“We, therefore, do not believe that a country should die because it held elections. On the contrary, elections should strengthen democracy, and reinforce national development. In view of that, we do not agree with any group or interest threatening fire and brimstone over the outcome of the elections. Nigeria belongs to us all, and is greater than all…When the results of free and fair elections are released, let the loser be gracious in defeat, and let the winner be magnanimous in victory. In such contest, there is bound to be a victor, just as there would be a loser. Hell should not boil over. We repeat; No country should die because it held elections. Fair play, please. And may these elections strengthen the bonds of our unity in diversity” – Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE)
I am a Fellow of the Nigerian Guild of Editors and honestly feel that the statement, this week, from our Standing Committee, was a most welcome summation of the minds of not just Editors, but a broad section of the Nigerian people and friends of our country, in other parts of the world. I watched President Obama’s broadcast to the Nigerian people on Monday; and it underlined the hopes for our country from the outside world and the apprehensions that the world feels about the potentials for violence and even at the extreme, the unraveling of Nigeria, as a consequence of the outcome of our General Elections.
When President Obama, said he heard that there was a saying in our country, that “To keep Nigeria one, is a task that must be done”, he not only tapped into the troubled history of our country, which necessitated that remarkable slogan, but it was also a powerful reminder, especially to the nation’s political elite, that the world cannot afford the unraveling of our country. Nigeria is far too important than many of its often, fractious elite groups even seem to understand.
That is why in moments of contestations of power and privileges, it is often the past time of some of them to even question the continued unity of the country. On the other hand, there are absurd romanticisms of war and secession in other circles. All these forces have come to a head in the weeks leading to the elections that we expect to kick-start on Saturday.
There is no gainsaying the fact that we have seen the most bruising election campaigns in recent memory. The hate speeches; the names calling, threats and actual acts of violence and the killing of dozens of our compatriots around the country, underscore the very high stakes involved in these elections. Never since 1999, have we seen the sharp division which characterizes our country today, just as a huge swathe of our population have been drawn into the political process, in many ways, from spirited discussions in homes and places of work and on various internet forums.
No matter from which angle we look at the developments of the next coming days, Nigeria is poised dangerously on the edge of a future that is pregnant with a frightening possibility and a welcome departure, both! What eventually triumphs between the doomsday scenario and the liberating possibilities of a deepening of democracy, largely depends on the choices made by the Nigerian ruling class.
This is one election that I think people made up their minds about very quickly and early, in terms of who they would vote for. I think it was that realization which deepened the bruising campaign and it is the frightening possibilities that some ominous tailwind will scupper the fragile democratic construct that in turn has led to the worries which Nigeria’s friends abroad and Nigerians themselves have been expressing.
Late on Tuesday night, I received a telephone call from Professor Abdoulaye Bathily, former President of the Senegalese National Assembly, who is now UN Representative in Central Africa. I have not heard from Bathily in four years, since 2011. But he had called, according to him, to ask what the situation in the country was, on the verge of the elections. From abroad, the perspectives have been dominated by worries about what might happen, if we fail to satisfactorily manage the lead to the elections; the electoral process and the post-election outcomes.
Do or die elections
Elections have always been a major source of worry all through Nigerian history, especially since Independence, in 1960. Our political elite employs the “Do or Die” attitude thus hardly ever leaving room for resolution which places at the heart of development the overall interest of the country; this is exacerbated by the winner-takes-all nature of Nigerian politics. It leaves the loser completely out of the loop.
The result of this attitude litters our history and the underdevelopment of our political and democratic culture is directly related to this malaise. The violence which trailed the 2011 elections, resulted in the death of people in several parts of Nigeria and the displacement of communities; the reverberations are still very much with us in places like Southern Kaduna, where a sustained peace building effort seemed to have eluded the government and the governed.
The stakes are higher this year than previously, because there are underlining and very complex problems which condition these elections. None has tasked Nigeria as much as the Boko Haram insurgency and the response of the government and the opposition. This context has also fed into the manner that groups like MASSOB, OPC and ex-Niger Delta militants have been mobilized as part of the campaign strategy of the ruling party and President Jonathan.
The possibilities of mayhem from these quarters are real indeed especially because these groups have received huge sums of money and now have an interest in the continuation of the government and president that gave them access to fabulous enrichment. That explained why many of these groups and individuals associated with them threaten Nigeria, if their preferred candidate is not “allowed” to complete a second term.
In the long run, it is unlikely, that Nigerians will accept to vote with a gun to the head from these groups; and by late Sunday night, we should hope that INEC would be able to announce the result of a Presidential election that will tell us whether Nigerians settled for the continuity that President Goodluck Jonathan pitched for or the change that General MuhammaduBuhari promised. I made up my mind who I would vote for, as long ago as 2003 and I am certain that other Nigerians have made up their minds too.
One candidate will lose out and a candidate must win. If INEC delivers on its promise to make these the best elections ever, we must then rally round as citizens, to ensure that it is Nigeria that wins in the long run. We will use our votes on Saturday, to make a definitive choice. When we have made such a choice, we should then be willing to face the consequences. A democratic electoral process will deliver one way or other; what we should not accept is to see democracy becoming the death of our country. I want to be optimistic by saying that these elections won’t lead to the killing of our country!