THE immediate past chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Attahiru Jega, recently admonished the Nigerian establishment on the need to deepen the democratic experience in order to avert the predicted disintegration of the country. Professor Jega spoke at the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the democratic experience in Nigeria’s Fourth Republic in Abuja, where he delivered a keynote address. It will be recalled that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), in a report, had once predicted that the entity called Nigeria could cease to exist in 2015, a prediction that was, according to the former INEC chairman, only staved off by the prompt concession of defeat by former President Goodluck Jonathan despite the public stand-off with the then INEC chairman precipitated by the then Minister of Niger Delta, Goodsday Orubebe, while the results of the 2015 presidential election were still being announced.
Professor Jega said that the prediction could still be fulfilled if conscious steps were not taken by the political establishment to avert it. He also noted that rigging and vote buying could lead to the fulfilment of the prediction. Incidentally, the 2019 elections weren’t as sane as the 2015 version as they were fraught with so many infractions. In another incident, electoral observers noted that during the Osun State governorship election rerun, voters were harassed and intimidated by some political goons in concert with the security agencies. It is instructive that President Muhammadu Buhari once admitted that he admired his predecessor’s sense of humility in accepting to step down after his defeat in 2015, suggesting rather darkly to many observers that had the shoes been on the other foot, the narrative would have been quite different.
The 2019 elections witnessed a lot of vote buying and selling of votes. Up to now, there are visible fault lines across the country’s political landscape that could provide opportunities for mischief makers to truncate the fledgling democracy. It is crucial to heed the warning of the erstwhile INEC chairman on this matter because, arguably, his tenure improved the quality of the country’s democracy and it was the first time that a smooth transition was made from one party, the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the opposition party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). That process of smooth transition needs to be institutionalised for the sake of continuity in the country, and to allay the fears and apprehensions of political actors and the citizenry. It will also reduce the ugly incidence of voter apathy and hence poor voter turnout. It is crucial to ponder on Professor Attahiru Jega’s warning in order to prevent chaos in subsequent elections.
For example, the impending governorship elections in Bayelsa and Kogi states will reveal the integrity of the electoral process and the readiness of INEC to deliver free and fair elections. Any detraction from the international best practices will only worsen the chances of the evolution of the ideal Nigerian nation. We are persuaded that the former INEC chairman was only being frank and honest in his assessment of the Nigerian situation and he indubitably hit the bull’s eye in his observation about the fragility of the country. It will obviously tilt towards inevitable dissolution if the right steps are not taken.