Are We On The Path To Free And Fair Elections in Nigeria?

(By Toks Ero)

Not a few have criticized President Jonathan for militarizing the electoral process given the unprecedented deluge of military personnel in the Osun elections, but the same people would have called for the president’s head if law and order broke down after these elections. For me, it is better to err on the side of caution than to cry when the head is off, and those who know the violence that takes centre-stage after elections in this country should thank the President for being proactive.

Everywhere in the democratic world, elections are important planks on which democracies thrive. This periodic exercise gives the people on the streets the power to choose who presides over their lives and destinies. Therefore, the electorates periodically file out to exercise their civic responsibility to elect their leaders, retain those they want and reject others.

In the advanced nations of the world, elections are not characterized by violence. Debates and ideas are issue-based and ideology driven, not on frivolities or resort to inanities. But here, it’s different. Politicians throw mud at each other, employ thugs to rig elections on their behalf and many a time lives are lost and properties are damaged. Indeed, elections in these parts are a do-or-die affair because as many have observed, people are in politics for reasons other than service to humanity, and so they must kill and maim to get into public office.

This has been the case with politics and elections in Nigeria even before the era of President Goodluck Jonathan. In 2011 when President Jonathan won at the polls, election-induced violence erupted mostly in the northern part of Nigeria. He made it clear that one of his cardinal objectives was to do everything within his powers to ensure that no blood will ever be spilled in any election conducted in his tenure as President of Nigeria adding that elections will henceforth be free and fair.

Since this resolve by President Jonathan, several elections has been held across Nigeria with no incidences of violence or bloodshed. Elections have been held in Edo, Anambra and recently in Ekiti and Osun – States that were traditionally regarded as flashpoints of electoral violence in Nigeria. These elections may not have been free of electoral deficiencies, but the story remains that regardless of these deficiencies, lives were not lost and properties were not incinerated by political terrorists and their weapon-wielding lieutenants who leave sorrow, tears and blood in their trail.

Many reasons have been adduced for this trend. Some say Nigerian voters are becoming sophisticated with each election. Others say the Independent Electoral Commission is becoming alive to its responsibilities and so on. But in my opinion, I think credit must also go to President Jonathan. But for his resolve to ensure that elections in Nigeria are devoid of rancor and acrimony, who knows how deep in election crisis we would have found ourselves. Surprisingly, he has demonstrated that it is possible to lose an election in Nigeria, and be humble enough to send a congratulatory message to the winner even if your party lost in the election. He did just that in Edo State when the APC candidate floored his PDP opponent. He did it in Ondo where the Labor Party retained the governorship seat; in Anambra State where the APGA candidate won the election. Again, this has happened in Osun State where the APC posted a landslide victory over the candidate of the PDP.

Not a few have criticized President Jonathan for militarizing the electoral process given the unprecedented deluge of military personnel in the Osun elections, but the same people would have called for the president’s head if law and order broke down after these elections. For me, it is better to err on the side of caution than to cry when the head is off, and those who know the violence that takes centre-stage after elections in this country should thank the President for being proactive.

I believe we should not pretend that what works elsewhere will work here. In fact, to everything, we have our own peculiar colorations. If all we need to ensure free and fair elections devoid of bloodshed is to have military presence all over the place, so be it; at least until we learn that vying for political office or any position of authority doesn’t demand resort to brutality, killing and maiming.

For those who suffered from the excesses of military personnel posted to maintain law and order during these elections, redress should be sought in the law courts. As much as we commend efforts to nip electoral violence in the bud, high handedness on the part of security operatives must not be condoned. The Police and the military must ensure that the culture of discipline and punishment in deeply entrenched in their operations.

The 2015 elections are a couple of months away. I believe they will turn out well because elections in Ondo, Edo, Ekiti, Anambra and Osun states have shown that it is possible regardless of the many criticisms.

We will get there!

Toks Ero blogs at www.toksero.org

“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”

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