By Dakuku Peterside
NIGERIA’s general election, the largest democratic exercise in Africa, begins on February 25. All the parties and candidates are jostling to get voters attention and convince them to vote for them in the elections. The wait is palpitating, and the electioneering campaign drama is thus far exhilarating.
Everything but the issues facing Nigerians is fair game, and the political satire playing out even keeps the unapologetic patriot ashamed of our political process. Conventions and rules of the political game are written and broken with recklessness. This make-or-break election promises to be a referendum on political orthodoxy and will chart the way forward for Nigeria in the new epoch.
The seeming awakening of the youths, especially in major urban areas, for political participation, if appropriately harnessed, will reshape the political map of Nigeria. For this to succeed, there are unwritten rules and conventions embedded in the electoral process that shape the context and outcome. Here are five unwritten rules you need to know about this election.
The first rule is that voters must be ready to be patient, as the process may be cumbersome. The 2023 election will be the first time INEC will deploy BVAS on a national scale. Like everything novel in technology, it would come with challenges. Previous experience has shown that even passionate voters are easily discouraged when long lines appear or machines malfunction. In the past, long lines at elections had forced some officials to extend voting hours to accommodate the crowd. But that helps only voters who can stick around for hours.
However, long waiting times discourage people from voting. This is even worse when the weather is unfavourable – either the sun’s scorching heat is unbearable, or the heavy downpour of the rain soaks the voters. These inclement weather conditions test even the most trusted and passionate voter. The reasons for long lines during voting include logistical nightmares that lead to voting starting late, poor staffing, untrained staff, and technical malfunctions.
However, when long lines and waiting times are inevitable, voters must develop the patience to do whatever it takes to vote and protect their voters. The second rule is that voters are easily perplexed when it comes to choosing a candidate versus a party. The 2023 general election is shaping up to be one in which voters will vote not on party lines, but on the candidates running for office.
It is becoming more apparent in most places, that a voter may vote for a candidate in one party for the presidency, vote for another candidate in another party for the governorship, and vote for another candidate in another party for the national and state assemblies. A recent African Polling Institute poll confirms that citizens are increasingly not fixated on voting along party lines but on specific candidates for the elections, though there are exceptions to this in some regions.
If this is anything to go by, many illiterate and semi-literate voters may need clarification and enlightenment. Political parties need to do more about voter education, and they ought to take responsibility for voter education. Parties must strive to teach their supporters what their emblems are so that when a voter is in the polling booth to vote, he will remember the party emblem of the candidate of his choice.
This anomaly underscores the importance of voter education by the parties, especially among rural dwellers who may need more exposure to information about candidates and parties before elections. The third unwritten rule is that polling booths attract the activities of party agents, voters, INEC officials, and sometimes security officers and end up being a spark plug for violence.
People are emotional and often prone to being argumentative and restive. Arguments at polling booths always end in violence; so avoid them. In our polarised, frayed-nerves society, there’s a severe possibility that people blow minor issues out of proportion and cast them in sinister terms. Nigerians, according to Erin Meyer, in her book, Culture Map, are aggressive, confrontational in disagreement, and do not trust others.
A recent study showed that most electoral violence starts with minor quarrels. Electoral violence has taken some Nigerians’ lives, and this is a menace that must stop. The 2023 election is not worth the life of any Nigerian. In a country where life is worth less and people are ever ready to intimidate, dominate and eliminate others with impunity and little or no consequences, we must avoid any situation that will lead to violence.
Avoiding arguments is the first step in that direction. Related to this is the fact that there is an increased burden on security agencies than in previous elections to maintain neutrality. The fourth unfortunate unwritten rule is that party operatives will do everything they can to undermine, rig, or even disrupt the election for their own selfish reasons.
The more INEC comes up with new processes and technology to avert vote rigging, the more party operatives hellbent on rigging the election innovate to find other means of succeeding in influencing the electoral outcome. For the 2023 general election, where INEC has improved on the use of technology to reduce or eliminate election rigging, party operatives are resorting to voter inducement and vote-buying to influence the outcomes of elections. A new public opinion poll conducted by NOI Polls has revealed that 26 per cent of registered voters would be willing to sell their votes for monetary or material gains during the 2023 general election.
According to the report titled “Vote-Buying Poll’ released on Monday, 26 per cent translates to about 7.3 million votes, which are enough to boost any candidate’s chances of winning. There is reason to suspect that despite all the explanations offered by the Central Bank for limiting cash withdrawals to N20,000 a day, the main reason is to curb vote- buying during the upcoming election Nigerian rural voters and monetary incentives are inextricably linked.
With thumb-printing ballot papers and snatching ballot boxes no longer viable options, vote-buying has become the mainstay of political parties’ strategies. Politicians begin with the belief that only a better rigger, not the popular vote, wins elections. The last unwritten rule for the 2023 general election is that parties and candidates should prepare for judicial adjudication, as Nigerians will probably not accept the election result.
I must point out here that the courts need to adjudicate in clear cases of improprieties during elections and render justice where it is deserved, but the tendencies of politicians trying desperately to use the court to decide electoral victories leave a sour taste in the mouth for democracy lovers. After every election in Nigeria, the number of electoral cases instituted is mind-boggling.
The majority of candidates who lose the election will go to court. The implication is that electoral results do not determine the outcomes of elections; instead, the courts do. Although the unwritten rules of the 2023 elections covered here are not exhaustive, the five-pointed out in this review are just representations of the many unwritten rules that will directly or indirectly impinge on the electoral success of the forthcoming elections.
I implore all stakeholders to critically evaluate these rules and some of the issues raised with the view of improving the election experience and outcome for Nigerians. Prevention is better than cure, and to be forewarned is to be forearmed.
We must continue to strengthen our democracy and usher in, after the election, a group of leaders that genuinely reflect the electorate’s choice to move our nation forward. The task at hand is enormous. This election is just the beginning of the process to start fixing Nigeria. The emerging leaders will steer the Nigerian ship for the next four years. Our future is in their hands.