integrity of the polls.
This election shamefully showcased the inordinate monetization of politics, interference of the military in the electoral process and the intentional destruction of democratic institutions by the political class.
As highlighted in the reports from elections observers, Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) reports that ‘‘in Ebonyi state, thugs burned down three RACs in Okposi in Ohaozara LGA and Oriuzor and Ekka in Ezza LGA, destroying election materials. About 75 polling units and voting points were affected, and some 36,392 registered voters may have been disenfranchised as a result.’’
Cleen Foundation also noted: ‘‘in Gokana, Oyigbo, Degema, Ikwerre, Emouha, Ogu-Bolo, Okrika, Khana, Obio Akpor, Etche, Akuku Toru LGAs of Rivers State, Security Personnel in Military uniform were allegedly involved in sporadic shooting, voter intimidation, killing and carting away of electoral materials.’’
Similarly, YIAGA AFRICA Watching The Vote in its report stated that; ‘‘Voters were intimidated, harassed or assaulted in 10 per cent of 625 polling units observed, during accreditation and voting.’’
These are beyond major concerns but a potent threat to our electoral democracy. The Election Management Body (EMB), the security agencies should be independent, impartial and must be allowed to exercise their powers and perform their functions without fear, favour or prejudice. It is not democracy if the will of the people are subverted and the choice of a selected few are entrenched. It will be a robbery of our collective judgment which must be condemned and resisted by all Nigerians. The will of the people must be respected.
We can no longer run away from the fact that our political party system is bereft of quality political leadership as we see how silent party leaders have remained in the events from the election. Political party leadership must as a matter of urgency condemn the shameful exhibition of the show of power and wealth by its members/candidates which has led to the loss of lives and destruction of state-owned buildings. We must also as a people demand political leaders to account for the actions of their supporters.
For our democracy to grow, our political parties must begin to rethink how it register members and in ensuring that they subscribe to their ideology (even though political parties seem to be bereft of a clear ideology) instead of the dependency on candidate’s popularity and money politics. The rate of politicians decamping to the opposing party or other parties in instance of grievances/displeasure with their party will continue to happen until there is an intentional institutionalization within our parties. However, leadership fails when the members are just so in name, party members must activate their membership.
The presidential, governorship and legislative elections were marred by allegations of violence and vote-buying/selling which has also impacted on the low level of voters’ turnout in the gubernatorial and state elections. The overall turnout for the presidential elections was 28,614, 190 which is 35.6 percent of registered voters. While we await data on the turnout of the state elections, what is evident from polling units across the country is absence of voters which proves the lackadaisical attitude to governance in the grassroots.
As a people, we must pay critical attention to protecting our mandate by ensuring that we exercise our civic rights as active citizens and acknowledge that we hold the highest office in the land; the office of the citizen which all elected officials acknowledge and use to their advantage. Political stakeholders, the media must be able to give unbiased reporting without reprisal or the use of state instrument against them, civil society organizations must speak truth to power and uphold the tenets of democracy.
We must now focus on the legislature and executive to ensure that the lessons from the elections become the major agitation for the dire need for electoral reforms before our democracy fails.
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