2023 election: Let us remain focused


As I write this piece, we have fifteen(15) days to the conduct of the crucially important 2023 General Elections. Based on this, one can then assert that the elections are upon us. 
Our arrival at the cusp of these elections is underscored by the fact that out of the fourteen(14) major milestones/thresholds enunciated in the Timetable And Schedule of Activities for the said elections, issued on 26th February 2022, by the Independent National Electoral Commission(INEC), we have thus far crossed twelve(12). 

The thresholds which are yet to be crossed or arrived at are: the cessation of campaigns by political parties and their candidates on 23rd February 2023, two days or forty eight hours to the elections; and the actual conduct of the first set of the elections, namely: the Presidential and National Assembly elections on Saturday, 25th February 2023.

On its part, the Election Management Body(EMB), the Independent National Electoral Commission(INEC), has scrupulously implemented this Timetable, its Strategic Plan and Election Project Plan. And in concert with the assiduous implementation of these plans, it has carried out these salient activities: 1) It has procured election materials – sensitive and non-sensitive for the elections and distributed them to its numerous holdings. In the first week of December 2022, it received the last batch of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System(BVAS) device.

2) It began, in earnest, since last year, to carry out a plethora of trainings for its staff and security agencies. These trainings which involve its Operations, ICT and Electoral Officers(E.O.s), will culminate in the training of ad hoc staff such as Supervisory Presiding Officers, Presiding Officers, Assistant Presiding Officers, Collation and Returning Officers and RegIstration Area Technical Support Staff(RATECHS).

On Thursday 1st December 2022, the Commission approved Cascade Training for all categories of Election Officials as follows: Supervisory Presiding Officers, February 11th-12th, 2023; Presiding Officers/Assistant Presiding Officers, 14th-16th February 2023; and Collation Officers/Returning Officers, 21st – 22nd February 2023.
3)It has accredited Observers and Journalists(domestic and foreign) who would observe and report on the conduct of these elections. These Observers and Journalists will be briefed by the Commission shortly before the conduct of these elections.

In fact, long term observation teams have since gone to work and some have filed their pre-election reports.
4)The Commission has updated and expanded its framework for voting by Internally Displaced Persons(IDPs) with a view to ensuring that no one is disenfranchised, particularly in the communities buffeted by insurgency and banditry. 
5)The Commission, in conjunction with Civil Society Organizations and Development Partners, has upscaled voter education, publicity and conversations around the elections and the processes. The Commission has also escalated and increased the frequency of its engagements with stakeholders and at the highest levels. To stave the onslaught of vote buying and selling, INEC has engaged severally and strategized with the anti-corruption agencies, the Department of State Security and the Police.

7)Arising from the recent shortages of petroleum products and the new, re-designed currencies, INEC has engaged with the managements of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation(NNPC) and the Central Bank of Nigeria(CBN). On an almost daily basis, it engages with the leadership of the Nigeria Union of Road Transport Workers(NURTW), with which it has a Memorandum of Understanding(MoU), to transport its staff – permanent and ad hoc – before and on Election Day.
8)Even though the Commission has been engaging with the security agencies under the auspices of the Interagency Consultative Committee on Election Security(ICCES), it visited the National Security Adviser, Major General Mohammed Babagana Monguno(rtd), (who co-chairs ICCES with the INEC Chairman) to secure his final and muscular buy-in and support for the elections.9) Last month, the Commission set up a Situation Room and a Collation Centre at the International Conference Centre(ICC), Abuja.

From this expansive Centre, INEC shall receive reports in the field and respond to them real time as the elections unfold. It shall also return the winner of the presidential election by Nigeria’s  Chief Electoral Commissioner, Professor Mahmood Yakubu.10)On Saturday, 4th February 2023, INEC carried out a mock accreditation exercise using the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System(BVAS) device. It also carried out a simulation of Election Day voting in 436 designated across all the 109 Senatorial Zones of the country. Reminiscent of the mock exercise of the Smart Card Reader(SCR) of 2014, the demonstration, which was aimed at showcasing the functionality of the BVAS device, was well received.

From the foregoing, it can be gleaned, crystal clearly, that INEC has manifestly demonstrated fidelity to its statutory mandate, its articles of faith and its determination to conduct some of the best elections in our annals. But elections, as we have always explained, are a multi-stakeholder enterprise. A legion of stakeholders are involved in elections. And any error, inadvertent or deliberate, on the part of any of its stakeholders, can up-end or scupper INEC’s well laid plans. This is why other stakeholders must be forthcoming and join INEC in playing positive roles and adding value to the electoral process.
In respect of stakeholders working in concert with INEC to deliver superlative elections in the next two weeks, we expect the security agencies, whose remit it is to secure the environment for the conduct of the elections, to do so with utmost professionalism, patriotism and commitment. Apart from securing the men and materials for the elections and the Polling Units(PUs) and Collation Centres, the security agencies must continue to secure the entire country such that Nigerians, especially those domiciled in areas prone to terrorism and banditry, will feel confident enough to come out in their numbers to exercise their franchise. There should be no let or respite on the war on terror and its wicked perpetrators. 
The political parties and their candidates must eschew comments that inflame passions or push the country to the brink of violence.

The campaigns have unfortunately been bereft of civility and decency. Only a few candidates have so far dwelt on the issues in a campaign characterized by mud slinging, name calling and occasional clowning. If anything, their intemperate dispositions speak eloquently to the squalid character and pedigree of some of the contestants. They also underline the trite and well worn saying that one cannot give what he does not possess. In spite of these grave failings, and as the campaigns reach their apogee in the next thirteen days, Nigerians must discountenance and dismiss the rabid canvassers of division along primordial lines. They must disclaim  the proponents of the postponement of the elections or those who contrive such illicit contraptions as an Interim National Government(ING). We should also shun, like we do the leper, those tenuously latching onto the on going fuel and new currency scarcity to argue for a shift of the elections.

Thankfully, the scarcity of fuel and the new, redesigned currency affects us all – and in equal measure. So in a sense, there is an equality of lack. This resonates with one of INEC’s core principles, namely, of always providing a level playing field for all contestants.Beside the scarcity of fuel and new currency serving as levelers, voters, on Election Day cast their votes at Polling Units where they reside. They will only need to walk to the PUs in their precincts or neighborhoods. Lack of fuel or new currency are thus not serious impediments or disincentives. Additionally, and most important, INEC has assured us, after its engagements with the NNPC and CBN, that its operations will not be encumbered by either the shortage of fuel or the scarcity of the new currency.

Above all, President Muhammadu Buhari who has solemnly vowed, at local and international fora, to bequeath a legacy of credible elections,must live up to his pledges and show leadership by staying the course: He should insist that the elections must hold as scheduled. He must not pander to the whims of some charlatans who are hell bent on getting the elections postponed to meet their selfish and hair-brained agenda(s).

The President should appreciate that each time we postpone elections, we increase the costs for the country, the EMB and all stakeholders in the process. We violate our laws which undergird the elections. We create uncertainty about our electoral calendar. And we tell the world that we are inept and incapable of executing any serious project.
All stakeholders must remain focused and vigilant. We must stay the course, with our eyes firmly fixed on the ball. And we must conduct elections (as scheduled) that meet the aspirations of Nigerians and members of the international community for fair, credible and  excellent elections.