In February 2015, Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria, will be holding its general elections. Though the elections are still five months away, Nigerians have cogent reasons to be bothered about several election-related concerns. These issues include: (i) the level of preparedness by the election management body (INEC); (ii) apparent disregard of campaigning rules by pro-President Goodluck Jonathan groups (third party campaign groups) and inability of INEC to rein them in; (iii) unguarded utterances by political heavyweights from both sides of the isle; (iv) intra-party and inter-party rancour; and (v) the lingering security challenges, as typified in the Boko Haram insurgency challenge (mainly) in the North-East geo-political zone of the country.
There is no certainty that a number of these challenges (nor their different possible manifestations) will be significantly curtailed or dealt with before elections take place. But what is certain is that Nigerians want elections that will be peacefully organised and significantly free and fair. Having the elections within the context of these challenges is a major problem in itself. The last two gubernatorial elections held in Osun and Ekiti, which were generally regarded as peaceful, transparent and fair, prove that Nigeria can organise elections without any major hitches. However, the significantly high deployment of security operatives and other personnel in these two gubernatorial elections cannot be easily replicated in the forthcoming elections, especially given the immense size of the country in relation to the few commissioned security operations.
There are several other pertinent security challenges that exist in the context of the upcoming general elections. For example, how will the INEC conduct elections in the volatile North-East States in the face of the lingering Boko Haram challenge? The answer is largely unclear, especially as there are no timelines on when possible threats may end, and the three core north-eastern states (Adamawa, Borno and Yobe) are still under a legislature-backed emergency rule. It is also worth remembering that the abducted Chibok girls’ case remains unresolved.
There are also numerous allegations of human rights violations and extrajudicial killings levelled against government forces in the region, and for which the government has provided no answers – preferring to treat them as malicious and unfounded. It is also important to note that hundreds of thousands of Nigerians have been displaced over the years by insurgency problems and many have relocated to new abodes where they are unlikely to have registration status to vote in the forthcoming elections. It is not certain whether INEC plans to properly document eligible voters amongst internally displaced persons (IDPs) in camps in different parts of the country, make provisions for their participation in the general elections in 2015 and then subsequently transfer their votes to their relevant states will come to fruition.
In other states where gubernatorial elections will take place in 2015, intra-state tensions are mounting as they decide which zone should produce the next governor, especially where the sitting governors have completed their maximum tenure of eight years in office. Enugu, Lagos, Plateau, Rivers, Akwa-Ibom, Delta and Cross-Rivers are states currently embroiled in situations where the sitting governor’s tenure is rounding up. Aggrieved groups in some of these states are also desirous that the outcomes of state-level party primaries for the selection of gubernatorial candidates should be skewed in their favour. There are different reasons touted, in many of these states, as to why a change in political power is necessary, and all are understandably jaundiced – depending on who is making the case.
The contestations along party lines cannot be lost in the dynamics of the discourse on state level politics and the 2015 elections. The dominant party in Nigeria, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), is determined to achieve victory in all gubernatorial polls scheduled for next year. It is, however, left to be seen how the PDP will achieve its mouthed quest to take over in all states, especially in the southwest of Nigeria which is still largely in the reins of the All Progressives Congress (APC). It is pertinent to state that the nature of state politics heightens tension and can pose significant challenge to the election process. The selfishness of politicians, parochial considerations and money politics are some of the factors that undermine the integrity of inter-party politics and relationship between political parties.
Certainly it is possible for Nigeria’s 2015 general elections to come and go without any major incident. They could indeed prove to become a new benchmark in the country’s conduct of elections, especially considering the presidency’s position that free and fair elections are a priority. We must however remain alert to the regular shenanigans that prop up in the run up to elections.
Election management is core to the success of the 2015 general elections and this requires the INEC to be well-positioned in terms of readiness, personnel capacity and funding so it can better perform its duties with credibility. The challenges of the last general elections must be avoided and all pre- election processes properly completed. It is critical to prioritise the effective distribution of Permanent Voters Card (PVC) and the extension of opportunities to all Nigerians, who have either attained voting age or missed out in the last registration exercise to register.
There is a need for politicians (especially the high ranking and most influential ones) to display more responsibility and refrain from utterances and speeches that may elicit volatile and violent reactions from group of persons to threaten the outcomes of the elections. Our religious and traditional platforms must be effectively utilised to mobilise Nigerians towards avoiding acts inimical to peace and security in the country.
In the same vein, the media and all its new variant citizens’ journalism (active on social media etc.) must constructively engage on the electoral issue and provide the general public with informed, objective and unbiased reporting that would advance citizens’ grasp of the issues at hand. Nigeria’s security arrangements must be better organised and the various institutions must raise their game to adjust their internal mechanisms towards a greater regards for the tenets of the human rights and the effective protection of lives and property.
Citizens-based organisations and their civil society organisations’ partners must also continually seek innovative and cost-effective ways to expand citizens’ opportunities to engage in the electoral processes. Voter education and knowledge expansion programmes, which enable citizens to make the right connection between governance deficits and choice of leaders, should be prioritized by civil society organisations.
In 2015, the month of February will remain globally a “month of love’ because of the “Valentine” celebrations. It can remain so for all Nigerians too. As long as our willingness and collective commitment – to making our elections better and reflective of our belief that our country can be better – are also carried through.
Amenaghawon Joseph Idahosa is Program Coordinator, Economic Governance, OSIWA.