AS THE 91registered political parties in Nigeria have swung into full motion on their electioneering campaigns ahead of the forthcoming 2019 general elections, all eyes are now on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct free, fair, credible and acceptable polls.
The polity has once again, come alive and agog as the parties simultaneously hit the ground running in the usual frantic bid to market their candidates for various elective public offices to be contested through the ballot boxes in the 2019 general elections, culminating in rallies and media blitz.
These esteemed positions include the presidency, governorship seats of many states, as well as the national and state assemblies’ slots which the tenures of the incumbent occupants will expire on 29th May, 2019, thereby paving the way out for those rejected at the polls by the electorate, since it is an incontrovertible fact that only one person will emerge victorious in each of the posts during the impending electoral contest, hence, the essence of this discourse.
INEC that is constitutionally saddled with the sole responsibility of conducting the general elections and monitoring the activities of the political parties, has repeatedly reassured Nigerians of its readiness to ensure free, fair and credible elections across the federation.
However, it is a popular demand that President Muhammadu Buhari should assent to the amended Electoral Act passed by the National Assembly as a way of convincing the electorate of his avowed determination to facilitate a credible election under his stewardship. This is in view of the fact that the existing electoral law used in 2015 general elections was believed to be fraught with loopholes that created some hiccups which Mr. President, soon after assumption of office, had noted would be redressed.
On the other hand, the radio and television airwaves are bubbling with pulsating campaign jingles while the newspapers and magazines and even the social media are awash with assorted advertorials by political parties and their candidates purposely to sway the voters in their favour when the chips are down.
It has already been confirmed by the INEC that the presidential and national assembly elections would be held on February 16, 2019, whereas the gubernatorial and state assembly polls come up on March 2. With the dates of the general elections already signed, sealed and delivered with the political parties enmeshed in serious campaigns through various forms and public rallies, the stage is set for the big electoral showdown and the countdown to the 2019 general elections had begun in earnest.
Different shades of opinion have been conjecturing on the best ways to go about the entire exercise in order to guarantee its hitch-free success as desired by Nigerians, and to meet the expectations of the international community. In other words, the people are still wondering about the roles the INEC, political parties, contestants in the race at all levels, and the generality of Nigerians, as well as international bodies such as the United Nations (UN), African Union (AU), Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and other well-wishers of the country have to play toward a successful conduct of the general elections.
It is heart-warming that the ruling party, All Progressives Congress (APC) and President Buhari have continued to pledge unwavering commitment to play the game according to the rules and to let the votes count by offering level playing field for all contestants and to accept the verdict of the electorate in genuine spirit of good sportsmanship.
On their side, the above-named international bodies (UN, AU, ECOWAS, etc.) should collectively rally round Nigeria at this critical and crucial point of on-going democratic evolution in such a way that midwives handle an expectant pregnant woman in the labour room for a safe delivery of the baby.
This can be done by way of supporting the country and the electoral umpire (INEC) fiscally, materially and otherwise; and most importantly, by getting involved in the electioneering process through effective monitoring, also sponsoring international observers to supervise the polls as unbiased monitors.
On the part of INEC, no effort should be spared in ensuring timely delivery and provision of all necessary logistical materials and also other requirements for the 2019 elections to its offices throughout the federation ahead of the polls to avert the recurrence of operational hitches or bottlenecks associated with the past elections in the country.
Most importantly too, INEC’s chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, must not lose sight of the fact that all eyes are on him as the national and global community at large, expect him to be upright, unbiased and firm in handling the onerous assignment in a similar way his immediate predecessor, Prof Attahiru Jega, discharged his duties during the 2015 general elections that snowballed to the historical defeat of a sitting president, which invariably elevated ex-President Jonathan as a role model in Africa and the world today.
Regrettably, however, the large number of permanent voters’ cards (PVCs) yet to be collected by the owners, owing mainly to difficulties encountered by most of the eligible registered voters to access their PVCs as a result of bureaucratic bottlenecks wittingly or unwittingly mixed up in the continuous voter registration exercise, gives serious cause to doubt the claims by INEC of its readiness to conduct free, fair, credible and acceptable general elections next year, if such considerably large percentage of the electorate are disenfranchised for not possessing the PVCs.
Another bone of contention is that INEC should be very meticulous in the recruitment of ad-hoc staff to be involved in the conduct of the elections to avoid engaging bad eggs in its rank and file.
It is also germane to organize training and retraining programmes for them to be properly conversant with their onerous duties and responsibilities without falling into any temptation whatsoever, because of the adverse consequences of any lapses throughout the exercise.
This will make Nigerians accept the outcome of the polls and reduce post-election protests and violence of any kind across the nation.
Political parties and their flag-bearers owe Nigerians the debt of imbibing the right attitudes and true spirit of good sportsmanship by patriotically complying strictly with the rules of the game; avoid hate speeches, grandstanding and violence or engaging in activities capable of overheating the polity and destabilizing the country’s democracy, continued peace, unity and advancement.
Electioneering campaigns should be conducted in decent, peaceful and orderly manners without mudslinging, confrontation, intimidation and molestation of political opponents or hate speeches to malign other parties or contestants, just as political thuggery and acrimony must be jettisoned from the entire electioneering campaigns and rallies by all stakeholders. The parties should focus on issues and not personality attacks, slanderous utterances and deployment of banana peels and fallacious claims for cheap political credit.
Nigerians, generally, should see and regard the 2019 elections not as a do-or-die venture but another rare opportunity to rise up in unison to take our fate in our hands to fashion a course for our future national cohesion and good governance by voting according to their conscience in choosing only people of proven integrity to take care of our collective interests by ensuring that square pegs are fixed in square holes this time around.
Above all, the security agencies, including the Nigeria Police, Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps, among others to be involved in the election should eschew high- handedness and harassment of voters and members of the public in order not to create voter apathy,
as well as be courteous and humane in discharging their duties, realizing that the electorate owns the sovereignty and possess the constitutional powers and rights to vote and ensure their votes count and are counted right from the polling booths to the collation centers and the final point of the announcement of the results of the elections.
That is the simple demand by Nigerians and that is exactly the elections we genuinely desire in 2019 to be conducted by the INEC.
Oguine is the Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on Anambra Newspapers and Printing Corporation.
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