With a little over 30 days to the presidential election in Nigeria, political parties have intensified campaigns with candidates jostling amongst each other for citizens’ votes.
The major contenders have in the last couple of weeks been seen crisscrossing the length and breadth of the nation, holding rallies and town-hall meetings with various stakeholders, in a bid to sell their candidacy while at same time throwing jabs at their opponents.
With over 93 million registered voters expected to participate in the 2023 General elections, it is no doubt that the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, has a huge task on its hands if the elections must be a success.
Statistics released by the commission show that the total number of registered voters for the 2023 general elections is 93,469,008, with women constituting 48percent of that figure, while men make up the remaining 52percent.
Unfortunately, there has been a resonating lamentation by INEC in recent weeks over the low rate of Permanent Voters’ Cards, PVCs, collection in many states of the federation.
To address this issue, the commission devolved PVC collection from the INEC local government offices to registration areas and wards across the country, while also extending the deadline for the collections of the PVCs by an additional week.
The effect of this new extension as well as decentralization the PVCs collection remains to be seen as official reports from the various collection centers still shows large numbers of uncollected PVCs.
It is important to note that the credibility of every political process is in the participation of citizens. The more the number of voters in an elections, the greater the credibility of the process. However, at the end of that election, only 28.6 million voters took part in the process out of over 83 million, representing a miserly 34.8 percent participation rate. That is not good enough for the survival of our democracy.
If we must get more participation in the forthcoming election, a lot of work is needed by the INEC, the political parties, civil society organisations, and every other stakeholder involved the electoral processes. The continuous voter apathy that has plagued every election cycle does not speak well of the country’s democracy. This can be interpreted as a lack of trust for/in INEC as an unbiased umpire, or even a complete lack of faith in the system of government.
The federal government has a major role to play for the survival of democracy. It is not just enough to appropriate billions of naira to INEC for elections every four years. It goes way beyond that. Citizens must constantly enjoy the dividends of democracy in form of responsible government, inclusivity and rule of law, safe and secure environment, respect for human dignity, access to quality education and healthcare, improvement in quality of livelihood, among others.
It is no doubt that Nigerians have been deprived of the aforementioned since the return to democratic rule in 1999. Corruption, poverty and economic deprivation has continued to grow from successive governments.
Governments across all levels have failed to make positive impact on the livelihoods of citizens, leaving them in abject poverty. This is validated by the 2022 United Nations’ World Poverty Clock which puts Nigeria as one of the poorest country in the world with 70 million citizens living below poverty line, second only to India which has 83 million people living below the poverty line.
When you compare these figures with the respect to the total population of the two countries, you will get 33percent of the 200 million Nigerians are extremely poor, while India with a population of over 1.3 billion has just 6percent of its citizens represented as extremely poor.
Over the past decade, Nigeria has witnessed an astronomical rise in crimes and insecurity in every geopolitical zone. Virtually every state in the country seems to be battling with hike in criminal activities, ranging from kidnapping and banditry in the north west and north central regions, terrorism and religious extremism in the north east and violent secessionist movements in the southern region.
The continued increase in these criminal activities comes with lack of trust in the government to provide leadership and secure her citizens. This lack of trust has forced Nigerians to seek greener pastures abroad as witnessed in the past couple of years with the massive exodus of Nigerians to Canada and the United Kingdom in what is now referred to as ‘Japa Syndrome’.
As INEC prepares for the seventh election in/of this republic, the federal government must avail the commission with all the support it needs to ensure the success of the exercise.
While the commission is focused on the task of delivering a free, fair and credible elections, the government must step-up in its responsibilities by providing a safe and secure environment not just for the elections but even after the elections.
If the country is to endure another 24years of uninterrupted democracy, the citizens must begin to experience a safe and secure country. Nigerians must begin to enjoy the dividends of democracy. Citizens must have access to quality education and healthcare across all levels, and all aggrieved sections of the country must be brought to the negotiation table.
The gap between the rich and the poor in the society must also be seen to be shrinking such that every citizen has equal rights and opportunity to succeed. Political parties and politicians should maintain decorum as they go about their activities so as not to heat up the polity.
Lastly, INEC must not be seen to be in favour of any candidate or party over the others and should ensure a level playing field.