• Hunger, killings, vote-buying top Nigerians’ concerns
By Nnamdi Ojiego, Kennedy Mbele, Bashir Bello, Ogalah Ibrahim, Dickson Omobola & Chinonso Alozie
The much anticipated year 2023 is here. In the next 12 months, Nigeria will hold two very important exercises.
This is the first time in recent history the country is conducting general elections and a national census in the same year.
Elections in Nigeria are held every four years while census is conducted at least once in 10 years.
However, the last time the country had a headcount was in 2006, about 16 years ago.
The two exercises, according to Nigerians who spoke to Sunday Vanguard, if well managed, will put the nation on a trajectory of national development and reunification, but may spell doom if manipulated.
The 2023 presidential election is different from that of 2019. One, it is a transitional election in which the incumbent, President Muhammadu Buhari, will hand over to another democratically elected President after completing his constitutional two terms of eight years.
The front runners in the election that will hold on February 25 are Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the All Progressive Congress, APC; Mr Peter Obi of the Labour Party, LP; Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso of New Nigeria Peoples Party, NNPP, and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
Many Nigerians, including Civil Society Organisations, CSOs, had, at various times, expressed concerns over the capacity of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to conduct the elections.
This is against the backdrop of insecurity, particularly attacks on INEC facilities, and the deployment of technology.
Some also shared the same fears concerning the conduct of a national census. Their fears stemmed from reports that previous census exercises were rigged to favour some sections of the country. Recall that a former Chairman of the National Population Commission, NPC, Eze Festus Odimegwu, was quoted to have said that the country has not had any credible census and blamed the irregularity on the distortion and falsification of figures for selfish and political reasons.
“No census has been credible in Nigeria. Even the one conducted in 2006 is not credible. I have the records and evidence produced by scholars and professors of repute. This is not my report. If the current laws are not amended, the planned 2016 census will not succeed,” Odimegwu was reported to have said.
Meanwhile INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmud Yakubu, and his counterpart at the NPC, Nasir Isa Kwarra, restated their capacity and capability to conduct an acceptable election and census this year.
As 2023 begins today, many Nigerians identified hunger, high cost of living, insecurity, vote-buying and 2023 polls as areas of concern in the New Year.
Those who spoke to Sunday Vanguard across the country said unless the challenges are addressed, Nigeria may not record the desired development this year.
A socio-political analyst and convener, Ikoro Ndigbo Assembly, Ugochimereze Asuzu, described 2023 as the year of decision.
Nigeria, Asuzu said, is at crossroads, stressing that the will of the people to effect change would be most tested at this point.
He said: “It’s often said that the people deserve the kind of leaders they get. Nigeria’s precarious situation is an apt example of the very foundational basis of the argument for the affirmative. Suffice it to state though that Nigeria as presently constituted is battling with nation-building. “And one may want to ask why. The answer is before our eyes: we are becoming more polarized along ethnic and religious bases.
“Hence we can rightly state without equivocation that Nigeria is presently at crossroads.
“A country tossed, as the indices suggest, between choosing from the devil and the deep blue sea. Yet, the country can still redeem itself if the will and dedication are there.
“The will of the people to effect change will be tested at this point. In this vein, the conspiracies of the elites and their allies in government must be checked. The 2023 census is also a veritable opportunity to plan our nation and ensure that the saddening, heart-rending computations and imputations of a failed country do not bear fruits.”
Alfred Ononugbo, a forensic expert and criminal intelligence specialist, on his part, said: “We are hopeful even though the economic and security challenges have weighed heavily on Nigerians.
“I also note that there is an emerging force against the political class. However, poor political education or voter awareness will be a big discount to the masses because they have been bedeviled with crippling economic realities.
“What is playing out is interesting on the one hand and worrisome on the other.
“If the old political game players succeed in foisting their deceit as a political solution to Nigeria’s problem, we won’t move an inch (forward).
“We need fresh political thinking that will encourage national development, though it will take hard work because Nigerians are divided along ethnic and religious lines.
“If people understand that religion has become their albatross, I am sure they would have placed national development above religious inclinations.
“The outcome of the election might fuel or encourage an increase in the activities of agitators and ethnic militias. It will also bring in new sentiments.
“Losers will seek justifications for the agitations and activities of these dreaded groups.
“On the census, the population issue will always suffer manipulation until we have developed that sense of patriotism and the technology that will guarantee a process driven by integrity.
“There are problems and threats. What we don’t know is how we can take advantage of these situations and make the best out of them.”
A media strategist, Obinna Anum, noted that every New Year comes with many expectations of new and better things to come.
Anum’s words: “The year 2023 is already here with us. Being the general elections and national census year, it is widely perceived by many as a year that will decide a lot in Nigeria as a country and the direction it will go.
“Currently, the nation is very sick in almost all sectors. And if anything must change, we must get it right in all we have set out to do this year, especially in electing a new President and other leaders. If not, things might become worse.
“2023 is an important year in our history as a people. It is a make or mar year. We must, therefore, be intentional in our decisions in other to get things right.’’
A public commentator, Obiajulu Uwadone, urged Nigerians to be vigilant and ready to vote according to their conscience during the elections.
Uwadone said: “On the security situation, we all have to be vigilant. We should all be ready to exercise our franchise by voting according to our conscience. We must not sell our votes for any reason.
“We must vote for the person we feel will take Nigeria out of its present situation. 2023 general elections must not be seen by anybody as a do-or-die affair. It will come and go.’’
Similarly, a teacher, Felicia Alegu, said 2023 would be a good year if Nigerians could come out en masse to vote for candidates of their choice.
Alegu said: “2023 will be made if we can all leave the fence, come out and vote for candidates of our choice. Attempts to mar it will surely be made by those who may want to create confusion but it won’t work.
“Gone are the days when elections were rigged without consequences. We have suffered enough and must free ourselves with our votes.
“My prayer is that government keeps to its promise of providing a level-playing field for contestants.
“In the absence of interference, the coast will be clear for us to elect the most credible candidates who will return the lost glory of our great nation”
Chioma Odilumoku, a student, expressed the fear that economic hardship and insecurity in the country would worsen.
Her words: “I think the economy will be a little worse early next year. Insecurity is likely to be on the increase until after the election but Nigeria will be okay.
“My prayer is that God gives us a good leader who will turn things around.
“Votes don’t count but with the new measures put in place by INEC, our votes will surely count. We should come out and vote for the best candidates and leave the rest to God. He will keep our country in peace”.
A retired civil servant, Shehu Isah, said: “I look forward to a peaceful election and transition of power without any rancour.
“I also look forward to a year where all forms of insecurity, poverty, hunger and starvation will be a thing of the past.
“Similarly, I look up to 2023 where unemployment will be curtailed to the barest minimum because, as we speak, there are teeming youths who are unemployed, particularly in the North-West, which I consider as a time-bomb.
“If nothing is done to address it beyond 2023, it might begin to detonate.”
Executive Director, Bridge Connect Africa Initiative, BCAI, Sani Muhammad, said Nigeria is in a critical moment.
Muhammad’s words: “I look forward to peaceful elections and transition. We are in a critical moment in the country.
“Whoever wins the presidential election, there should be a peaceful transition.
“We should be able to transit to a state that can inspire Nigerians. We should be able to believe in the ability of the government to work for the country. Government should also strengthen the judiciary to ensure that people can effectively go to the court to seek redress.’’
A trader, Shamsudeen Garba, said: “The 2023 elections will be peaceful so long as votes are allowed to count but if what happened during the local government elections in Katsina is allowed to happen again, it may spell doom for the state.”
A commercial tricycle rider, Abubakar Sufwan, said due to prevalent hunger and high cost of living in the country, people might not be able to resist selling their votes to the highest bidder.
“I doubt if the outcome of the 2023 elections would be a true reflection of the wishes of Nigerians as many of the eligible voters have lost confidence in our politicians and the electoral process”, he said.
“Our politicians are the same. They are only interested in their selfish interests. Given the prevalent hunger and high cost of living in the land, a lot of people may not be able to resist selling their votes to the highest bidder.”
Mr. Franklin Obinna, a dispatch rider, said:”For me, it will be a good year if we elect the right leaders.”
A teacher, Mr Olorunfemi Adebayo, said: “We live our lives but don’t end up dictating the consequences of our actions, which is why Rousseau said we are free, yet all in chains. Consequently, 2023 is far from being a make or mar year for me. Ours is to be hopeful, just as Gabriel Marcel stressed.”
Mr. Onuabuchi Uche, a businessman, said: “2023 is going to be a make or mar year. There will be change in the political system. There will be change in the economy because of the discovery of oil in other parts of the country.
Mr. Abubakar Ibrahim, a journalist, said:”
In 2023, we either improve on all that is going on right now or we drop further into oblivion.”