The essence of democracy is to give citizens equal access and conducive atmosphere to elect their leaders regardless of who they choose or what the candidates have to offer, anything less is a great threat to the existence of democracy. The current progressive decline of the quality of elections in Nigeria is worrisome and frightening, with the situation dragging the nation to a democratic precipice. The just concluded supplementary elections in Kano, Sokoto, Plateau, Benue, Bauchi have recorded the same or even more irregularities that led to its initial cancellation by Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). No matter what the outcome of these elections, Nigerians may still lose confidence in the system.
Regardless of one’s political affiliation, there was high level of abuse of human rights in the recent gubernatorial elections in Nigeria. The desperation exhibited by both the incumbent and the opposition to get the result in their favour by all means is taking us back to square one with desperate politicians deploying every trick in their hats to disrupt the peaceful conduct of the election with a view to swaying voters to their side. In fact, the electoral guideline did not matter at all, going by the level of intimidation of voters especially women, elections observers and journalists witnessed during the elections. The political actors from both sides had a field day destroying the sanctity of the democratic process.
More controversial was the Kano rerun election described by most election observers as nothing but a sham and a charade that turned the tenets of democracy on its head. In broad daylight, politicians deployed political thugs that overpowered the security agencies and forced the electorates to leave the polling units. There were clear instances where party agents and political thugs tortured and intimidated voters into voting their candidates. In Nasarawa, Dala, Bichi and Minjibir Local governments for example, political thugs restricted the electorates’ access to polling units, stoning them and violently disrupting the peaceful elections. In a nutshell, several observer groups report showed a lot of irregularities, harassment of voters, INEC officials and abuse of the exercise. All these power tussle and desperation was as a result of the political value of Kano state and the political calculation ahead of 2023 elections. However, these desperate political elites have little or no interest of the masses in their hearts.
Despite the heavy security deployment in Benue state, an INEC returning officer was shot dead by political thugs in Gboko, where election materials were burnt to ashes, polling officials assaulted and disallowed to perform their duties. This is not the kind of elections that Nigerians need, of course democracy is supposed to be functioning well to provide enabling environment for everyone to feel safe. While, Sokoto and Plateau recorded little incidents but have issues of underage voting and high rate voter inducement, Bauchi election was peaceful as reported, but there were incidences of policemen leaving polling units as a result of rancor among the party supporters and agents. This is a clear indication that we are not ready to move from the present political madness.
Many public affairs commentators are of the belief that Nigerians deserve elections at once. This will enable the country to cut down on election expenses, and above all discourage voter apathy. They opined that this is doable only if the relevant sections of the electoral law are amended by adopting simple majority system just like in the national assembly elections. Furthermore, INEC should be given the power to disqualify any candidate or political party that causes electoral.
The factors that resulted in inconclusive election such as violence, over voting, underage voting, and cancellation have repeated themselves in the just concluded supplementary polls. Sadly, the factors became worse due to the desperation of politicians who turned elections into a do or die affair. For instance, in Kano state, the war of supremacy between Kwankwaso and Ganduje has reached its peak with the supporters of the duo brandishing and using dangerous weapons against one another. The quest for power among Nigerian politicians is born out of the huge financial benefits attached to the offices. We need to make politics less attractive, If politicians see politics as a call to duty many would drop their desperation to clinch power against all odds.
Idris Mohammed is a Program Officer YIAGA Africa Abuja.