By NBF News

The 2011 election is around the corner. The election promises to be a major acid test for the nascent democracy in the country. It will be the second civilian - civilian democratic election in the present political dispensation.

The elections will, no doubt, be immensely crucial to the continued peace, oneness and stability of Nigeria as a corporate entity. It is heart warming that all hands are already on deck to bequeath and deliver free, fair and credible polls come 2011. The electoral process in Nigeria had been subjected to a barrage of attacks and criticisms both nationally and internationally on account of its multifarious flaws.

These flaws include gerrymandering, rigging, desecration of the ballot box, thumb-printing of ballot papers, even before the elections, thuggery, mayhem, brigandage and murder. Following these flaws, which have continued to hold credible polls in Nigeria hostage, it became evident that for our elections to be credible and acceptable, drastic measures should be taken to combat these hydra-headed problems.

The calls for credible polls have come from all concerned people and other stakeholders having regard to the untrammeled and mindless rigging of previous elections and the widespread controversy and bad blood it generated across the country and beyond. Many politicians and candidates in the previous elections had alleged that they were cheated and 'rigged' out in the exercise which they denounced as a parody of free and fair elections. Indeed, in the aftermath of the elections, the peace, stability and unity of the country was severely threatened.

To guard against a repeat performance, the President, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, has put in place several measures designed to ensure free and fair polls which will stand the test of time. Some of these measures include the appointment of a credible and acceptable helmsman for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) the appointment of more electoral officials, acceptance of suggestions by INEC officials for the release of enough funds for the updating of the voters register and the like.

The police must be singled out for special commendation. Under the present IG, Mr. Ogbonnaya Onovo, Nigerians have witnessed what may be described as benevolent policing. This is the practice whereby the security concerns of a given community or state are taken up by the police who interact and liaise with them and proffer solutions to their security problem.

The police have shown that they are committed to the building up for free and fair elections. The police have lived up to expectation in the recent elections in Anambra and Edo States and in the re-run elections across the country. The police were able to maintain peace, law and order.

The ugly habit of rigging, ballot-box snatching, multiple voting and such like electoral fraud were not allowed to rear their ugly heads up. The police were fully equipped, mobilized, sensitized and prepared for any eventuality in the end, the police acquitted themselves most creditably as they were able to maintain their independence and detachment in the whole exerciseThe police have considerably reduced the incident of armed robberies.

Kidnapping as an organized crime is being tackled headlong. Daily, the police are devising ways and means of combating this new wave of crime. The IG himself read the riot act to the police recently in Abia State where he stated that any policeman found to be aiding and abetting kidnapping would be dealt with.

The IG himself led the operation for the rescue of some journalists and their driver who were kidnapped in Abia State on their way from Uyo, Akwa Ibom State. The police cordoned off the hideout of the kidnappers. In fact, the police were closing in on the kidnappers before they hurriedly let go their hapless victims and scurried for safety. So far, this is the best organized police operation aimed at frustrating a kidnapping gang.

With the acquisition of modern gadgets around communication equipments, it is expected that kidnapping will soon be stamped out as an organized crime. Another crime, which the police should gird its lions to fight, is political thuggery. In the days ahead and in the build-up to the 2011 elections, political thuggery will come to the fore. Desperate politicians who want to force themselves on the masses will enlist willing but unemployed youths in their bid to capture power by all means.

These politicians will dish out money and other incentives to the youths whom they will use to achieve their vaulting ambition. Political thuggery comes in various guises - it could be by way of arson, looting, destruction of public property, disruption of election, rigging, brigandage, murder and violence. The police should be at alert.

The police have the statutory duty to check this crime.

The IGP, who has shown his versatility in security matters should not rest on his oars. The coming elections will pose a great challenge to the police. In a sense, the success or failure of the 2011 election rests on the police. Policing in a military era is different from policing in a democracy.

In a military setting, nothing is lawful. But in a democracy, it is believed that everything is lawful. This is where the IG's great skills and acumen will be called to task. There should be no sacred cows. Any impediment to a free and fair election in Nigeria must be removed by the police at whatever cost. The politicians themselves have a great role to play in the bid for free and fair elections. They are major stakeholders in the game of politics and they must play by the rules as their actions or inactions could make or mar the elections. Politicians whether in or out of Government must not derail our nascent democracy.

The parties also have a role to play in bequeathing credible election to our country. The political parties must get it right this time around. They should imbibe the lesson of internal democracy. The parties should democratize their operations and activities. There should be no place for automatic tickets. This is the bane of party politics in Nigerians.

Primaries, which are free and fair should be the basis for provision of candidates to run for the main elections. The practices of automatic tickets have torn virtually all the political parties apart. It is also the reason for the ceaseless internal wrangling bad blood, hate, spite and friction in the parties. The primaries should be able to throw up popular candidates. Automatic tickets can only cause division and party indiscipline. This is because unpopular but wealthy and influential candidates often emerge as a result of automatic tickets.

The losers in the process will like to foment trouble in order to create confusion and schism. This will snowball into political thuggery, because politicians are bad losers, those who feel cheated by the automatic ticket syndrome will like to derail the electoral process. Internal democracy can only ensure transparency in party affairs as a loser in a transparent, primaries is likely to lick his wounds quietly.

In all, the success of the 2011 polls rests on all the stakeholders in the system.

Prince Oliver Okpala is a political analyst.