In the same way that the darkest part of the night is just before dawn, the most important part of an election could also reside in some of the things we do, or fail to do, immediately before the election.
Evidently, a wise farmer does not spend an entire year gathering sticks without using them to stake the yams. In the next 48 hours, we shall be writing the examination for which we have been preparing all these years. This looks like the longest 48 hours.
One central prognostication that ran across the entire period, nationwide, was the early recognition of the fact that Nigeria has a history of election and post-election violence and that there was a crying need to nip it in the bud. Like never before, the attention of the people was awakened to the dire need for peace. There was the Abuja Accord in which the presidential candidates of the political parties contesting the 2015 elections gave an undertaking that they would take proactive steps to prevent electoral violence at all levels before, during and after the elections.
The Abuja accord later permeated all segments of society to the extent that some police formations at State and Local Government levels even got their people to enter into some accords.
Since then, people of goodwill have preached peace, talked peace, walked peace and lived peace. Barring some sporadic outbreak of squabbles here and there, the accords have worked. In any case, the real litmus test of the accords begins on Saturday when we get to the polling stations.
The Chief Peace Officer of the Federation, IGP Abubakar Abba, could not drive his point home neatly enough when he counseled that people should cast their votes and go home. This was apparently in his genuine desire for peace. But the stand of the law, which is what people want to hear, is that, you could go home, or you could stay at the centre to protect your vote but in doing so, you must remain peaceful.
The accord mandated the contestants and their parties to run issues-based campaigns. The ball is now in our court. Of necessity, our votes must also be issues-based.
Essentially, the future begins today. The votes we cast today will determine our future and that of generations yet unborn. If we vote wisely, we shall enthrone good governments that will take us out of the current quagmire. If on the other hand, we accept peanuts and vote in the wrong people, the result will also be there to see. The choice is ours.
At the elections, there will be winners and losers. We have a word or two for each category:
To the victor belongs the spoil of office. This is an age-long philosophy. On the winning side, it will be jubilation galore. The jubilation will continue far into the future. A word of caution is necessary: As the winners bask in the euphoria of their victory, they must not allow their jubilation to degenerate into violence and destruction.
They must not take the law into their hands. No matter the amount of jubilation, the truth remains that jubilation cannot develop Nigeria. The development of the nation requires something else. It requires earnest, patriotic and ceaseless work from all of us. Every Nigerian, irrespective of party affiliation and irrespective of religious and ethnic differences, must quickly banish from his heart, all feelings of disappointment, all sense of chagrin, and, like the gallant soldier, fall in line, salute the colours and face the enemies.
Our enemies are many: They include unemployment, bad roads, extreme poverty in the midst of plenty, insecurity, health and educational institutions that are virtually comatose, infrastructural deficiencies, environmental degradation and so on. Indeed, Adlai Stevenson (1900-1965) is our perfect guide here: “Even more important than winning the election is governing the nation. That is the test of a political party; the acid final test. When the tumult and the shouting die; when the bands are gone and the lights are dimmed; there is the stark reality of responsibility.
On the debit side, people must realize that he who has never failed has never really succeeded. It is not falling that matters but the ability to rise each time you fall. Evidently, losers must lick their wounds, particularly in the face of the prohibitive cost of running election in Nigeria today. But they must not be tied down by the loss.
Neither must they allow their loss to becloud them into perpetuating violence and wanton destruction. Rather, they should pick courage and return quickly to the drawing board. After all, elections are akin to the process of choosing class reps, except that general elections involve more people.
There is one evil that is common among politicians – they rush to the Election Petition Tribunals as soon as their failures are announced, thus creating the impression of being bad losers. People must know that the Election Tribunal is not a casino where gamblers go to try their luck. The tribunal is a serious business for serious-minded people who should approach it only on those rare occasions where they have good cases to present.
It is not good politics, and does not make for quick reconciliation, that a man who loses heavily at an election must also sink further millions into the hands of the men in silk on frivolous cases.
If the leadership of your party insists that you must approach the tribunal with a porous case, be man enough to tell them that you are not interested. Let them go to the tribunal and if they win, they can appropriate the victory to whoever they like.
On the side of the Judiciary, the time has come for us to insist on accelerated attention on all cases at the tribunal such that only actual winners are sworn into office. Instances where judgments on cases are delivered after the expiration of the tenures are totally unacceptable.
Happy voting, Nigerians!
• This piece is being repeated based on special request