Against the backdrop of clamour for electoral reforms, President Muhammadu Buhari’s promise of free, fair and credible elections in 2023 when he would be leaving appears to be a welcome development, MUYIWA OYINLOLA reports
All eyes are now on President Muhammadu Buhari, who told his close aides when they joined him for the celebration on his 77th birthday last week Wednesday that: “what I want to promise Nigerians is that I will work very hard on free and fair elections. All those that are going to succeed in the National Assembly and the Presidency have to work very hard because I will make sure, using the law enforcement agencies, that elections are free and fair. Nobody will use his office or resources to force himself on his constituents.”
The president’s promise gave an insight into the kind of legacy he would be leaving behind on the completion of his eight-year tenure in office in 2023.
The issues of lack of free and fair elections occasioned by electoral malpractices at either the primary or secondary election levels, thuggery, violence, violations of electoral laws and all sort of underhand dealings, in some cases involving security agencies, which have overtime undermined the will of the electorate, are the challenges threatening Nigeria’s democracy.
Another challenge is the lack of political will on the part of government or relevant agencies to prosecute electoral offenders, irrespective of their political affiliation or social status. There is no gain stating the fact that lack of punitive measures against offenders has further embolden offenders to continue to perpetrate their nefarious trade in every election cycle.
Therefore, the president’s promise is timely and necessary at this point in time. The electoral evils which he seeks to confront ahead of 2023 polls are unfortunately entrenched in the nation’s electoral system. Owing to the disagreement and controversies that trailed the 2019 general elections and the most recent governorship polls in Kogi and Bayelsa states, Buhari’s promise gives new hope that Nigeria’s democracy is not doomed.
Both local and foreign election observers were unanimous in their evaluations that the outcomes of those elections were a minus from the gains recorded in 2015 general elections.
However, this was not the first time the president promised violence-free elections. Ahead of the 2019 general elections, such assurances were made, including the warning that ballot box snatchers would pay with their lives if caught in the act.
During the November 16 governorship elections in Bayelsa and Kogi states, similar elaborate preparations and assurances were also made by the security agencies. Nevertheless, widespread violence, including deaths, was witnessed during the elections.
It is therefore not for nothing that the prevailing feeling is that unless very far-reaching and fool-proof measures are taken to guarantee the credibility and sanctity of future elections, the future of democracy is bleak.
Also, it would seem the president’s promise is essentially targeted at halting this slide. What is left is to unveil the strategies to be adopted in achieving his aim and hitting the ground running by ensuring the conduct of the forthcoming Edo and Ondo governorship elections are litmus test ahead of 2023.
More importantly, the president must go beyond his promises to initiate actions in conjunction with the National Assembly to perfect such legislative framework, which will ensure the sanctity of future elections. He can cause the National Assembly to reconsider the Electoral Act 2010 Amendment Bill and re-submit to him for assent as the first and immediate step of addressing some of the teething issues in the electoral process.
While reacting to the president’s promise of good electoral legacy, Barr. Monday Ubani, a lawyer and immediate past second vice president of Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), said that it is not enough for President Buhari to promise to deliver free, fair and credible elections in 2023, but insisting that the president should be able to give facts on ground to guarantee the promise.
Ubani noted that he would have preferred the president to promise signing the electoral amendment bill, which according to him, would have made a reasonable improvement on the nation’s electoral process.
“The president did not mention that he was going to ask the National Assembly to bring the document for him to sign. He is also not in a position to get the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) out of its operational inefficiencies which has plagued the electoral body over the years. What happened in the last two elections conducted by INEC in Kogi and Bayelsa states has really shown some level of inefficiencies on the part of INEC, even before the two elections, the 2019 election was a kind of retrogression. We did not make an improvement over 2015, which was a marked improvement over the previous ones. We went back to Egypt in 2019 with regard to our electoral history,” Ubani said.
Another challenge is the irony of using the security agencies in curbing electoral malpractices as announced by the president. This is against the background that security agents on election duties are in some cases used to perpetrate the evil. Therefore, as noble as the president’s promise is, he will need to purge the nation’s security agencies of bad eggs in order to realise his dream of free and fair elections.
For whatever it is worth, the president deserves a benefit of the doubt regarding his promise and Nigerians are earnestly waiting for its fulfilment, which might be a new foundation for an enduring democracy in Nigeria.
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