A vital function of the executive arm of government is to ensure that national policies are properly implemented. It is on this backdrop that President Muhammadu Buhari has continued to “assure” fellow Nigerians that the Independent National Election Commission (INEC) under his regime would conduct free and fair elections in 2023. Unfortunately, there are clear indications that Buhari is already failing to live up to his promise. The requirement for a free and fair election does not end with mere declaration of the candidate with highest number of votes as a winner.
The processes leading to (and within) such elections are even foremost. Yet, President Buhari has been sitting idly by while there are widespread voter intimidation and massive schemes for vote buying around the country all in favour of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). An alarming example is the gross partiality in the procurement of the Permanent Voters Card (PVC). The PVC, of course, is as important to the conduct of the Nigerian election as air is to the human.
Yet, the ease by which the voters can obtain the PVC depends in large part on the party of choice in the different parts of the country. The most glaring is the case of Nigeria’s largest vote base of Lagos State, where the ruling APC holds sway. Citizens believed to be sympathetic to opposing parties in the state are being frustrated and intimidated in the ongoing PVC collection exercise.
The culprits are alleged to be no other than state officials, as well as agents of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The pattern above mirrors the case in June 2022 during the registration phase, where armed thugs were dispatched to disrupt the traders of Alaba International Market, Ojo, Lagos State, who had gone the extra mile to shut their shops in order to obtain their PVCs. There can be no better witness of the history of voter intimidation in Lagos than a chieftain of Buhari’s party.
In a recent speech, the current APC governor of Kaduna State, Nasir el- Rufai, lamented that party chieftain has continued to lord himself over the good people of the state because of voter suppression. This, he explained, is why there “in Lagos, you have over six million registered voters, only about a million voted (in 2019 general elections); five million did not vote.” Mallam el-Rufai remains right on the money. Like the attack on the traders at Alaba Market in 2022, armed thugs were also used to unleash terror on the voters in many parts of Lagos State which are believed to be stronghold of opposing parties during the 2019 elections conducted under the same Buhari regime.
These cases of brute voter intimidation by the ruling party under President Buhari are consistent with an alarm raised by the eminent political economist and a founding father of the APC, Prof. Pat Utomi. Mr. Utomi, who has since decamped to the Labour Party, revealed that opposing parties are not being allowed to put up their campaign posters, let alone renting campaign offices in the state of Lagos during the 2023 electoral cycle. In his own words, “the landlord will say he doesn’t want APC people to come and burn down his house. You put up posters, they are torn within minutes… What kind of democracy is this?”, he queried. Besides voter intimidation, there are other schemes employed by the politicians to rig the 2023 elections. The issue of illegal campaign money is of the worst category.
The Electoral Law stipulates that a presidential candidate must not spend more than five billion naira. It also prohibits bribery. Interestingly, the INEC under President Buhari does not make any attempt whatsoever to implement the law, since it does not appear to favour the ruling party. It can be said that most of the presidential candidates are guilty when it comes to campaign finance, which is sadly true, but ruling party is clearly ahead of others.
So, where is President Buhari on his promise to deliver free and fair elections? Where is his INEC? Where is Buhari while notable members of his party as well those from the opposition agree that his candidate is flouting the electoral laws with impunity? The answer to the above questions is simple: The year 2023 is neither 2015 nor 2019.
The event of the #EndSARS in 2020 has demonstrated that the Nigerian youths have become wiser. It is also worthy of note that nothing has united them more than the 2023 presidential election. Unlike the various failed promises in the last seven years of the Buhari era, the masses view the elections as make or mar. The only acceptable outcome, of course, is a truly free and fair exercise. The only saving grace is for President Buhari to walk the talk and create a level playing ground so that the popular choice can emerge.
Ogbonnia, an All Progressives presidential aspirant in 2019, writes from the United States