Home » George Opara: 2023: May thuggery never again overrun our right to vote
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George Opara: 2023: May thuggery never again overrun our right to vote

In a matter of days, precisely May 30, this year, the political coast would be made clear to thin down the legion of presidential hopefuls and shape the 2023 general elections slated for February next year.

It shall be manifested by the intense lobby, horse-trading, compromise and possible manipulation of the party delegates scheduled to vote in the presidential primaries for the emergence of presidential candidates of the dominant ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, and main opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.

In the country, past experiences from the activities of political parties in the electoral process have proved there are two ways of participation in elections. Elections can be participated by legitimate or illegitimate means. While the former is solely recognized by party constitutions and electoral laws, the latter is a contrived self-help that railroads an election loser to winning an election by default.

The default option is being carried out by armed political thugs hired by the election buccaneers. In the past, a buccaneer was only a sailor who attacked ships at sea and stole from them. Unfortunately, the buccaneers of today are mostly politicians who stand for elective positions to steal our mandate in an election process with intent to racketeer our national wealth.

They are also election merchandisers who exploit the poverty status of the electorate. Election merchandisers buy votes to change the voting behavior to their favor. In extreme cases, they manipulate the election process through instigated violence to intimidate, kill, kidnap and compromise or maim some voters and officials of the electoral umpire through their armed thugs just to rig and win elections.

But may the upcoming general elections never be hijacked by armed political thugs to overrun our right to vote for candidates of our choice. A situation where voting will be disrupted, sensitive election materials hijacked, results rewritten or destroyed while voters scamper for safety will be most unwelcomed in 2023.

In 2015 general polls, it was alleged that the country even witnessed race-riots occasioned by hired thugs. Perpetrators of the race-riot allegedly came from the neighboring countries of Niger, Chad and Mali.

After the elections, they stayed back. But their sponsors lost control and could not recover the “winning instrument”. The consequences of this undemocratic way of winning election can be seen in the menace and tragedy of the prowling killer herdsmen, highway bandits, kidnappers and terrorists who on daily basis, wreak havoc in all the nooks and crannies of the country.

Gun-wielding illegal migrants are now political jobbers infiltrating Churches, Mosques, Schools, farmlands and market places that have sadly become death traps across the country.

In many schools and farmlands of this country, not a few students are being kidnapped, young girls and women violated, raped and killed. Just in this month of May, Deborah Samuel, 25, a student of Shehu Shagari College of Education, Sokoto was beaten, stoned, killed and burnt. Investigation revealed that it was an unnamed illegal migrant who set her ablaze in broad daylight like a common criminal.

Barely a week after, a group of illegal migrants, operating commercial motorcycles, popularly called okada, also rampaged at Dei-Dei market, a suburb of Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, FCT. They killed scores of innocent Nigerians in a reprisal attack for the death of one of their own involved in an avoidable road accident that also claimed the life of a Nigerian woman of Igbo of extraction.

Dreaded illegal migrants have even brazenly broken the ranks of this country masquerading as indigenous bandits, unknown gunmen and terrorists with devastations in human and property.

The emergence of weapons in our election process can explain why the country recently recorded tragic violence during delegate elections in Rivers, Enugu and Bauchi states among others.

Apathy does not just happen. Electorates are less likely to participate in elections if they think that voting for a candidate of their choice will not matter. This can be evidenced from the disaffection and disillusion of voters where it is believed that rigging accompanied with threats to life is the rule rather than election.

From the level of insecurity that pervades the country, Nigerians are expecting that the 2023 general elections should be conducted and participated, free of weapons. The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, political parties, civil society organizations, security personnel on election duty and political support groups must be on the same page to rid the country of violent showdown involving rival election contenders.

Politically motivated violence has important economic effects. Apart from the direct impact of terrorism on its victims, it deters investment in education and businesses. It also negates peaceful co-existence, law and order. The fear of violence has driven millions of people away from their homes every year, subjecting them to terrible hardships.

The Nigeria Immigration Service, NIS, has a strategic role to play in this nebulous security situation.

It should, as a matter of urgency, review and strengthen its extant laws to checkmate the floodgate of illegal migrants from neighboring African countries like Chad, Niger and Mali whose notorious nationals are hired as support groups for political adventures in the country.

On its part, INEC operatives should essentially establish a strong character not to be compromised. It is voting that gives life to elections and, it is elections that gives life to democracy. The election results ought to be a true reflection of the dispassionate electoral choices made by voters. Where this becomes an abiding moral benchmark, it will deepen democracy, disarm the political militia and demilitarize our political environment.

A presidential candidate that would emerge under a free, fair and credible primary devoid of violence will be willing to run inclusive politics and seek the support of his challengers who, in turn, would be willing to work with him as a popular choice of their party.

Strong political system and laws against electoral violence that will regulate the conduct of elections and political parties is important for a strong democracy.

Political parties in the country must, therefore, wake up to this great challenge of making our democratic process stand on its feet. So that it will no longer be hijacked by the weapon bearing thugs. And only then will INEC be independent enough and immune from manipulations of the electoral process which start with election of party officials and conduct of primaries for seekers of political positions.

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