As Nigeria goes to the polls, ponder this
It is barely six days to the 2019 elections, chief of which is the February 16 Presidential poll. This year’s election is special in many ways. A record total of 84,004,084 registered voters from 1,558 constituencies, 774 local government areas, 8,809 registration areas/wards consisting of 119,973 polling units define this year’s polls.
Add also 73 presidential candidates, 1,068 governorship contestants for 29 states, 1,904 senatorial candidates for 108 seats in the Senate and 4,680 candidates for the 360 seats in the House of Representatives. A total of 14,583 candidates will duel for the 991 state constituency slots; not forgetting the 806 contestants for the 68 Area Council seats in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) broken down to 105 chairmanship candidates and 701 councillorship candidates.
As you can see, this election is heavy in logistics, humungous in budget and exerting both for the contestants and for the umpire, INEC. Same goes for the electorate some of whom literally walked through the valley of the shadow of death just to get their permanent voter card (PVC). The same electorate would be expected to defy all elements to queue and vote on every election day. The huge crowd of contestants is a function of the multitude of political parties most of which do not stand a chance and they know it. But that’s democracy. It creates the option of choice.
A corollary to this is the issue of cost. This election is expensive. This throws up the argument of whether Nigeria should continue with the Presidential system of government or embrace a smarter cost-effective parliamentary system. This is a discourse for another day.
INEC has consistently assured Nigerians of its readiness to conduct a free, fair and credible election. It has evolved some safety nets to forestall incidence of polls grifting and rigging. For instance, all collation officers would be deployed to their duty posts a day to the election; Vice Chancellors of federal universities are to serve as returning officers; the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) currently on strike has agreed to participate in the election as part of its community service.
The umpire says it has improved the Smart Card Readers to enhance their efficiency and has also eliminated the use of Incident Forms. Other innovations include the introduction of braille jackets, magnifying glasses and assistive posters for persons with disability. There are many other innovations by INEC that would ordinarily add to the credibility of the polls. By hindsight, INEC should not be believed. Incidents from previous elections point to the contrary. In 2015 election, INEC promised much but delivered a sham election with dubious results from across the nation. This time, I would plead we give INEC benefit of the doubt. This is Professor Mahmood Yakubu’s INEC, not Professor Attahiru Jega’s. So, let’s just say, all things being equal, INEC would deliver a credible election.
This article, however, is not about the logistics of the election. It’s about the voters, the electorate. Many Nigerians have become emergency social media political activists, pundits and opinion moulders. But elections are never won on social media or some electronic crusades. You determine the endpoint of an election when you cast your vote. And here is the real crunch. With so much money spent on this election, the Nigerian voting publics owe themselves a duty to participate actively. Defy the odds, step out of your comfort zones, mobilise your neighbours and troop to the polling units. Staying passive during election is a veritable way to deny yourself the opportunity to determine your tomorrow.
Former Governor of Cross River State, Donald Duke, once gave an expose on how elections are rigged. One of the elements that pave the way for election-rigging is low-voter turnout. Politicians love it when a few people come out to vote. It creates an opportunity for the politicians to thumb-print for those absent. Card reader or not, 2015 election has shown that proxy thumb-printing is still possible in spite of the introduction of technology. To avert this, Nigerians should take ownership of this election by trooping to the polling units to vote.
A record 84 million registered voters shows ascendancy in political awareness. This must translate to high voter turnout for it to make sense. Otherwise, the electorate may, again, have unwittingly provided the politicians a rich fodder to hatch their plot. I sympathise with those Nigerians who were denied their PVC in spite of their efforts. A lady recently recounted how she had to rise up as early as 4am to get to the registration centre in Lagos early enough but ended up not getting the card. She gave up at the third try. She recalled how some people feigned pregnancy just to be attended to; some others desperate to get their PVC feigned ill-health. It was such a tough call and rough ride getting a PVC in Lagos because INEC for whatever reasons deployed few systems and activated few registration centres. As we go to the polls, there are thousands of Lagosians who for no fault of theirs have been disenfranchised by INEC.
This and many more factors should moderate the thought of those who would be voting on election day. They must maximize both the moment and the opportunity. Vote according to the dictates of your conscience; vote for the candidate who in your evaluation has the capacity to deliver on his or her promise. Do not vote to satiate your ethno-religious leaning. Do not vote because you have been offered cash or because someone asked you to vote for a particular candidate. Voting along primordial dysfunctions of ethnicity and religion or even cash inducement is the surest path to mortgaging both your future and the future of generations unborn. Nigerians by now ought to know that politicians are only driven by their narrow, self-serving interests.
When the electorate bicker and heckle one another with abuses on social media over choice of candidates, they should remember that the same candidates have their points of convergence. The same may fight at day but warm to each other’s bosom at night. Politicians are driven by self-interest; nothing more! So, why die for them? Why abuse your neighbour for someone who does not even know you exist.
The least any Nigerian voter should do is to go to the polling unit, cast your vote and if time permits you, stay around to confirm the performance of candidates at that polling unit. The umpire has set out rules of engagement, one of which is that no voter would enter the polling booth with his or her phone.
The electorate must play by the rules. This does not include casting slur on candidates. As the nation goes to the polls, the power to make a king lies with the electorate. Every voter should realize this and act accordingly.
So, let’s do it. Come this Saturday, let’s all march to the polling units and vote freely for the candidates of our choice according to the dictates of our conscience. Let’s do it for ourselves and for democracy. Go out and vote! Again, I say, go out and vote!
First published in Sunday Sun