AFTER about four months of frenzied and tension-soaked campaigns, Nigerians, from diverse backgrounds, will be trooping out today, Saturday March 28, 2015 in their millions in the rescheduled presidential and National Assembly elections, to elect their President and members of the National Assembly that will pilot the affairs of the country for the next four years.
Though there are about 14 presidential candidates, the two foremost contenders are incumbent President Dr. Goodluck Jonathan of People Democratic Party (PDP) and General Muhammadu Buhari of All Progressive Congress (APC).
Undoubtedly, Buhari and Jonathan have remarkably rewritten former assumptions putting the contest into what has become the most competitive election since the return of democratic rule in 1999. They fought the battle on every inch of Nigerian territory thereby smashing hitherto held political assumptions.
This election is not going to be the first and Nigerians pray it will not be the last in the political history of the country. The signs witnessed during campaigns which de-emphasised issues for hate sermons was quite disquieting. The atmosphere has really been charged in a manner that is unprecedented in Nigeria’s political history.
Despite the highly charged political atmosphere due to the manner of campaigns it is clear that the uncertainty on whether the election will hold or not is now laid to rest with the commencement today of the polls across the country.
According to INEC, accreditation would commence by 8 a.m and would last till 1 p.m. before the actual voting commences across the country.
Today’s election was first scheduled to hold on February 14 but was shifted by six weeks due to security challenges in the North East as claimed by INEC.
Before the postponement, it was rumoured that the election will be postponed due to the comment made by the Chief Security Adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan, Sambo Dasuki who said the election should be postponed due to security challenges in the North – East.
The statement of Sambo Dasuki in far away United Kingdom lead to several meetings by stakeholders in the election and the outcome of the meetings lead to the postponement of the election from February 14th to March 28th and April 11, 2015 respectively.
The postponement was greeted with mixed feelings as the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressive Congress (APC) engaged each other in war of words, as accusations and counter accusations became the order of the day and the political atmosphere   became tensed.
What has become clear in the build up to this election today is the fact that the unity of the nation is under threat, and with the current divergent political interests and the combative nature of most politicians in pursuant of their desires, Nigerians must ensure that their actions do not lead to fulfillment of the prediction of the US on the divisibility of Nigeria in 2015.
The postponement came with its advantages and disadvantages as INEC bought more time to put its house in order and improved in some questionable areas especially in Permanent Voters Card (PVC) distribution and fate of the card reader machine. For the political parties, they had more time to sell their candidates to the electorate by embarking on aggressive campaigns.
The two contending leading political parties, PDP and APC  were locked in war of words while some politicians engaged themselves in hate campaign, name calling, character assassination and all other undemocratic acts on national and International Televisions.
The Nigerian eligible voters have been carefully watching from the side line taken notes of points scored by these parties and today is the day to decide the fate of the parties and their candidates using the power they have, the PVC through the ballot box.
According to media report, the PVC distributed by INCE for this election has reached a success rate of about 90 percent compared to the less than 60 percent recorded before February 14, the first date given by INEC to conduct the polls. INEC has consistently said they are ready for the conduct of the election.
Prof. Attahiru Jega has promised Nigerians and the world at large that the body would remain neutral and truly independent and ensure that no contestant is shortchanged, will also provide a level playing field for all political parties as this will ensure free, fair, credible and transparent election.
The spokesman for INEC Kayode Idowu said for today’s election the body is very ready. “We have done further consultations with all concerned authorities on improving our chances of conducting a credible election. For now materials are on location. Sensitive materials will be deployed from (Wednesday 25th of March) but non sensitive materials are already on location, staff trained, logistics in place, we are set just waiting for the day of the election.”
According to Idowu, sensitive materials are kept in Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and on the day of deployment both INEC staff, party agents, security agents, observers will all escort the materials to their various destinations.
He said the stories in the media of stolen card readers will not disrupt the credibility of the polls as each card reader is quoted to a particular polling unit. It will never work in other unit except the unit it was meant for. Those that stole it do so in ignorance. The issue of apprehension of materials reaching polling units on Election Day has been taken care of. We have put in place strategy to ensure polling units across the country opens at 8 a.m on Election Day like we did in Osun and Ekiti State he concluded.
On the part of the Inspector General  of Police Abubakar Abba said his major concern about today’s election is to ensure the force plays its role by securing polling units, INEC staff, the electorate and materials to be used. “We have provided 2 to 3 security personnel in polling units across the country and I will advise electorate to leave after casting their vote in other not to heat up tension in the polling units and become threat to the police force.
Aside the assurances from the IGP, Nigerians urged the authorities of the Nigeria police and other security outfits in the country to be professional and shun all forms of injustice during today’s general election.
They are also advised to hold fast to the tenets of the law and operate within its ambit.
In all, a free, fair, credible and transparent election can only be achieved through the combine efforts of INEC, security agencies, political parties, the media and the voters themselves. All hands should be on deck to ensure today’s general election will be the best in the history of Nigeria political history.
After election, there will still be Nigeria. Nigerian Guild of Editors advises, “we, therefore, do not believe that a country should die because it held elections. On the contrary, elections should strengthen democracy, and reinforce national development. In view of that, we do not agree with any group of interest threatening fire and brimstone over the outcome of the elections. Nigeria belongs to us all, and is greater than all.
When the results of free and fair elections are released, let the loser be gracious in defeat, and let the winner be magnanimous in victory. In such contest, there is bound to be a victor, just as there would be a loser. Hell should not boil over. We repeat; no country should die because it held elections. Fair play, please. And may these elections strengthen the bonds of our unity in diversity.”
Meanwhile, after several months of heightened political tension, resulting from inter-party strife, mudslinging, propaganda, and the prolonged uncertainty and avoidable inadequacies that bedeviled the voter registration exercise, coupled with the arguments concerning the preparedness of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Nigerians go out in their numbers today to decide who will rule them in the next four years.
While we await what may change the course of our future forever, it is expedient to review the journey so far, while we assess the activities, strategies, and partisan schemes that characterized the pre-election period. The elections previously scheduled for February 14 and 28 were deferred by the electoral commission for reasons the commission had suggested were beyond its control. Before now, many Nigerians had also thought the new dates were not feasible, giving the several issues that arose at the time.
According to Abimbola Adelakun of The Punch Newspaper, “the 2015 presidential election must be one of the most analyzed – by pundits and partisans alike – in the history of contemporary Nigeria. It is no surprise though; this is about the most keenly contested in the country’s history with the opposition recognized as viable contenders. The leading parties, it must be said, are barely ideologically distinguishable yet the stakes are unbelievably high and the promised rewards to a long-suffering nation sounding increasingly incredible.”
The thought is electrifying. The reality is even more overwhelming. In a matter of hours, Nigerians would have elected (or reelected) a President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Whilst there are those who hold firmly to ethnic and religious affinities as the criteria for choosing one Candidate over another, there are of course others who place issues on the table, analyze them, and make electoral choices based on merit and not sentiments.
The period leading to this moment, especially since the candidates began to declare their political intentions over six months ago, was clouded by apprehension. Apart from the hate campaigns, the rallies and public meetings before and after the primaries, and verbal confrontations between candidates and party spokesmen, there were particular issues that sought to undermine the possibility of conducting an election in Nigeria in such a time.
The insurgency in the Northeast remained the greatest threat to a peaceful election in Nigeria. The Boko Haram militants had not only declared that elections were anti-Islamic and an evil product of western education, their ruthless and murderous activities, and repeated threats to attack polling units caused panic in several quarters. The situation was such that the Defence Headquarters (DHQ) requested a postponement of the elections to efficiently tackle the insurgency in the region.
Consequently, to the amazement of all, the commission announced that elections had been rescheduled for March 28 and April 11, 2015. While some Nigerians supported the decision, stating that it would afford the military more time to tackle insecurity in the North-East and make the region safe for elections and also allow INEC more time to tighten all loose ends, others criticized the action, describing it as a political plot by the ruling party to scuttle the credibility of the elections and a further proof of the influence of government on the decisions of the electoral body.
Next was the issue of Permanent Voter Card (PVC). When INEC disclosed the plan to introduce the PVC, Nigerians welcomed the idea with great optimism, largely because it would bring an end to the periodic application for, and collection of the temporary voter card which required a registration exercise every time there was a reason to vote. This new innovation would mean a one-time registration for citizens of votable age as they will now possess the card that will confer eligibility on them in subsequent elections.
However, the lapses and inadequacies observed in the process of exchanging the TVC for PVC on the part of the commission, coupled with the discouraging attitude of some Nigerians who refused to visit their units to collect their PVCs, discredited the process in the eyes of many. In fact, it was shocking to realize that INEC distributed over 15% of the total number of PVCs issued during the deferment period, even though it had continually maintained that it was 100% ready to conduct elections.
A look at the contenders for this year’s presidential election reveals a repeated trend in Nigeria’s short democratic political history, where the average Nigerian can only readily identify two out of the more than 10 candidates vying for the exalted position. Many political analysts attribute this to the weakness and limited influence of “smaller political parties who merely participate to fill the numbers.” This situation has almost turned Nigeria into a Two-Party System, where there is a clear-cut rivalry between two parties; the ruling party and the major opposition party.
This time around, although there are 14 political parties and candidates vying for the office of President, only the ruling Peoples Democratic Party and the major opposition, the All Progressives Congress seem to be raising the dust. Every time you turn on the television, it is either one PDP rally in the South-East or one APC rally in the South-South. All you see and hear about are Goodluck/Sambo and Buhari/Osinbajo. Without exaggerating, more than 80% of Nigerians are unaware that there are other political parties contesting for President. A little more than that figure do not know the candidates representing such political parties in the polls.
For the sake of clarity, a mention of the political parties and candidates for this year’s presidential election would suffice. The ruling Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP) submitted the names of President Goodluck Jonathan and his vice, Namadi Sambo, while the main opposition All Progressives Congress, APC, submitted the names of Muhammadu Buhari and Yemi Osinbajo as presidential and vice presidential candidates.
Others are Oluremi Sonaiya and Saidu Bobboi for Kowa Party, Ambrose Albert and Haruna Shaba for Hope Democratic Party, Ganiyu Galadima and Balarabe Ahmed of Allied Congress Party of Nigeria, ACPN, Rafiu Salau and Clinton Cliff Akuchie for Alliance for Democracy, AD and Godson Okoye and Haruna Adamu, for United Democratic Party, UDP, Alagoa Kelvin Chinedu and Arabamhen Mary, PPN, Ayeni Musa Adebayo and Anthony Faith Ologbosere, APA, Sam Eke and Hassana Hassan, CPP.
Also on the list released by INEC are Nani Ibrahim Ahmad and Obianuju Murphy-Uzohue of African Democratic Congress, Martin Onovo and Ibrahim Mohammed of National Conscience Party, NCP, Tunde Anifowoshe-Kelani and Paul Ishaka Ofomile of Action Alliance and Chekwas Okorie and Bello Umar of United Progressive Party.
The Labour Party, LP, and the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, have already adopted the PDP candidate, Goodluck Jonathan as their candidate as well.
Of all the 14 candidates, only Jonathan and Buhari were candidates in the last election in 2011. But unlike 2011, the tides have changed tremendously. The race seems to be closer and tighter than ever before. The APC has succeeded in putting up a formidable synergy for an opposition party, giving the PDP a run for their money. The choice of a Christian pastor as running mate has further added impetus to APC’s contest, against a President who has lost a great percentage of the popularity he enjoyed in 2011.
One thing that is evident in this year’s election is that rather than deal with issues, political parties embarked on hate campaigns and mudslinging to attack the credibility of their oppositions and smear the image of rival political parties. This is a major concern for the future of Nigeria. Analysts are of the opinion that Nigerians have not been sufficiently convinced by any political party on the reason why it should be voted into power, because the parties have failed to sufficiently address issues.
Security concerns have been downplayed by both the police and the military. The Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Minimah has assured Nigerians of the readiness of the Army to protect lives and properties before, during and after elections. The Inspector General of Police, Suleiman Abba has also reassured Nigerians that the Police, in collaboration with other security agencies, is committed to the safety of lives and property of Nigerians, and ensuring peaceful and credible elections in the country.
It is now a matter of hours until Nigerians are greeted with the man or woman who would steer the ship of our nationhood to that destination that will put smiles on the faces of the common citizens, and bring renewed hope in our journey towards development. It is, therefore, hoped that Candidates and Party Loyalists respect and uphold the Peace Accord signed a few months ago and ensure peace and credibility during and after the elections.