“In the long run every Government is the exact symbol of its People, with their wisdom and 'unwisdom'; we have to say, like People like Government.” says Thomas Carlyle, and we can choose to make the best of that. When we think of the worst years, we can mention 1914 for the unwise amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates, 1960 for the result of the dishonest elections and lobbying in the late 1950s, 1966 for a despicable start of a chain of military juntas and advent of the Nigerian-Biafran war, and 1993 for the robbery of democracy in broad daylight. Now we think of 2023 and, while the year is already synonymous to the general election in Nigeria, it is a year of uncertainty. The Independent National Electoral Commission has announced that the presidential election will be conducted on the 23RD of February 2023 while a nationwide continuous voter registration will commence on the 28TH of June 2021 across all 774 local government areas of the federation. The chairman of INEC, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, is trying so hard to give Nigerians the impression that the electoral commission is all set to take up the responsibility for a fair election process but there are a few ugly challenges presenting themselves quite openly.
Elections in Nigeria are characterised by strife. We know that democratic systems promote electoral and political competition but the competition is very unhealthy in this part of the world. The annulment of the 1993 elections and the many untold stories of violence that followed are to be kept in mind as the democratic elections which have followed —no matter how free and fair they have been reported to be— have always been accompanied by a wind of violence across the country. A few times, candidates —including high profile candidates such as presidential candidates— issue threats to their potential opposition and go on to threaten the peace of the country they promised to serve. Dogs and baboons bathed in blood to quell the rage of a politician when he or she loses. Well today we are seeing more bloodshed than we would want to see in our country as we count down to 2023 and it could get worse. In the midst of nationwide kidnappings and banditry, an INEC office in Essien Udim Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom state was burnt to the ground. This same local government area has recorded deadly attacks on the police and Nigerian Army recently. This may serve as a harbinger of what election year might look like.
What Nigerians will experience in 2023 is largely dependent on how the government collaborates with INEC, its security forces, and citizens to guarantee safety of lives and property in the space of a year prior to general elections. Democracy has already been in troubled waters as far back as 1960 and most of our elections since the annulled 1993 election have gradually become less representative of the will of the average Nigerian. About two out of three Nigerian voters did not bother to turn up for the previous presidential election and it could get worse in 2023. Muhammadu Buhari was re-elected with about 15.2 million votes just in front of the 11.3 million votes of his main opposition Atiku Abubakar in 2019. Less than 50 million Nigerians voted in a country with over 100 million people eligible to vote and 80 million registered voters. The reported 35% voter turnout was down from 44% in the 2015 presidential election and the 54% voter turnout in 2011. The fact remains that voter turnout for Nigerian presidential elections has been dropping sharply since 2003 and it will continue to drop if we cannot have Nigerians feeling confident and safe to perform this civic duty in the country.
The present government may be the representation of the Nigerian people, but is not the representation of their desires. We are more worried about the alarming rise in the rate of crimes while the various arms of government are either debating whether or not to create a database for livestock or seek aid for the security of Nigerian lives. What could go horribly wrong in 2023 is the mishandling of insecurity to the extent of near decimation of our country as we know it so that there will be no Nigeria in which a general election can be properly conducted.