Last Saturday’s presidential election marks a new beginning for Nigeria, if not literally, then clearly symbolically. Nigerian voters, defied hunger , Naira crisis and appropriated that moment as a clear point of departure from the past. They embraced the election as if their lives depended on it. The general high level of enthusiasm lifted voter turnout and reinforced confidence in democracy. Young people saw it as a chance to “get back their country”, plagued by bad leadership and underdevelopment. The fanfare and zest with which Nigerians trooped out in their numbers to perform a ritual that may not have rewarded them in the past but still managed to sustain their hope of a better future was electric. The presidential election revealed a divided, disillusioned, and disaffected Nigeria. Despite whatever will be the election’s outcome, most Nigerians believe the electoral process is a radical improvement on previous exercises ,considering the size and complexity of the country . Previous polls have been anticlimactic both in process and outcome.
Nigerians hope that this election will usher in a genuine democratic leader that represents the choice and voice of the people. The elections were generally peaceful and orderly, save for pockets of skirmishes in flashpoint states where thugs disrupted the polls, carted away ballot boxes, or tactically disenfranchised voters.
Regrettably, bad habits of thuggery and violent disruptions of the process resurfaced. Blatant violent hooliganism in states like Kogi, lagos and Rivers overwhelmed security arrangements.
According to media reports and from the account of observers, youths turned out in their numbers to vote. Voters’ turnout from observation ,in general, may be better than in the recent past, where voter apathy was prominent, and there was a continuous decline in the number of voters in each subsequent general election. Most persons who observed the polls I have spoken to are cautiously optimistic that it would be a relatively free and fair election, thanks to the recent amendment of electoral act which gave legal backing to Bimodal Voter Identification System ( BVAS) and other technological devices. From snippets of results, old political fiefdoms seem to be crumbling . Nigerians have rejected politics of hate, violence, and intolerance. If this is the case, it will mark a watershed in the political history of Nigeria.
Discerning persons must have observed four different echoes and reverberations with the elections. The first echo is that INEC prepared better this time around when compared with previous elections. The level of the organisation before and during the polls shows an improved INEC operation. INEC carried out voter sensitization, conducted mock exercises and reasonably assured the public of its best intentions . The use of technology was good, as voters can even find their polling units online. The identification method in polling units was remarkable, and we must commend INEC for even using the technology in remote parts of Nigeria. The BVAS technology generally worked ,with failure in few places. Overall, the quality of the election conducted has improved. This evidences that Nigerian institutions can work if we are ready to do the work required to improve them.
However, there is also an elixir of mixed feelings about INEC’s preparation for this election. INEC allowed many familiar slip ups in logistics. Backup batteries for BVAS devices were not available in most places. INEC staff turned up late in a number of places. Voting started late or did not even take place in isolated instances. But given the tripartite problem of cash scarcity, fuel scarcity and infrastructural deficiency, one can only imagine the enormous challenge of organising this election in almost one hundred and seventy seven thousand polling units nationwide. Given the recurring logistics challenges in our elections, INEC must develop better ways of solving these problems to improve Nigerians’ voting experience. It is unfair that voters turned out to vote and either did not see INEC officials or the officials came late.
This lead to some voters being disenfranchised completely, or voting spills over to the following day. Besides, INEC officials could not upload the results from the polling units. This is a critical low point of the elections. Electoral fraudsters will probably “doctor” the results to their advantage— the same complaint all over the Federation.
The second echo is the high turnout of youth voters. Traditionally, Nigerian youths are dispassionate with politics and the electoral process. This was a shame, given that they comprise a more significant part of the population. In previous elections, voter apathy among youths was high, and most young people would rather be doing anything else than queue to vote in elections. Previous election post- mortem analyses often lambast youths’ lack of interest in the electoral process. The number of young people engaged in this election is remarkable and marks a departure from the old. The overwhelming youth turnout reinforced the future as the domain of youth.
This is significant in three ways: first, it may be a sign that the youths have suddenly realised that they have a part to play in selecting the country’s leaders. Youths’engagement in social media has made them adept at sharing their political views and championing political ideas. The second is that this large turnout signifies rebellion against orthodoxy. Young people are dissatisfied with the status quo and have decided to influence their future through political mobilisation and participation. Students of political sociology may need to chart the youth’s political consciousness through the various conflicts between the young people and the system (institutions, agencies, government), as seen in the ENDSARS revolt and other pro-youth agitations. These movements have crystallised in youth political advocacy. The third is that the large turnout of youths signifies their willingness to use their strength in number to take back political control from older leaders who have captured power in Nigeria for a generation. We hope that the extension of this considerable youth turnout in the next few years will signpost the young presenting themselves in more significant numbers to be voted for and metaphorically taking back their country.
The third echo is that many Nigerians have started demonstrating faith in the electoral process.
There was also a higher than usual awareness of democratic rights as voters strongly pressed their rights and opposed those out to violate those rights. The level of political awareness is encouraging and remarkable . The mantra in this election has been that “your vote counts”, and with the new voting technology, election rigging is brought to a minimum. This has inspired confidence in many people to vote. This will deepen our democracy and its corollary good governance in Nigeria. It is also significant to note that this is the first election since 1999 where none of the presidential aspirants came from the military. Nigerian democracy is gradually growing away from the control and influence of the former military generals who captured power and have defined our politics for over fifty years. Nigerians in this election have demonstrated their love for democracy and are willing to participate when they believe in the process. I hope that subsequent actions and inactions of the political gladiators and institutions post- election will be democratic. The calling of the election result, the declaration of victors, the litigations and appeal routines, the transition process and forming of the new government are all flashpoints that must be followed with caution and due democratic tenets to sustain the democratic bubble this election has created.
The fourth echo is that Nigerians want a new Nigeria and are full of new expectations from the incoming president. The new leadership faces high expectations from Nigerians who believe we are at the breaking point and things are no longer at ease. Nigerians expect the president-elect to chart a new course for the country towards economic, technological, social, and political regeneration that will improve the living standard of Nigerians. Nigerians are tired of suffering and living in the hope of a better Nigeria which honest leaders can build from our endowments. Whoever emerges as the president has his job cut out and must quickly act before Nigerians lose their patience. Whoever is declared victorious has no option but to embark on radical reforms on all fronts. He must initiate policies and programs that address youth concerns, particularly education, employment creation, insecurity, infrastructure, and good governance.
There is no doubt that Nigerians, both at home and abroad, are expecting a new and better Nigeria going forward. The election has sent echoes reverberating across time and space for a new beginning—a fresh start for more incredible things. Building the Nigeria of our dreams is a task for all and getting the leadership right is the first step towards achieving a greater Nigeria. We must continue with the passion and optimism of the election and put them to better use in productivity and innovation. I hope our youths are awake and in tune with the realities of our time. The future is for them, and they must work hard to build it. Economic and political participation is necessary for such growth. I implore all Nigerians to dare to dream of a better, greater, and prosperous Nigeria.