The 2019 presidential elections in Nigeria will be the country’s sixth since 1999, after a long period of military rule. Most of these elections were tainted by acts of violence and vote rigging. In the past, election violence was blamed on lack of education among citizens, poverty, long history of military rule and corruption. However, political patronage is also to blame in a country where power and state resources are often exploited for personal use by office holders. The scramble for the “national cake” by the political elites is often the real reason for many politicians’ do-or-die attitude.
Such was the case when former president Chief Olusegun Obasanjo declared in 2007 that the April elections would be a do-or-die affair for the country and his ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP). In the just-concluded Ekiti and Osun States elections, it was glaring how desperation triggered electoral malpractices prominent of which were the cases of “vote-buying” and “voter intimidation”. It clearly shows that we have a lot to do in ensuring the 2019 general elections in Nigeria is not characterized by fraud, violence and malpractices.
With the 2019 general elections less than two months away, Nigeria’s ability to hold free fair elections is open to question. Of particular concern are the security threats posed by the Boko Haram insurgency, the president’s decline of assent to the electoral act amendment bill, perceived voter apathy and the clashes between farmers and herdsmen in some parts of Nigeria. There is also the threat posed by the arming of rival political supporters.
Although the government claimed to have “technically defeated” Boko Haram, the armed group was able to carry out bloody attacks and do so with so much effect. The insurgents recently carried out an attack on the military base in Metele, Borno State, killing dozens of soldiers in the process.
In the2015 elections, the Boko Haram threat affected elections in many parts of Northern Nigeria. If the threat is not significantly contained, it will pose a threat to free and fair elections in 2019.
Apart from the Boko Haram insurgency, several states in Nigeria, such as Benue, Taraba and Nasarawa have witnessed violent clashes between herdsmen and farmers in recent months. Although this was not an issue in previous elections, the intensity of the clashes has increased tremendously.
In the same way Boko Haram was the primary campaign issue prior to 2015 elections, the clashes between armed herdsmen and farmers pose election risk. Several opposition political parties have already seized on insecurity as a campaign rallying point. Violent clashes could potentially ensue if the security situation is not addressed before the elections.
For the third time, President Muhammadu Buhari declined assent to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2018, alleging draft issues. The electoral act of 2015 amended by the National Assembly hopes to strengthen electoral processes and purge the system of all forms of fraudulent activities, ensuring the 2019 general elections are free, fair and credible.
With the provisions of the amended Electoral Act Nigerians should indeed anticipate a shift from the norm of fraudulent activities in elections to elections that would be transparent and credible. The onus therefore, now rests on the president to give assurance of a credible election as an alternative to the electoral act amendment bill to give Nigerians a glimmer of hope in the electoral process in 2019.
The proliferation of arms prior to elections also remains a huge threat. Since the 2003 elections, the arming of supporters has become an election tool and as in previous elections, political patronage is often behind the formation of insurgent groups towards the time of elections in order to seek undue advantage over their political opponent. Indeed, former vice president, and presidential candidate of the People’s Democratic Party, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar claimed to have warned some state governors against arming youths prior to elections.
Some Nigerians have totally lost faith in the electoral system of the country that they find it rather useless coming out to vote during elections. This issue, need to be addressed in ensuring the electoral process is successful.
Nigerians need to trust security agencies and the electoral commission.Security agencies should guard electoral materials and electoral officers and give citizens that assurance that they can cast their votes freely without any form of intimidation and attack.
But in recent times, security agencies have failed in maintaining neutrality. They are compromised by politicians and political parties to hijack electoral materials intimidate voters and members of the opposition. All security agencies on electoral duty must put in their best to defend the larger interest of the nation.
They must resolve to carry out their assignedduties in strict compliance with the rules of engagement and the law, and be made to face the consequences if they fail. Perhaps this calls for urgent and vigorous effort to establish the Electoral offences commission.
To ensure credibility of the 2019 elections, the electoral umpire must ensure that votes count. All stakeholders must realize that elections remain an anchor of democracy and everything should be done to protect it.