The future of Bayelsa, Imo, and Kogi States must be determined by their citizens, writes Bolaji Adebiyi
After the 2023 general election, the Independent National Electoral Commission did an introspection, reviewing with stakeholders in the month of July, the conduct and the outcome of the poll.
Although there had been a widespread critique of the outcome of the election, particularly by the losing politicians and their party as well as supporters, the electoral body gave itself a pass mark, noting that its attempt to improve the transparency of its processes, using such technology as the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System had achieved 98 per cent success over and above 2019 general election’s Smart Card Reader.
Even with the curious support the electoral body got from Civil Society Organisations, who at the end of its stakeholders’ meeting gave INEC a pass mark, it is commendable that the electoral agency notwithstanding the praise, also acknowledged that there were still challenges it needed to surmount. They include the perennial logistic nightmare of voting materials not getting to polling units on schedule, persistent electoral violence, and compromise of its result management system.
While the diversity of the outcome of the general election, and the spread as well as the respectable margin of win, particularly in the presidential election hint at the credibility of the poll, it remains incumbent on INEC, despite the relative success of its technological advancement, to work harder at improving its shortcomings particularly, the result management system.
Several judicial outcomes, though isolated in relation to the overall number of litigations on election results, have demonstrated that even with the introduction of technology, the human element continues to get in the way of the efforts to achieve the utmost fidelity of the process. The judgment of the Kano State Governorship and State House of Assembly Election Petition, nullifying the governorship results on the strength of proven manipulation of ballot papers as well as the overturning of the outcome of the Kogi Central Senatorial District on account of vote suppression indicate the work to be done by INEC about the transparency of its staff.
It is important that INEC through its Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, has always emphasised that it is committed to enhancing the transparency, efficiency, and overall integrity of the electoral process by ensuring that future elections are ultimately conducted with fairness and accuracy.
Well, the future is not far away. Indeed, it is here. On Saturday, 11 November 2023 the people of Bayelsa, Kogi, and Imo States, will be assembling at their various polling units to elect their governors. As an off-season election, and coming against the background of judicial outcomes of petitions against the results of the last general election by some aggrieved candidates, INEC has an opportunity to walk its talk.
An election is not just a mandatory constitutional provision, it is an exercise that gives the people an opportunity to express their fundamental right to choose their leaders and representatives. INEC must realise that it has been given a sacred duty to protect this right by ensuring that the will of the people counts through the conduct of free and fair polls on Saturday. Citizens of the three states, in particular, and Nigerians in general expect nothing less, nothing more.
The electoral body, therefore, has an opportunity to show that it is not only capable of learning but has also learned from its mistakes by taking into account public concerns and the reports of the 54 international and domestic observers it accredited to monitor its conduct of the general election.
It must be noted though that INEC alone cannot achieve a clean election on Saturday as a poll cannot be adjudged free and fair if the environment is intimidating enough to restrain the exercise of the citizens’ right to cast their ballot. If experience is anything to go by, the three states, particularly Imo and Kogi have been theatres of violence with a couple of deaths recorded. Governors Hope Uzodinma and Yahaya Bello have been specifically fingered by opposition politicians as doing very little to hem the spate of violence in their states.
While it will serve no useful purpose to examine the merit of the accusations against the two governors, it is important for the security agencies saddled with the responsibility to secure the election to rise up to their duty. Nobody should be allowed to jeopardise the credibility of the poll on account of their misdemeanor or threat to the lives and property of other citizens who want to perform their civic responsibility. The agencies, notorious for alleged complicity in the undermining of the electoral process, particularly the result management system, must be called to order by their commanders whose responsibility it is to ensure their personnel’s proper conduct.
Politicians, who are the precursors of the vices that usually mar the credibility of polls, also need to play by the rules and be guided by the need for the protection of the interest and the overall good of the people. After all, there will be nobody to govern if the citizenry has been put to death in the process of the election. They must, therefore, come to terms with the admonition of Goodluck Jonathan, former president of Nigeria, that service to the people is not worth the blood of a single Nigerian.
This is why every politician in the arena on Saturday must take seriously the peace pact they signed with the Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar Peace and Reconciliation Committee, committing not only to the peaceful conduct of the election but also to abide by the legally laid down procedure for the resolution of disputes that may arise from the poll.
Although party discipline demands that President Bola Tinubu should be interested in the success of the candidates of his party, All Progressives Congress, he must nonetheless be guided by the 1999 Constitution as altered to level the playing field and ensure that the will of the prevails. This, being the first election under his watch, must demonstrate his personal democratic content, which should lead citizens to no other conclusion that he is a worthy leader.
Adebiyi, the executive editor of Western Post, is a member of the Editorial Board of THISDAY Newspapers