A little while has passed since the last time I tapped my keyboard composing a document that was unrelated to my day job. In the intervening time, I got married, and Nigeria held its most expensive elections ever to select office holders for the next four years. Except for my Rivers State, which now operates a different wavelength, other states have concluded their selection processes. Today’s article is more of a potpourri of my thoughts on different issues related to the elections. Although each issue merits a full article in its own rights, let’s accept what will be a summarisation.
I’ll begin with the value of relationships. Armin Houman articulated that “Values are the definition of our actions in life”. Over the course of the electioneering campaigns, I had cause to think about my existing relationships and mitigate any headwinds triggered by the elections. Cognisant that elections come once in four years, and most politicians tend to lack any veneer of ideology cum morality, I wondered why people were willing to destroy existing friendships because they happened to be on opposing political sides.
In 2015, I had to stay silent in a WhatsApp group for two weeks to allow the elections run their course, and once again, this year, I had to do that for another group. The rationale remained the same: no sense in exchanging vitriolic words for politicians who will later settle their scores and realign for greater profiteering, whereas a friendship nurtured over several years would have been sacrificed on the altar of foolishness. Maybe if humans learn to place relationships first, we would have less of the fighting that accompanies elections and referendums (think Brexit!).
Next on my list is electoral violence, which stems from the first issue. Across Nigeria, we had several incidences of violence with varying results including deaths. In my home state, Rivers, two gladiators who I had written about in the past, re-energised their rivalry with the blood of our people. Unlike in most other states where the violence relied more on private sector thugs; in Rivers State, government-licenced thugs deployed from the military and police collaborated with their unlicensed private sector criminals to unleash mayhem across the state.
Sadly, we still have people who will argue in defence of the two key players in the macabre dance in Rivers State. Maybe when they realise the impact of the perception of violence on businesses, economic growth, and employment prospects, our people will finally have some sense and divorce themselves from mindless violence. Rivers and other violence-coated states may want to understudy a state like Enugu which managed to conduct elections without any significant occurrence of violence.
We move on to the increased public engagement during the elections. As Nigeria’s democracy evolves, this seems an important catalyser that will help improve the quality of our system over time. From my viewpoint, it appeared a greater proportion of Nigerians ran commentaries on the elections. My theory is that the state of the economy, issues around employment, and government programmes like TraderMoni cumulatively contributed to more Nigerians being aware of and talking about the electoral process.
The past year also saw a significant shift from violence as politicians’ overriding strategy to a mix that included massive voter inducement (aka vote buying), which suggests that politicians are recognising that they “might” need Nigerians to win elections. Having been involved in political campaigns in 2015 and observing the trend in 2019, I believe that entrenching the Permanent Voter’s Card as the gold standard for elections has the potential to push increased public engagement by political actors, which will over time make our democracy better.
The next point, voter apathy, seems at odds with its predecessor. The average voter turnout across Nigeria highlight voter apathy with the electoral process. Even discounting for the “social media class” who do all the talking online but either lack voters’ cards or have no intention to vote, the apathy of voters contradicts the increased public engagement perceived during the campaign season. A possible explanation for this could be the week-long postponement, which might have influenced a sense of disillusionment among would-be voters. Another plausible reason could be the use of violence in some states such as Lagos to deter perceived opposition supporters from trooping out to vote. The electoral umpire, INEC, and other stakeholders need to understand why this voter apathy occurred. We surely would not want a society where people do not see the relevance of elections; that would be a recipe for anarchy.
Talking about INEC, the elections betrayed the Nigerian approach to proper planning, monitoring, and risk management. INEC cited “logistical challenge” as the reason for postponing the polls barely six hours before they were due to start. “Logistical challenge” should be a euphemism for poor planning, corruption, nepotism, and other usual suspects. After repeatedly giving assurances that it was ready for the elections, INEC’s volte-face was at best a disgrace for Nigeria. INEC now has four years to prepare for the 2023 elections. Before then, it would be wise to use upcoming elections in states like Bayelsa, Kogi, and Edo to test-run any process improvements it designs for Nigerian elections.
Lastly, as we look on to 2023, we should stress the importance of civic monitoring of our leaders. We seem to expect “opposition from the opposition”, while supporters function as sycophants ensuring their leaders feel they are the best thing to happen to Nigerians since the discovery of Afang soup. We need to keep political leaders on their toes, especially regarding promises they made during campaigns. Hopefully, unlike in 2015, we would not have any leader deny publicly-made promises nor accuse his or her political party of running disjointed communication centres that promised Utopia. Both supporters and erstwhile critics should recognise that the elections have ended and governance has to continue. It is in our best interest to ensure the next four years work well for us all.
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