Those who will determine outcome of 2023 elections
The election year is finally here. It is the year most Nigerians have been looking forward to. The New Year comes with huge foreboding for many as did every past election years. Candidates who are running for one elective position or the other consider it the year their investments in the last four years or more will either go down the drain or bring forth yields.
As campaign intensifies in the opening month of the year leading to February 25 when the first leg of the national elections will be held, the political class is expected to grow restless with consequences for the already heightened tension over fear of violence and other electoral malfeasances, the most serious of which is vote buying.
But there are certain individuals whose critical roles in the elections will have direct impact on the outcome of the elections. The way these individuals discharge their responsibilities will determine whether the political temperature will go down or escalate and if Nigerians will have credible and fair elections they crave.
President Muhammadu Buhari
All eyes are on President Muhammadu Buhari as the elections beckon. He has become the centre of focus for the international community over the role he will play, whether he will be neutral or not.
Ordinarily, there should not be any ground to nurse fears about the elections in which opposition candidates are taking part. But the anxiety being expressed stems from the way many African leaders have deployed the powers granted them by their constitutions to muzzle opposition’s voices and shut them out undemocratically.
Buhari ran three times for the exalted office and thrice he failed. In his fourth attempt, he was successful and the curtain is about to be drawn on his constitutionally-limited two terms of eight years.
To be fair, Buhari has not left anyone in doubt as to his stance on the coming elections. He has stressed the need for the country’s electoral process to be sanitised and credibility restored to gain the confidence of the international community.
He has publicly expressed his avowed commitment to bequeath a legacy of free, fair and credible elections. He said having been a victim of electoral malfeasance in the past, he must right the wrongs by genuinely empowering the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to clear the Augean Stable. He has thus far gave the commission the necessary support. He is confident he will follow his utterances with action and earn plaudits from Nigerians in this regard.
While hosting a team of West African Elders Forum Pre-Election Mediation Mission led by a former Sierra Leonean President, Dr Ernest Koroma, Buhari reiterated his commitment to peaceful polls this year and seamless transfer of power to whoever Nigerians elect as their next president.
He vowed never to allow anyone, no matter how highly placed, to use money or thugs to scuttle the elections, while expressing confidence in the measures being put in place by INEC to ensure votes count.
One major demonstration of his commitment to action his words was his brutal submission to Nigerians to vote whomever they want as their president, declaring their will be no interference from him or subversion of the will of the electorate. According to observers, for a president who party’s candidate is among the front runners in the race to so speak, there should be no doubt about him standing by the position to be neutral.
Of course, the president readily makes reference to the few off-cycle governorship elections lately as evidence of his determination to guarantee that the will of the electorate will not be trampled upon. He went on to declare that the electorate in the country now know better and are thus wiser.
“We shall not allow anyone to use money and thugs to intimidate the people. Nigerians know better now, they are wiser and know that it is better to dialogue than to carry weapons. Elections are even more difficult to rig now.”
Findings by Sunday Tribune revealed that, while Buhari may be sincere about his determination on credible elections, people around him, some of his aides, may not be on the same page with him.
Sources confided in Sunday Tribune that the rate at which the president’s name is being dropped by some of his aides and close allies in support some unwholesome practices beggars belief. Some observers spoke about how the presidential primary of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) panned out to justify their claim that Buhari is not just in charge of his party, but also not in charge of the day-to-day running of the country or critical events shaping things under his administration.
What stakeholders are looking forward to is not just for Buhari to be in charge and ward off pliable aides and allies bent on making gains at the expense of his integrity.
Professor Mahmood Yakubu, INEC chairman
Whether history will be kind to the INEC chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu or his integrity will be terribly buffeted will be depends on how he supervises the conduct of the all important transitional elections.
This year’s elections are going to be conducted under an unusual atmosphere with strong reliance on the resources of technology to tidy up the process. The magic gadget known as the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) is already being seen as the game changer for the elections.
BVAS has done the magic for INEC in a number of the off-season governorship elections that have been won by the two major parties and a minor party. INEC has been using this evidence to preach credibility of the general election.
Although there has been pushback from certain quarters in opposition to the use of BVAS, with claim over the reliability of the gadget embedded in their arguments, INEC and Nigerians generally are in sync that there should be no going back on BVAS.
One major concern for INEC is the rate at which its offices were came under attacks from hoodlums in the out-gone year. But with the strengthening of security nationwide around INEC facilities, the threat posed by the development appears to have subsided.
What INEC will probably to watch are its members of staff who are manning critical offices and units, particularly the ICT department. Findings by Sunday Tribune revealed that the way the ICT unit is programmed to operate, the head of the unit will require the concurrence of the national chairman to access the server and the portal where election results from polling units can be viewed real-time by Nigerians.
The electoral body also needs to firewall its protection around critical ICT facilities that will aid the credibility of the elections. In September, the national chairman raised the alarm that certain unscrupulous elements from outside the country attempted to hack into INEC’s server and portal ostensibly to corrode the integrity of the election results. He has assured Nigerians that future similar attempts will not be successful, even as about N27billion has been set aside for the protection of the gadgets and facilities.
The US Consul General in Nigeria, Will Stevens, while speaking at a workshop for journalists drawn for the South-West state recently, pledge the support of the American government for INEC, saying a technical team from the country was already working with INEC to strengthen its systems.
Apart from Buhari and the head of INEC, Nigerians, particularly those who have got their PVCs also form a critical stakeholder that will shape the outcome of the elections.
Already, the enthusiasm to vote appears very high this time, with pundits projecting that the turnout might dwarf every other election previously held. A former resident electoral commissioner, Mike Igini, said in an interview that the voters are now truly kings with the restoration of their power to choose the next leaders.
The question many as asking is: will the electorate vote according to their conscience and not based on financial inducement from the political class? For once, a lot of people expect the electorate to disgrace those banking on vote buying by collection their money and voting their conscience.
Heads of security agencies
The heads of police and the army are also critical to the success or otherwise of the elections. The police, as the lead agency in internal policing, will have to live up to their commitment to ensure free, fair and credible elections. Now that hopes of vote counting very high and the polling unit being turned to “the centre of the universe”, securing the polling areas should be of greater priority to the security agencies.
The last line
It is not only the international community that is waiting on Nigeria to see how things will go in the elections, Nigerians themselves appear eagerly anxious to see what Buhari and INEC will do. Reference is already being made to the election that brought in Buhari as president, to how power was transferred peacefully. Will Buhari live up to his commitment to ensure INEC is not manipulated by powers within the system to subvert the popular wish of the voters?