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OPINION: 2019 AND BURDEN OF CITIZENS – BY ALEX ENEMANNA

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ALEX ENEMANNA
ALEX ENEMANNA

Needless to re-emphasize that the atmosphere is fully charged and the environment sufficiently beclouded with the hoopla of the much talked-about, if not over-prepared 2019 election. The heightened political rallies and activities, the variegated campaign jingles that have rented the air, the verbal missiles among various political parties, the allegations and counter-allegations of planned rigging and of course the fatal crash out of the frail, including Madam Due Process from the race are all indicators to these.

Beyond these, election has become a very big festival in the annals of our history as a people. However, how much it has enhanced the living standard of the man in Kaura Mamoda, the woman in Onitsha Main Market or the boy in Ilesha in Osun state in terms of education, commerce, job creation, infrastructure and other enablers of decent living will be a discussion for another day.

With an estimated cost of N189.2 billion, the 2019 election is without any scintilla of doubt the most expensive election ever conducted in in Africa. It dangles a whopping increase of about N69 billion compared to the 2015 election budget which cost about N120 billion.

According to an investigation conducted by Daily Trust, Nigeria’s elections cost higher than the $600m the Electoral Commission of India (ECI) spent during the 2014 general elections in which 553.8m people voted out of 815m registered voters. It further said that the cost of conducting elections in Nigeria is also higher than those of bigger economies such as Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia.

Canada, for instance, spent $375m on electoral expenditure where 17.5m voted. The United Kingdom spent £113m during its 2010 parliamentary elections in which 45.6m voted. £28.6m was the cost of distributing candidates’ mailings, and £84.6m for the conduct of the poll. Nigeria with about 84 million registered voters in 2019 is spending more than half of what it cost to conduct all the elections between 1999 and 2015.

Comparatively, the investigation revealed that the proposed 2019 election budget is enough to fund the dualisation, reconstruction and rehabilitation of 62 key economic roads across the six geo-political zones of the country. Also, the election budget is about 44 times higher than what the 36 federal universities spent on capital projects in 2018.

Now if this does not startle you, I truly envy your thick skin. Our country is more visible in electoral matters than it is in any indices of development. This is very worrisome especially taking cognizance of the fact that we have for long maintained a leading position in all ratings of backwardness as a third world country that has comfortably remained so without any ray of hope that anything will get better soon. The rate of out of school children in Nigeria has steadily skyrocketed in a mind-boggling proportion. According to the Demographic Health Survey(DHS) conducted by the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) and the Nigerian government, the population of out of school children in Nigeria has risen from 10.5 million in 2015 to 13.2 million in 2018. This is aside the children who are trapped in various IDP camps across Nigeria whose education has been stalled as a result of the security challenge birthed by the Boko Haram insurgency in the North East. This, in the words of a forensic physiologist, Dr. Law Mefor is a cause for worry. Who would have believed that with the beautiful blueprints on health which we have been regaled with since Independence, we will still occupy a leading position as one of the countries with a disturbing high rate of infant mortality today?

The fear of all these have compounded the cynicism and scepticism of citizens in our electoral process. This is in addition to fears that their votes might not count after all. Only about 33.53 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot in the 2015 presidential election which is not by any parameter a pass mark. Again, that the 2019 election brandishes a total number of about 84 million registered voters should not be mistaken for a sign of confidence in the process. If you engage an average PVC holder out there in a discussion, you’ll discover that s/he defied all the artificial hurdles and long, weary, tortuous journey of of getting a PVC to have a means of identification since that’s a prerequisite for any form of banking transaction and other official documentations in Nigeria. The number of people that will eventually come out to participate in the election will prove this.

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The uninstallation of an incumbent government by an opposition in 2015 was a very big boost and eloquent testimony to the independence of our electoral umpire INEC. This has continued to attract accolades from far and wide, being the first time in our country. It was a visible indicator that our democracy was moving from nascent to teenage and eventually adulthood. However, with the own goals scored by INEC in the Ekiti and Osun governorship elections, it is manifestly clear that these gains have been put on the reverse gear. The testimonies of local and foreign observers all point to a wholesale irregularity, intimidation and harassment of voters by the police and other security agencies. The supplementary election staged by INEC after declaring the Osun governorship election inconclusive was a new low in the vicious rape against our democracy. The umpire based its judgment on the fact that the margin between the two leading candidates was lower than the registered cancelled votes but Kogi and some other states at various by-elections had similar case yet the same yardstick was never applied.

INEC must purge itself of any appearance of partisanship and never allow its independence infected by the razor-sharp desperation of the political class. If the neutrality of INEC is fractured, what shall citizens do? So many people expected INEC to permanently lay to rest all the arguments generated by the relationship between Commissioner Amina Zakari and the President by quickly rescinding her appointment as the chairperson of the Committee on National Collation Centre instead of interpreting to the whole world what the word “niece” means or what her job schedules are. Does INEC not have eminently qualified personnel to chair the National Collation Centre? Is INEC not providing arms to those who already have doubts on its neutrality? Is INEC not creating a fertile ground for losers to say “we talk am?” No matter how much INEC tries to absorb Amina Zakari of her human nature, the concern of the citizens is simple, give us a free and fair electoral process which must not only be, but seen to be.

The Police under Ibrahim Idris were anything but professional especially as it relates to their neutrality during elections. They jettisoned their core mandate of making the environment secured for our citizens to exercise their franchise and instead became not only brazenly partisan but cancerous to our democratic ethos. Little wonder his exit of shame was greeted with wide jubilation across board. An IGP who exhibited a high sense of lethargy and abscondment to his duties. He was at worst a demigod who sees himself above the man who appointed him.

Was he not the same IGP who flouted with utmost impunity the instruction by the president to stay in Benue and bring under control the carnage that befell the state in which scores of our citizens were prematurely despatched to their graves and thousands displaced? Was he not the same IGP who became notorious for dishonouring invitation of the Senate for countless times? Was he not the same IGP who barricaded the National Assembly and denied legislators access to their national duty? While this intervention is not meant to x-ray his catastrophic regime in the number one law enforcement agency in the land, it is pertinent to state that our dear nation would have paid a heavy price if Idris Ibrahim was to police 2019 election. His footprints of dishonour in Anambra, where he withdrew the security team of a sitting governor few days to election, Ekiti and Osun where he turned the force to an extension of the thuggery department of a certain political party are there for all to see. He has his page in our history book. The new IGP has a task ahead of him for which posterity will also judge him.

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The recent suspension of the CJN, Walter Onnoghen by President Muhammadu Buhari has further cast aspersions in the minds of our people on how free, fair and credible the process will be. At a moment when the confidence of the citizenry on the readiness of the federal government to conduct an acceptable polls continues to dwindle, illegal and unlawful suspension of the chief judicial officer of the Federation in a manner that undermines the constitution will only injure the psyche of the people on how much their votes will count. Irrespective of how delicious and sumptuous your meal may be, serving your guest in a dirty plate kills the beauty of such meal. Onnoghen as the head of an arm of government may after not be innocent, neither is he above the law. However, the constitution never foresaw a situation where an arm of government will stand up to unilaterally and illegally sack the other without strict adherence to the extant laws under any guise. This is just a step away from fascism. The President as a converted democrat may just be misfiring based on the quality of the advise he receives from his team. The question he must ask himself is, if he was to be an opposition member, would he not express the same reservations the opposition parties are expressing today?

Democracy comes with a high cost. Any action that tends to jeopardize it is a burden on our collective citizenry. Independence of the electoral umpire must be guarded with a vociferous jealousy. The President was able to dislodge the incumbent because the electoral umpire, the security agencies and judiciary exercised a high degree of neutrality without coercion, arm twisting or meddlesomeness from the then federal government. It will not only be a moral burden if the president does not strengthen INEC to reduce, if possible, eliminate electoral malpractices in Nigerian’s political life as he had promised but an aberration to his oath of office.

Election must not a ritual in every four year in our country but a step to enthroning good governance for the good of all Nigerians. The task of making our democracy work lies on our shoulders. We must not fail our founding fathers.

Enemanna is an Abuja based journalist.

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