Journalism in the service of society

2023 general elections: The last lap

WHEN the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced the dates for the 2023 general elections, it seemed like they were far away. Days rolled into weeks, weeks into months and months into a year and the almighty 2023, the year Nigerian voters are to choose another President, some new governors, and some new lawmakers, is already here. The much-awaited February polls will take place in a month and few days.

The last stretch of the electioneering campaigns has been interesting. Rallies and town hall meetings have been the major platforms used by candidates to sell themselves. Closed door meetings are also being held to seal deals. Some of these meetings have been held outside of the shores of Nigeria.

As expected, attention has been on the Presidential poll. Characteristic of such exercises in Nigeria, the rallies have largely been devoid of critical issues. They have served more as entertainment shows for candidates to display their oratorical and dancing skills as well as demonstrate who can pull a bigger crowd. 

However, the town hall meetings have been more focused as they have been used to address policy issues. The economy has been a major area of interest for the key candidates and almost all of them have promised to end the controversial fuel subsidy. Insecurity in the land has also been given attention.

Significantly, it is clear to voters that there are four major candidates: Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC),  Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP) and Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso of the New Nigeria People’s Party (NNPP).

Shopping for the endorsement of major groups and individuals by the candidates, especially Tinubu, Atiku and Obi, is viewed as an advantage. For example, two factions of the pro-Yoruba group, Afenifere, have pitched their tents with Tinubu and Obi. But of all the endorsements received in the last stretch of the race, none has been as controversial as the one by former President Olusegun Obasanjo. 

Tinubu, Atiku and Obi paid homage to him and informed him of their desires; just as they did to other former leaders of the country, including Ibrahim Babangida, Goodluck Jonathan and Abdulsalami Abubakar. Kwankwaso has been very selective in his outings. On January 1, Obasanjo served Tinubu and Atiku the ‘proverbial breakfast’ by endorsing Obi and ignoring the quest of the two veteran politicians to lead the country.

Tinubu and Atiku have played down the effect of the endorsement on their chances, pointing to Obasanjo’s failed antecedents on that score. If anything, the Tinubu camp says paradventure there is any potency to it, Atiku was likely to be the casualty, but Atiku says it will not stop him from winning the race to Aso Villa. They both claimed they went to Obasanjo out of courtesy and not because of any real political advantage.

In this last stretch, we would like to point out one positive development: it is the near absence of the usual violence during the campaigns. Although there have been pockets of untoward incidences here and there, they are nothing compared to what used to be in the past during similar periods. This is commendable and we implore the political actors to continue to improve on this score by shunning violence in any shape or form. No candidate’s ambition is worth the blood of any Nigerian.

As a way of ensuring that electoral violence is curtailed, security agencies, especially the police, should start an operation aimed at ensuring peace during and after the general elections. Those inclined to violence must be told in clear terms that their antics will not be tolerated and severe sanctions would be applied if they dare. All hands must be on deck for a peaceful conduct of the elections in February and March.

We also implore the candidates to use the remaining period to address how they intend to handle issues currently affecting Nigerians. From experience, it is obvious that the massive crowd that throng campaign rallies do not translate into real votes during elections. We have witnessed candidates with huge crowd at their rallies end up with votes not commensurate with their perceived strengths – a clear indication that such crowd were not genuine.

We would also like to encourage the electoral body to step up activities in respect of distribution of voters’ cards. Prospective voters need not go through hell to collect their cards. Those who have registered but yet to collect their cards should take advantage of the window by INEC to collect their cards within the specified period. 

The improved technology that has been put in place for these polls must not be compromised in any way. It is only through free and fair polls that preferred candidates can emerge. We know how desperate politicians can be; this is why we are imploring INEC to be a step ahead, to beat them in their game.

While it is reassuring that Nigerians are concentrating on the presidential poll because of its overarching impact on their lives, the other polls are equally important. Those who emerge from those polls are nearer to the people and their actions or inactions affect the people directly. States need performing governors; State Assemblies need good lawmakers and the National Assembly should not be for the dregs of our society.

We need to emphasise the quality of members of the National Assembly for the sake of quality legislation and firm oversight on the Executive. A National Assembly that is turned into a retirement home for those who were part of the challenges the people are currently facing will only continue in their old ways and increase the peoples woes. 

It goes without saying that the quality of representation at the National Assembly is critical to the performance of the president. A weak or rascally National Assembly will easily become a rubber stamp or cantankerous chamber. So, we urge Nigerians to be vigilant and conscious of those they elect into this otherwise important arm of government.

Our country generally needs quality leaders at all levels because only through this can challenges such as insecurity, poverty, poor infrastructure, decaying education and healthcare sectors, and epileptic power supply be surmounted. The people have a great role to play, as they are also central in creating and sustaining these challenges.

We believe that this is another chance for Nigerians to get it right. The previous periods, including the last seven years, have been challenging for Nigerians. The time has come for voters to decide freely without pandering to ethnic, religious or monetary considerations.

We will continue to keep tab on this last stretch of the election cycle and call the attention of Nigerians and relevant authorities to what is important and what needs to be done.

We wish all our readers a prosperous 2023.

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