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Increased voter registration and expectation of paradigm shift – VELOXNEWS

By Sunday Ani

That there is tension in Nigeria ahead of the 2023 presidential election is no more in doubt. The atmosphere is already palpable and charged with the slogan of ‘a change’ that is quite different from the 2015 mantra by the All Progressives Congress(APC). Political permutations and calculations as to which political party is likely to win or lose in the election have become the passtime of many Nigerians, including the self acclaimed prophets and marabouts. Nigerians, especially the youths, have expressed willingness and preparedness to participate actively in the electoral process like never before. The massive turnout of the youth population for the ongoing Continuous Voter Registration (CRV) exercise across the country by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is a clear indication of their readiness to take active part in the 2023 electoral process.

Close watchers of political developments in Nigeria have described the youths’ political behavior as a kind of revolution. They all agree that from East to West, North to South, the level of enthusiasm and political awareness among the youths, and Nigerians in general, as evidenced in the mad rush to register with the INEC and get their Permanent Voter Cards (PVC), has never been experienced in the country’s political history.

They strongly believe that a revolution is loading, because a situation where people would leave their houses as early as 4am or 5am for the INEC registration centres just to be able to register and get their PVCs, shows that something unusual is in the offing. They argue that the 2023 election would not be business as usual as all indications point to the fact that the power to choose the political leaders may likely be determined by the electorate and no longer the godfathers. The godfathers, they noted, could exercise their powers at the level of party nomination of candidates, but at the general elections, Nigerians would be the ones to decide their leaders through the ballot. Nigerians will speak through their votes and the realization that their votes will count this time around is one of the factors behind the craze to get the PVCs.

However, there are those who believe that the surge in the number of youths and Nigerians, who have now shown interest to take part in the 2023 general elections, cannot be separated from what the country is currently passing through. Their argument is that hunger, anger, depression and frustration occasioned by inept, clueless and rudderless government, are among the leading factors driving the youths’ interest to participate in the electoral process.

Ahead of the 2015 general elections, the then opposition APC told Nigerians that the then Peoples Democratic Party, PDP-led administration of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan was highly corrupt and clueless. The APC claimed that the economy which exchanged one dollar for N198 had been run aground and promised to strengthen the economy such that one Dollar will equal one Naira if elected. The party also promised that the insecurity situation in the country which led to the kidnap of Chibok secondary school girls in Borno State in 2014 would be decisively dealt with if elected into power. They equally promised to fight corruption headlong and reduce pump price of fuel which was then sold at N87 per litre to N50 per litre if elected. They made so many other beautiful promises.

Nigerians believed the APC and its promises and voted massively for it leading to the landslide defeat of the then ruling PDP at the poll. That was the first time in the political history of Nigeria that a ruling party would lose a presidential election to the opposition. Nigerians looked forward to an Eldorado where the economy would be booming with jobs available for the teeming jobless youths. They expected an environment where lives and property would be secured while they go about their daily businesses. They expected an economy where the poor will be remembered in the scheme of things; an economy that will guarantee good life to Nigerians irrespective of class, region, religion or political affiliation.

However, seven years down the line, analysts said Nigerians could not explain what has happened. They said Nigerians have become more confused than ever before. According to the President of the Middle Belt Forum (MBF), Dr Pogu Bitrus, “the APC has failed to secure the country as promised. It has failed to improve the economy as promised. It has also failed to fight corruption headlong as promised. Today, no part of the country is safe as against what obtained before it came to power in 2015, when insecurity was limited to the North East and parts of the Middle Belt only. Today, even the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, the seat of government, is no longer safe. Just last week, terrorists had the effrontery to attack troops of the Presidential Guards, killing some soldiers.

“Security has gone so bad that after the attack on the Presidential Guards, the terrorists have the audacity to issue a kidnap threat on the sitting president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, and the Kaduna State Governor, Nasir El-Rufai. What an insult!

“The country’s currency which exchanged for N189 to a dollar and which the APC promised to bring to N50 per dollar, now exchanges for N710 per dollar at the parallel market. Prices of essential commodities, including basic food stuff like garri, beans, rice and yam, have gone beyond the reach of ordinary Nigerians such that eating a square meal per day has become a pipe dream to many families in Nigeria.

“Corruption has become the signature tune of the current government. The other day, the Accountant General of the Federation (AGF), a civil servant, was accused of stealing over N109 billion. Politicians as well as government officials are all in the infamous race of who will steal more than the other, while the party that rode to power on the mantra of anti-corruption, keeps a blind eye.”

Analysts are of the opinion that the recent unprecedented enthusiasm of the youths to participate in the 2023 election as evidenced in their resolve to get the PVCs which will enable them to decide the future political leaders, is largely linked to the failure of the current government as enumerated above.

The youths’ enthusiasm and determination to take back their country from those who have run it aground is intimidating but there are enormous challenges. Many believe that those who have been holding on to power for ages are not prepared to relinquish it just like that. They are seriously planning on how to compromise the election even before the whistle is blown and that is the big challenge which all well meaning Nigerians must rise up against.

Just on Friday, July 29, some hoodlums attacked St Bridget’s Catholic Church, Ijesha Parish, Lagos State, where people were gathered for the ongoing voter registration exercise. They were reported to have carted away the INEC’s voter registration machine.

Not too long ago, a video surfaced in the social media where some politicians were spotted collecting voters cards from their owners in exchange for an unspecified amount of money in Borno State. This infamous act and the carting away of the INEC’s voter registration machine in Ijesha area of Lagos are some of the pointers to the fact that some people are working round the clock to ensure that the elections do not represent the true wishes and aspirations of Nigerians. As earlier pointed out, the level of frustration occasioned by the failure of the APC in all fronts, including security, economy and fight against corruption, among others, are some of the leading factors that are driving this new found enthusiasm and determination among the youths to participate actively in the electoral process but it has become very clear that some people are not too comfortable with the new normal. Nigerians, particularly the youths are willing and ready to participate but the evil men are doing everything possible to thwart that wish. They want to maintain the status quo, where voters’ apathy reigned supreme so that the most unpopular candidates would continue to emerge as leaders.

However, there are those who argue that the Federal Government has a plan to ensure that elections do not hold next year. Those who hold this line of thought are saying that the recent incursion of terrorists into the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and failure of the security agents to seriously make a bold statement by rounding them up and decimating them, are all a game plan. They don’t believe that the rag-tag terrorists are more equipped than the nation’s military to muster the courage to attack the FCT and even threaten to kidnap the President without any head rolling. A leading voice in this group is the Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, who has unequivocally posited that in his over 60 years of existence, nobody should deceive him into believing that the attack on the Presidential Guard was not part of the grand designs to hand over the seat of government to terrorists so that there will be no elections next year.

“I suspect that very soon, some states will be taken over by these Fulani men called bandits. I suspect that very soon, the presidential villa will be handed over to them. This is the plan; nobody should deceive me. I am more than 60 years old, so nobody should deceive me. It is a plan to hand over to these Fulani men who are called bandits, so that there will be no election,” he said.

The questions begging for answers are: How can that happen? Where are the security agents who are supposed to protect the people? Must we continue like this? What should the concerned authorities do to forestall future occurrence of the FCT, Borno and Ijesha incidents respectively and similar ones?

At the last count, no fewer than 11 million Nigerians have registered with the INEC to be able to vote in the 2023 elections.

Providing insight into the number of new registrants, especially among the youths who have recently shown interest in the electoral process, a top INEC official, who preferred anonymity said: “As at 7am on July 25, 2022, the fresh registrants stood at 10, 487, 972, while completed registration stood at 11, 011, 119. Those who registered online were 3, 391, 940, while those who registered physically were 7, 619, 179. The number of male was 5, 453, 071, while that of the females was 5, 558, 048. People living with disabilities (PWDs) were 80, 101, whereas the youths recorded an amazing figure of 7, 828,570. So, completed registration as of Monday July 25, stood at over 11 million voters.” 

Dr. Bitrus also noted that the only way to preserve democracy in Nigeria and even elsewhere was to have elections, where Nigerians could elect people into offices, irrespective of religion, region or ethnicity. He called on Nigerians to rise up and resist the people who feel that they could hijack power through violence, even as he charged the concerned authorities to put measures in place to checkmate the reoccurrence of the Ijesha incident. “Now, snatching of ballot boxes is no more there, so they are now trying to stop people from voting by trying to prevent them from registering to vote. They cannot stop people from registering so that they can exercise their civic right of voting in an election as Nigerians. The upsurge in the turn out of the youths for the voter registration exercise is telling anybody who wants to play any prank under any guise that Nigeria is for Nigerians and nobody can take Nigerians for a ride any longer.

“Anybody trying to do that should know that the game is over because all these violence, whether it is by Boko Haram Islamists, ISWAP, herdsmen militia, bandits or whatever, will not change anything; they should have a rethink because the Nigeria we are berthing is a Nigeria where peace will prevail. And somebody who thinks that he can take what Nigerians want to have through violence is deceiving himself, and I believe Nigerians would rise up to defend that,” he said.

However, for the former General Secretary of the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), Chief Frank Kokori, no antics of any person or group of persons will affect the credible conduct of the 2023 election. He argued that nobody can compromise it as long as INEC uses the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS), which he said is so efficient. “If you don’t appear in person to vote, nobody will count you. Their plans to compromise the election won’t work this time around. The use of the BVAS is what will distinguish the 2023 election from other general elections in the past. So, it does not matter what the politicians do. If they like, let them carry the entire voter registration machines, their plan will not work. Look at the last two elections in Osun and Ekiti states; they were free and fair, no matter what anybody says. We thank God for this BVAS because elections in Nigeria have never been credible except that of June 12, 1993.

“Obviously, the 2023 election will be free and fair because people will watch their votes. So, don’t mind the dubious politicians and their evil plans. Most of them still think that it will be business as usual. The problem is that most of them are illiterate; they don’t understand how the BVAS works and that is why they are doing what they are doing. If they understand how BVAS works, they won’t waste their time trying all this nonsense. There is no trick in this one. So, leave them to continue deceiving themselves. The new Electoral Act is what has ended their shenanigans and that is why everybody wants to get the PVC to be able to vote because votes will count this time around. Everybody’s ballot will count,” he submitted.

Also, the president of Arewa Youths Consultative Forum (AYCF), Alhaji Yerima Shettima described the Borno and Ijesha, Lagos incidents as very sad developments. “We cannot have a country where impunity becomes the order of the day. However, I am also glad that we have a very good leader at the helms of affairs of INEC in the person of Mahmood Yakubu, who deploys all resources to make it difficult for people to circumvent the process as they had always done in the past. All we need to do as Nigerians is to back our country because from all indications, these politicians do not mean well for the country,” he said.

He called for all hands to be on deck to be able to resist politicians and their evil plots, even as he assured that INEC would not allow their evil plans to prevail. He said: “We all have to be watchful and I am also sure that the INEC I know today is different from the INEC of yesterday. They have improved and I am sure they must have their plan B. So, whoever that carts away the INEC voter registration machine for whatever motive, will not succeed; I am sure INEC will cover up and do better. But, we must reject, resist and say no to these desperate politicians.” 

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