As Nigerians Head to the Polls Tomorrow

By James Atang Itsegok & Adamu Muhammad Hamid PhD

The world will be watching a part of the estimated 96.3 million registered voters in Nigeria cast their ballot; that’s more than the combined population of Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Cameroon – or Spain and Canada.

President Muhammadu Buhari, who will complete his constitutionally allowed two terms in May this year, is not on the ballot. Voters will also choose new senators and members for the National Assembly. Governorship and state assembly races follow on March 11.

A total of 18 candidates are vying for the presidency. But the main contest is between Bola Tinubu from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Atiku Abubakar of the main opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the Labour Party’s Peter Obi, who is leading in some sections of the country.

A lack of reliable polling makes it difficult to predict the winner; however the ruling party has a major advantage as is usually the case.

The main presidential candidates are the ruling All Progressives Congress’ Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Atiku Abubakar of the main opposition People’s Democratic Party and the Labour Party’s Peter Obi. Whoever wins will face the humongous task of tackling competing and pressing priorities in Africa’s most populous nation and largest economy. In an Afrobarometer survey published in September 2022, crime and security ranked as the most important problems that Nigerians want the government to address.

NiMet predicts dust haze, sunny weather for Saturday

Around 61% of Nigerians said in an investigation they felt unsafe while walking in their neighbourhoods, and 51% feared crime in their homes at least once during the previous year. Both statistics had increased significantly compared to what obtained in 2015. Meanwhile, 84% of Nigerians surveyed were concerned about abductions and kidnappings.

Whoever triumphs in the elections will do so amid worsening domestic insecurity, including kidnappings in the northwest and over a decade-long Boko Haram insurgency in the north east. Officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission have themselves come under attack. These trends are worrying in a country that is fairly new to peaceful transitions of power, with a history of contested election results.

Fortunately, there are encouraging developments behind all the terrifying headlines. For one, the Electoral Commission is using a verification system that will identify voters through fingerprints and facial recognition called the BVAS in an effort to curb fraud.

No doubt, these steps seem small in the bigger scheme of things, but they represent a move in the right direction. Given its size and stature, what happens in Nigeria will undoubtedly set the tone for the rest of Africa. Therefore, we must focus all our energies on supporting this proud nation’s efforts to build on the democratic gains made over the past decade. Other African nations like Kenya have already shown that we can emerge from a wounded past through a free and fair electoral process.

As Nigerians choose a new batch of leaders tomorrow and in the coming weeks, one cannot help but wonder whether the new establishment will prove Mr Flag’s patriotism justified or whether he and the rest of the continent will wake up to an ugly electoral hangover in the wake of this defining moment for Nigeria.

However, even at this last minute, there are no clear ideological differences between the two major parties. Competition for dwindling oil revenues, patronage and ethnic rivalry typically play a bigger role in Nigeria’s elections than ideology.

Obi, who left the PDP last year and was Atiku’s running mate in 2019, casts himself as a reformist willing to overhaul Nigeria’s political system. But on policy, there is little separating the main candidates. Tinubu, Atiku and Obi have all made reviving the economy and ending insecurity top priorities, promising better pay for security forces and more military equipment to defeat insurgents.

Their manifestos state they would scrap a fuel subsidy that cost $10 billion last year but differ on how quickly they would do it. They also promise to reform the forex market and invest more in education.

The challenge for the parties, however, will be getting out the vote. Many younger Nigerians do not relate to the two major-party candidates who are both septuagenarian political veterans. In 2019, voter turnout was 35%, electoral commission figures showed.

This year, however, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is using a Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) to identify voters through fingerprints and facial recognition, hoping this will curb rigging. On voting day, results will be pasted outside polling stations and sent through BVAS to an INEC portal at Abuja. They will be displayed on the portal in real time and the public can view them.

Official results are expected within five days. The candidate with the most votes will be declared winner if they have at least one-quarter of the vote in two-thirds of Nigeria’s 36 states and the capital. Otherwise there will be a run-off between the two top candidates within 21 days.

One key thing that’s of grave concern to Nigerians is the lingering naira swap policy of President Muhammdu Bahari because millions of innocent and law-abiding Nigerians did not see this coming. One is talking of course about the naira swap saga that has seen an unexpected wave of cash crunch visited on the long-suffering populace without the brains behind it considering the grave implications on them.

If, according to the Central Bank Governor Godwin Emefiele the aim of the naira redesign was to curtail slush funds in the hands of the kidnap kingpins as well as to drastically reduce the overbearing influence of money-poll-y-tricks, given the alarming rate of poverty in the country, one would say that the motive was salutary. But sad to state that the method has proved to be pain-inflicting!

As expected, it has triggered anger in the land. Coming at a period when the citizens are still battling with the long queues in search of food, fuel, PVC and currently the cash crunch, not less than three people got killed in Edo State, as violent protests erupted in states across the country.  States affected include  Oyo, Delta, Kwara, Ondo, Benue and Akwa Ibom.

Similarly, many protesters were injured as cars, automated teller machines (ATMs) were destroyed in Oyo, Delta, Kwara and Benue states. In other places, protesters took over Lagos-Ibadan expressway and Otukpo-Enugu road over scarcity of new naira notes while the old ones got rejected.

In Oyo, protesters, mostly traders and owners of small and medium-scale enterprises, stormed the state secretariat in Ibadan. In Kwara, the protests started at Oko-Olowo market axis and spread to the Oloje, Alore, Omoda and Adangba areas of Ilorin metropolis.

As for Benin, the Edo State capital, attempts by the protesters to attack the Benin branch of CBN was foiled by a combined team of policemen, Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps, with three people feared killed. One of the protesters who gave his name as Godwin Osemwingie said, “The problem right now is that we went to the bank to deposit old naira notes, and they said they are not accepting it and even the bus drivers are also rejecting it.”

According to him, it has become necessary to make a distinction between the CBN naira redesign policy backed by Section 20 (3) of the CBN Act, 2007 and the aspiration policy of going cashless, both of which are mutually exclusive at this time.

He said it was the governor’s considered view that what the CBN is presently pursuing is a currency confiscation programme, not the currency exchange policy envisaged under S20(3) of the CBN Act, 2007.

One’s serious concern about the clearly avoidable anarchy in Nigeria is the gross display of insensitivity and callousness on the part of the political leadership of the country that has brought unimaginable pains on the helpless and defenseless citizens. Ordinarily, the statutory mandate of government runs in sync with Section 14 subsection (2) (b) of the 1999 constitution as amended.

Also giving a forecast on the impact of the situation on the real sector, Director General Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), Segun Ajayi-Kadir said the cash flow difficulties have been affecting sales of finished domestic goods.

He explained, “I would put a rough estimate of a 25 per cent drop on monthly sales of domestic goods if the situation should persist for the next three weeks. As the purchases from the retail end that are mostly transacted in cash dries up, you will immediately notice a sharp drop in wholesale purchases and instant buildup of unsold inventory in your industries.

Now is the time for Nigerians to face the hard and bitter truth of what democracy really involves and let us practice it. What all the suffering in the land shows is a reflection of the legendary pop icon’s hit song that ‘They don’t care about us!”

Furthermore, it is safe to envisage that tomorrow’s election is key to Nigeria’s image among the comity of nations and the future of the country as a united entity.

In 1968, Marshall McLuhan had pictured the world as a global village on account of its peoples being closely linked through the technology of modern telecommunications as well as being economically, socially, and politically interdependent. Today, with the Internet and social media, the world has shrunk more than ever envisaged, and the reality of globalisation can no longer be ignored.

No country is an island anymore. The world has even come to realise, since Adolf Hitler, that the idea of state sovereignty and non-interference in the affairs of a sovereign nation, have gross limitations. The world has also realised, with the global nature of certain socio-political, economic, environmental and security issues such as terrorism, migration and environmental cataclysms that what affects one corner of the global village can easily spill over to other parts.

Invariably, Nigerians are expressing mixed feelings concerning the elections asserting that their votes do not count in the elections. “I can’t remember when last I voted in Nigeria,” a female private school principal in Lagos told BusinessDay on condition of anonymity. She however said that she has her Permanent Voter’s Card (PVC) for any “eventuality.”

I have always tried to get those national documents that may be needed in critical situations, but not to use them for anything like voting”, she said.

On her reason for not participating in real voting, despite possessing the PVC, she said, “Nigeria is like a hell. Sometimes you wonder if those in power are human beings. They don’t have human heart. So, what is the point going to waste my time voting for a government that neither benefit(sic) me nor my family? The saddest part of it all is that whether it is PDP or APC, it is the same story.”

Before the return to civilian rule in 1999, most Nigerians were helplessly enduring many years of servitude by the junta, which as expected, never cared if the ‘ordinary civilians’, as they derogatorily refer to the masses, are dead or alive.

Sadly, 22 years after the return of civil rule, the masses are seeing worse treatments than in all the military regimes of the 70s and 80s put together. The talk of the ‘good old days’ sounds fable, while the masses have lost faith in the leadership of the country, getting worse by the day. 

Noteworthy though, is if there are truly ‘dividends of democracy’, the masses have not tasted such in the last 2 decades of Nigeria’s democracy; rather they have been fed with stone in place of bread and blood in place of water.

One key area that Nigerians need to be admonished is that “getting involved in the political processes is the only solution. You don’t have to like politics, you have to get involved.”

In its recent newsletter, EnoughisEnough (EiE), a non-governmental organisation in Nigeria advised, “Do Not Just Register, Vote!” It further said, “Completing the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) process is a demonstration of your intention to participate in the elections! However, when intent is not converted to action on Election Day, the results can be far reaching.”

But no matter how genuine the reasons for not taking part in electoral processes in the country, Nigerians have been urged to change the habit in 2023 in order to have a change of narrative.

Oftentimes, we hear people say, ‘let them go do their voting; I will not get involved’. But these are the same people that would turn around to complain about a government they did not take part in putting into power. Bad governance can be checked at the polling unit. It is not enough to register and collect a Permanent Voter’s Card (PVC) as many Nigerians do today, but they really do not vote on Election Day. Election of 2023 is not only approaching, but it commences tomorrow and presents another opportunity for Nigerians to vote in those they believe have the capacity to turn things around positively. Ordinarily however, looking at the situation of things in the last few years, it is difficult to convince anybody to go vote, but things can get worse if people decide not to vote. Nigeria is in such a critical situation that it must have to be rescued by every well-meaning citizen. This can only be done by our votes.

Electioneering is a major component of democracy. It is the main yardstick used to determine the level upon which countries in the international system have been able to embrace social equality. This process presents the citizens of a given country the opportunity to decide who represents them in governance at the local, state and national levels. It is therefore unarguable that elections are very fundamental to the stability of democracy, as it regulates representation of popular will.

However, despite the progress Nigeria has made in its democratic quest in the last two decades, the general lack of interest among Nigerians in exercising their civic responsibility and voting to elect who leads them is widely acknowledged.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari says he expects a credible election to choose his successor tomorrow. A credible, publicly accepted result and a peaceful transfer of power could help consolidate democracy in Africa’s most populous country, following democratic setbacks in the region, notably seven coups in 26 months in the Sahel and West Africa. Buhari, first elected in 2015 is completing his second term in office, the constitutional maximum, and is to hand power to his elected successor in May — an extension of democracy that Buhari has said he wants to ensure as part of his legacy to the country.

He underscored what he and independent analysts have described as a consolidation of elections as a basis for Nigerian democracy. Buhari’s own first election as president, in 2015, was a victory over the incumbent Goodluck Jonathan — and marked the first time that a Nigerian president transferred power to a successor who had defeated him at the polls. Nigeria’s February 25 election will choose not only a president but the federal legislature, plus governors and state legislatures in 31 of Nigeria’s 36 states.

Although democracy has proven to be fragile in a number of West African states, the success of Nigeria’s next elections will demonstrate the resilience and strength of democracy in Africa’s most populous nation.

Nigerians must shun religious and ethnic sentiment that has led the country to the current economic and security challenges that the nation is facing. Therefore, in 2023, electorates should make it a matter of priority in electing competence in the general elections. Our challenge is building a virile economy. The economy has been bastardised, so what should our people look out for before voting a candidate. First, is the economy followed by insecurity?

Furthermore, 2023 general elections should be a determining factor in correcting the anomalies by upholding the pro-unity philosophy and ideology of the unity schools and moving to elect a leader that would do the job, rather than voting according to the dictates of primordial sentiments. We as a nation have accepted constitutional democracy, which is a beautiful thing. Therefore, once we are able to embrace power, we should be able to change things. Without unity, nothing can happen. We need to wake up and see that unity is not by religion, tribe, expertise or turn by turn, but what you can do for the country.

To this end, however, another key area of concern is the involvement of youth in ensuring that the elections are free, fair, credible and violence-free. This would ensure that mediocre candidates are not elected in place of those with prerequisite leadership qualities, and are genuinely committed to providing good governance and developmental services to the people. This call is mainly to help Nigeria’s electorate, particularly the youth, not to repeat the mistakes of electing people who are not committed to the general well-being of the people. 

It is worrisome that the youths are the victims of bad governance, used for activities and to also secure votes for politicians during elections because of lack of principle and ideology, awareness, sense of responsibility as a patriotic citizen and inability to utilize their potentials/strength meaningfully. 

Collectively, opinion leaders and election stakeholders must also be engaging the youth in policy formulation, good governance, integration and dialogue to prepare them for leadership, sustainability of cultural heritage, social and economic values. The youths are also expected to indulge in acts of patriotism that will project the image of our country.  The act of using social media to disparage the processes of government should be discouraged; rather there should be participation from them to make the processes work. 

They should equally be law abiding and not taking laws into their hands as it will always beget anarchy.  There are processes to follow and authorities to consult when things are not going the normal ways.

This constituency called the youth or young people must be given attention, responsibility and sense of belonging ahead of 2023 general elections.

We are concerned about seeing that only candidates who are people-oriented, credible, accessible, respectful to rule of law and equity are elected in the coming elections. We also want to ensure equity in representative government in Nigeria. We want a system where power will be rotated among the political blocks to entrench equity and reduce unnecessary bickering among party candidates during election period. We believe that with our efforts and impact, the outcome of the 2023 elections will be recorded as the most credible and exceptional in the history of Nigeria.

I am sure we are all aware that the fate of who leads us will not be determined by religion or ethnicity; only the electorates will determine who wins in 2023 elections irrespective of political party, so we need to be engaging ourselves, and it’s high time we realized that we are the major stakeholders who shall determine the fate of this great nation. 

We are concerned about seeing that only candidates, who are people-oriented, credible, accessible, and respectful to rule of law and equity are elected in the coming elections. We also want to ensure equity in representative government in Nigeria. We want a system where power will be rotated among the political blocks to entrench equity and reduce unnecessary bickering among party candidates during the election period. We believe that with our efforts and impact, the outcome of the 2023 elections will be recorded as the most credible and exceptional in the history of Nigeria.

Chief James Atang Itsegok, JP, AMBP-UN is the Chief of Staff to the Executive Chairman of Jos East LGC, Plateau State-Nigeria. [email protected]

Adamu Muhammad Hamid PhD is of Pen Resource University, Gombe  [email protected]

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