In the next three days, January 16 2019, Nigerians are expected to troop to the polling booths, 120,000 of them, scattered all over the country with great expectation, anxiety and trepidation – more trepidation, really, than anxiety and expectation.
They will be doing so to discharge their civic responsibility. They will be doing to elect the president that would pilot the affairs of the country for another four years. In the same vein, they will be doing so to elect senators and House of Representative members to represent them in the National Assembly which, at normal times in normal representative democracy, would make laws for the wellbeing and the good governance of the country by providing oversight responsibility and be the watchdog over the executive.
A total of 73 candidates are on the ballot papers for the presidential election while 1,800 candidates are vying for seats in the 109 senatorial districts. The largest contingent, made up of 2,600 candidates, comes from those seeking office in the 360 federal constituencies. This number, the highest in the history of election in Nigeria, should pose logistics nightmare to the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.
But we take solace in the fact that the Commission, under the chairmanship of the unfazed and the usually unflappable Professor Mahmood Yakubu, has assured the nation of its preparedness for the task. Into this repeated assurance, it has thrown its professionalism, neutrality and a sense of fairness plus the grim determination to make the exercise free and fair at all costs.
But the cause of the aforementioned trepidation lies somewhere else. It lies in the potential for violence, especially on polling day and when the results are announced. To prevent violence, the president and candidate of the All Progressive Congress, President Muhammadu Buhari, the man carrying the greater burden for peace and security, has never allowed any opportunity to pass him by without sounding a note of warning to those who plan to instigate violence. He had let it be known even before the campaigns took off, that he would do all that was within his power to make the exercise peaceful. He promised that he would extend to the opposition the chance that he was not given when he vied in his previous attempts.
But his warnings have not done much to inspire the necessary confidence. Armed bandits, as if staging their own rallies, have continued to strike sporadically. In Zamfara State, they killed even the elder sister of Senator Kabir Mafara. In Kogi State, despite President Buhari’s warning, guns boomed sporadically and lives were lost because those who have access to AK 47 were deploying them recklessly to show the power of their respective candidates.
Only last Monday, Ogun State, to the discomfiture of a thoroughly embarrassed Governor Ibinkule Amosun, put up a show of shame when the APC presidential rally was disrupted by hooligans who threw stones and pebbles at the dignitaries who accompanied the president there. This prompted the president to issue the latest of his apparently impotent threat.
The presidency’s unfortunate endorsement of Nasir-el Rufai’s body bag threat to foreigners who may be perceived to be showing more than necessary interests in the country’s affairs does not help to inspire confidence that the president means much with his threats to those who instigate violence. A respected former minister and Governor of Kaduna State, an intellectual giant in content if not in size, was provoked into issuing death threats to foreign observer teams who are in the country to monitor the election at the invitation of the INEC.
All the parties to the general elections have pledged to ensure peace. It will be worth the while for them to rededicate themselves to that pledge. There must be peace to have election. And the election must be seen to be free and fair for peace to prevail. Nothing fuels crisis like official impunity and complicity of security officials during the election. The Electoral Act has made ample provision to check those who may attempt to subvert the will of the people. The problem has always been the lack of will to enforce the laws, to make good the presidential threats to serve as deterrents, to play the game by the rule in conformity with international best practices and above all, to avoid double standards.
It is in furtherance of government’s determination to maintain peace and provide security that police is deploying 300,000 operatives for the presidential election. They should be under stick instruction to take directives only from INEC during the election. To take directive from governors or other government officials is to expose themselves to allegations of manipulation and complicity.
All said, the most potent antidote to violence during and after the election, in my view, is the attitude and the body language of the contenders to power. Though politicians are not known for strict adherence to decent conduct and plain dealings, they must be persuaded even at this late hour to remember the role of God in human affairs. Be they Christians or Muslims, their holy books, if they find time to consult them, would remind them that they cannot on their own make themselves to be what they want to be.
The Holy Qur’an, for example, is explicit in Chapter 3; 26-27 where it states thus:
“Oh Allah, Lord of all dominion! You bestow dominion on whoever You please, and take away dominion from whoever You please, You exalt Whom you please and you abase whom You please. In Your hand is all good”
From this quotation, all true believers would know that it is only God that gives power and He is the only the one who can take power. Human beings, and politicians should not be an exception, must respect the will of God in the conduct of human affairs.
The Biblical equivalent of the above passage is clear in the story of the troubles and tribulations of Job. In Job Chapter One verse 21, Job at the height of his tribulations reinforced his faith in God. He says: “God gives and God takes.” His story is well known; it bears no further elucidation. For Job, as Shakespeare would say in Hamlet: “When sorrows come, they don’t come in single spies but in battalions” But Job did not slacken in his faith.
The two leading contestants, President Buhari and former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar have had their share of troubles and tribulations in their various trajectories to the pinnacle of power and glory. The two of them had risen from grass to grace, suffered humiliation on the path to eminence, but through the grace of God, they had weathered the bad patches of their lives. That they are alive to contest for the presidency today is not by their own power and their own making. It is all the work of God.
It devolves on them, therefore, to rein on their supporters and their followers to maintain peace and prove naysayers, local and international, wrong during and after the election. An Igala aphorism says something to the effect that when the war has reached the impregnable gate of the fortified castle, prayers may not be sufficient to ward off the intruders.
But I say, even at this late hour, we can still pray for Nigeria.