2019 Elections in Nigeria: Why the Signing of the Peace Accord Is Not Enough
Barely less than two months to the much awaited 2019 general elections in Nigeria, there seems to be immense lacunae in the build up to the polls, thereby casting doubt on the preparedness of the election management body and security agencies to conduct and promote a violence free, fair and credible election come February 2019. With about two hundred million people, Nigeria is unarguably, the largest democratic state in Africa and the stability of the country is of paramount significance to regional, continental and even international peace and security. Due to the large population coupled with enormous land mass and multi-ethnic diversity, conducting elections in Nigeria have always been a herculean task. Since the return to civil rule in May 1999, after close to three decades of military interregnum, previous elections have been marred by irregularities such as snatching of ballot boxes and papers, intimidation of political opponents and voters, violent attacks of electoral officials, post-election violence and more recently vote buying.
The 2019 general elections in Nigeria will certainly mark a watershed in the annals of Nigeria’s chequered electoral history. First, the 2019 election stands out as one of the most expensive election ever to be conducted in Nigeria particularly since the return to civil rule in 1999. The electoral body has earlier disclosed that a whopping sum of N189 billion Naira will be required to conduct the election. This figure is 58 per cent (68 billion Naira) higher than the cost of 2015 election. Furthermore, the electoral umpire also revealed that over 100 political parties will feature on the ballot papers during the 2019 polls which are expected to hold in 119,999 polling units across the country.
Available statistics from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) show that out of a 130 million voting population, only 84,271,832 people have been registered by INEC. Unfortunately, out of this number of registered voters, over 7 million registered voters are yet to collect their Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) from INEC offices nation-wide.
While the state through the various security agencies have remained consistently committed to providing necessary machinery to guarantee hitch free elections, many believe, correctly too, that entrenching and advancing the course of peaceful elections in Nigeria cannot be left in the hands of the state alone. As a result, civil society actors are deemed as viable partners in electoral management. But what exactly should civil society organizations do in Nigeria to guarantee violent free and fair credible elections come 2019? How can the civil society partner with both the electoral management body and security agencies to ensure peaceful election in Nigeria?
Civil society organizations, both local and international, have enormous roles to play in ensuring that the 2019 general election in Nigeria is peaceful. This piece is an attempt to elucidate on what the civil society can do to ensure a peaceful poll.
What role can civil society play in the 2019 Elections?
First, civil society organizations (CSOs) have the onerous task of ensuring adequate voter education for Nigerians particularly those in rural areas. Such voter education will enable Nigerians make informed and purposeful choices through their votes on the day of election. Currently, there are several millions of uncollected Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs) in different offices of the electoral umpire-the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). CSOs must intensify efforts at political education to sensitize and enlighten Nigerian electorates on the need to perform their civic duties. Message driven persuasive jingles should be funded by CSOs and aired on Radio, Television and newspaper outlets to convey direct messages on the significance of voting on the day of election and respecting the outcome of election results. Besides, considering the high spate of illiteracy in Nigeria, such jingles should be produced in all the major indigenous languages in Nigeria.
In addition, civil society organizations should help commission empirical based studies to ascertain the level of threats to electoral security across all the geo-political zones and states of the country. Some work is currently being done by the West African Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP) and its local Nigerian partners on identifying early warning signs of violence, it might be good to organize a nationwide dialogue for the security agencies, media and government to brief citizens on actions they are implementing to ensure peaceful and fair election.
This process will go a long way in helping the various security agencies involved in the conduct of elections to prepare adequately and equally help the electoral umpire to make contingency plans as regards violent clashes. With the increasing cases of hate speech and fake news, civil society organizations have critical role to play in enlightening the political aspirants, their supporters and electorates on the dangers of hate speeches to the electoral processes. They should carry out civil litigations against publishers of fake news which are capable of undermining the credibility of the 2019 elections. This role can be done in collaboration with media houses. They should be sensitized to prevent the generation and circulation of hate speech and fake news.
More importantly, civil society actors in Nigeria need to advance the centrality of violence free election and general peace in Nigeria. They should ensure that all the aspirants across political parties sign a memorandum of understanding on Peace. In this case, a replica of the 2015 Peace Accord signed between former President Goodluck Jonathan and President Muhammadu Buhari is imperative in dousing election-related tensions that might threaten the outcome of the 2019 general elections.
CSOs also should to intensify efforts in training and retraining of security agents on the best ethical approaches to policing elections. The security agencies like the Police, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), Immigration, Department of state security (DSS) and other allied agencies who will feature prominently during the elections must be properly trained and imbued with new skills in detecting and handling cases of electoral malpractices and violence. CSOs should also facilitate the establishment of appropriate reporting mechanism and measures for the prosecution of security officers who undermine integrity of election in all the polling units.
With the rising spate of Boko haram terrorism in the North East, rural banditry in Zamfara, Separatist agitations in the South-East and farmers-herders conflict in the Benue Valley region, CSOs should collaborate with government agencies to provide better advice and mechanisms that will ensure that the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in different parts of Nigeria are well resettled and allowed to perform their civic duties on the day of elections. The current unsavoury situation in Benue State where close to half a million people, mostly of voting age are in IDP camps must be addressed. CSOs should birth new ideas and strategies on how to ensure that those in IDPs are provided with the opportunities to exercise their franchise.
In addition, the media has a strategic role to place in the forthcoming general elections. As the fourth estate of the realm, they should ensure that they provide unfettered, non-partisan or sensational reportage of issues which are capable of causing chaos in the country. The media must strive to set issue-based agenda, hold politicians to account through their watchdog role and enlighten the citizens on why they should vote. The low turn-out of voters and staggering proportions of void or invalid votes in some states in the 2015 election must be reversed through effective reportage and sensitization of the electorates using both traditional and new media platforms.
In conclusion, it is instructive to note that CSOs as critical actors in the advancement of democratic consolidation in Nigeria have strategic role to play in the conduct of peaceful, free, fair and credible general elections come February 2019. Both INEC and government should tap into the enormous potentials in the civil society sector to deepen and transform Nigeria’s electoral system.
Regina, Akosua Baiden, a civil society advocate and development practitioner, writes from Accra, Ghana.
Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author(s) and do not neccessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."
Reproduction is authorised provided the author's permission is granted.