By Laz Apir

With daily reports of mass killings, civil servants being owed salaries in many states and police officers also being owed allowances, it is not a false alarm to say Nigeria is going through very dangerous times. Amidst all these, Nigeria is heading into the 2019 general election. And because history is dotted with incontrovertible evidence of how most previous general elections in Nigeria have often triggered tension and crisis, one cannot help but wonder what fate awaits Nigeria. Similar tension gripped the country on the heels of 2015 but thanks to President Jonathan for not pushing his luck, Nigeria lived on.

As we go into 2019, what should we expect? African wisdom says we know a good Friday from Monday. It is in this light that Anambra, Ekiti and Osun off cycle state elections, holding back to back on the heels of 2019 general election gives us a veritable preview of what to expect in the general election. The question then is; what have we observed with these off cycle state elections?

As for the Professor Yakubu Mahmood led INEC, it is fair to say marked improvements have been made. From an INEC that grappled with inconclusive elections in Rivers and Bayelsa, marked improvements have been observed in the conduct of election in Anambra and Ekiti. Partisan interests can argue all they want, evidence from parallel vote tabulations show that INEC has remained free and fair in the conduct of elections with outcomes reflecting the will of the people as expressed at the polling units. On legislation, INEC have pushed and achieved a number of electoral act amendments all to ensure even greater credibility of the polls.

However, on cost of elections, we should all be worried because it is getting more and more expensive without a corresponding increase in voter turnout. How is one to justify or argue the case of cost effectiveness in an election that gulfs billions of naira with citizens not even largely partaking of it? Still, INEC continues to show a lack of will and commitment towards reduction of the cost. How? You may ask; the answer is simple. Make use of technology and plan for a realistic number of voters not the unaudited bogus voter register with so many unclaimed PVCs. Audit the register! Automate electoral systems; especially the pre-election processes and embrace open election data! Apathy is in part fueled by the twin factors of bad governance and dwindling trust in INEC to conduct free and fair election. Relatedly, the high cost of participation on the part of the citizens is not helped by bad governance.

On election SECURITY, the current model is unsustainable, vague and at best all about intimidation. The police alone claimed to have deployed thirty thousand (30,000) officers to Ekiti. To replicate same across 36 states including the FCT will require one million, one hundred and ten thousand (1, 110, 000) police officers. Clearly, we do not have such number to deploy for the 2019 elections. For sakes of accountability and cost effectiveness of the current security deployment model, we need to interrogate the enormous numbers of officers announced as deployed for state elections. What has it achieved and at what cost? Who are the officers and what gaps do these deployments create in the existing policing for the rest of the country?

For the 2019 general election, where will the personnel be gotten to replicate the state brand of security deployment, and at what cost?  Your guess is as good as mine. Nigeria does not have the personnel strength! Perhaps, a way around it will be to make security deployment more focused and result oriented to the extent that electoral offences tracking and evidence gathering is prioritized above the mere presence the current model is hinged upon. By simply making the deployment more transparent and focused, greater deterrence, cost effectiveness and efficiency will be better achieved.

The POLITICIANS and their POLITICAL PARTIES have continued to evolve and adopt more undemocratic and nifty means of having their way in elections no matter what. From multiple voting in 2003 to ballot box snatching and stuffing as was the trend in 2007, politicians have now resorted to voter inducement through vote buying. And it is getting the more brazen with every other election. Whilst such inducements in Ekiti 2014 was more about stomach infrastructure in form of gift items like bags of rice and wrappers before election day, Edo 2016 and Anambra 2017 threw in vote for cash inducement right at the polling units during which voters sold their votes between 1500 to 2000 Naira. Ekiti 2018 have further entrenched the fraud with votes sold and bought between 3000 to 5000 Naira per vote.

It is heart wrenching for true lovers of democracy to see that Nigerian political parties and their politicians have exhibited sustainably, a lack of sound ideas on civil and legitimate ways of achieving victory at the polls. Instead, they have degenerated to such embarrassingly unlawful voter inducements in the form of vote buying. It should worry every patriot at this point how a political class that is unable to fathom brilliant ideas on achieving electoral victory can be capable of solving complex national problems that are even more diverse. By whatever standards, the current cash for vote on election day is an affront on our hard earned democracy and must be resisted and lawfully nipped in the bud.

Evidence from the last two off cycle state elections in Anambra and Ekiti have shown a deteriorating quality of participation on the part of the VOTERS. Low voter turnouts and selling of votes have become the new normal. How is one to make sense of a citizen voter who sells a four-year mandate for five thousand (5000) naira? How will such a citizen turn around to demand accountability of such an elected official who by basic tenets of commerce; conducted a complete transaction and paid in full? And to think that by not going out on election day to vote is a solution to anything in a country with dangerously numerous problems, is for me the greatest disservice exhibited by a citizen.

If 2019 election is to be mirrored in what we have observed from these off cycle state elections, then it is safe to say we are headed for the cliff. Our brand of democracy will only serve to enthrone mediocrity that will see to anarchy in the affairs of the state. 2019 is also set to be unjustifiably the most expensive election with a turnout that may be ridiculously low. The bogus security deployment will both serve as conduit pipe to corruptly misappropriate public funds which will be looted. The politicians and their political parties will go into the election empty headed knowing that what is needed is pockets full of cash. In the end, the worst of us will be elected by some mindless electorates that are more than happy to sell their birthright for a pot of porridge.

The question that inspired this reflection is; between the politician and the voter, who really is the problem of Nigeria? And my personal opinion says both the voter and the politician as Nigerians are evils of equal proportion. The voter is only twice foolish given how much the politician gains after making nonsense of our democratic election. If you do not like my verdict, go into 2019 resolved to prove me wrong.

 

@lazapir, an election enthusiast writes from Abuja, Nigeria

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