The September 4 2021 Local Governments [LGs] elections in Kaduna State generated mixed reactions that were substantially reflective of the diverse perceptions and consequent attitudes of the various stakeholders in the politics and governance of the state in particular and the country in general. A combination of the circumstances in which it was conducted and its outcome has already validated some claims, simultaneously re-enforced some fears and allayed others as well as pointed to some possibilities that are most likely to define future elections.
It was, in the first place, an exercise that was subjected to series of postponements which seriously weakened the confidence of a large chunk of the electorate. Even with the explanation by the Kaduna State Independent Electoral Commission (KADSIECOM) that the postponements were caused by the late arrival of the Electoral Voting Machines (EVMs ) and some other problems associated with the preparations, there were still serious misgivings over the readiness or willingness of the commission to conduct credible elections.
Having now carried out this most critical assignment just about three months after the expiration of the tenure of the last elected Local Government Councils [LGCs], KADSIECOM has definitely lived up to its promise and the Kaduna State Government, by extension, has satisfied the basic yearning of the people for the continuation of democratic governance at the lowest level. This achievement is therefore a validation of the persistent claim of Governor Nasir Ahmed el-Rufa’i to a commitment to democracy, especially considering the fact that the conduct of LGs elections has never been a top priority of some State Governors.
It was however not just the conduct of the elections, but the circumstances in which the exercise took place which significantly determined its both quantity and quality that are of tremendous concern to a lot of stakeholders within and beyond the state. The suspension of the elections in four key Local Government Areas [LGAs]—Zangon Kataf, Kajuru, Chikun and Birnin Gwari—just a few hours before they started and the manner in which they were reportedly compromised in some other areas because of insecurity have re-enforced the fear that the prevailing insecurity is a real threat to democracy.
In fact, the KADSIECOM’s decision to postpone the elections on the ground of insecurity has fully justified the fear once expressed by the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission [INEC], Professor Mahmud Yakubu, that, unless this crippling challenge in the various parts of the country is addressed, the full conduct of the 2023 elections will not be possible. In particularly such parts as the South-South, South-West, North-Central and North-West where either INEC offices and security agents have become targets of attack by some violent agitators, farmers-herders clash has continued to consume lives or bandits have taken over the land, the conduct of elections is simply an impossibility.
The situation, in other words, is a pointer to even a worse situation that, as the NEC Chairman already forewarned, will not allow for the execution of the Commission’s main mandate. This reality is a solid basis of both the dominant conclusion that the country’s democracy is under severe threat and the demand for real actions towards the return of normalcy.
One other feature of the LGs elections in Kaduna State was the indifference of the people towards the exercise over which even Governor el-Rufa’i complained. Observers and analysts have quite safely attributed the noticeable political apathy to both the dissatisfaction of the people over the low performance of elected leaders across the existing levels of governance and the apprehension that the elections would, after all, be rigged.
The political apathy as a particular form of retaliation and which has become a dominant tendency among the citizens will clearly manifest during the 2023 General Elections. The widespread complaint that political leaders for whom genuine sacrifices have been made have not shown corresponding concern for public security and welfare is an indication that a lot more people than can be imagined will not participate in the future elections.
This means that huge efforts need to be made by such critical stakeholder groups as the political parties, civil society organizations, security agencies as well as the electoral body and all the related agencies in order to restore public confidence in the election-based democracy. Between now and 2023, Nigerians should necessarily be made to believe that, even with the current challenges that have adversely affected their survival, it is only a full participation in the process that can guarantee the actualization of their individual and collective aspirations.
Apart from the grave implications of both insecurity and political apathy for not only the recent LGs elections in Kaduna State but also for the future national elections, the exercise also threw up some issues which have already generated a lot of questions about the credibility of the exercise on the one hand and the dynamics of politics on the other. While the malfunction and/or alleged manipulation of a lot of the EVMs, vote-buying, violence as well as the delayed announcement of some of the results have created doubt over the quality of the elections, the arguably surprising victory of the ruling All Progressives Congress [APC] in some LGAs in Southern part of the state and the successful capture of several councillorship seats, by the Peoples Democratic Party, in the central and the northern zones with even the polling unit and the ward of Governor el-Rufa’i taken over from the APC were clear manifestations of the political dynamics that can always bring about changes in the game at any level.
Meanwhile, despite the governor’s argument that the exercise was credible, the several lapses that characterized it have eroded significant quantity of its quality. A detailed accounts of most observers are full of uncomplimentary remarks on the approach of KADSIECOM which have been found to have, deliberately or otherwise, lowered the standard of the elections.
Yet, the exercise and the lessons therein are strong enough to warrant thorough analysis by all the stakeholders with a view to making a robust plan for the conduct of future elections. The high speed at which the country is moving towards the election year should necessitate, for example, the introduction of a much more proper strategies for the restoration of security which is the first requirement for the conduct of free and fair elections. The other issues of political apathy and poor handling of the process by the electoral body and the perpetration of malpractices can be adequately addressed through a comprehensive re-orientation of the citizens and the application of the relevant laws on offenders, all for the purpose of improving the quality of elections in Nigeria.