Today, February 25, Nigerians are at the polls to exercise their electoral right. They are voting to elect a new President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as well as senators and members of the House of Representatives who would constitute the 10th National Assembly and pilot the affairs of the country for the next four years.
It has been a long road to the 2023 general elections. Along the way, there were historic developments such as the Electoral Act 2022, the massive registration for Permanent Voter Cards (PVC) and INEC’s seismic switch to technology-driven elections using the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS).
This year, the stakes are higher than in any other polls in recent history. The record number of registered voters of 93.5 million, the dominant demographics of 48 million youths, the intensity of the electioneering campaign and the political fever that gripped the Nigerian populace are indications that the 2023 general election is of great importance to Nigerians.
The reasons are not far-fetched. The past eight years have been a tortuous journey for Nigerians. Citizens bear the scars of two recessions, worsening insecurity, religious intolerance, ethnic jingoism and lack of good governance, among other suffocating realities. The unity of the country was fractured, with the socio-political landscape divided along several faultlines. Like never before, the gulf between the rich and the poor widened and unemployment is at its highest. The country, understandably, slipped into the abyss of poverty whereby 133 million Nigerians live in poverty. The austerity earned the country the unenviable title of the poverty capital of the world.
These tribulations have driven Nigerians out of their fatherland in droves to other countries in search of greener pastures. The migration syndrome (called Japa) which started a few years back hit a peak last year and is yet to ebb. It has been the biggest brain drain to hit the country in living memory. Nigeria lost a record number of medical professionals and an uncountable population of IT specialists whose exodus weakened the country in critical sectors.
More than anything, the hardship faced by Nigerians underscored the need for a tectonic shift in leadership style and direction and a complete overhaul of governance in the country.
Election―and only election―allows us the opportunity to turn around our collective fate.
Our situation is so dire there is no room for sentiment in selecting the best candidate. It needs no telling, therefore, that we have to make a prudent choice at the polls.
The world has high expectations of us. World leaders, including President Joe Biden of America, have urged us to do it right and get it right. Over the next 48 hours, our country will be the cynosure of global attention.
There has been an ugly backdrop of orgy of violence like the assassination of the Labour Party senatorial candidate in Enugu, Oyibo Chukwu, barely 48 hours before the election and arrests of persons with unusually large wads of cash in Lagos, Rivers and Gombe, which were meant for vote buying, less than 24 hours to election.
We have to stand up in unity today against any anti-election acts that could mar this important poll.
It goes without saying that despite our diversity and disparities in choice of party and candidate, we have a common yearning: We hunger for purposeful leadership. The country survived the travails of the past four years because of the citizens’ legendary resilience, often referred to as “the Nigerian spirit.”
Now, we could end it well by voting sensibly and in an atmosphere devoid of violence and not prone to post-election crisis.
It has to be said too that our desire for change might become meaningless and a mirage if we fail to conduct a peaceful, free, fair and credible election.
On Wednesday, all of the 18 registered political parties signed a peace pact, which stipulated that all parties accept the outcome of elections or seek redress via legitimate means. Some of the leading contenders thereafter issued a statement to their followers calling on them to eschew violence and any other acts that could jeopardise the election.
In truth, the election is in our interest.
Looking at the configuration of the presidential candidates and their running mate and their broad and heterogeneous supporters, we cannot but conclude that Nigeria is a united country, only that we are seething with resentment borne of frustration. We must, however, be mindful that elections remain the only valid and agreeable means of addressing our grievances in a democracy.
Today, Nigerians stand at that watershed. We must not let the opportunity escape us. We must each exercise the power in our vote, per the Electoral Act. We must be determined to make our votes count. That includes ensuring that we do not hinder others from exercising their franchise too.
Robert Frost in his famous poem talked about lost opportunities in A Road Not Taken. Nigerian voters had taken a familiar route many times in the past. The path of vote-buying, ballot-box snatching, ethnic sentiment and religious bigotry, to mention but few, led us nowhere but to political Golgotha and down the rabbit hole of bad governance and poor leadership. We do not have the luxury to go down that route again. The opportunity of voting for real change, driven by a genuine desire for a better standard of living and collective welfare, is right before us at the polling unit.
We all have a role to play. Of the 48 million youths on the voter register, the onus is on them to safeguard the sanctity of the electoral process by refusing to be used as agents of destabilisation.
Security agencies must play their role as expected. INEC, with its staff, must maintain the neutrality expected of it as the electoral umpire.
As Africa’s biggest democracy, it behoves us to set a good example for other African countries that would be going to the polls later this year.
We must remember that credible elections are the foundation on which democracy is built. Therefore, Nigerians must respect the outcome of the voting. Democracy, after all, is a system where the minority have their say and the majority have their way, even at the polls.
Having suffered so much in the past few years, we do not need election-triggered anomie.
What we all yearn for is a Nigeria of our dream where the individual and the State can fully reach their potential. A peaceful election is a step towards the Utopia we crave.