Today, Nigeria is again on the threshold of history as millions of its citizens will troop to the polling centres all over the country to elect their president and members of the National Assembly.
For the past few months, political activities have engulfed the nation, beginning with the processes of picking candidates for various elective offices at the presidential, governorship, national and state legislative levels. However, the road to this year’s general elections which begin today has not been smooth.
The journey, like the previous ones, has always been characterised by violence. The nation’s democratic history spanning six decades now has been defined by bloodshed, mayhem and threats to the corporate existence of the country because politicians see election(s) as a do-or-die exercise.
The recipe for violence resulting in avoidable loss of lives and wanton destruction of public and private assets is lack of transparency and the winning-at-all-costs mentality of the average Nigerian politician to whom politics is a big industry because it yields heavy returns on investments.
The build-up to this year’s general polls is perhaps the most frightening in recent times, making the threat to the last exercise in 2015 to patter into insignificance.
Although there is no such prophecy of break-up ahead of this year’s polls, the atmosphere has been charged with mudslinging and bad blood from various camps, fake news and hate speeches. In particular, the gladiators from the two major parties, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the
Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), have heated the polity in recent months, egged on by their supporters. These followers who are used in the crowd contest by the various political parties appeared to have sworn to an oath of self-annihilation as exemplified by the avoidable deaths from stampedes recorded at some rallies.
The crowd pulling had been unprecedented in the annals of electioneering in the country, making observers to wonder if campaign funding was being carried out within the limits allowed by the law.
At the rallies and other fora, rather than selling their candidatures and party manifestoes (if any at all), the political gladiators have chosen the path of war, slander and character assassination of those in the opposition.
There are also threats from various camps ranging from the warning that this would be the last exercise in the country should they fail to realise their ambitions to outright elimination of those who stand on their ways.
To underpin their seriousness, many dyed-in- the-wool supporters have sworn to commit suicide or leave the country should their candidates lose in the exercise.
These are better options than resorting to set the nation ablaze! The nation has also been set on edge with accusations of politicians hiring criminal elements, training militia, stockpiling arms and ammunition as means to achieving their goals.
The attacks and counter-attacks by party supporters and intolerance of opposition as evidenced by the vandalism of campaign materials, vehicles , houses and other valuables are a bad augury for the 2019 polls.
The destruction of the over 4,000 card readers which are critical to credible polls at the premises of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Anambra state barely 72 hours to the polls is not only shocking but also the anti-climax of pyromania in the build-up to the exercise.
To mitigate the threats, the National Peace Committee headed by the former Head of State, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, put in place ahead of the 2015 polls, has been up and doing this time around to extract commitment to peace before, during and after the exercise as well as acceptance of the outcome by all the major contestants in the race.
To make assurance doubly sure, the presidential candidates had to return to the peace table to reaffirm their commitment when the polity was being overheated as the exercise drew closer. Also worthy of note is the replication of the peace pacts entered into by governorship and houses of assembly candidates at the state level under the aegis of state police commissioners.
The success or failure of today’s polls will, to a large extent, depend on the turnout of eligible voters. It is not just enough to boast of having more than 80m registered voters if the atmosphere is not conducive for them to come out to exercise their franchise without having their hearts in their mouths. In the light of this, we urge the security operatives assigned to electoral duties to carry out their mandates professionally.
They should ensure a peaceful atmosphere which is a sine qua non for successful polls. They should be on the red alert during the exercise so that criminal elements do not disrupt the process at any given time.
The electoral umpire must also show neutrality and ensure that the exercise is conducted seamlessly across various voting centres in order to deliver a transparent, credible, free and fair election. The voters too must conduct themselves in an orderly manner while exercising their civic duties.
It is also gratifying to note that the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Muhammadu Buhari, in his nationwide broadcast on Thursday, assured the nation and the international community of a credible, transparent and peaceful exercise.
As the most populous black nation in the world, Nigeria cannot afford to fail in this exercise. We should build on the success of the 2015 polls, bearing in mind again that this is an election and not a war.