As Nigerians head for polls today

Barring any unforeseen circumstances, millions of eligible voters are expected to troop to various polling centres across the country to cast their votes in today’s presidential and National Assembly elections.

The exercise was originally scheduled to hold last Saturday, beginning from 8 am but the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) shifted the polls by one week, just a few hours before their commencement.

The postponement took the entire nation by surprise in view of the assurances the electoral umpire had given Nigerians the previous day that it was fully prepared for the crucial exercise.

The initial reactions to the unexpected development were anger, anxiety, uncertainty, disappointment and mutual suspicion among the political party leaders and stakeholders.

Many enthusiastic Nigerians that had closed down their businesses and travelled to their hometowns to cast their votes threatened to stay away from the rescheduled polls out of loss of interest in the exercise, fueling fears of apathy that have been the hallmark of previous polls since 1999.

The reasons adduced by the Chairman of INEC, Prof. Yakubu Mahmood, for the postponement did not sound convincing initially to anyone except himself and his team in the commission.

But when the people’s anger began to subside, many reasoned with the commission and decided to give it the benefit of the doubt. After all, it was not the first time that elections would be shifted for one reason or the other as witnessed in 2011 and 2015.

Even then, a cross section of Nigerians, the media and stakeholders were in doubt as to whether or not the one week of grace sought by the electoral umpire would be enough to address the enormity of the unforeseen logistic challenges it encountered in the last minutes.

However, Prof. Mahmood has been sounding very convincing about holding the elections today, insisting that the one-week grace would not be extended.

As at yesterday, the INEC leadership assured the nation that all the necessary materials had been dispatched to various designated centres across the country and on schedule in readiness for today’s exercise.

Similarly, all electoral personnel, including the ad hoc staff, have been mobilised to deliver a seamless and credible exercise. Now that all appears set for the polls, we appeal to all eligible voters to conduct themselves peacefully at the polling centres.

The success or failure of today’s polls will, to a large extent, depend on how they play their own part during the exercise. Security operatives also have an important role to play during and after voting.

They should go about their duties without instilling fears in the electorate. It is not just enough to boast of having more than 70m eligible voters if the atmosphere is not conducive for them to come out to exercise their franchise without having their hearts in their mouths.

 In the same vein, we appeal to all the political gladiators to rein in their thugs. Only days ago, the President, Muhammadu Buhari, gave an order to the security agencies to shoot anyone caught making away with ballot boxes.

Carting away of ballot boxes has been a rampant feature of our electoral process. This order, intended to send a strong warning to criminal elements, has ruffled feathers in the political circles but the Presidency has stuck to its guns.

There is no doubt that ballot box snatching is a malaise wrought by desperate politicians and it requires a desperate cure. Other electoral offences like vandalising voting materials, disruption of voting, vote buying and selling should also be brought under scrutiny by security operatives around polling centres with a view to arresting such criminal elements.

However, we call for caution on the part of security operatives. They should handle any infractions professionally if they occur so that innocent lives are not lost.

We also appeal to political thugs to desist from being used as canon fodders by their pay masters who would not allow their own kids to be in harm’s way.

The electoral officials at all levels of the voting process are also advised to show neutrality and ensure that the exercise is conducted seamlessly across the various voting centres in order to deliver a transparent, credible, free and fair election.

 Finally, we hold President Buhari to the assurance he gave in his nationwide broadcast on Thursday, February 14, 2019 that the exercise would be free, credible, transparent and peaceful.

As the most populous black nation in the world, Nigeria cannot afford to fail in this exercise.

We should build on the success of the 2015 polls which won international accolades for the country and prompted some countries to involve INEC in the conduct of their polls.

We wish Nigerians a peaceful and successful exercise.

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