• Friday, July 12, 2024
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BusinessDay

INEC, politicians, moneybags, others as threats to electoral process

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Preparations for the 2023 general election are in top gear. Every Nigerian is aware of the criticality of the election to the country’s overall good. In the last seven years, Nigeria has powered low in all sectors as all indices of rating have shown that all is not well with the touted giant of Africa.

Many people have expressed the view that the 2023 election is a make-or-mar exercise. Some have even said that the country would be plunged into a deeper mess if the wrong candidate emerges as president.

On a daily basis, apprehension grows over the possibility of a credible, free and fair election that is promised by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as there are noticeable threats to the election expected to begin on Saturday, February 25 with the Presidential election.

INEC

A major threat is the INEC itself. Many observers are not yet convinced of the independence of the electoral Commission, as they continue to allege some hanky-panky deals by the umpire. The Commission is seen as an interested party in the election.

“I am not taken in by the assurances and reassurances of the INEC to deliver a credible, free and fair election. If you remember, the reappointment of Mahmood Yakubu, the INEC chairman, by President Buhari raised some dust. In fact, some groups had clamoured for the rejection of the confirmation of the man at the Senate. We also saw the controversy over the appointment of Resident Electoral Commissioners (REC) and the transfer of some others which some Nigerians believed were not transparent.

“I also do not believe President Buhari’s posturing as a lover of democracy; promising to deliver free and fair election. The INEC leadership is prone to manipulation by those that recruited them. And I do not see Yakubu refusing to do the bidding of those that appointed and reappointed him.

Read also: Credible poll, economic revamp top Nigerians’ expectations this year

“This is why some of us strongly believe that to make the Commission truly independent, the chairman and the management members must be appointed by the National Assembly so that they would not be tied to the apron string of the President,” Kenneth Nnorom, a Public Affairs analyst, told BusinessDay.

There are also some allegations bordering on the distribution/collection of the permanent voters’ cards, and the INEC claim of how the cards have been collected across the geo-political zones.

Both online and offline, many Nigerians are complaining and alleging that some zones were being deliberately denied collection of the cards to disenfranchise them.

A woman, who identified herself as Elizabeth, a civil servant, complained bitterly that she was yet to collect her PVC, despite having gone to the INEC office several times.

“I think there is more to what we are seeing than meets the eye. INEC will tell you the cards are ready for collection, but when people go there they would be told stories. I have been to where I was directed to collect mine without success. It is not peculiar to me; many Nigerians have the same experience. In fact, some people told me that they were asked to come back after the election; you begin to wonder what is happening,” she said.

According to Elizabeth, “The figure I saw recently on the level of PVC collection across the geo-political zones dampened my morale the more.

If I saw it well, North West had about 0.74 million uncollected; North East 0.37 million; South West 3.48 million; South-South 1.28 million; South East 0.85 million and North Central 1.20 million. I studied the figures critically as if I were going for an examination. I asked, could people be playing games or a true reflection of what is happening?

“Again, I am not sure the INEC has squarely addressed the issue of child voting in the North. I am sure that the high number of PVCs in the north is in the hands of the underaged.”

National Orientation Agency

The National Orientation Agency (NOA) is not doing its job of sensitisation. If the agency was alive and relevant, this is the time it should be mounting campaigns all over the country, on the need for the people to go for their PVCs; the need for people to participate in the electoral process, and the need also for politicians to play by the rule. The NOA also has a role to ensure that the election is free and fair, by mounting a crusade against electoral violence, the use of thugs, vote buying and selling and other electoral malfeasance. But it would seem that the Agency has decided to close its eyes while politicians plot to make the exercise a do-or-die affair.

Security agents

The role of the security agencies in ensuring a credible and violence-free election cannot be over-emphasised. The nation’s Service Chiefs have continued to pledge a peaceful poll, but not every Nigerian is taking them seriously. Past experiences have shown that security agents dance toward where they read the body language of the President tilting. It is, therefore, believed that what the security agencies decide to do or fail to do will, to a large extent, determine how the election will go. Many Nigerians believe that nobody should be rocked to sleep on the basis of the vaunted promises of the Security agencies.

Political parties and their candidates

The swelling words coming from political parties, their candidates and supporters seem to be giving an indication that the elections may not be violence-free as expected. Campaign arenas have been turned into venues where threat words and name-calling are oozing out on a daily basis. Presidential candidates have taken it a fashion to throw stones at their opponents. While some of them lean on what they are planning to do in office (programmes), they are eminent in lacerating the character of their opponents. The hate speeches and tantrums emanating from the soap boxes seem to suggest that the election is seen by some of them as a matter of life and death. They seem to have forgotten the letters of the Peace Accord they signed some months ago, where they pledged to play by the rules. From the way things are, it would seem that some of the contestants are ready to play rough on the election days, particularly, on February 25.

Compromised Party Agents

Observers have also seen the possibility of many party agents being bought over by wealthy and more affluent candidates. They foresee a situation whereby some agents would turncoats at the eleventh hour under the influence huge amount of money.

Party agents represent the interest of parties at polling units. They also serve to inform their respective party about the conduct of the process and other official results. When a party does not have an agent present, it has no way of knowing what happened at the polling unit or the announced result.

A concerned observer told BusinessDay that it would take integrity, commitment to a cause and personal discipline for some parties not to lose their agents on the eve of the election or even on Election Day.

“The way I am seeing this election, the desperation to win is so high in some individuals that they can do everything and anything humanly possible to win the election. Now, we are talking about party agents, I look at a party like Labour Party that does not give ‘Shishi’, it can only take courage, integrity, commitment to a cause and personal discipline for their agents to resist the allure of huge sums of money that would be offered to them to make them turn coat or look the other way when their party is being rigged out.

“I have listened to some politicians tell their sad stories about how they lost all their agents on the eve of an election. Such agents just simply absconded from their duty post. And you know what that means.

So, I see that as one of the threats to a credible conduct of the presidential election on February 25,” a political analyst said on condition of anonymity.

Moneybags politicians

A few days ago, Afe Babalola, a foremost legal luminary, expressed concern that from what he could see, the best candidate may not win the presidency, but that the highest spender would likely win.

According to him, the election will only reproduce those, who have brought Nigeria to a sordid state.

“It is not who can make a difference that will win this election, I repeat, it is not a person who has all it takes- age, health, education, and patriotism- that will win the election; the winner of this election I can bet it, is going to be the person who has made money in this country. It is the person who has the money that will win,” Babalola said.

Members of the elite class/eligible but fearful voters

Although many members of the elite class in Nigeria look forward to a credible election that could usher in a better economy and general good governance, experience has shown that they do not participate in the voting process. The 2023 general election will not be different.

Rather than file out to exercise their franchise, most of them are likely to sit back in their palatial homes watching CNN or watching the voting process on their giant TV screens. Their non-participation could tilt victory to the wrong candidate. By the same token, many eligible voters, who also have their PVCs, would decide not to go to the polling units to cast their votes. They see danger in the air and are cowed from stepping out. They profess the need for a change but hardly play their role to make the needed change happen.