Nigeria’s general elections, Africa’s largest democratic exercise, begin on February 25. All the parties and candidates push each other to get the attention of the voters and convince them to vote for them in the elections. The wait is hectic and the drama of the election campaign so far is exciting. Everything except the issues Nigerians face is fair game and the political satire that unfolds even keeps the unapologetically patriotic ashamed of our political process. The conventions and rules of political games are recklessly written and broken. The political strategy of many parties seems to be “no strategy”. They seem to go with the flow of things with such a fetishistic adherence to parochial and sentimental politics that it is not based on decorum and a pragmatic attempt to stabilize our country and put it on the path of growth.
This make-or-mar election promises to be a referendum on political orthodoxy and will chart the way forward for Nigeria in the new age. The apparent awakening of the youth, especially in major urban areas, to political participation, if properly harnessed, will reshape Nigeria’s political map. For this to be successful, there are unwritten rules and conventions built into the electoral process that shape the context and outcome. Here are five unwritten rules you need to know about this election.
The first rule is that voters must be prepared to be patient as the process can be cumbersome. The 2023 election will be the first time that INEC will deploy BVAS on a national scale. Like all new technology, it would come with challenges. Previous experience has shown that even passionate voters are easily discouraged when long lines appear or machines fail. In the past, long lines at elections have forced some officials to extend voting hours to accommodate crowds. But that only helps voters who can stay for hours. However, the long waiting time discourages people from voting.
This is even worse when the weather is unfavorable: either the scorching heat of the sun is unbearable, or heavy rain drenches voters. These weather conditions test even the most trusted and passionate voter. Reasons for long lines during voting include logistical nightmares that cause voting to start late, understaffing, untrained staff, and technical glitches. INEC must anticipate these problems and come up with solutions before election day. Proper election preparation will minimize most of these contingencies and alleviate long lines and waiting times during voting. However, when long lines and wait times are unavoidable, voters must develop the patience to do what it takes to vote and protect their voters. They are responsible for voting and supporting INEC in conducting free and credible elections in Nigeria.
The second rule is that voters are easily confused about choice of candidate versus choice of party. The 2023 general election is being prepared so that voters will not vote along party lines but rather according to the candidates put forward for the election. It is becoming increasingly apparent in most places that a voter can vote for one party’s candidate for president, vote for another party’s gubernatorial candidate, and vote for another party’s candidate for national assemblies and state. A recent survey by the African Polling Institute confirms that citizens are increasingly obsessed not with voting along party lines but with specific candidates for elections, although there are exceptions to this in some regions.
If this is any guide, many illiterate and semi-literate voters may need clarification and enlightenment. Political parties must do more for voter education and must take responsibility for voter education. Parties should strive to teach their supporters what their emblems are so that when a voter is in the polling booth to vote, they remember the party emblem of the candidate of their choice.
Any confusion about this creates further delays and sometimes leads to the wrong candidates getting votes that are not intended for them. This anomaly underscores the importance of voter education by parties, especially among rural dwellers who may need more information about candidates and parties before elections. Not surprisingly, parties with excellent grassroots mobilization systems do better in rural communities where they educate supporters to vote anywhere, see the party emblem on the ballot paper, thus creating a winning effect. for popular party candidates.
The third unwritten rule is that voting booths attract activities from party agents, voters, INEC officials and, on occasion, security agents and end up being a spark plug for violence. People are emotional and often prone to being argumentative and restless. Arguments in voting booths always end in violence, so avoid them. In our polarized and nerve-racking society, there is a great chance that people will exaggerate minor issues and phrase them in sinister terms. Nigerians, according to Erin Meyer, in her book Culture Map, are aggressive, confrontational in disagreement, and do not trust others.
A recent study showed that most election violence starts with minor fights. Election violence has claimed the lives of some Nigerians, and this is a threat that must stop. The 2023 election is not worth the life of any Nigerian. In a country where life is worth less and people are always ready to intimidate, dominate and eliminate others with impunity and few or no consequences, we must avoid any situation that leads to violence. Avoiding arguments is the first step in that direction. In a past electoral incident, two of our citizens lost their lives due to a dispute in the vicinity of the polls. This is unfortunate, and we must avoid it in the next elections.
Related to this is the fact that there is a greater burden on security agencies than in previous elections to maintain neutrality.
The fourth unfortunate unwritten rule is that party agents will do everything possible to undermine, rig, or even disrupt elections for selfish reasons. The more INEC introduces new processes and technology to prevent vote rigging, the more party agents bent on rigging elections will innovate for other means to succeed in influencing the election outcome. The creativity of the election riggers in Nigeria is mind boggling, and if that creativity is harnessed for better productive purposes, Nigeria will benefit significantly from it.
For the 2023 general elections, where INEC has enhanced the use of technology to reduce or eliminate voter fraud, party operatives are turning to voter induction and vote buying to influence election results. A new public opinion poll conducted by NOI Surveys revealed that 26 percent of registered voters would be willing to sell their votes for monetary or material gain during the 2023 general election. According to the report titled “Vote Buying Survey” released Monday, 26 percent translates to about 7.3 million votes, which is enough to increase any candidate’s chances of winning.
Almost all parties acknowledge extreme poverty on earth. The parties, through their operations, will try to buy votes. Party agents will lurk in polling stations and try to financially induce voters to vote for their candidates and parties. There are reasons to suspect that despite all the explanations offered by the Central Bank for limiting cash withdrawals to N20,000 per day, the main reason is to curb vote buying during the upcoming elections. Voters in rural Nigeria and the monetary incentive are inseparable. Since thumb printing and ballot theft do not seem feasible, vote buying is now the mainstay of party strategies. Politicians start with the unshakeable mindset that only a better rigger wins elections and not the popular vote.
The last unwritten rule for the 2023 general election is that parties and candidates should prepare for court adjudication as Nigerians hardly accept the election result. The recent ruling against the Osun state governor by the court in the recent gubernatorial election is a case in point. I should point out here that the courts should rule on clear cases of election wrongdoing and bring justice where it is due, but the tendencies of politicians desperately trying to use the courts to decide electoral victories leave a sour taste in the mouth for democracy. . lovers
After every election in Nigeria, the number of electoral cases instituted is mind boggling. Most of the candidates who lose the elections will go to trial. The implication is that election results do not confer election results; instead, the courts do. The uncertainties that these impacts have on the governance system are alarming. Newly elected candidates do not begin, from the beginning, to work for the people; instead, they are bogged down with ballot petition issues until the case ends up in court, often the supreme court.
Although the unwritten rules of the 2023 election covered here are not exhaustive, these five noted in this review are only representations of the many unwritten rules that will directly or indirectly affect the electoral success of the upcoming election.
I implore all stakeholders to critically evaluate these rules and some of the issues raised in order to improve the election experience and outcome for Nigerians. Prevention is better than cure and to be prevented is to be prevented. We must continue to strengthen our democracy and usher in, post-election, a cadre of leaders who genuinely reflect the electorate’s choice to move our nation forward. The task at hand is enormous. This election is just the genesis of the process to start fixing Nigeria. Emerging leaders will rock the Nigerian ship for the next four years. Our future is in your hands. Therefore, we must vote wisely based on our conscience and conviction. The litmus test to evaluate a candidate to vote is “do I trust this candidate enough to put my future and that of my children in his hands”? Let the answer to this question guide your choice of candidate to vote in this election.