Saturday, March 28, 2015

#NigeriaDecides #VoteNotFight: Credible and peaceful elections, duty of all Nigerians

Jonathan (l) and Buhari (r). Credits: Punch
It took the United States President Barack Obama about 400 words in two minutes and 30 seconds on Monday, March 23, to remind over 170 million Nigerians of a home truth: The general elections scheduled for March 28 and April 11 presented the country with a great opportunity to stand united and secure the country’s future through the ballot box.

In his special broadcast, Obama mentioned ‘peace/peacefully’ thrice. He also mentioned ‘democratic’ thrice.

Simply put, Obama’s message drove home the importance of a peace, democracy and maintaining democratic structures in the growth and development of any society.

This is the more reason why, like Obama noted, all Nigerians must be able to cast their votes without fear or intimidation. He said, “I call on all leaders and candidates to make it clear to their supporters that violence has no place in democratic elections, and that they would not incite, support or engage in any kind of violence, before, during or after the votes are counted.

Obama also said, “By casting your ballot, you can help secure your nation’s progress. And this process must be done peacefully.” He also noted that, for elections to be credible, they must be free, fair and peaceful.

Indeed. While the Independent National Electoral Commission must do everything possible within its constitutional powers to ensure it organises free, fair and credible elections; it is not the sole responsibility of the electoral agency alone.

While it is the responsibility of the Nigerian military, the police and all the country’s security agencies to uphold the law and ensure that there is no breakdown of law and order during and after the elections; while the bulk rests on the leaders and candidates to ensure that their supporters do not engage or support any form of violence; it is also the choice of that supporter to choose peace over violence, to choose patriotism over ethnic, religious, political and regional sentiments.

Going by previous elections in the country, it is almost impossible to say categorically that there would not be any kind of violence during the elections. However, it would be fair to say all Nigerians have a choice to decide if they want to be part of a largely peaceful election process.

Thus, ensuring free, fair and credible elections should not only be the sole responsibility of INEC, leaders, political parties and their candidates, it should also be the collective responsibility of all Nigerians.

After decades of military rule and then 16 years of uninterrupted ‘home-grown’ democracy, the upcoming elections come at another critical junction of our nationhood. It is a litmus test of our democratic structures and our national character.

This is the more reason why every Nigerian must see himself as a Nigerian first, before one’s ethnicity, religious or party affiliations. Every Nigerian must work for the collective good, to ensure that the country consolidates on her democratic gains by exercising their constitutional rights peacefully during the elections.

This is another historic opportunity for Nigerians to write the next chapter of Nigeria’s progress by not only voting in the upcoming elections, but also by exercising their constitutional rights peacefully.

“A government of the people, for the people, by the people,” a quote widely accredited to the 16th US President, Abraham Lincoln, is the least Nigerians deserve. Whoever wins the elections should uphold this timeless tenet of democracy.

As a patriotic duty, Nigerians should choose to go about casting their ballots peacefully during the elections, and also maintain the peace after the elections; no strong and enduring democratic structure was ever built on the foundation of violence, political deceit and selfish interests.

Like President Obama rightly quoted from the famous rallying slogan of Gen. Yakubu Gowon (retd.) during the civil war, “To keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done.”

This journey begins again with free, fair, credible and peaceful elections. Electoral violence should become a footnote on the pages of our history as a great nation, not a recurring decimal.

Nigeria should become a great nation indeed, where peace and justice truly reigns.

God bless Nigeria.

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