Between February 14th and 28th, 2015, the Federal Republic of Nigeria will hold its General Elections. These elections present another opportunity for all the candidates vying for the several vacant positions at the Federal and State levels of government to gauge their popularity in their various constituencies. With the conclusion of the primaries, all is now set for D-Day, as evidenced by the several campaign activities being put together by all the political parties to ensure victory for the candidates flying their banners.
However, due to the zero-sum – winner takes all – mentality of Nigeria’s political class, there is a general consensus among pundits that the forthcoming polls may not be different from previous ones, judging from the sad events that have so far defined the countdown to polling day. The manner the country’s politicians have conducted themselves – in words and actions – since the commencement of campaign activities is not only shameful, but a sad indication of what to expect in the coming weeks – a dress rehearsal for chaos. Nigerian politicians have obviously not learnt from the country’s shoddy past. For them, it is business as usual.
This column in continuation of its campaign for a peaceful and credible 2015 elections in Nigeria recommends the following precautionary steps: Firstly, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has the most significant role to play in ensuring the credibility of the forthcoming polls. It must take proactive measures to check electoral malpractices of any kind. The commission must ensure that members of its staff are properly trained to handle the tasks ahead by bringing them up to date with the latest requirements of their offices. The significance of their neutrality and objectivity to the outcome of the process must be drummed into their ears. They must stay above board in the discharge of their duties, refraining from acts that would amount to stalling the electoral process. The commission should endeavour to put together Capacity-Building Workshops and Training seminars for staff members of the commission to enlighten them on the roles they are expected to play during the forthcoming exercise.
Much is expected from INEC as the impartial arbiter in the electoral process. Having expectedly learnt some hard lessons from past polls, the commission is expected to bring these to bear in the discharge of its primary duty when D-Day comes; an occasion that presents it with another opportunity to win the confidence of the electorates, who it must strive to convince that it is an unbiased umpire that does its job without external interferences of any sort. From the polling centers to the collation points, a state of alert must be maintained by the commission’s staff to ward off the evil designs of would-be election riggers. The candidates that emerge at the end of polling must be seen to be acceptable to the people for peace to reign.
On the other hand, the media – print and electronic – must be up and doing, endeavouring to adhere strictly to the ethics of their profession in the reportage of developments prior to, during, and after the polls. As the fourth estate of the realm, the media plays a key role in the conduct of open, free, fair, and peaceful elections in any democratic society the world over. Media practitioners must endeavour to stay true to the principles of objectivity and balance; must imbibe the ethos of peace journalism, and refrain from publishing stories that might incite violence in any part of the state, before, during, and after the polls. Refresher courses in Peace Journalism and Non-Violent Communication for media owners and practitioners should be organized on a regular basis prelude to polling day to educate the wielders of the pen on what is expected of them during the forthcoming exercise.
Again, the security agencies must be fully mobilized to forestall attempts by certain unscrupulous individuals to disrupt the fluid running of the electoral process. Due to the militarization of private and public life, coupled with the availability of jobless youths for hire as enforcers of private and political decisions, the security of the lives of the electorate, contestants, staff of the electoral commission and the general public must be guaranteed. The security forces have another opportunity to redeem their seriously soiled image by remaining on a constant state of alert, acting proactively to forestall any attempt to breach the peace by recalcitrant elements. A Violence-Tracking/Early-Warning system should be immediately set up to keep the security forces ahead of would-be troublemakers.
In addition, the youths must not be overlooked in any security initiative that is hashed out for the forthcoming polls. Care must be taken to properly sensitize them on how to properly conduct themselves during the polls – on what is expected of them come polling day. The civil society, media, and government and privately owned orientation agencies should package peace and political education programs for the several youth groups domiciled within the country. These programs should be focused on changing the attitudes and behaviour of these youths, and equipping them with adequate conflict resolution skills.
The Civil Society, on their own, must work to complement the efforts of other stakeholders in the process. They must play their watchdog roles objectively, pointing out all the loopholes that might endanger the process. They must be non-partisan in the discharge of their functions, aligning only with the people’s interests. These objectives can be achieved through well targeted public enlightenment campaigns on electoral violence, training workshops and seminars for the staff of the electoral commission, together with other peace advocacy programs.
Again, the political class must conduct themselves properly. Politicians must refrain from acts that would be tantamount to sabotaging the democratic process. They must exercise restraint and a high sense of decorum in their public speeches and actions. As the key actors in the political process – concentric points around which the democratic process revolves – politicians must convince Nigerians that they have learnt their lessons from the unforgettable incidents of the past where electoral contests became grounds for settling personal vendettas. Politics should not be a do or die affair. That is why political opponents should not see themselves as adversaries, but as partners in progress; as co-labourers working towards the same progressive set of goals. So, as Election Day approaches, politicians must embrace peace in their relations with one another – with both those sharing in their ideologies, and those holding their independent views. It’s all about maturity!
Electoral Tribunals set up to entertain post-election petitions, must endeavour to expedite justice speedily. Cases in the past where election petitions are allowed to linger for eternity must be avoided. The bar must be poised, this time around, to expressly perform its duties to forestall unnecessary loss of lives, as was the sad case during previous polls due to the feeling certain persons in some quarters that they were denied access to justice for elections they supposedly won. So, the judiciary must be up and doing this time, refraining from the usual delays that have become closely associated with its adjudicatory processes; delays that have foisted a negative image on it over the years.
The suggestions postulated in this piece are not iron-cast solutions to the ghost of electoral violence. They are simply meant to complement the efforts being put in place by all stakeholders in the Nigerian project to ensure a peaceful outcome of the forthcoming general polls. It is based on the thinking that if square pegs are put in square holes, and not the other way round, the forthcoming elections will turn out to be one of the freest, fairest, most acceptable and peaceful in the country’s checkered political history. Conflicts cannot be literarily prevented from occurring, but they can be restricted from escalating into violence.
Here is wishing all the candidates in all the participating states across Nigeria good luck in the forthcoming February, 2015 General Elections. God bless Nigeria!