Having closely monitored with keen interest the goings on before and during the 2023 general elections which kicked off with the Presidential and National Assembly polls on February 25, 2023, it has become expedient for me to publicly air my views concerning the polls.
This is in recognition of the fact that Nigerians and, indeed, the international community are equally watching with profound interest how open, free and fair or the contrary the conduct of the election is turning out as it will determine how the aftermath (final conduct and outcome) of the polls will burnish or sully the image of the country locally and internationally.
I am addressing the media in Lagos in this respect not because only Lagos State is involved. Of course the nation’s 36 states, including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja are all involved. But I moved this event to Lagos because of the love I have for Lagos. I chose to host this event at this Press Centre which I constructed for the Lagos State Police Command when I was the state’s Commissioner of Police, before being appointed as a Deputy Inspector-General of Police (DIG) and later Inspector-General of Police (IGP) now retired.
Many critics, including international observers that monitored the February 25, 2023 Presidential and National Assembly elections, described the process as flawed and a travesty to democracy. Some of the areas fingered pointedly were that the elections were compromised and rigged, and that the poll results were doctored or falsified. While the election was peaceful in some areas, the conduct was marred by widespread violence, intimidation of and forcefully preventing voters one way or the other from casting their ballots for the candidates of their choice. Some observers, for example, said they witnessed at least 135 critical incidents involving but not limited to the seizure or snatching of ballot boxes by brazen armed gangs and political thugs, vote buying, incredibly long delays and related election irregularities that undermined the freeness, fairness and credibility and legitimacy of the poll. All of these were seen to have culminated in the delay in uploading results from each of the 176,000 polling units in the country to the Independent National Electoral Commission’s (INEC’s) portal.
What strikes me the most in all of this, and which I consider objectionable and roundly condemnable, as a trained security officer, is the election violence and voter-intimidation, especially the use of gunmen and thugs to harass, scare away voters and election officials, as well as the snatching of ballot boxes. Sadly, some policemen and other security operatives were accused of watching helplessly while the violence was orchestrated. In some domains, certain persons were strongly accused of dishing out threats to voters to vote for certain candidates against their conscience or face dire consequences, like being driven away from the parts of the country they chose to live and do their businesses. In some other areas, the properties of Nigerians are being willfully destroyed ostensibly to cow them to vote for candidates that are not their choice. Should such conducts still be trailing Nigeria in the 21st Century? The answer is absolutely NO!
Indeed, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights unanimously adopted by the United Nations Organisation in 1948, and which Nigeria is signatory to, recognizes the crucial role free, open and fair elections play in giving effect to the fundamental right of citizens of any nation to participate in government. For, article 21 of the Declaration states that the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government, and that this ‘will’ shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot or equivalent free voting procedures.
And whereas Chapter IV of Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution (as amended), which spells out the fundamental human rights of citizens consciously or unconsciously left out voting rights, those rights are, nonetheless, implicit in Section 77 of the same Constitution and all the nation’s electoral laws till date. The Constitution guarantees the freedom of movement, as well as the freedom of any Nigerian to reside in any part of the country without molestation. It stipulates the freedom to vote and be voted for in any part of the country. Nigeria belongs to all Nigerians and any Nigerian has the right to contest election in any part of the country once such a citizen is qualified to stand for the election. Citizens should not be forced or cowed to vote for or pander to the dictates of any candidate other than the candidate of their choice.
Therefore, as the Governorship and State Houses of Assembly elections hold on Saturday, March 18, 2023, I implore the social media and news reporters to be very vigilant and aggressive in capturing video clips of any form of election violence involving armed gangs and thugs hired by their principals to disrupt the polls. Persons, no matter how highly or lowly placed, threatening or forcing Nigerians to vote for candidates that are not their choice are not exempted, including policemen and other security operatives who helplessly watch such irregularities and violence being perpetrated. Such social media report should be explicit with the state, local government, ward, polling unit or specific domain where such incidents are witnessed. The report should also be personally signed and bear the name and phone number of the reporter with date and time of the incident for purposes of authentication during investigation, so that it will not be dismissed as fake news by investigators that may be detailed to probe further into the matter.
By the same token, I implore the Inspector-General of Police and other Service Chiefs to diligently investigate and decisively deal with security operatives who watch aimlessly while election violence is being committed in their presence by hired gunmen, political thugs and sundry election miscreants and offenders. These criminals and their cohorts and principals should be punished if indicted for maligning and downgrading the image of Nigeria and ridiculing the good name of honest and hard-working Nigerians in the International Community.
Sir Mike Mbama Okiro
B.A., MPA., LLB., LLM., PhD., DSc., LLD. (Honoris Causa), CFR,
NPM, mni, KSJ, IGP (retd); Ex-Chairman, Police Service Commission.
BEWARE All Rights Reserved. This material, and other digital content on this website, may not be reproduced, published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed in whole or part without prior express written permission from Juliana Francis