The March 18, 2023 governorship and State Houses of Assembly elections ended with a sigh of relief that the apocalyptic fire and brimstone that prophets of doom predicted as the outcome of the 2023 elections did not come to pass. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) improved the distribution of electoral material across the country, as the exercise commenced early in most part of the country. It also improved on the upload of results on INEC result viewing portal (iREV) at an improved speed.
The results of the polls were known in various states by late on Saturday or by mid-day on Sunday, March 19, 2023. However, the age-long infection in the Nigeria’s electoral democracy – the shameful desperation of the political class and their surrogates to violate all the obstacles to fraudulent polls still plagued the polls. It did not totally disappear.
Across the country, sad tales abound about deliberate acts of violence, vote trading, voter intimidation, snatching of ballot boxes, intimidation of electoral officials, online hate speech, ethnic profiling, and killings during and after the elections. The manifestation of these anti-democratic ills in River State, where as many as 15 of the 25 persons killed in the sub-national elections, is condemnable. We also condemn the abduction of INEC staff who were on their way to conduct the elections in Imo State. No one has to die in an election.
Politicians had as many as four years, for those who seek election for the first time, to propagate their ideas, policies and programmes, and persuade voters to support those ideas by voting for them. As for those seeking re-election, such politicians had a minimum of four years to convince the people, through their performance, that they deserved re-election. Instead, the politicians made recourse to crude, illegal, immoral and violent means of imposing themselves on the people in violation of the Electoral Act.
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The report from Ogun State, for instance, gives the impression that the 2023 electoral contest was an act of war, rather than an opportunity for the people to express their will about who should lead them. Ogun Commissioner of Police, Frank Mba, provided an insight into the atmosphere of violence in the South-West state while addressing journalists last week. He said, “We… recovered a total of 12 firearms of different mixes and shapes, most of them are locally fabricated short guns. We also recovered one Beretta, an English-made pistol. We recovered a total of 25 live cartridges and eight expended cartridges. We also have with us a total of 235 credit cards or ATM cards which are very customized ATM and credit cards.’’ Also in Anambra State, the police reported that, “Five armed thugs were arrested in Ihiala LGA and four pump actions were recovered.” In all, the police said they arrested as many as 203 electoral offenders, and that 25 persons were killed in election-related criminal acts.
Apart from violence, two other electoral offenses stood out during the March 18 elections – vote buying and ethnic profiling. Reports released by all election observers showed that vote trading occurred in almost all parts of the country, in spite of the measures put in place by government to curtail it. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) operatives were deployed all over the country to arrest politicians who violated the law. Instead of compliance with the law, politicians and their thugs attacked EFCC operatives, inflicting injuries on some. Those who engaged in this criminal act must not be allowed to go without facing the consequences of their attacks on security personnel.
Also, in most parts of the country, and where it suited their purposes, politicians across all the major parties resorted to crudely positioning themselves or their opponents along our ethnic and religious fault lines to gain advantage in an election that should otherwise be about the weight of a candidate’s manifesto and their suitability for the job. Such desperate tactics can benefit a politician or two here and there, but they hurt our democratic development the more.
Unless all organs of government responsible for punishing electoral offenders sit up and do their job, the quality of elections in Nigeria will diminish, while the tax payer’s money and donations from foreign partners will be wasted on electoral reforms. Politicians have been the problem of the country’s democracy, and it shows now that as government and electoral umpires take deliberate steps to block the loopholes, so do politicians device new means of unraveling such efforts. The introduction of technology, both card reader and Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS), was to forestall ballot box stuffing and over-voting. But politicians of all parties are finding ways around it by intensifying crude and illegal methods like vote buying, voter suppression and violent disruption of the entire process in some cases.
Our political class will not stop this mischief unless and until they are punished for violating our electoral laws. At the moment, there are legal instruments for doing so; all it takes is the political will by the leadership and institutions vested with that responsibility to act accordingly. It is time to stop criminal politicians, else they will destroy Nigeria’s democracy.