IN its reaction to the 2023 poll, the European Union Election Observation Mission observed that while fundamental freedoms of assembly and movement were largely respected, the full enjoyment of the latter was impeded by insufficient planning, insecurity and the prevailing naira and fuel shortages. It stated that INEC lacked efficient planning and transparency during critical stages of the electoral process, while on election day, trust in it further reduced due to delayed polling processes. It added that the abuse of incumbency by various political office holders distorted the playing field and there were widespread allegations of vote buying.
On its part, the United States government said it was deeply troubled by the disturbing acts of violent voter intimidation and suppression that took place during those polls in Lagos, Kano, and other states. The United States government found “the use of ethnically charged rhetoric before, during, and after the gubernatorial election in Lagos particularly disturbing” and commended all Nigerian political actors, religious and community leaders, youths and citizens who have chosen to reject and speak out against such violence and inflammatory language, affirming Nigerians’ commitment to and respect for the democratic process. It called on the Nigerian authorities to hold accountable and bring to justice individuals found to have ordered or carried out efforts to intimidate voters and suppress voting during the election process.
The reactions of the European Union and the United States government are quite typical of local and international reaction to the 2023 polls. Partly because Nigeria is Africa’s largest democracy and partly because of its struggles to entrench democratic rule since the exit of the military from the political scene in 1999, the eyes of the international community were fixed on the 2023 polls and what the country would make of it. Back home, public expectations on the conduct of the elections were high, particularly as INEC had raised the hope of a shift from the ugly past where elections and the electoral process in general simply lacked integrity. INEC’s promise to raise the bar through the introduction of new technology as a game changer raised public confidence and trust. There was much hope in the air with a revamped Electoral Act meant to plug identified loopholes and ensure that the country had credible, free and fair elections. The fact was forgotten, however, that structures do not run themselves and that they function at the behest of the actions and antics of those who operate them. There was not much focus on the limits of tinkering with structures when where those in charge have not tinkered with their resolve to mess things up.
One of the issues tackled by the new Electoral Act was the tendency for politicians to jump from one political party to the other and from interest in one elective post to another, ceaselessly and indiscriminately creating confusion and bedlam. The new Act thus precludes contestants running on two different political platforms or running for two elective offices during a given election season. But this could not work in the absence of real commitment to democratic principles and ethos by the majority of Nigerian politicians and actors. Many politicians still ran under two or more political parties and for two or more offices and posts, aided and supported in some instances, quite regrettably, by the judiciary, even up to its highest level.
Alarmingly, the elections were characterised by subversion of due process in many places, violence, snatching of BVAS and ballot boxes and disruption of polling in areas perceived as the strongholds of opponents. Voter apathy was most pronounced: less than 30 percent of the registered voters participated in the polls. Reports by both local and foreign observers reflected volumes of electoral irregularities and malfeasance. Indeed, the international media was, and still is, abuzz with unfavourable reports due to the impunity and gross misconduct that skewed the elections from the global standards. While Nigerians look forward to the election petitions Tribunals for adjudication on the petitions filed by aggrieved candidates and parties, there must be sober reflections on deepening democracy rather than robbing eligible citizens of their rights and making an utter mess of the leadership recruitment process.
It is distressing that the 2023 general election meant to usher in new leaders at all levels, including at the presidency, has been concluded with Nigerians generally rueing yet another lost opportunity to show that the country had learnt anything positive about organising itself and its affairs well. It was really a show of shame by non-democrats pretending to practise democracy; most actors descended into unspeakable conduct, flouting the rules to impose themselves as winners in contests that could well pass for warfare rather than elections. Nigerians watched as politicians actively prepared and worked not to win the affection and support of voters, as it should be if they were interested in winning through actual majority support, but to circumvent the rules and get themselves imposed and declared as winners.
There was simply no commitment to democratic processes at all in what arguably came out as non-election, with the country deeply embarrassed by the damning reports of observers, particularly international ones. INEC and its leadership were most pathetic with the way they raised hopes with promises of transparent processes and conduct, only to dash them spectacularly with shambolic organisation and behaviour even by the topmost officers of the commission. Virtually nothing worked as promised and it would be not surprising if the country experiences the highest numbers of court cases in elections since the return to democracy in 1999 under these elections that point to stupendous failure. Nigerians would have to pick up the pieces after this massive disappointment and work out a more nuanced method for themselves going forward as they accept and deal with the glaring shortcomings of these elections.
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