Nigerians must be at alert to protect democracy, says Rescue Nigeria

Nigerians must be at alert to protect democracy, says Rescue Nigeria

As the peaceful transition of power is a critical pillar of democracy, progress and stability, nothing must stop the peaceful conduct of the forthcoming general elections from February 25 to March 11, 2023, in Nigeria, the Initiative for Good and Informed Citizenship, conveners of Rescue Nigeria, said in a statement.

The organization warned that lessons must be learnt from history, as prevailing conditions in Nigeria are increasingly similar to June 12, 1993, when the government of General Ibrahim Babangida manufactured incidents to mar the outcome of an election won by the late Chief M.K.O. Abiola. It, therefore, asked Nigerians to be vigilant and prepared to protect democracy and freedom by working together to ensure that man-made difficulties do not stop them from voting.

“We are worried that as the election gets closer, ordinary Nigerians are faced with conditions created by the government that could disenfranchise them. We are worried about the increases in the price of petroleum, leading to decreased citizen mobility. We are worried about the limitations on the currency causing widespread disruption to normal life. And we are worried that these and other factors taken together could affect the ability of Nigerians to vote for candidates of their choice. If these conditions persist, the elections may not be free and fair.”

“The failure to stop the Central Bank from making life too difficult for the common man, the scarcity of petroleum, the unease everywhere and the over-heating of the polity are occurring at the wrong time. President Mohammadu Buhari is ultimately responsible for conditions that erode confidence in the outcome of this election,” the organisation stated.

In a statement signed by Rescue Nigeria’s leadership members, Messrs. Biodun Durojaiye and Tunde Odediran, it remarked that local and international pro-democracy organisations must be at high alert because words and promises alone cannot guarantee a smooth transition of power in Nigeria. “We must be sceptical and protect the election before voting starts, during voting, at counting and until we have the correct results. The citizens have a duty to protect democracy,” it added.

According to Rescue Nigeria, Nigerians are worn out after months of intense politicking that has divided the people along ethnic, religious and other demographic lines, adding that these standard of living issues were completely man-made and avoidable.

“It is time to equip the people with the resources needed for good living, and that includes free movement, access to cash, safe neighborhoods and the absence of government-induced headaches.”

They observed that it is insufficient for the government to promise successful elections without backing it up with conditions that provide the confidence that the elections will hold, safety will be guaranteed during the election and guarantees that votes will count.

Citing the recent experience in Osun State, where the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) has been put on the spot as the spoiler, Rescue Nigeria said it hoped INEC has learnt lessons from its mistakes and is ready to build confidence in the electoral process and democracy, stressing that Nigerians expect the elections to be free and fair.

“In no part of the world has there been a perfect election, but we expect that INEC will be so prepared that its own conduct and adherence to electoral rules and regulations will provide an assurance about the integrity of the entire process, beyond normal isolated cases of contention. INEC must assure Nigerians it is ready to hold the election properly.

“INEC’s decisions must not be influenced by the government, the political parties or powerful politicians. It must be bold and truthful in its assessments and it must know that its own actions will determine the future of Nigeria’s democracy. INEC must honour the ‘independence’ in its own name. It must act independently and impartially in the best interest of the people.”

Rescue Nigeria also called on Nigerians to choose peace over discord, and imbibe the highest ideals of citizenship before, during and after the election.

“We must realize that democracy is built over many elections, rather than one. Losing an election is not the same as losing a cause or ideology. There is always that chance to come back in the next election cycle. We disagree that an election is a ‘do or die’ affair. It is rather a ‘do, accept, plan and redo’ affair,” it stated.

Victories and losses, it wrote, build our collective muscle in creating a democratic culture. All Nigerians should work towards building a great tradition in which politicians and political parties respect the will of the people. “There will always be winners and losers in every election. Losers should accept defeat and winners should be magnanimous in victory. Politicians and their supporters should be prepared to accept the verdict of the voters.”

The judiciary’s involvement in elections, it said, has become excessive. “There is mistrust arising from increasing number of electoral outcomes that are determined through the judicial system. While there can be legitimate reasons to contest the result of an election, it is too frequent in Nigeria and it erodes the confidence of the people in democracy. Politicians must be more accepting of their losses and the judiciary must reject cases that lack merit. The people would rather have their votes prevail in who becomes the office holder.”

The organization frowned at the closure of the universities by the Nigerian Universities Commission (NUC) for approximately three weeks because of the election, saying that while it had no issue with shutting down on the day of the election, lengthy closures heighten fears and encourages loss of productivity while doing nothing to promote democracy.

“It is a hasty decision to send university students home for such a long time when they had been idle for much of 2022. We should not make elections look like an impending war and that is exactly what the Federal Government’s decision looks like. Civilized and democratic societies do not make such decisions. We do not need to strike fears in the minds of our people. It is just an election.”

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