By CLEMENT UZOANYA
WHATEVER has a beginning is said to have an end. But it seems that the deplorable Nigerian situation keeps reinventing itself, thus robbing citizens of the dividends of democracy. Is this God’s will for Nigeria and Nigerians or have Nigerians failed repeatedly to actualise God’s plan for a country that is rich in virtually every ramification? Many Nigerians looked forward to the 2023 general elections for many reasons, among which were: the large number of youth population involved and interested; the fact that the elections were not the traditional two-horse race; the repeated assurances from the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC; the signing of the 2022 Electoral Act which contained the deployment of technology; the increasingly depressing state of the economy, among others. So, the build-up to the elections was one filled with a nostalgia of anxiety, apprehension, hope that the time has come for us to get things right. But did we?
Prior to the elections, the traditional political parties (PDP, APC) touted other parties, especially, the LP and its presidential candidate, that they do not have the needed structures to triumph in the elections. However, we need not ask what these structures are. They are now very obvious even to the blind that these ‘structures’ are what have perpetuated the quandary that we find ourselves as a nation – structures of criminality, manipulation, rigging, thuggery, vandalisation, among other untoward acts, which have continually circumvented and distorted what is supposed to be a civil, peaceful, fair and credible process. In order to prepare for and execute the elections, the umpire body, INEC, budgeted a total sum of N355 billion!
In addition to the regular logistical expenses, the budget was to take care of the innovations as contained in the 2022 Electoral Act, which included the deployment of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System, BVAS, and the INEC Result Viewing, IReV, portal. Furthermore, the INEC boss, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, repeatedly assured Nigerians not only that the election process would be free, fair and credible, but that results of the elections would be uploaded in real time. This was a major factor in what rekindled hope and trust in the process. Did the umpire body live up to expectation?
On February 25, 2023, the much awaited day, Nigerians, like never before, thronged out, in the rain and in the sun to exercise their franchise. They did so with all the eagerness, passion, gusto, enthusiasm and what others may describe as the last flicker of hope for a better Nigeria. In fact, while some got to their polling units as early as 5:00 a.m, others slept over at their polling units till the following day, being February 26, 2023, all in a bid to ensure that results were uploaded to the IReV portal and that their votes actually counted.
Unfortunately, what was supposed to be a day to remember, a day of birthing a new Nigeria, became a sad and regressive day. The election was marred by irregularities, ranging from voter suppression, intimidation, raw violence, sporadic shootings, snatching of ballot boxes, burning of ballot papers, vote buying, among others. Both international and local observers attested to the fact that the election was grossly below standard. A key factor of uploading results from the polling units to the IReV portal looked like ‘the more you look, the less you see’!
This heightened suspicion for the process and loss of trust for INEC. However, commendations to some NGOs and Civil Society Groups like Yiaga Africa, Civil Society Situation Room, Kimpact Development Initiative, Connected Development, Centre for Democracy and Development for all their efforts in promoting democratic standards in the electioneering process.
Following the Presidential and National Assembly Elections, with its attendant irregularities, INEC officials conceded they experienced some glitches regarding uploading results from the polling units to the IReV portal, but no details were given on the said glitches. Yet again, after rounds of assurances from the umpire body and security operatives, the Gubernatorial and State Houses of Assembly Elections held on March 18, 2023 witnessed similar or even more irregularities.
Sadly, several persons were killed during the elections. The case of violence in Rivers State made the elections look like a proxy war. This calls to mind Thomas Hobbes’ (1588 – 1679) brutish notion of the nature of man. Some of the security operatives were somewhat complicit in the process, because even after knowing or having intelligence reports on the flash points or hot spots in the key states, they performed below par. Besides the raw violence experienced in Lagos, reducing the cosmopolitan city to a primitive village on the eve of the governorship election with some sacrificial pots placed close to some polling units smack of threat, which is an offence in our electoral laws.
So, while voter turnout during the Presidential and National Assembly Elections was the highest in recent times, the turnout during the Governorship and State Houses of Assembly Elections seemed to be the lowest in recent times – a case of a climax and an anticlimax situations of a response to a rekindled hope and a reaction to an eventually dashed hope. At this point, we cannot, but ask ourselves: What have we learnt since our return to democracy in 1999?
It seems that after 23 years, electioneering has remained virtually the same! Who did this to us? President Muhammadu Buhari promised to deliver a free, fair and credible election, but he may bury his head in shame. It is just a similar situation of what brought him to power. In fact, considering the way the country has been run in almost eight years, it would be unwise to believe that the President would deliver on his word. Not to mention the fact that he, the number one citizen, compromised and violated the sanctity and secrecy of the ballot paper by displaying his ballot paper at his polling unit during the election! The politicians have, no doubt, been the weakest link in the electioneering process.
They seem not to relent in organising crime – thugs and touts to violate, suppress and intimidate voters. They weaponise poverty, religion and tribe in every way possible in order to subvert the will of the people or circumvent the process and polarise the citizens.
It is appalling to note that there is currently a tribal war, fuelled by hate speech, which is becoming the order of the day. In Lagos, for instance, Christians and Muslims, Igbos and Yorubas have coexisted very peacefully for decades, but politicians have repeatedly sown seeds of prejudice and hatred. So, over the years, politicians have exploited whatever obnoxious means possible to circumvent the process and polarise the citizens in order to achieve their aim. One wonders how Lagos, Rivers, Kano and indeed Nigeria would heal after the 2023 elections.
No doubts, some improvements were made by INEC. There were some gains and records of successes viz-à-viz previous elections, especially with the introduction of the use of technology, which reduced the issues of over-voting, and improved voter accreditation and authentication. This improved the seamlessness of the voting process. In addition, the level of awareness and participation made the 2023 elections to bring about the most diverse political parties (APC, PDP, LP, NNPP, APGA) into office. However, considering the fact that INEC’s promises and assurances have not paid off over the years probably because the task before them is enormous and overwhelming, a more result oriented approach may be to unbundle the umpire body. Considering the hydra-headed challenges, especially the issue of leadership, which have plagued the country over the years, many have given up on Nigeria. The reality today is that many have left, are leaving or are planning to leave the shores of this country! Sadly, the Japa syndrome is real and it is affecting us greatly.
What Nigerians have experienced in the past few decades is definitely not God’s plan or his perfect will for us, but it can be situated in God’s permissive will (cf. Thomas Aquinas ST. I, q.19, a.6). The fact that God permits something does not mean that it is the divine will. In the case of the permissive will, God still blesses the recipients, but they will not enjoy the full blessings that come with His perfect will. In all of the daunting challenges confronting us as a people, one is tempted to say that Nigeria is beyond redemption! But the good news is that God has not abandoned Nigeria.
God is still open to saving us from this quandary. The redemption is within our reach. We only need to appropriate it and work towards God’s plan for us. The redemption is embedded in the system of government that we practise, and the submission in this piece is that our redemption is hinged on a tripod of: the centrality of God in our national life; the upholding of democratic principles and; the sanctity and supremacy of the judiciary.
Uzoanya, OP, the Administrator of Dominican Schools, Port Harcourt and Doctoral Student, University of Port Harcourt, wrote via: firstname.lastname@example.org
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