Nigeria: Elections In The Season Of Fear
On Saturday (March 28, 2015), Nigerians will once again troop to the polls to choose who among the several contestants vigorously campaigning and scheming out there (mostly for self-serving reasons) would be their president and members of the Senate and House of Representatives for the next four years. In several other countries, including even some of our smaller and leanly-endowed neighbours here, election periods usually provide the populace with pleasant opportunities to savour the excitement of democracy.
People go to the polls with beaming faces exchanging pleasantries and banters while waiting to cast their votes. They are not gripped by any benumbing fear that some daredevil thugs might swoop on the voting centres to shoot into the air, snatch away ballot boxes, and, possibly, wound or even kill some people in the process. Even the contestants would just come to the voting centres with little or no security, and without any fanfare unobtrusively cast their votes like every other person. And as they return to their homes, they are not looking over their shoulders to see if some killers hired by their opponents are trailing them to eliminate them.
The voters, too, would go home and enjoy another night of refreshing and peaceful sleep with their two eyes closed. The atmosphere is completely devoid of fear because they are not expecting that some hooligans would soon start disturbing the peace of the neighbourhood and looking for whom to kill or maim once emerging results begin to show that their paymaster is losing.
The expectation of Nigerians of decent will this time around is that we would be able to prove with this Saturday's elections that our case cannot just remain egregiously different in the comity of nations, that we would not always be counted among the world's perennially sick babies who are always distinguished by their inability to get even very simple things right.
When Nigeria surprised the world with its deft handling of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD), America's Foreign Policy magazine published a very edifying story which, if I recall very well, was entitled: Ebola: Nigeria Got Right Everything America Got Wrong. This was after American health officials in Dallas had mishandled with far-reaching consequences the case of Eric Duncan, a Liberian who had returned to the United States after contracting the disease in his country. At that instant, the world temporarily forgot Nigeria's demoralizing history of embarrassing failures as heart-nourishing eulogies oozed towards our country from different parts of the world. It was Nigeria's brief glorious moment during which many Nigerians quickly reawakened their faith and pride in their country.
But the question on many lips now is: as skepticisms mount across the world about our capacity to get it right this Saturday and wild speculations about Nigeria's likely implosion are unduly feasted on by the international media, can't we dare to make the world wake up the next day to realize that Nigeria has just snatched another success from the jaws of defeat (to modify Chinua Achebe's popular assertion about Nigeria snatching failure from the jaws of success)?
Why can't we just go out there and do what other countries undertake with such ease and continue with our lives? Why must it always happen that desperate and grossly irresponsible politicians would always saturate the atmosphere with bloodcurdling threats (which experience have shown that they do, indeed, carry out quite often with far-reaching consequences), thereby ensuring that people always exercise their voting rights with serious caution amidst crippling fear? Why must elections in this country be always likened to war?
Sadly, most politicians see elections as just another very lucrative investment from which the investor must reap handsome profits. And so, to many of them, it is a do-or-die affair! They just cannot just accept defeat and watch their victorious opponents descend on the public treasury with all the fury of their raw, primitive greed and start looting and plundering, while they are out in the cold hungry and deprived. And so they must fight to finish.
But I think that Nigerians ought to have had enough of this madness by now. How long shall we continue to allow mostly ultra-selfish politicians merely looking for meal tickets to disturb our lives and peace? Indeed, Nigerians would be doing themselves a lot of good if they refuse to allow themselves to be used by the unscrupulous and irresponsible fellows that litter the political space to unleash mayhem anywhere in the country. If every young man would today place value on his own life and refuse to be a thug or hired killer to the politician, a lot would have been achieved in the determined effort to gratify the deep yearning of decent Nigerians to have the system sanitized and purged of men and women of unwholesome preferences whose only agenda for Nigeria is how to destabilize it once any opportunity to steal and empty the treasury is denied them.
The star characters in Saturday's election are, no doubt, President Goodluck Jonathan, the presidential candidate of the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) and Gen Muhammadu Buhari, the flag bearer of the All Progressive Congress (APC). One hopes that they have realized by now that no matter their good intentions for the country that only one person can emerge president after Saturday's elections and that Nigerians still reserve the right to decide who that person should be. Respecting the wishes of Nigerians is the only way they can distinguish themselves as statesmen and respectable patriots. This also applies to all the other contestants who should place the survival and preservation of this country far above their personal (and mostly selfish) cravings.
Our politicians must purge themselves of this toxic notion that the only “free and fair” election is the one which they won. And even when they have genuine reasons to feel that they have been shortchanged, they should shun all forms of self-help and explore only lawful processes to seek redress. Please, we are sick and tired of having desperadoes who are in politics solely to loot and out-loot each other coming out to create tension everywhere and violate our right to peaceful existence each time they are out-smarted by their fellow plunderers.
Now, for this election to be less controversial, a lot would depend on the umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) which must demonstrate its competence and lack of bias beyond reasonable doubts. We know that politicians would always wish to discredit the results of elections which they lost, but once majority of the citizenry are able to see that INEC had tried its best to be as neutral as possible, it would then be easy for many to hurriedly dismiss the noise-making politicians as a bad losers.
But in this particular election, INEC has already put the wrong foot forward and it does not appear to be doing enough to allay growing fears about its perceived incompetence and partiality. INEC must be willing to admit that its stubborn determination to conduct the presidential and National Assembly polls on February 14 even when it was too clear that it was not ready has created huge doubts about its true intentions. It may have been a case of abject naivety and misdirected exuberance, but that singular step surely did a great damage to INEC's credibility.
Also, if until very recently, the commission was still taking delivery of and distributing Permanent Voters Cards (PVC), and yet, it was bent on conducting an election in which about 34% of Nigerians or more would certainly have been disenfranchised, then something is really wrong with its sense of judgment, if not ability. Some might even think that INEC's action smacks of sheer irresponsibility.
INEC still has the opportunity to convincingly reassure Nigerians about its determination to conduct free and fair elections this Saturday. And Nigerians, especially, the young people, should not help the politicians to destroy this country. If younger Nigerians refuse to respond to the instigation of politicians to pour into the streets to unleash violence, certainly neither the politicians nor members of their families would be willing to do that. It is as simple as that.
And perhaps, we will see the end of all these threats about making Nigeria ungovernable by people who, judging by their primitive preferences and distorted mindset, should otherwise qualify as the scum and dregs of this society, deserving only to be ignored.
*Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye is a columnist with Daily Independent. His column appears every Tuesday on the back page. ([email protected]); www.ugowrite.blogspot.com