Completing the 2019 electoral process

#TrackNigeria: Tomorrow, 9th March 2019, we will once again exercise our civic rights and responsibilities as citizens to elect our Governors and Members of the State Houses of Assembly. Despite some of the hitches experienced during the Presidential and National Assembly elections that took place on Saturday 23rd February 2019, we as a people and as citizens demonstrated our commitment to peaceful elections and such commitment should be carried over to the final round tomorrow.

Many commentators have argued the opposite, that the elections were marked by excessive violence and many people have been killed, which is true. We need however to address the issue in relative terms because the whole country has been living a “normal” life of violence with an active insurgency in the North East, rural banditry and farmer herder clashes in about 18 States, widespread kidnapping for ransom, violent agitations for Biafran secession and the on-going militancy in the Niger Delta. What we saw in the last election therefore is a slight decline in the “normal” level of violence in society.

Tomorrow’s elections are important because governors are about the most strategic positions in governance and who emerges often have a direct bearing on good governance and improved or worsened security. The State Houses of Assembly have been historically incapable of over-sighting governors and if and when we improve the quality of the intake, governance would certainly improve in the country. The greatest challenge to good governance in Nigeria is the relatively high percentage of governors who are excessively corrupt, irresponsible in their governance mandate and often almost completely absent from their respective States. My hope is that citizens have closely monitored and assessed the performance of their governors and are ready to sanction bad governors.

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During the last election, one of the challenges encountered is the thuggery orchestrated by some of the governors. There is a strong possibility that some of them would be tempted to use the vast resources at their disposal to affect electoral outcomes. In the last round, some sitting governors in Gombe and Oyo States lost their senatorial bids and in the case of Imo State, the Governor was alleged to have forced the returning officer to declare him elected under duress. As Nigerian Governors consider any challenge to their desires as unacceptable behaviour that requires punishment, security agencies must be at their best to ensure that governors too abide by the law.

A lot of concern has also been expressed about the behaviour of security agencies. Following allegations of misconduct against some soldiers in the presidential and National Assembly elections, the Nigerian Army Wednesday said it has launched a probe into the allegations of unprofessional conduct against its personnel. The Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, disclosed that the governors of Bayelsa, Oyo and Ogun States had lodged a formal complaint against some soldiers with the Army Headquarters. There was also numerous reports of violence and unprofessional use of the army in Rivers State. It is extremely important that security agencies play their Constitutional role of providing security for the process in a neutral and non-partisan manner.

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All security agents must act according to their rules of engagement and within the code of conduct as well as have respect for fundamental human rights in the performance of their assigned roles. They must not take any unlawful orders from any politician no matter how highly placed that will jeopardise the integrity of the elections. The elections have become very divisive and Nigerians are split right down the middle along ethnic, zonal and religious lines and it is extremely important that we do not push towards an even deeper crisis of confidence in our nationhood.

The circulation of massive amounts of fake news and hate speech has marked this election and many communities are on edge.  We must not allow some politicians to push us towards the brink for their selfish purposes. For this reason, it is not practical to say that armed security personnel be completely eliminated from security provisioning during the elections. There are too many armed political thugs, criminal gangs and ethnic militias in circulation and their activities must be check-mated. During the last election, some security personnel were attacked and killed by such miscreants.

As for the administration of the elections, it is comforting that INEC has insisted that the smart card reader would be used systematically. Since 2015, election riggers have sought to bypass the card reader to return to their old habit of fabricating electoral outcomes. Citizens have a key role to play by insisting elections must be conducted in conformity with established rules.

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Yesterday, the Working Group on Peacebuilding and Governance in Nigeria to which I belong made an appeal to all institutions and citizens to conduct themselves peacefully and with integrity, to ensure that the outcomes from the elections are legitimate and accepted by the people. All stakeholders – INEC, the political parties and their supporters, and Nigeria’s security forces must play their roles in conformity with the law and established best practices. Specifically:

INEC must continue to provide a level playing field for all candidates, parties, and voters in order to uphold the sanctity of the electoral process and its outcome. This must include improved competence and transparency; in addition to frequent, clear, robust communication with Nigerians on all aspects of the Commission’s work.

Nigeria has to stop the culture of brigandage and do or die politics. Candidates for the elections, party officials, and supporters must avoid behavior and actions that would undermine the credibility of the electoral process or lead to a breach of peace.

Security institutions must uphold the principles of professionalism and respect for human rights at all times in the discharge of their duties. They must also ensure absolute impartiality and avoid any action that could be seen to cast doubt on their detachment.

The Working Group concluded on the note that successful elections in Nigeria can provide a more solid footing for building political harmony and stability. It is true that the elections have been very divisive due to the extremely negative campaigns that were conducted. Precisely for this reason, organizing the final round in a manner that is clearly free, fair, credible and violence-free is the first step towards national reconciliation.

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