The 2019 general election is the most expensive poll ever organised by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). It incurred an additional N69 billion than the penultimate exercise in 2015. However, when teeming Nigerian electorate were preparing to cast their ballot on February 16, something ‘mysterious’ happened.
In the dead of the night, the INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, summoned a press conference to postpone the election to the following week. He cited delay in delivering election materials and deployment of staff to the nooks and cranny of the country as reasons for the postponement. Other reasons included poor weather condition, unresolved candidate registration issues and rumoured plans for sabotage by disparate elements.
Many electorates who had travelled for the election were disappointed over the postponement barely six hours to the commencement of the exercise.
So, what happened when INEC finally conducted the Presidential/NASS and Governorship/State Assemblies’ polls? Incidences of vote-buying by the two leading political parties were widely recorded.
Vote-buying by politicians and their agents, which has taken a centre-stage in the political sphere, is the act of exchanging votes for money and other material items between politicians and the electorate.
In fact, the federal government was accused of vote-buying with its TraderMoni economic intervention. Nigeria’s Head of Transparency International, Mr. Auwal Rafsanjani, in a media chat posited that such initiative was not a part and parcel of the manifesto of the ruling APC and it is not in the Nigerian constitution. He bluntly stated that, “the allegation by many Nigerians that this is clearly a case of vote buying using public funds goes contrary to our constitution and to having a free and fair election.”
If at all what Mr Rafsanjani said is anything to go by, one must begin to wonder what hope a Nigerian has when such a policy of the government is meant to woo support during elections, rather than compete fairly for votes. This shows a blatant disregard for democratic norms as well as the fact the current administration is losing popularity by the day.
Responding to the accusations, Laolu Akande, the spokesperson of the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, flatly denied such allegation, saying that TraderMoni was not an act of vote buying, but rather a means to empower petty traders. “It will be an absurdity to call TraderMoni vote-buying. You can see it for yourself that this is a program that has affected millions of lives,” he said.
Meanwhile, militarization of the electoral process, mostly in the opposition’s stronghold also received bashing. This is despite valid, subsisting court judgments that prohibited the use of the military for election purposes.
Series of video clips have trended online which captured soldiers overrunning the home of a state official as well as INEC officials lamenting the besieging of collation centres by the army. This act stands condemnable even as the Chief of Army Staff, Lt General Tukur Buratai, had set up a panel to investigate the role of the military in the just-concluded elections, although nobody seems to be impressed by the development. Thanks to social media for breaking barriers and making citizens aware of happenings around the nation.
A seemingly worrisome electoral malpractice is the deployment of thugs to polling units in various but most endemic in Kano. A situation where a keenly-contested election between two leading parties turned out to be a landslide during the supplementary elections raises a lot of unanswered questions. It is unfortunate seeing how thugs took over streets, and strangely with security cover provided by the Nigerian Police.
After a wild allegation of fraud from the stakeholders involved in the elections most especially the opposition, the African Union (AU) said the elections were “largely peaceful and conducive for the conducting of credible elections.”
Moving forward, there is a need for INEC to go back to the drawing board and re-evaluate their performance in the 2019 polls. They should, thereafter, put all necessary machineries in place to correct the identified lapses. INEC should also endeavour to eradicate the growing culture of inconclusive elections.
There is also a need for a political-will towards ensuring peaceful, transparent election while also urging the authorities concerned to improve voter education for the benefit of the electorate on their expectations.
While we pray that future elections would have less military interference, the youths should also resist the temptation of serving as political thugs desperate and power-hungry politicians during elections. They should rather identify ways to grab leadership and put the nation back on the track of socio-economic development and growth.
Above all, the progress we envision for our electoral system will remain elusive if necessary and progressive amendments are not carried out on the Electoral Act. Now is the time to act. A stitch in time, they say, saves nine.
Gidado Yushau Shuaib, the editor of Youths Digest, writes from Abuja. Twitter: @GidadoYS; Email: [email protected]