Voters in Africa’s largest democracy have weathered yet another election cycle. As the dust is settling, it is up to Nigerians, their political leaders, those who won and those who lost to keep their eyes firmly fixed on the bigger picture, which outweighs, beyond any imagination, all forms of personal glory emanating from victory at the polls.
Let us be clear: elections are but a mere fragment of a country’s democratic narrative. At best, it is an evidence or symptom of the people’s liberty to choose. For this choice to be of value to humanity, then what truly matters is the arduous journey citizens must undertake in order to build a thriving, harmonious society.
Nigeria is faced with the critical challenge of tribal baiting and pre-election ethnic rhetoric that is now following the country into post-election life. It is both disheartening and unacceptable that elections in Nigeria are so often exploited as opportunities to stoke ethnic tensions and exacerbate national fault lines. A fairly rational mind will query why ethnicity and religion, ordinarily social brackets that unite a people, become divisive monsters in Nigeria just around elections. Such mind may not fail to wonder who enjoys the benefit of the rift.
Politicians, in a bid to create empires, albeit imaginary, pick whatever tool that can give them access into the thinking and extended to the behaviour of the society. They take advantage of the gullibility of the people to manipulate them for their electoral gains; and that is where ethnic and religious sentiments are fired to dangerous dimensions.
Nigerians from all parts of the country must stand united in their determination to resist such divisive tendencies. The country’s electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, must also be held to account for its critical role in ensuring free and credible elections. It must redouble its efforts to foster trust and transparency in the electoral process. Nigerians cannot afford to allow INEC to betray their trust by failing to deliver on its commitment to uphold the integrity of the electoral system.
It, therefore, behoves on the commission at this critical time in the nation’s history, to strip itself in front of a mirror and tell itself the hard truth. What promises and assurances did INEC give to Nigerians pre-election? What commitments did it make regarding the process of the poll? Did the electoral umpire leave everyone without a doubt that it gave its all in giving the country a credible electoral process. Make no mistake about this, the outcome of an election is not as important as the process. So, if the lessons from the last Nigeria’s elections must not be missed, INEC should penitently come clean by owning up its failures and addressing them.
Opinion shapers and social media commentators must likewise recognise their pivotal role in this journey. They must exercise utmost prudence in their language, lest they unwittingly steer the world’s most populous-black country towards the very same Hutu-Tutsi semantics that once pushed Rwanda to its knees. Though Rwanda is not the only example, Africa cannot afford this again.
The derisive and divisive ethnic-baiting tactics that plunged an oil-rich South Sudan into chaos are a stark reminder of the devastating consequences of such behaviour. Nigeria, Africa must continue to learn from its mistakes and not repeat them. It is not only the future that is at stake, but even the present.
In a civilised society, it is within the rights of citizens to protest without breaching the peace. Approaching the courts for intervention when one is aggrieved, is also an enlightened thing to do. But all these must be done with the right intent of positively influencing change.
As a country and a continent, we must devote ourselves to building societies founded on tolerance, mutual respect, and understanding. These pillars are the bedrock of any thriving, peaceful society. As we embraces Africa’s diversity and differences, so too must Nigerians and Africans embrace our diversity and celebrate our differences, recognising that it is only through such collective efforts that we can build a prosperous and peaceful continent.
We must always be mindful that elections are simply chapters in our national narrative and democratic journeys. They do not make up the entirety of the democratic experiences. At a time like this, we must fix our collective gaze firmly on the horizon and commit ourselves to the journey of building a powerful, peaceful and prosperous country.
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