It is quite unfortunate that in this age and time, political analysts and stakeholders are still preaching the gospel of issue-based campaigns and citizens’ agenda ahead of important Governorship elections. This goes a long way to question the growth of Nigeria’s democracy in the last two decades.
From 1999 till date, political campaigns have been characterized by calumny, mudslinging, and name-calling amongst another needless charade that will not in any way benefit the citizens. It is even more ill-fated that, it’s the same set of major political parties that should be setting the pace for citizens’ agenda that is culpable for the same kind of virulent campaign stratagem for the last two decades.
Now the Edo State Governorship election is barely three weeks away, despite both political parties contesting the elections have led the state at different juncture, rather than doling out the anthology of their achievements to the citizens, the campaign has been reduced to personalities. Political analysts and election observers have continued to raise serious concerns over the nature of campaigns and vile attacks on political opponents and supporters. This has indeed heated the state polity ahead of the elections that are expected to be keenly contested.
For instance, YIAGA Africa, a foremost election observer group in Nigeria recently released a pre-election survey which showed that due to physical violence, the proliferation of arms and activities of cultists, at least 13 out of the 18 Local Government Areas in Edo state are potential hot spots. This is not in any way to raise alarm but to underscore the importance of early warning signals to prevent escalation of violence before, during, and after the elections.
While politicians continue to soil their hands in the mud of violence, voter inducement has virtually become a norm just like in previous elections. Vote-buying and selling simply depicts two unpleasant messages. First is the fact that politicians in power are simply confirming that they have not done enough to retain power or opposition don’t have a good governance agenda on offer.
Secondly, it implies that citizens have resigned to the fate of democracy without dividends, as a result, see their PVC sale as the only means to feel the “impact” of government. Again, it is unfortunate that politicians are yet to device the best ways to win the hearts of citizens despite being around for quite a while. Thus they resolve to strong-arm tactics and violence to undermine the process while going as far as manipulating state security apparatus against the will of the people as seen in previous elections. As a matter of fact, election observer report revealed that security agencies violated human rights intimidation and abused citizens in the name of enforcing curfew or government regulations on COVID-19.
Speaking of COVID-19 which seems to have become the world reality, there have been serious concerns about adherence to healthy guidelines to prevent the spread of the pandemic while others complain about knowledge of such guidelines. As all stakeholders grapple with potential violence, malpractice, and voter inducement, the entire process is a potential threat to the general public health if effective measures aren’t adopted.
If there is indeed sincerity in the call for credible elections, every stakeholder have an important responsibility and must answer to any anomaly in their sector.
For instance, a security agent, be it a commissioner or Divisional Police officer, must not just be proactive to prevent violence but must bear the consequences of any lapses experienced. At this point in time, there is a need for curtailment of proliferation and use of firearms and other weapons and ensure appropriate sanctions for those implicated in thuggery and violence.
Similarly, the police and other security agencies must employ preventive measures to neutralize existing security threats in Edo state to enable the voters to exercise their constitutional right to vote in a peaceful and a secure environment.
And just as important as every other recommendation, given the pervasive threat to safety and security in the Edo election, the federal and state government to desist from partisan use of the police and security forces to manipulate the electoral process.
As for the politicians, it’s most pathetic they know what is right but desperation for power has always been the drive rather than a credible process. Political parties and candidates should subject themselves to public scrutiny on their campaigns manifesto through debates, town halls, and direct public engagement. They should also at least take a step further in campaigns by conducting voter education on INEC’s policy on voting amidst COVID-19 as part of their role in increasing voter turnout in elections.
The Independent National Electoral Commission should by now realize that they have their work cut out if other stakeholders like political parties and security do not play their roles effectively.
Thus INEC should collaborate with other stakeholders like the National Peace Committee, traditional/religious institutions, security agencies, media, and CSOs to de-escalate the rising political tension and violence by signing peace accord or pact between the candidates the election.
Finally, the citizens of Edo should not just “be there for the taken”. This is another opportunity to set agenda and demand issue-based conversations from those seeking their votes. In recent years, it is becoming obvious that citizens are not ready to die for anybody’s political ambition. Thus Citizens should refrain from perpetrating violence, refrain from hate speech, and not accept gift items in exchange for their votes.