If the relative success of the 2015 general election called for hope and confidence in the electoral system in the country, the elections conducted ever since have questioned that expectation. In particular, the recent governorship election in Ekiti State which witnessed brazen vote buying by political parties has confirmed the fears nutured by Nigerians that a truly free and fair election remains a mirage. Should the blatant abuse of the Electoral Act witnessed in the Ekiti election be repeated in Osun, then it would be difficult to save the citizenry from despair.
That the governorship election scheduled for Saturday offers another opportunity to gauge the level of progress that has been made in the country’s electoral system cannot be overemphasised. It will certainly serve as a preview of the 2019 elections in the country. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will be on the hot seat, giving an account of how prepared it is to deliver a credible election in 2019. So far, it has not done enough to persuade Nigerians that it is. Of course, the various security agencies, from the police to the military, will be joining INEC to share in the glare of public scrutiny. If the commission does not have the power to arrest election offenders, the security agencies do, and will be expected to offer their professional services without compromising their integrity. The country cannot accept anything less.
Apart from ensuring a smooth election, the security agencies are expected to prevent all forms of abuses and sharp practices like vote buying during the election. Already, 40,000 policemen have been deployed in the state as if it is a war zone and it would be a tragedy if electoral abuses took place in spite of the massive police presence. Besides, the presence of the military close to the polling units should be enough deterrent to those who might intend to disrupt the process and while it is heartening to note the endorsement of the top echelon of the military for this expectation, the point must still be reiterated that the officers and men have a bounden duty to discharge their duties professionally.
Indeed, the idea that elections in Nigeria and other democracies in Africa should reflect the desires of the electorate remains a dream because of several unacceptable practices that obstruct their free choices. But much as it is a tough job to entrench the democratic culture in Africa, it remains the only way to go in the continent. If the continent truly desires progress, it must get its acts together and foster the democratic ethos. Nigeria obviously has a lot to do in the direction of leading the campaign on the continent through exampleship.
The governorship election in Osun State must pass the test of peacefulness, credibility and fairness and anything less will not be acceptable. INEC has a responsibility to live up to its statutory mandate in conjunction with the security agencies. It is also heartening to note that religious leaders in the state have pledged to admonish their members to eschew vote selling and other forms of electoral malpractice. Vote buying is antithetical to democracy and good governance and must not recur in the Osun election, otherwise the country’s democracy will be imperiled.
There is no doubt that like all elections, the Osun governorship poll will be trailed by a lot of passion and sentiments, especially considering the pedigree of the various gladiators involved, some of whom are also arguably defending political empires. But INEC must step up its game and deliver a credible election nonetheless. The election will definitely be an opportunity for political observers, local and foreign, to measure INEC’s readiness for the 2019 general election. We urge the commission not to leave any stone unturned in ensuring a level playing field for all the contestants so that at the end of the day, Nigerians will be satisfied that a free and fair election has been delivered in the country.