By Ayodele OKUNFOLAMI
YOU can’t have a once for all bath. It is a regular exercise to refresh our bodies physically and sometimes mentally. Elections are also like baths. They are supposed to be regular rituals to renew our democracy, reaffirm our republic and celebrate our nationhood.
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However, elections in Nigeria have neither been refreshing nor renewing. Nigerians are yet to recover from the off season elections that took place in Kogi and Bayelsa states about a month ago. The manner in which both elections went has got Nigerians frightened about the sustainability of our hard earned democracy.
Questions are still being asked on how we dialled the clock backwards instead of consolidating on our little successes. But our nationhood goes beyond elections; just as we can’t spend all day in the shower.
Alas in Nigeria, it is as if the largest pie of the home expenditure and activities goes to the bathroom, and not to the living room. In attempting to give answers to the thuggery that characterized the elections, the Inspector General of Police claimed that fake police overpowered the 66,241 officers deployed for the elections.
While we endeavour not to giggle at such bizarre explanation, the initial question should have been why that large number of police was posted to the states only for the sake of a weekend of elections. How are those states policed when elections are not in place?
Can we safely say, Edo State should remain under policed until its own gubernatorial elections come up next year?
Amongst other ugly incidences, the elections in Kogi witnessed the gruesome murder of the women leader of one of the leading political parties. Unfortunately, criminal deeds like this happen now and again in Nigeria, but maybe because it was connected to an election, the police promptly announced the arrest of six suspects linked to the arson after a nudging by the President.
Where is this speed by officers of the Nigerian Police Force when it is not election related violence? If crime was treated as crime and we do not make adjectivals out of it, creating election related tribunals or special courts for electoral offenders would be unnecessary.
Unlike in other cases where there is usual buck passing or uncoordinated activities that end up in botched operations by security agencies, these security agencies all work in unison during elections but return to their rivalry selves to the detriment of the citizenry after elections.
And talking about unlikely alliances, there was the allegation that certain gladiators across the political aisle in Bayelsa made a dodgy deal to give a suspect victory to the opposition in the state. So our leaders can bury their ethnic, prejudiced, religious and ideological differences for some selfish goals? Hmm.
Where are these bipartisan pacts when it comes to providing security, education, healthcare, infrastructure, ease of doing business and all that pertains to life and godliness for the masses?
Nigerians should not be forgotten only to be remembered once in four years. Even the physically challenged are not left out of this four-yearly hiatus. It is very commendable that the electoral body provides special voting materials for them and provisions for them to be able to carry out their civic rights. But if our society should see them as citizens and not just as voters then there would be provisions for them on walkways, bus stops, schools and hospitals.
In fact, if they were citizens and not voters, there would have being a law to have sign language interpreters or television subtitles in movies, public functions, press conferences and parliamentary proceedings. They also deserve designated parking slots. It is not only election results that they are entitled to know.
Kogi and Bayelsa have brought election reforms again to the front burner. As much as this should be treated with the utmost urgency it deserves, there are other concerns that are also imperative. In fact, if we look at it, aside the annual budgets, the Electoral Act is the most altered piece of legislation, which is good. As we progress as a people, there would be continuous demand to align our elections with technology and our collective evolution.
Nevertheless, the National Assembly was not set up only to make elections better or the Presidency voted only to sign Electoral Bills. Nigerians want back and forth deliberations by the political parties and arms of government on issues like Petroleum Industry Bill, generation and distribution of affordable, available and reliable electricity for homes and businesses, appropriate tax system, fiscal federalism, etc.
It was the healthcare of the citizens that bothered the American government in the form of scrapping or maintaining Obamacare while in Britain it is about the privatization or not of the NHS. If the basics of education, healthcare, security, infrastructure, care for the weak and vulnerable and the rest are fixed, our elections would naturally be fixed.
When overall infrastructure is fixed for example, elections become cheaper. All those bogus budgetary requests for generators and other logistics would be off INEC’s log. When lives and property are secured every day, elections will not be like wars. When the youths are employed, they won’t be used for election violence.
It is even more insulting to our collective sensibilities that even before the elected took their oaths of office, the talks of 2023 already made the headlines. This mind-set that everything rises and falls with elections is what has kept the nation in underdevelopment and retrogression.
When our leaders see us as Nigerians and not voters, there would be more people enrolled in the National Health Insurance Scheme than we have in the voters’ register, and the national identity card (that pronounces our citizenship) would be our major means of transactions and not the voter’s card that in reality should be brought out only one day in four years.
When we see ourselves as Nigerians and not voters we won’t offer ourselves as vessels to divide the nation because of how we vote or instead we would be united in our demand for schools, hospitals, infrastructure, pensions and jobs.
We are Nigerians, not voters.