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Echoes Of A New Beginning (1)
Published Mar 24, 2023 IN Opinion,
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LAST Saturday’s presi­dential election marks a new beginning for Ni­geria, if not literally, then clearly symbolically. Nigerian voters defied hunger, Naira crisis and appropriated that moment as a clear point of departure from the past. They embraced the election as if their lives depended on it. The general high level of en­thusiasm lifted voter turnout and reinforced confidence in democracy. Young people saw it as a chance to “get back their country”, plagued by bad leadership and underde­velopment. The fanfare and zest with which Nigerians trooped out in their numbers to perform a ritual that may not have rewarded them in the past but still managed to sustain their hope of a better future was electric. The presidential election revealed a divided, disillusioned, and disaffected Nigeria. Despite whatever will be the election’s outcome, most Nigerians believe the electoral process is a radical improvement on previous exercises, considering the size and complexity of the country. Previous polls have been anticlimactic both in process and outcome.

Nigerians hope that this election will usher in a genuine democratic leader that represents the choice and voice of the people. The elections were generally peaceful and orderly, save for pockets of skirmishes in flashpoint states where thugs disrupted the polls, carted away ballot boxes, or tactically disenfranchised voters.

Regrettably, bad habits of thuggery and violent disrup­tions of the process resurfaced. Blatant violent hooligan­ism in states like Kogi, Lagos and Rivers overwhelmed security arrangements.

According to media reports and from the account of observers, youths turned out in their numbers to vote. Voters’ turnout from observation ,in general, may be better than in the recent past, where voter apathy was prominent, and there was a continuous decline in the number of voters in each subsequent general election. Most persons who observed the polls I have spoken to are cautiously optimistic that it would be a relatively free and fair election, thanks to the recent amendment of electoral act which gave legal backing to Bimodal Voter Identification System (BVAS) and other technological de­vices. From snippets of results, old political fiefdoms seem to be crumbling . Nigerians have rejected politics of hate, violence, and intolerance. If this is the case, it will mark a watershed in the political history of Nigeria.

Discerning persons must have observed four different echoes and reverberations with the elections. The first echo is that INEC prepared better this time around when compared with previous elections. The level of the or­ganisation before and during the polls shows an improved INEC operation. INEC carried out voter sensitization, conducted mock exercises and reasonably assured the public of its best intentions. The use of technology was good, as voters can even find their polling units online. The identification method in polling units was remarkable, and we must commend INEC for even using the technology in remote parts of Nigeria. The BVAS technology generally worked ,with failure in few places. Overall, the quality of the election conducted has improved. This evidences that Nigerian institutions can work if we are ready to do the work required to improve them.

However, there is also an elixir of mixed feelings about INEC’s preparation for this election. INEC allowed many familiar slip ups in logistics. Backup batteries for BVAS de­vices were not available in most places. INEC staff turned up late in a number of places. Voting started late or did not even take place in isolated instances. But given the tripartite problem of cash scarcity, fuel scarcity and infrastructural deficiency, one can only imagine the enormous challenge of organising this election in almost one hundred and seventy seven thousand polling units nationwide. Given the recurring logistics challenges in our elections, INEC must develop better ways of solving these problems to improve Nigerians’ voting experience. It is unfair that voters turned out to vote and either did not see INEC officials or the officials came late.

This lead to some voters being disenfranchised completely or voting spills over to the following day. Besides, INEC officials could not upload the results from the polling units. This is a critical low point of the elections. Electoral fraudsters will probably “doctor” the results to their advantage— the same complaint all over the Federation.

The second echo is the high turnout of youth voters. Traditionally, Nigerian youths are dispassionate with politics and the electoral process. This was a shame, given that they comprise a more significant part of the population. In previous elections, voter apathy among youths was high, and most young people would rather be doing anything else than queue to vote in elections. Previous election post- mortem analyses often lambast youths’ lack of interest in the electoral process. The number of young people engaged in this election is remarkable and marks a departure from the old. The overwhelming youth turnout reinforced the future as the domain of youth.

This is significant in three ways: first, it may be a sign that the youths have suddenly realised that they have a part to play in selecting the country’s leaders. Youths’ engagement in social media has made them adept at sharing their political views and championing political ideas. The second is that this large turnout signifies re­bellion against orthodoxy. Young people are dissatisfied with the status quo and have decided to influence their future through political mobilisation and participation. Students of political sociology may need to chart the youth’s political consciousness through the various conflicts between the young people and the system (institutions, agencies, government), as seen in the ENDSARS revolt and other pro-youth agitations. These movements have crystallised in youth political advocacy.

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