As we go the polls By Wale Sokunbi


At last, the die is cast. The long-awaited 2015 presidential election that has elicited so much trepidation across the country is here. Next Saturday, March 28, we all go to the polls and all Nigerians must be waiting to heave a sigh of relief when we put the election behind us.

There is no debating the fact that this election will go down in history as the most controversial and most hotly contested poll in the country’s recent history. It is one contest in which the two leading political parties, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) have put in their all. Both parties are expecting victory because virtually everything at their disposal – huge funds, mudslinging and all the trickeries in the book – have been put into the mix. Victory at the polls is the sweet elixir that the two parties and their presidential candidates are expecting anytime from Sunday, March 29, and the prospect of defeat is just too horrible to contemplate.

Nevertheless, the election must be won and lost and the process by which this is actualised is just as important to our democracy as the outcome. This is why Nigerians must resolve today, to play the coming election by the rules and not allow unscrupulous persons to derail the ship of our democracy.

With just two days left to D-day, the time has come for the contestants and their political parties to say goodbye to the underhand tactics that have marred the run-up the polls. It is time for them to embrace maturity and perfect their strategies for peaceful and trouble-free elections, and not schemes that could torpedo the process. They need to realise that they will either win or lose the election. It is a “lose or win” scenario, and not a “win and win” one. They must not only understand this, they must make sure that the understanding percolates down to their members.

Let us hope that the elections will be peaceful. Let politicians and their political parties be at their best behavior during the elections and allow the will of the people to prevail.

But then, a lot depends on the electoral agency, the independent national Electoral Commission (INEC) if Nigerians are to smile at the end of the 2015 elections. The agency needs to get its acts together and ensure a seamless exercise. Let there be no logistical nightmares that can undermine all the plans for the success of the elections. By now, the agency officials ought to have mastered the terrain of the various places that they will be deployed. So, there should be no room for excuses.

The INEC must ensure that the personnel are above board and properly trained for the duties that have been assigned to them. It must leave no room for error because this election is quite unlike any that we have had in the country’s recent history.

INEC boss, Prof. Attahiru Jega, must also bear in mind that if certian politicians had their way, he would not be at the helm of the agency to conduct the elections as the simulated campaign to get him remove from office in the past two weeks or so have shown. So, he and the agency he heads must put their best foot forward and remain above board. All electoral materials must be deployed as is due and there must be checks and balances on the electoral staff themselves to ensure that they do not compromise the process in any way.

And then, the issue of card readers. This is one tool that some politicians have battled tooth and nail to ensure that they are not used for the elections. INEC should ensure that the shortcomings that marred the mock tests of the machines all over the country are not repeated. Let them be properly checked and charged. Arrangements must also be made to check the antics of politicians who might want to disrupt the elections over the use of card readers.

The police and other security agencies also need to properly play their role of maintaining security and keep out of the electoral process as much as it is possible. As things stand, they actually have no role at the polling booths unless they are invited by the appropriate electoral officials to intervene. They should stay clear of the booths and deploy minimum force if they have to intervene in any situation at the elections. Elections are not in any way a “show” for the police or the military. They are a celebration of democracy and the security officials should only be seen, but not heard, unless there is a breakdown of law and order at any stage of the voting process.

For ordinary Nigerians, next Saturday is a test of our resolve to do the right thing and sustain our democracy. We can either decide to abide by the rule of law or scuttle the democratic process that we have been nurturing for the past 16 years. Let us realise that politicians come and go. They make all the money they can, throw the gullible among the electorate a few crumbs and leave the country worse off.

It is high time discerning Nigerians “shined” their eyes and looked beyond the immediate gains of supporting candidates based on ethnic, religious and other affinities. You may make a few naira if you are lucky that “your person” that you supported wins the election, but be sure that you are selling your right and your future and that of your children and generations yet unborn for a mess of pottage. It will not pay you on the long run.

Although things are so difficult that Nigerians can hardly live on principles because of the need to keep body and soul together, I think we should strive to reach a state in which we no longer think of what we personally stand to gain by supporting certain candidates, but what will be in the best interest of the country.

We should ask what we can do in this election to help the country move forward, and not what we stand to gain by the candidature of any contestant.

A word for all. The campaigns for these elections were, indeed, do-or-die. Let Saturday’s election not follow that pattern. Let us for once reach into the crevices of our hearts and draw from their hardened arteries the remaining drops of love for our dear beleaguered country.

I wish Nigerians happy presidential elections and sincerely hope that a review of the process that I will hopefully do on this page next week will hold out much to cheer for our people.