Guber Election: Votes Only Count When Cast And INEC Does Right
This Saturday Nigerians will be returning to the polls in 1021 constituencies as against the 470 constituencies where presidential and national assembly elections were held on February 25. No fewer than 993 candidates are standing for the gubernatorial election in 28 states and state houses of assembly elections across the country. Unbeknown to many, the stakes are actually higher in this leg of the general elections. Nigerians are so focused on the center that they overlook the malfeasance and maladministration in the states. Governance is practically nonexistent at the grassroots as local council chairmen who live outside their areas only visit when the FAAC allocation from Abuja arrives. Little or no scrutiny has turned governors into demi-gods who run the states like a personal fiefdom. So totalitarian are they that civil society groups that dare to ask questions are run out of town. During the electioneering, their big ego was on full display as they boasted about candidates who will win or lose in their states. Alas, the outcome of the last election has demystified these demigods as having feet of clay. They have now restrategized into having their way even if the spirit of democracy is damned.
Many of the governors, who are in their final term, lost their ambition to go to the Senate in disruptions that were hitherto unseen. The emergence of the Labour Party as a potent third force changed the political dynamics in the states. Most of the actors that lost out can’t imagine themselves outside the orbit of power hence their resort to other means to regain political relevance. This desperation has thrown concerns that politicians are out to rig the March 18 elections in the most brazen manner, relying on extra-judicial means to compromise the process. Aside recruiting thugs to help them undermine the polls or suppress voter turnout in areas they are weak, failed politicians are reportedly colluding with the Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) to make the falsification of results much out of tune with polling stations’ results than it was in the previous exercise. There have been accusations and counter-accusations over this among the parties in several of the states.
It is already common knowledge that the February 25 election failed to meet the minimum threshold of credibility. Both local and international observers returned with the verdict that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) dropped the ball in the election that was held two weeks ago. There were many cases of irregularities including technical hitches that INEC has still not bothered to explain to Nigerians. There were issues with the transmission of results even as the umpire refused to adhere to the enabling electoral laws and guidelines which it set for itself. This disappointment has made Nigerians apprehensive as the polls open this Saturday. It remains to be seen if INEC has been able to learn its lessons and whether the security agencies are ready to improve on their inadequacies in their February 25 operations. The Inter-agency Consultative Committee on Election Security has reassured that they are ready for the last lap of the 2023 polls but Nigerians are not yet convinced. How will they be when some governors in cahoots with security agencies, are arresting prominent opposition members and raising illegal armies that will force people to vote for their anointed candidates against their wish.
Their co-conspirators in INEC and security agencies must realize that they are acting in violation of the law and the penalties for such infractions are clearly spelled out in the Electoral Act of 2022. INEC, which should use the coming election to redeem its battered image, must be ready to come hard on errant electoral officers caught subverting the will of the people. Electoral fraud is still a felony in Nigeria. The laws are very clear regarding electoral malpractices; security agencies, therefore, have the work cut out for them. Those on election duty must stop playing possum when thugs issue threats or attack those perceived to be voting against their principal. This barbarism which happened in the full glare of security operatives must not be allowed to repeat itself on Saturday.
Enough mockery has already been made of Nigeria’s weird variant of democracy. The contestants, INEC officials and security agencies must all conduct themselves in the fashion of gentlemen whose loyalty is only to their country, not pecuniary or primordial interests. INEC, which has repeatedly confessed to having learned its lesson, must be contrite enough to do right by Nigerians this time around. The process must not be bungled again! We observe that the Commission has been sending out text messages to Nigerians, enjoining them to make their vote count. Naija News believes that such a message should rather be directed at the electoral umpire and their officials who must ensure that Nigerians’ votes count in this election.
Meanwhile, developments in Lagos State with regard to the gubernatorial election are quite disconcerting. Aside the stocking of ethnic irredentism, otherwise insulated institutions are being dragged into the political process. Nigerians were shocked when the head teacher of a public primary school was caught on video telling pupils to get their parents to vote in a particular direction. The other day, a pupil was sent home by the head teacher for wrapping her books with the campaign poster of a prominent presidential candidate. As if these instances were not bad enough, traditional institutions have joined the fray. Oba Elegushi saw no other date to impose the Oro ritual in Ikate area of Eti-Osa LGA of Lagos State than on the same March 18 when the governorship and state assembly election has been scheduled. This was the same monarch who complained about non-indigenes voting in his domain during the presidential election.
While clarifying that the 2023 Oro festival won’t affect the election, Oba Saheed Ademola clarified that the restriction of movement is from 12 midnight to 5am. While the standard is for Oro ceremonies to hold in the wee hours, this reasonable timing has in recent times been fragrantly abused, sparking chaos and deaths in places like Ipokia, Sagamu and Ikorodu. Even if the advertised schedule in Elegushi is strictly adhered to, it can inadvertently affect election logistics with a hangover effect that will make voters stay indoors when they should be heading out to vote. Unfortunately, the Oba of Ikate-Elegushi Kingdom is not alone in this as the Baale of Ijegun also in Lagos State has imposed the same festival with reports listing Ikorodu among parts of Lagos State where the Oro festival will be clashing with the important nationwide election.
Naija News regrets that the Lagos State government and the police have maintained a loud silence in the face of protestations of Nigerians against this move, including a leading gubernatorial candidate in the state who noted, “rumours have been circulating that certain traditional rulers, Baale of Ijegun, and Elegushi are supposed to start Oro today and go all the way to Saturday. Traditional rulers know better than to do any festive that would disenfranchise any voters.” Naija News demands that Traditional rulers must know their limits. Nigeria is more important than any native rights. Nobody should expose the traditional institution to direct confrontation with the state or use the same to infringe on the rights of Nigerians. While section 38 of the revised 1999 constitution guarantees freedom of thought, conscience and religion, section 41 of the same Nigerian constitution guarantees freedom of movement. Section 42 guarantees protection from discrimination so nobody should preclude women from going about their normal activities in the name of some traditional rites.
This newspaper calls on the Nigerian electorate to remain resolute in peacefully coming out to vote for their governors and state assembly members notwithstanding the provocations. They must not pander to any ploy to make them stay indoors when they should be at the polls exercising their civic responsibility. Cowing to these antics and pressures amounts to playing into the hands of undemocratic forces who can easily rig when voter turnout is low. Granted that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty, the citizenry will be giving up so much if they choose to stay at home when they should be out electing the next set of leaders. How we wish to see the same energy with which Nigerians participated in the presidential election replicated in this Saturday’s poll. Such is all the more needed now because if 28 gubernatorial candidates can derive their mandate from the people, they will seek to do right by the people rather than some shadowy godfathers. And 28 hard working governors will do the country greater good and impact more citizens than a well-performing president. And when a people-oriented state assembly across the 36 states is added to the equation, Nigeria will definitely be on the path to greatness. Let the possible installation of credible leadership at the sub-national level motivate registered voters to vote on Saturday. Pessimists must bear in mind that votes can only count when cast.