With the commencement of the 2019 general elections just six days away, Prof Bolaji Akinyemi, a former minister of external affairs, on Sunday described the exercise as the most dreadful to him.
“Since I have been monitoring elections in Nigeria, I cannot remember any elections that filled me with so much dread and trepidation as these forthcoming elections,”’ he said in an emailed statement issued from Lagos. “Not even the riotous 1965 Federal elections. And we all know what that led to,” he said.
Akinyemi’s voice adds to the growing list of worries over the potentially combustible outcome of the elections, especially the presidential poll that has pitted President Muhammadu Buhari of the ruling All Progressives Congress against his fellow northerner and Muslim, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, candidate of the main opposition People’s Democratic Party.
Akinyemi’s words stemmed from the vantage position of someone whose career has traversed Nigeria’s political and electoral landscapes, he noted.
“I write as a former member of the Electoral Reform Committee, as the former Deputy Chairman of the 2014 National Conference, as a former Foreign Minister and as the originator of the Peace Process before the 2015 Presidential elections,” he declared. Akinyemi is also a former director-general of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, the country’s think tank on foreign affairs.
Drawing from his experience as a scholar in international relations, he also brought to the attention of Nigerians the implication of the latest development in Venezuela. There, he said, “the international community under the United States has accorded recognition to the opposition leader as the alternative President as their reaction to what it perceives as a flawed election.”
He described this development as endorsing regime change “by another route,” warning that this marked the beginning not the end of the South American country’s nightmare. “Nigeria should by all means avoid a repetition of the Venezuelan nightmare in Nigeria,” he said.
He appealed to Nigerian political leaders to prevail on their supporters to shun violence and any undemocratic behaviour during the polls. He declared specifically that Nigerians should avoid hate speech “not just now but in our political system.”
He also asked political leaders to commit themselves both publicly and loudly to free, fair and transparent elections.
Ahead of the polls, political parties have been accusing each other of planning to rig the elections, but Akinyemi declared that the time had come for the leaders to commit themselves and their supporters to accepting the result of the elections, if they reflect the true wishes and intentions of the voters.
“In case the elections are not free, fair and transparent, the loser should commit himself to using the tribunals and courts for redress, even though the judicial system is imperfect and under stress now,” he suggested. “Above all, there should be no recourse to violence whatever the provocation.”
He also advised that international observers must be seen and accepted as part of the electoral process. “As someone who has led electoral observer teams to other countries for over a period of 40 years, I welcome and Nigeria should welcome the presence of the observer teams. They perform a useful role in elections all over the world,” Akinyemi noted.
In an apparent reference to recent comments by some countries and international organisations with respect to the polls, Akinyemi noted that the United States, the European Union, the International Criminal Court, “in other words, the international community,” have put the country on notice as to their expectations. “It is in our own good to listen to them,” he said.