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Dousing tension in our electoral process

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By Adewale Kupoluyi

THE just-concluded general elections can be described as a mixed grill of positive and unpleasant experiences. While some politicians were elected into various offices across the states without acrimony, the elections did not go without the bitter stories of ballot snatching, rigging, killings, abductions and falsification, among others. The atmosphere was soaked in tension in many places that voting took place. This could largely be responsible for why there was general voter apathy. The desperation to get into public offices at all cost could be the basis for why political activities have assumed frightening dimensions in recent times.

No doubt, our electoral system is tension-filled from the beginning to the end. Ecological analysis of the political process shows a direct linkage between tension and violence. The current political system makes it extremely difficult to breed a generation of leaders that are passionate to render selfless service to their fatherland because many people are scared away from politics. Tension begins immediately a party wins an election. The losing party rushes to the election tribunal; whether there is merit or justification for doing that or not is another ball game. Huge resources are committed to fighting legal tussle in a bid to reclaim ‘stolen mandate’.

Electoral Commission Officers await for voters as a polling station opens at Agiya polling station in Yola, Adamawa State, Nigeria on February 23, 2019, the day of the general elections. – Nigerians began voting for a new president on February 23, after a week-long delay that has raised political tempers, sparked conspiracy claims and stoked fears of violence. Some 120,000 polling stations began opening from 0700 GMT, although there were indications of a delay in the delivery of some materials and deployment of staff, AFP reporters said. (Photo by AFP)

In our dear country, opposition politics is not what it should be. What do we have? It is finding of faults and engaging in a genre of criticism where nothing good is seen about the ruling party. Little attention is paid to evaluating the quality of governance with a view to adding value that could impact people’s lives positively. When elections are fast approaching, various aspirants spring up to vie for elective posts. In most cases, those contesting have godfathers who tell them what to do rather than doing what the people expect them to do as their representatives. Those aspiring to assume leadership positions are usually handpicked to serve particular interests by clinging to power by all means and creating tension.

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Nigerian political parties hardly observe internal democracy that allows for the emergence of natural leaders. As mentioned, what usually happens is that rich aspirants or those with powerful sponsors simply handpick their stooges to run for elections. Victims of imposition either decamp to other parties or remain within and fuel disaffection. This trend has dominated our political landscape. Prior to elections, for fear of loss and inability to garner popular support, politicians patronise thugs and other unconventional means either to silence potential opposition or hindrance that could come their way. Hate speech and extra-judicial killings are weapons that politicians deploy in advancing their causes. The tension builds up to electioneering.

All manners of parties spring up with inchoate manifestoes, philosophies and programmes. At the last general elections, without prejudice, most of the presidential aspirants had no business vying for the highest position in the land. It amounted to sheer mockery of the entire process for someone that is not popular at the local government level, not to talk of state, to aspire to become president of the whole of Nigeria! This is uncharitable and laughable. This is not to say that people should be prevented from exercising their constitutional freedom of association, but the point here is that, there is need for sincerity of purpose and realistic aspiration. There is no point funding mushroom parties. The rat race to avoid going into oblivion by such parties fuels tension.

There is always tension over pre-election and post-election attacks on Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, offices and security personnel. Oil prices are similarly not spared from the tensed up political climate. For instance, few weeks before the polls, international Brent crude oil futures were sold at $67.28 a barrel, up 16 cents; while the United States’ West Texas Intermediate, WTI, crude futures were at $57.39 per barrel, up about 13 cents. Another factor responsible for tension during elections is the proliferation of small arms in the country. At the end of electoral activities, persons in possession of illegal arms tend to commit armed robbery, kidnapping and other crimes in the society.

Deployment of military during elections is gradually becoming the norm and inducing tension. This is an absurdity. The role of the military during elections should be limited, except when absolutely necessary. The use of military during polls seems to have been abused as the soldiers take laws into their hands and flout electoral regulations. Innocent citizens, electoral observers and journalists were reportedly maltreated and assaulted by military men. This increases tension and discourages the conduct of peaceful elections, just as indiscriminate shift in election dates induces anxiety. What do we have at the end of the day? Compromised and inconclusive elections! When results are to be announced, the electorate stay glued to their television and radio sets, tensed up.

There is need to fix a few things so as to get our elections right. To begin with, there is need for attitudinal change that suppresses avoidable tension. Elections should also be sacred and sacrosanct. Conducive environment must be put in place to engender free, fair, credible and transparent elections. Tension jeopardises people’s health and destabilises orderliness. Political offices should be made less attractive such that desperation to get into political offices is reduced. Political arrogance that suggests that power is the birthright or exclusive occupation of certain segments of the polity stirs tension. Candidates with such mentality would stop at nothing to get into power and invariably brewing tension associated with ‘do-or-die’ politics.

As a way forward, politicians should desist from creating tension by polarising the electorate. Security operatives should conduct themselves with dignity and integrity. The neutrality of the security services and responsible conduct of party agents will largely bring about the desired electoral process that would stimulate the emergence of desired leaders required for our democracy. Nigerians should not be discouraged from participating in the electoral process.

Apathy favours the perpetration of the political class that is ever ready to mobilise die-hard supporters to the polling booths to do its bidding. The people should reclaim their destiny through active civic responsibility under a tension-free climate where real democracy thrives.

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