Free and fair elections are critical aspects of democracy that every country looks forward to having. A country cannot be democratic if elections are flawed and the interest and rights of the electorate are denied or treated with disdain. Democracy cannot thrive in political environments where the interest of the electorate is brazenly denied and where those elected make a mockery of the process.
An enabling environment is especially critical for the enthronement of lasting democratic practice and delivery of dividends of democracy. Politics and elections will be meaningless if they do not translate into something positive for the electorate. This is why the successful conduct of the 2019 elections is of fundamental importance to the country and its nascent democracy. It is hoped that the elections will produce people who are truly representative of the electorate but skeptics, pundits and some genuinely concerned individuals have expressed fears that the 2019 elections may be marred.
Pervasive insecurity in almost all parts of the country is a threat to the 2019 elections. The country is today engulfed in myriads of security challenges, the most prominent of which are the spate of attacks and killings, resurgence of insurgency in the North East and sundry acts of criminality such as banditry. The security situation is worrisome and degenerating by the day. Armed bandits laying siege on highways, kidnapping and killing many innocent people is the latest dimension.
Free and fair elections may also be impeded by the massive displacement of people due to insecurity in the North East, Benue, Nasarawa, Plateau and Zamfara States. It is believed that free and fair elections may not even hold in these areas. It will be recalled that in 2015 elections in Internally Displaced Camps (IDPs) failed acceptable standards for free and fair elections as those in the camps were not up to 20% of the displaced people in most communities. Besides, the elections were characterized by widespread irregularities as only those in support of the political parties in power were allowed to vote. Speculations are rife that insecurity might be used as an excuse not to conduct elections in the affected areas. This should not be contemplated if the 2019 elections are to be credible.
The desperation of politicians, the use of political thugs and compromise of electoral and security personnel can also mar the elections. These tendencies might trigger widespread violence during the 2019 elections. Recent elections indicate that the political class has not sufficiently purged itself of involvement in electoral malpractices such as using strong arm tactics to win elections, imposing candidates and vote-buying. Another malpractice that is not very visible is the use of state funds to corrupt the electoral process. What transpired in 2015 seems to be playing out and could be worse if not immediately checked.
The state of preparedness, lack of integrity and incapacity of those charged with conducting the elections is a matter of concern. The conduct of electoral officials and security agencies in recent elections left much to be desired. All aspects of preparations for the 2019 elections should be transparent as any suspicion could discredit the process. The authorities concerned should learn from the irregularities witnessed in recent elections such as widespread voting irregularities, falsification of results, open purchase of voter cards and monetary inducement of the electorates.
It is really disheartening that even as the country, the Government and the Electoral Commission strive to deliver free and fair elections, some politicians are busy perfecting plans to rig the elections. There is dire need for close monitoring of the political scene as the 2019 elections approach especially the desperate politicians who might wish to sabotage the elections for ulterior motives. Particular groups of security interest in this regard are disgruntled politicians.
Elections are definitely times of reckoning for politicians who have failed those who elected them and there are many communities across the country where politicians including the State and Local Governments authorities have not impacted the lives of the people. Even the much flaunted constituency projects are nowhere to be found in some communities. If elections are free and fair many non-performing politicians will not be re-elected. Instead of delivering the dividends of democracy, some State and Local Governments have preoccupied themselves with propaganda, siphoning of public fund meant for development purposes and deception. Before the elections pertinent questions should be asked. What projects have such politicians brought to their constituencies? Some of the elected officials have no moral right to even seek re-election.
This is the reason some of them are desperately making efforts to align themselves in the unfolding political maneuvers. Accountability to the electorate is a serious issue in politics and the country’s nascent democracy can only be strengthened by transparency, accountability and performance. The widening development gap between parts of the country will pose serious security problems in the future.
Demands by some political and socio-cultural groups must also be properly managed lest they threaten the 2019 elections. Top on the list of the demands are restructuring of the country, creation of states and community police. However it is practically impossible to embark on successful restructuring of the country few months to the elections. The best that can be done in the circumstance is to extract promises and commitments from the political parties and the politicians. The demands for state police should be treated with caution and not be driven by political expediency and self interest. The exercise should be subjected to further legislative and public scrutiny as to whether the existing police set up is beyond redemption and what safeguards can be institutionalized to ensure the envisaged state police will not be mere instruments of coercion in the hands of powers that be at the State level. How can state police perform better than the existing police arrangement? Do the States have the financial muscle to fund an effective state police system?
It bears restating that the problems of Nigeria Police Force and indeed the other security agencies are majorly defects in the National Security Architecture, funding and lack of capacity. I believe the current security challenges will be a thing of the past if the imperfections and gaps in the National Security Establishment are addressed. Equipping the security agencies with the appropriate equipment and capabilities and increasing their strength are imperative. The current mindset and orientation of the security organizations must also be changed. The country should have a police system that is responsive, people centered and apolitical because any security system that is inherently defective and not insulated from politics is not likely to be effective. Also of concern is the overzealousness of the security and law enforcement agencies.
There could be rancor-free and fair elections in 2019 provided there is the will by all stakeholders, early preparations and acquisition of required logistics for the security agencies and the Independent National Electoral Commission. The numerical strength of the police and State Security Service should in particular be increased. Similarly, the security forces should be equipped to deal with the resurgence of the insurgency in the North East, armed banditry and the widespread killing of people across the country.
The unacceptably high level of political tension, posturing and intrigues by some politicians and political groups can also threaten the 2019 elections. The security situation in the country is too precarious for the acrimonious and rancorous politics being witnessed and will certainly impact the 2019 elections. The elections should therefore not be used to precipitate crisis in the country. Steps should also be taken to ensure the security agencies and the Electoral Commission are insulated from partisan influence as such tendencies today constitute major threats to 2019 elections. The nation must embark on aggressive campaign for free and fair elections to forestall violence in 2019.
–Gadzama OFR, mni is former Director-General, SSS
Equally very critical is the need to shun money politics practiced by politicians who have not performed. The wave of cross carpeting that has engulfed the National Assembly is a symptom of lack of principles and self serving politics.
The credibility of the entire electorate process could also be enhanced by a robust election monitoring arrangement involving the Media, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and International Election Monitoring groups. Above all, the Government must demonstrate willingness and leadership to enthrone the culture of free and fair elections in the country.
The post-election period must also not be overlooked as regards the 2019 elections in view of the unnecessary tension and disenchantment in the country. Nothing short of honest and credible elections will make the result acceptable to electorates in parts of the country. The security and law enforcement agencies must be prepared for post election crisis as the 2019 election is about the survival of the country’s nascent democracy.
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