Ekiti 2022: INEC, police should ensure hitch-free poll

election

NIGERIA’S unsteady democracy will face another crucial test on Saturday when the people of Ekiti State in the South-West vote to elect a new governor among the 16 candidates vying for the office. The new helmsman will be chosen for the 3.27 million people of the state by the 734,746 residents who had obtained the Permanent Voter Cards in the 177 polling units across its 16 local government areas. The Independent National Electoral Commission, the state government, security agencies and the political parties must ensure that this election is seamless, credible, and violence-free.

INEC has no excuse to fail. The electoral umpire chaired by Mahmood Yakubu had enough time to prepare for the off-season election. Four years is enough time for INEC to have perfected the process and eliminated the glitches that featured in the 2018 Ekiti governorship election and subsequent ones. Between 2018 and now, it has conducted 34 other governorship elections, including the off-season governorship elections in Edo (September 2020), Ondo (October 2020) and Anambra (November 2021).

Moreover, within the same period, INEC had experimented with the Smart Card Reader technology before the upgrade to the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System. At a period when Nigeria is celebrating 23 of unbroken but wobbly democracy, INEC should have by now acquired mastery in the conduct of elections. Ekiti should therefore be a test case for how a credible election should be both for the general elections and for off-season elections. INEC must not disappoint.

Unlike the 2019 election cycle when INEC had its hands full conducting multiple elections simultaneously to fill seats in the Senate, House of Representatives, state Houses of Assembly, among others, the electoral body is only faced with the governorship election in Ekiti on June 18. With its narrower focus, INEC can beam its full concentration and energy for a successful poll.

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The process of deployment of personnel, distribution of sensitive materials, collation of votes and announcement of results should be flawless.

Ekiti enjoys ‘relative peace.’ Though insecurity in the state is concerning, with political violence, Fulani herdsmen attacks and armed robbery, unlike in the South-East and the Northern states where terrorists are on the rampage, it is not enough to keep voters away.

In Anambra State, where less than 10 per cent of the 2,466,638 registered voters exercised their franchise during the last governorship election; the electorate in Ekiti should chart a different path. The 734,746 persons with PVCs should troop out to vote. Voting is both a right and a civic duty in a democracy. When voters do not turn up, they leave the stage to desperate politicians and thugs to decide their fate for the next four years.

Ekiti people should vote according to their conscience and shun bribes. Reputed to be principled people, and they should not sell their votes. Rather, they should set an example and not be induced by money under the degrading “stomach infrastructure” tag that has defaced democracy in Nigeria.

Every measure should be put in place to prevent and punish electoral fraud. For too long, desperate politicians have befouled and perverted the electoral system. They should be denied room to deploy their dirty tricks in Ekiti. The contestants should stick to the rules of the game. Those who break the law should be arrested and prosecuted.

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In a democracy, power lies in the hands of the people through the ballot box. USAID argues, “A country cannot be truly democratic until its citizens have the opportunity to choose their representatives through elections that are free and fair.” Elections, adds the Open Election Data Initiative, “are the basis for democratic legitimacy” and the ultimate means to hold their leaders accountable. When elections are not free or fair, democracy loses its potency and ability to deliver sustainable development.

Already, tension is high in the state. There have been violent clashes, arming of political thugs and some deaths. One party member in Itaji-Ekiti in the Oye LGA of the state was killed on June 11 during a bloody fight between supporters of two candidates.

Security agents must be professional. Attention falls primarily on the Nigeria Police. It is not enough to ostentatiously deploy thousands of police for an election and still fail to ensure hitch-free voting, prevent violence, ballot box snatching and attacks on electoral officials. The 17,374 police officers led by a deputy inspector-general of police the Force HQ has deployed there for the election should make a difference. So should the 9,747 personnel of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps that its commandant said had been similarly deployed.

The rules of engagement should emphasise zero tolerance for electoral violence and malpractices. Security agents should be firm and disciplined and avoid being used by corrupt politicians to suppress the people’s will. Ballot snatching, disruption of voting or results collation should be prevented; where such attempts are made, they must be put down with the maximum force allowed by the law.

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There should be a departure from the familiar militarisation of elections. Save for helping to protect strategic public assets, the military has no role in the voting process. Apart from the states hit by insurgency, military presence should be minimal and strategic. The task of maintaining law and order falls on the police.

Politicians should stop inducement and vote-buying. Youths recruited as political thugs should have a rethink and ask probing questions such as why politicians send their own children to safe havens while they pay youths a pittance to cause havoc during elections.

INEC must ensure that the BVAS works seamlessly, and the results transmitted in real time to a central portal. There should be a clean election in Ekiti and the outgoing administration of Governor Kayode Fayemi should rise above partisanship. The election should be violence-free, and the people allowed to freely elect their representatives.

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