The recent posture of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on the much-anticipated elections, scheduled to hold in less than 40 days, has caused a lot of unease.
The INEC chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, represented by the chairman, Board of Electoral Institute (BEI), Prof. Abdullahi Abdu Zuru, had, at the Validation of Election Security Training Resources in Abuja, warned that the 2023 general election could be cancelled or postponed if the waves of insecurity in parts of the country fail to improve. Indeed, he warned of a constitutional crisis.
For a commission that had repeatedly given assurances of its readiness to conduct the election despite the security concern, its latter declaration on the election sent shockwaves across the polity.
A day after INEC’s declaration, the federal government, through the minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, assured that the general elections slated for February and March will go on as planned.
Hours later, INEC chairman, Mahmoud Yakubu, in a meeting with political parties, said there is no plan to postpone the 2023 general election.
In fact, Yakubu insisted that the timetable for the elections remains sacrosanct, essentially dismissing the comments made by Prof. Abdullahi Abdu Zuru, who represented him at the event where the controversial statement was made.
Interestingly, at about the same time, political parties cried out over attempts by desperate politicians to scuttle the elections. They particularly warned of grand plots to remove the INEC chairman from office over alleged assets declaration breech ahead of the 2023 general election.
Expectedly, conspiracy theories have trailed the commission’s position. Some lawmakers faulted the commission position, noting that it was only trying to divert attention from its failings in ensuring proper distribution of Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs).
The bigger political parties sought to make gains from the commission’s comment as they accused themselves of masterminding the security concern.
To be clear, the warning by INEC should not come to discerning minds as strange or outlandish. If anything, the commission, in stating what some have feared all long with regards to the security situation, was more of a cry for help, considering the escalating security concern across the country.
What is more, the attitude of politicians has become more worrisome despite the signing of the peace accord. Intolerance towards opposing voices is on the rise.
For all we know, that statement was a call for help by INEC as to the challenge it faces with regards to ensuring free, transparent elections.
With no fewer 50 INEC offices attacked in the last three years, it goes without saying that the security agencies are yet to show they can rise to the occasion.
Enough of the reactive posture of the security agencies. It is embarrassing enough that under their noses, INEC facilities have been attacked and no high-profile master-mind has been arrested as a deterrent.
Also, we would charge INEC not to be intimidated from telling Nigerians, as timely as possible the situation of things. We understand the need not to create panic or cause fear within the polity. But it is equally important that cover ups should be avoided.
President Muhammadu Buhari has consistently assured of providing credible elections that would ensure smooth transition of power from him to his successor. We believe that as noble as this sounds, there is need for more.
The expectation on him is already high. With no fewer than seven other African countries having national elections this year, it is ordinarily expected that Nigeria will set the pace for credible elections.
The global community was enthralled by Nigeria’s ability to hold free, fair and credible elections in 2015 against the backdrop of immense security concerns. That Nigeria was able to hold that crucial election was a credit to the then President Goodluck Jonathan even though he lost his re-election bid. Interestingly, Buhari was the major beneficiary of that election. So, the magnitude of expectation on the president cannot be overemphasised.
The 2023 election has often been regarded as a defining one for Nigeria. As such the task of ensuring that it not just holds but holds in the most free, fair and transparent manner is more than a duty but a sacrifice that all the critical stakeholders must make.