Nigeria, the most populous black nation in the world, is set for another round of general elections that would see its more than 96 million voters elect a new crop of political leaders, that would govern the country for another four years.
The 2023 general election is perceived as capable of either strengthening or setting back Nigeria’s democracy.
Across the country, Nigerians are optimistic that the general election would usher in a new set of purposeful leaders that would change the narrative in terms of governance; providing the much-anticipated succour to an already disgruntled populace.
Experts say this could be seen in the surge in voter registration and a new wave of civic engagement among young Nigerians, who before now had shown a lukewarm attitude towards the electoral process and real voting.
With a few months left and with the campaigns set to begin, the electoral commission is at an advanced stage of preparation, in line with the election guidelines released earlier towards conducting a generally acceptable exercise.
It is believed that the general election would be significant because the election would be held amid serious socio-economic challenges bedevilling the country presently.
The 2023 general election will perhaps, be the first to be held in the thick of crisis since 1999. Nigeria is facing existential threat of being run over by increasing army of terrorists that are now on the loose.
For the first time in the nation’s history, heightened spate of insecurity, killings, kidnapping for ransom have become more pronounced and a daily affair across the country.
Similarly, agitation for secession by the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) in the South-East and some groups in the South-West geopolitical zone, have also contributed to the worsening insecurity bedevilling the country.
There have been attacks on security agencies and officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) across the country.
A video trended online recently where hoodlums attacked a CVR centre and killed an INEC official.
INEC offices have also come under attack, especially in South-East Nigeria. According to reports, as at the last count more than 44 offices of the electoral umpire have been touched.
The situation has led to increasing concerns among Nigerians and stakeholders about the possibility of the election date set by the INEC.
Although many have said that the ruling class, who would want to protect their hold on power, would do everything to ensure insecurity trends downwards to allow election hold, the general thinking is that the election could be affected.
With Nigeria’s political parties soon to begin to embark on electioneering campaigns and the general election some months away, signs are emerging that election-related violence is a real possibility.
There are growing concerns that prospective voters may not be willing to come out and vote, to avoid being attacked; INEC staff may be scared to go to certain places.
Experts fear that the conduct of the polls may be affected, fearing that terrorists could unleash mayhem on Nigerians, most especially in Northern part of Nigeria where they have gained prominence.
“It is a big challenge, even the Federal Government is banking on luck to solve the security crisis now; they appear helpless with the way things are now.
“Securing the vast territorial space of Nigeria and electoral materials would be a huge task for security agencies during elections, which may affect voter turnout for the elections,” Kunle Okuade, political analyst, said.
Perhaps, such fear could be deduced from the daily threat, security breaches, attacks and killings, prompting fears that the unknown could happen on Election Day.
The situation is perhaps, worsened over government seeming hopelessness and cluelessness in dealing with recent terror attacks and kidnappings of Nigerians.
A vivid explanation of the situation could be seen in government’s handling of the Abuja-Kaduna train abducted person.
Hassan Usman, one of the abducted train passengers released recently, told journalists that the Federal Government failed to secure their release.
Usman, a lawyer, said the families of the victims attempted to rescue them, but the government did not allow them to proceed on the journey.
He said the bandits erected makeshift shelters to shield them from rain, adding that they fed them, according to their capacity.
“At times, they even slaughtered cattle and sheep for us. Even yesterday, they slaughtered a cow and we ate; we thank Allah,” he said.
According to him, “because of the government’s attitude, they (bandits) were angered and they thoroughly beat us. This makes me pity those that are still with them in the forest.”
Stakeholders who spoke to BusinessDay, on the implication of the current spate of insecurity on the 2023 general election, called for drastic action by the Federal Government and new strategies by security agencies to curtail the terrorists’ threat.
They warned that next year’s general election may not hold in several parts of the country, because unlike 2015 and 2019 elections, the terrorists had gained more footholds in several towns and communities, especially in Northern Nigeria which may make it difficult for INEC officials to penetrate the areas.
“I don’t see the federal government doing anything special to solve the security crisis from them till next year’s election. Except they adopt better strategies.
“I think Nigerians who come out to vote would do so at their own risk, or how do you explain the situation that we are in now, where we have been left to our fate.
“Election may not be held in some places, there is no doubt about that,” Idowu Omolegan, lawyer and public affairs analyst, said.
Equally, Oge Onubogu, political affairs analyst and Senior Programme Officer with the United State Institute of Peace (USIP), said to curtail violence in next year’s general election effectively, it is crucial that much attention be paid to flash points at the state level.
According to Onubogu, to help Africa’s most populous nation pivot toward stability and to indirectly bolster democratisation across the continent the United States and other international partners should provide diplomatic, political and technical support for Nigeria’s electoral authority.