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As the 2023 polls begin

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THE widely anticipated and much-talked-about 2023 general election is here. Tomorrow, it kicks off with the presidential and National Assembly polls. For four years now, Nigerians have waited for this season. For some, it is an opportunity to affirm that the decision they made at the 2019 polls was not done in error. For others, the election affords them an opportunity to rewrite the mistaken electoral affirmations they made either for a political party or for an individual.

The beauty of the general elections is that gradually, they are putting a lie to the Messianism that the barrels of the gun posed to the Nigerian polity for decades. Before now, military rulers posed as change agents destined to repair whatever electoral mistakes the people had made. As it turned out, however, they were not better than the civilians they ousted from office. The election season is therefore an ammunition in the hands of the electorate with which to affirm or rewrite their own destinies without recourse to violence and bloodshed.  In this year’s elections, all eyes are on Nigeria because political leaders have literally turned democratic norms on their heads. In four years, they have turned a system of government conceived to bring about positive change in the lives of the people into an instrument of oppression.

Virtually all the indices of governance and development around this time four years ago have been inverted; the cost of living is extremely high and Nigerians have slid several years backwards in developmental indices. Right now, the tension and fear on the streets of Nigeria are palpable. Nigerians are at the end of their tether; government is not there for the people. Politicians have shown them the short end of the stick, feathering their own nests and leaving them to their deplorable fates. The world therefore looks towards this election cycle believing that in it lies redemption for Nigerians. Global leaders like President Barack Obama have expressed optimism that Nigeria will get it right this time around. They have advocated a free and fair process in which Nigerians will exercise their franchise. There is no reason to believe that their belief in the redemptive power of the 2023 general election is misplaced.

The man on whose table the buck stops, President Muhammadu Buhari, is on record as having promised to make a worthy exercise his legacy to the country. We believe him and we expect him to walk the talk by doing everything possible in assisting the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the security agencies to perform their functions without partiality in order to guarantee the credible elections that the world wants. He must go beyond rhetoric and ensure that there is indeed a level playing field for all candidates so that Nigerians can freely express their democratic wishes. He must live up to his promise to protect Nigerians as they make their choices.

It is significant that the general election is receiving global attention. The idea is to have a credible exercise that the country and the global community will be proud of. In this connection, and as one of the kernels of President Buhari’s promise to the world,  Nigerians must not be intimidated or compromised by politicians through the use and influence of money as they exercise their franchise. It is to the extent that the government is able to provide an atmosphere of peace that Nigerians would be able to freely vote and actualise their choices for various positions. This is a very consequential election for the country; Nigerians must own the process and use it to make the country better. And it is important for the government, on its part, to help turn the desire of Nigerians into reality.

Two critical issues that pose challenges to a free and fair election are cash crunch and scarcity of fuel. The Buhari government must make money and fuel accessible to both the electoral umpire and the people. The issue of cash should be resolved before voting begins and should not, by any stretch of imagination, be an alibi for improper conduct of the elections. In this regard, we are excited about the assurances being given by some state arms of the electoral umpire that the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) had begun making cash available to them to sort out logistic issues. We must reiterate that no voter should be intimidated on account of their preferences. We implore all the security agencies to be guided by patriotism beginning from this weekend. If Nigeria gets its electoral system right, the joy of freewill choices will reverberate across the length and breadth of the country. Attempts to intimidate or cajole voters in polling units must be resisted by the security forces.

Because vote buying and violence have become seasonal afflictions that change the results of the elections from the wishes of the majority, security agencies must ensure that these goblins do not rear their ugly heads in the elections that begin tomorrow. They must make public examples of whoever attempts to engage in violence or vote buying. Again, we urge Nigerians to vote bearing in mind the excruciating suffering they have endured in the past on account of the incapability of politicians. They should not vote on account of sentiment, passion or emotion. They must vote for the right leaders who have the tendency to bring positive change to the polity. They should be reminded that refusing to vote right can only worsen their plight. Only the right leaders can change Nigeria’s condition for the better.



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