The 2023 general election occupies an important place in the destiny of our nation. The elections come at a time when Nigeria is grappling with existential and developmental crises ranging from insecurity, fuel queues, poverty, unemployment and general despair. The upcoming elections come at a time when citizens are united in pain, misery and the clamor for hope, justice and peace. These challenges underscore the importance of the election to the destiny of our nation and the collective destiny because the next leaders will face the enormous responsibility of solving the many puzzles in our country.

Based on the lived reality of citizens across the country, the campaign should have been an opportunity for politicians and candidates to effectively engage voters in plain language, explaining their policies and programs. It should be a time to soberly reflect on the country’s recent gains and losses and use these themes to give hope and reassure citizens of the latent possibilities that exist in Nigeria if they are to be elected. But this has not been the case.

The campaign has been a period of anomie, a time of destruction, violence and hate. There is little to inspire hope for the ongoing campaigns beyond the theatrics and melodrama displayed by some candidates and their supporters at rallies and other public engagements.

Nigeria’s two main political parties, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), have obsessively engaged with accusations, assertions and counterclaims about why opposition presidential candidates should not be on the ballot in the next election. . Both parties justify their claims with a dossier of alleged criminal records of the candidates. Both parties call for the arrest and prosecution of the other’s candidate.

The campaign has been an era of weapons of facts, lies and hate. As interesting as this tactic may seem in the realms of theatrics and sophistry, it adds little or no value to politics and our democracy. Resorting to these atavistic campaign tactics erodes the liberal values ​​of democracy. The challenges of fake news, the weaponization of hate and lies, voter suppression and vote buying are dangers that undermine our democracy and threaten fair and peaceful elections.

Recently, a BBC investigation revealed how political parties in Nigeria are secretly paying social media influencers to spread false information about their opponents ahead of the general election. The report indicates that some influencers are paid up to 20 million naira ($45,000; £37,000) to spread fake news. Incentives like this are responsible for weaponizing fake news and hate in politics. The Nigerian social media space has been rife with toxicity, where supporters of different political parties engage in social media hate and warfare. This animosity often extends beyond social media, sometimes turning to attacks against opposition political parties. Fake news and misinformation undermine trust and freedom of choice, which are vital elements of democracy.

Also worrisome is the challenge of monetizing our democracy: elections have become transactional, where politicians buy votes and buy their way to power. During the last party primaries, we saw the conquering power of money, as most of the candidates involved the delegates in buying votes. Vote buying undermines democracy and weakens the power of the ballot as money bags will find themselves in power, undermining the collective interest of the people as their main priority in power will be to get their money back and make money for them and their shareholders who invested in their ambition. This trend of monetary policy will greatly impede the development prospects of the nation.

Another worrying trend observed recently is the purchase of permanent voter cards (PVC) by politicians. Recently, a newspaper reported how some politicians were buying PVC from some constituencies in their opponents’ strongholds in the north of the country. According to the report, PVCs are purchased for between five hundred and two thousand naira.

These actions expose the level of poverty in our society and the lack of voter education in the political system. It also reveals the desperate nature of Nigerian politicians and how far they can go to seek power. It shows the degree to which Nigerian politicians are arming citizens with poverty.

These challenges point to the fact that Nigeria’s democracy is at stake and that the nation may be willing to recruit leaders who are unlikely to commit to liberal democracy principles and rule in an authoritarian style. From the ongoing campaigns, we can decipher the temperament of the leaders we seek to elect. That is why voters must be careful not to elect leaders who ignore public opinion, disrespect the rule of law, are eager to capture the state, normalize political violence, and justify hate and all kinds of injustices in the name of politics.

This year’s elections call us to bear witness to our conscience and use our PVCs to answer the most important questions about our peace, unity, development and progress. The dual duties of every citizen during this election are: to serve as a watchdog/watchman for our democracy by protecting our nation’s democracy from the grasp of tyrannical politicians.

Citizens must act as agents of peace and unity by denouncing violence and calling out the purveyors of fake news, hate speech, and all leaders who abuse their trust. We must do more to save our democracy now before we return to a failed democracy; the signs are before us. We must act now. Now, we must act to resist the reality of a collapsing democracy and a failed state.

Ominabo is the communications officer for the Goodluck Jonathan Foundation.

Opinions expressed by contributors are strictly personal and not those of TheCable.