Since Independence, Nigerians have approached the electoral season with trepidation. And like in the past, the specter of violence, which has stunted the integrity of the electoral process is once again dogging the crucial election coming up in less than two months from now.
In a democracy, the will of the people expressed in a free, peaceful and fair environment is crucial to a generally acceptable outcome, which is the foundation in which democracy is built and on which development thrives.
The 2023 election is consequential for several reasons: the nation is still grappling with Boko Haram insurgency in the North East, armed banditry all over the North West and North Central, separatists and extremists violence in the South East and unrelenting killings and criminality by Fulani herdsmen, and all sorts of criminality in other parts of the country.
The nation is also facing economic crises on scale that has devalued the welfare and well-being of the average citizen with basic necessities beyond the reach of the majority. Nigerians are banking their hopes and aspiration on the next elections, which are expected to end the era of transition and begin the process of structural socio-economic reforms, and democratic consolidation.
It is also hoped that the elections would unleash a period of peace, security, good governance and economic development. The present discernable weaknesses in the polity, like violence, separatist agitations and even the failure of our national football team to qualify for the world cup, and the existential threats we face as a nation are consequences of the lack of good governance.
In a democracy, the only way to correct this malaise is for the people to remove the malaise at regular intervals through participation in free and fair elections.
It is the view of this newspaper that this is not the time to lament about our lingering predicament but to draw the attention of all Nigerians to the imperative of joining hands together to restore dignity in our polity and trust in the system of electing those who would preside over our affairs in the next four years at the end of the Administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.
Although the task of achieving a free and fair election is the responsibility of all Nigerians, it behoves on the President , who is the Commander-in -Chief of the Armed Forces, to leave a legacy of peaceful and credible elections.
As a victim of rigged elections and a beneficiary of an election that was deemed to be relatively credible, which compelled the incumbent President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan to concede defeat, the President owes the Nigerian people a duty to consolidate on recent gains in our electoral process and give the Nigerian people the good reason to believe in the democratic process and to trust their freely elected representatives and leaders at all levels.
This newspaper believes the president should ensure that all the security forces are properly coordinated and deployed promptly, provided the resources for them to support the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, and to deter the outbreak of violence.
Members of the Intelligence Community must also step up their game to identify areas ad sources of potential conflicts or violence, while the police is well trained to resourced to investigate and prosecute election and post election violators.
As we are in the information age and the global village, we must be aware that the international community is watching us and our enemies, both foreign and loca,l would want to see us fail. We must take advantage of the new and traditional media to advance our democracy by refraining from actions that would promote extremism, violence and identity politics which tends to polarize the population to resort to violence.
The fall of the First Republic began with the manipulation of the electoral process and the attendant violence. These events which were not properly manged, led to the civil war and correlates with our inability to build a common home for all as a result of mutual,suspicion.
The failure of politicians to respect the rules of the game especially the employment of violent means to address grevainces arising from the elections must now attract serious attention and culprits brought to justice. The fall of the Second Republic which ironically brought Major General Buhari to power and the manipulation of the transition to democratic rule by the military junta also form part of the roots of the nation’s present predicament.
The police, armed forces and security agencies are saddled with the constitutional responsibility of creating this secured and free environment for the people to exercise this franchise. In carrying out this sacred responsibility, they are only responsible to the people and the constitution, they are not responsible to to any political party or candidate.
They can only carry out legal orders and must not be induced or corrupted to do otherwise. The recent alarm raised by the Chief of Defence Staff General Leo Irabor that politicians whom he did not name had approached the military to manipulate the next election in their favour must be viewed seriously and seen as a potential assault on the constitution.
Although the President and the National Security Adviser have given assurances that they would do everything possible to secure the environment for a free and fair election, this newspaper believes all Nigerians should make a similar commitment that the imminent elections should form the building blocs for our democratic consolidation.
The candidates would naturally be happy and fulfilled if their mandates flow from the free will of their constituents and they more likely to appreciate a freely given mandate than a stolen one or that tainted by violence or fraud. This newspaper calls on the political parties not to employ violence and win through process of ‘’do or die’’ which has tainted previous elections since 1999.
The election next year is significant because there is no incumbent President seeking reelection. All the candidates vying for the position of President, many state governors, National and State Assemblies, should operate in an atmosphere that gives the people the opportunity to make free and informed choices. Unfortunately, the present situation is enmeshed in forebodings.