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Warning: Election rigging can ignite war

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AMIDST serious expressions of doubt over its ability to conduct free and fair polls next year, it is reassuring that the Professor Mahmood Yakubu-led Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, has continued to be generally upbeat in its preparations towards the historic exercise.

The Commission appears keenly aware of the enormity of the challenge before the nation as it spearheads activities towards the general elections. This much was evident at an interactive event recently organised in Ibadan, Oyo State, for stakeholders by the Deputy Inspector General of Police for the South West, Mr. Agboola Oshodi-Glover.

The Oyo State Resident Electoral Commissioner, REC, Mr. Mutiu Agboke, hit the proverbial nail on the head when he observed that “badly conducted election is a recipe for war”. He went on: “We want Nigerians to believe in us. There is going to be free and fair election in 2019”.

The REC’s observation is self-evident truth. Even our domestic political history bears it out. It was the series of rigged elections and manipulated population censuses as well as the sectional, partisan and callous deployments of the Police, armed forces and security apparatuses of the Federal Government against political opponents that eventually triggered the widespread chaos, military intervention and the Nigerian Civil War in the 1960s.

Secondly, the rigged 1983 elections brought the military back to power, ending our second democratic experiment. Also, the annulment of the freest and fairest general elections in our history in June 1993 ignited several political upheavals which could have led to national disintegration if not for large-scale political compromises and personal sacrifices to appease aggrieved individuals and groups.

Outside the country, badly-conducted elections led to wars in Cote D’Ivoire, Sierra Leone, Liberia and almost caused a civil war recently in Kenya. On the other hand, it was a reasonably free and fair election conducted by Professor Attahiru Jega’s INEC, and the patriotic decision by former President Goodluck Jonathan to respect its outcome that prevented unimaginable crises in 2015.

It is very unsettling that the current INEC, Police and other security and anti-graft authorities have so far not given Nigerians enough ground to trust them to build on the gains of 2015. Rather, top officials of these vital state organs have been seen as being openly attached to the political interests of incumbents.

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These organisations, especially INEC and Police, must work harder to gain more of the confidence of Nigerians as we approach the polls. Nigeria is more important than the political interests of any individual or group. Should matters get out of hands after the elections it is the generality of the ordinary Nigerians, irrespective of political affiliation, that will suffer.

INEC, Police and other state agencies must maintain absolute neutrality and guarantee acceptable elections.

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