THE REALITY OF VOTING AND ELECTIONS IN NIGERIA
By olayinka sarah chinda
Formerly, a good number of Nigerians were unbothered about the Nigerian elections and the leaders because they perceived that the set of politicians were the same and no different from their predecessors. There was also this mind set that their votes were inconsequential as they believed it was always a predetermined election. That means that election outcome was usually already decided at primary elections. There was also the fear of insecurity and possible violence at the polling centres, as a result, eligible citizens tend to stay away on election days. Our democracy needs a lot of reinforcing because every vote counts as seen in the recent gubernatorial election in South West Osun state Nigeria.
As Nigeria gears into the 2019 general elections in February, there are concerns from the major opposition party, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) about the ability of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the electoral umpire, to conduct credible elections. The opposition party believes that the security agencies (i.e. The Nigeria Police Force) will interfere in the electoral process by intimidating the party agents and party supporters on the election day. This stems from events that occurred in Ekiti State and Osun State gubernatorial elections in July 2018 and September 2018 respectively which favoured the currently ruling All Progressive Congress (APC).
The calls for credible elections increased as President Muhammadu Buhari from APC declined to assent on the Electoral Act Amendment Bill partly on the basis that the time frame to the general election is only two months and an amendment of the Electoral Act could create some uncertainty about the applicable legislation to govern the electoral process. The PDP, as well as others, believe that the Bill which enforces the use of card readers for accreditation at the polling centres, will create more transparency and secure ambience during the election. As such these calls are made for the Bill to be signed to ensure that the INEC conducts free, fair, peaceful and credible elections, which have been seen to be nearly impossible especially in states such as Rivers State and Akwa Ibom State.
RIVERS STATE POLITICS
Based on my observation of politics in Nigeria and Rivers State, in particular, violence has remained a recurring decimal in the polity which is mostly sponsored by political thugs. It is argued that it is impossible to win an election in Rivers State without these political thugs. The older generations and politicians with the money and resources recruit the youths and mobilize them to cause problems especially towards those they perceive to be their political enemies or a very strong opponent. They go about before and during the elections, unchallenged by the security agencies, scaring voters from their polling boots, thereby creating a very conducive atmosphere for rigging of the election. This has been the norm in Rivers State since 1998, 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015 elections. Some politicians who understand this mode of operation sometimes successfully avert this rigging by urging their supporters and party agents to protect their votes in the midst of intimidation from both armed thugs and security agencies. Most times the “brave eligible citizens” will remain at the centres after casting their votes to ensure it is included and counted, even when the armed thugs try to perpetrate rigging and scare them violently. In some cases, they stay overnight at the polling centres, following their results from one collation centre to the other until the final result is announced.
I believe Nigeria’s democracy is a work in progress as we have all began to get involved in the credibility of the process of electing our leaders and these antics of violence and electoral fraud by desperate politicians is seen to be frustrated since they cannot be fully perpetrated due to the current trend of smartphones and social media. In the build – up to the February 2019 general elections in Nigeria the entire world is watching closely and I am one of the strong believers in Nigeria and I know our democracy will be strengthened at the end of the election.
*OLAYINKA SARAH CHINDA, A NIGERIAN MASTERS DEGREE STUDENT AT THE DEPARTMENT OF POLITICAL AND INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AT THE ISTANBUL AYDIN UNIVERSITY, TURKEY