March 28th Elections as a Narrative About Heroes – Jibrin Ibrahim

Jibrin Ibrahim

As I write these lines, no official election results have been announced and in our dear country, the story of our elections can be transformed just before announcement of outcomes. Whatever happens however, my take home is that the story of this election so far is a narrative about heroes. I have said repeatedly that my one phrase summary of Nigerian political reality is that; THE NIGERIAN PEOPLE LOVE AND STRUGGLE FOR DEMOCRACY AND THE RULING ELITE ARE SKILLED IN SUBVERTING DEMOCRACY. My greatest hero in this election are the communities attacked by insurgents to stop them from participating in the electoral places. Many were killed but a great majority stayed and voted risking their lives to operationalize Nigerian democracy. It’s a clear message to the insurgents that the people love democracy and even terrorists cannot deter them from engaging the process. In this regard, the voters in Gombe State that saw live terrorists killing their brethren but resolved to stay on and vote are champions of democracy.

The Nigerian voters in general are also heroes. They came out in their droves to vote. The voters endured severe difficulties during the elections as a result of several operational and logistical lapses by the Independent National Electoral Commission. Voting commenced late in many parts of the country. In many places voting continued late into the night and in some cases through to the morning. In these instances, voters remained calm, patient and orderly. They demonstrated a great sense of civic consciousness. I salute the Nigerian voter and say bravo.

The card reader, this simple machine that has the capacity to recognize and count real human voters is another hero. It caused a real panic among circles that are used to rigging elections. The panic was justified; the card reader is really an anti-rigging devise. A lot of noise was made about the alleged failure of the card reader. The reality is that they failed in only 315 out of the 120,000 polling booths in the country. I would not be surprised if those that failed were due to deliberate sabotage. The reality today is that the card reader would be a positive influence in guaranteeing the integrity of future elections.

INEC’s inability to resolve its logistics challenges is worrying. It is unacceptable that they were not able to deploy their officials and election materials on time to all the polling units to allow for timely commencement of polls. This delayed accreditation and voting led to continuation of polls till late into the night and in some places through to the next morning. On the whole, in spite of the late start, the accreditation, voting and counting at polling units went well. The challenges faced with the accreditation process were unfortunate, as INEC should go beyond the stage of recurring logistics problems. The challenges undermined the full benefit anticipated by the use of biometric technology and imposed unnecessary hardship on Nigerians.

Another concern as the Civil Society Situation Room observed is related to reports of interference in the electoral process in some states, especially Rivers and Imo States. There were also widespread reports of failure by security agencies to prevent havoc by non-state groups in some polling units. I hope that these developments do not translate into interfering with the collation of results; a move, which might destroy, expected benefits of a relatively free and fair election and compromise the country’s democratic future.

Another hero revealed by these elections is INEC and its leadership for seeking to defend and guarantee the principles of free, fair and credible elections. Yes there were challenges that emerged during the process but they had focused their energy over the last four years to develop mechanisms to block electoral fraud in the in our electoral system. The job is on going but they do deserve a pat on the back for their determination to improve the process.

Another hero of the elections was the social media. It provided an easily accessible and cheap medium for advocacy, campaigns and issue-based dialogue. The content aggregation system for elections CASE 2015 for example monitored over 800,000 comments on the elections on Election Day alone. It provided popular platforms for Nigerians to engage the process. At the same time however, it has an element of a villain. It provided media for the articulation of hate and dangerous speech. At this time when INEC is carrying out the delicate task of collation of results, we have noticed that it continues to provide a platform for unrestrained comments and spread of hate, which can trigger needless tension and anxiety across the country.

As we await the results of the elections, the positive message from the process so far is the determination of Nigerians to build their nation. When the elections were postponed for six-weeks following pressure on INEC by security agencies, Nigerians who were very suspicious of the motives for so doing showed a lot of restraint and decided to give the benefit of doubt to the authorities. The security agencies for their part made a huge effort to create credibility for their action by scoring significant victories against the insurgents. The patience and resilience of voters during the election process is a clear sign of their democratic commitments. Whoever wins these elections will not have an easy job. The losers will be bitter. The winners will find there are very few resources available for governance. Let’s all use the occasion of this election to encourage ourselves to work together to deepen our democracy and develop our economy.

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