By Ibrahim Sani, a Phd Candidate in Politics at Edinburgh @ibraheemsanii
Come February 14th millions of eligible voters in Nigeria are expected to come out across the country’s 111,119 polling units to determine who will govern their affairs for the next four years. As the fifth round of elections since 1999, the elections appear problematic with several challenges and prospects. The Independent National Election Commission (INEC) has assured Nigerians and the world of its commitment toward successful polls. Despite these guarantees many Nigerians, the opposition, and the country’s friends in the comity of nations appear doubtful. Worryingly, the national security adviser to Nigerian president, Sambo Dasuki, responding to questions at Chatham House, London, seems at ease with the postponement of the elections. Just as the Plateau State Governor, David Jonah Jang indicated his confidence in the use of temporary rather than permanent voter cards.
With such cynicism, a look at the threats and opportunities of the February 2015 elections makes an interesting endeavour. Firstly, this is the first time in its 16 years of dominance that the ruling People Democratic Party (PDP) is facing a seemingly formidable opposition of four major political parties who have overcome their differences to form a grand alliance under the name All Progressive Congress (APC). The APC cuts across almost all existing divides in the country and the party elected/nominated its presidential candidate in what many believe to be the most transparent party primaries conducted recently. In fact, aspiring candidates accepted the declared result and congratulated the winner.
For instance, Atiku Abubakar, a former PDP vice president and party’s aspirant instantly tweeted ‘Congratulations General Buhari. The delegates have spoken, you fully deserve the victory’ -AA. Also, the second runner expressed a similar view when he said: ‘Let me also, at this point, congratulate our leader, General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd.) for such a wonderful performance’.
Secondly, the elections bring into sharp focus the turbulence about Boko Haram in the north-eastern part of Nigeria. After abducting 219 or more school girls, the radical group succeeded in killing thousands of people, forcing hundreds of thousands to take refuge in the neighbouring Cameron, Chad, and Niger and displacing others within Nigeria. This unholy act and the inability of the Nigeria government to handle the situation creates a real great tension in the country. The Nigeria electoral commission now faces the challenge of abiding by the principle that all resident adult Nigerians of 18 years of age should not be denied the right to vote merely because of displacement. Although the commission seems to be employing its rule making powers to ensure that each exercises his or her right, the fact remains that it is difficult if not impossible to ensure this for all.
Lastly, although the 2011 elections in Nigeria received a unanimous endorsement of all election observers and Nigerians, the country’s electoral process had some unresolved issues of malpractice. In some parts of the country there were reports of proxy, underage, and multiple voting. Likewise, there were cases of vote buying to the extent that some states recorded 99% voter turnout, thus generating suspicion. However, according to INEC these practices are no longer possible. The commission says it has introduced stringent measures toward stopping electoral rigging which include a cross-matched and authenticated national voter roll of 68.8million registered voters and the provision of smart cards for each of the registered voters.
The introduction of a smart card reader machine which detects fake and cloned cards, ensures that no voter uses his or any other voter card in any place to vote more than once, and which is expected to reduce the possibility of buying and usage of bought voter cards.
In addition, the chairman of the commission indicates that the polls will be conducted using colour coded ballot papers such that ballot papers made for Lagos state, for example, could not be used in any other state of the federation.these measures are enough for successful and all inclusive, free, and fair elections depends on several other factors and only time will tell.
Indeed, the country’s political atmosphere is stressed with key politicians discrediting the ruling party’s intolerance to opposition, indifference to serious cases of corruption, and security issues. On security in particular, some point to the President’s failure to respond accordingly to the violent threat posed to the Nigerian state and claim that Nigeria is going to war should Jonathan lose the elections: ‘For every Goliath, God created a David. For every Pharoah, there is a Moses. We are going to war. Every one of you should go and fortify yourself’ they argue. Perhaps this explains the opposition’s fear that the PDP-led government is committed to retaining political power at all cost.
Conclusively, however, what Nigerian democracy requires is a politics that focus on policy issues not political naivety. The country and its citizens have travelled this road and it led to nowhere. Nigeria seems to spend its 55 years of independence marking time. It is high time, that Nigerian politicians start to ‘talk about how to fix Nigeria’s problems’.