Nigeria has an estimated population of over 150 million people, with three major tribal ethnic groups — Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba — diverse religious groups and is the seventh largest oil exporter in the world.
But in the midst of plenty, the people of Nigeria have still suffered from a series of political, economic, religious and inter-tribal disputes since her independence on Oct. 1, 1960, just as many countries in the world have suffered similar ordeals in the past.
The atmosphere is tense once again, with political rallies, campaigns and party manifestos bombarding the media. There are also election petitions in courts, caucus meetings and coalitions of parties vying to win power, not unlike Canada at the present time. To ensure that things run smoothly, however, the attention of Nigerians all over the world must be drawn to the lapses recorded in the 2007 presidential poll that was locally and internationally criticized and characterized by fraud, election rigging, ballot-box snatching and political thuggery.
Elections are a period of change and that is why it is crucial for Nigerians to be ready for the change they have always thirsted for. To this end, here is a quick look at the situation that has brought the current leader of Nigeria, and the election frontrunner, into power.
The demise of President Musa Yar’adua, on May 6, 2010 saw incumbent Vice-President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan become president. Among Jonathan’s many promises to Nigerians, was a stable power supply and safe elections, to the detriment of his ambition and his party. From a political point of view, Goodluck seems to have local and even some international support coupled with his position as the number one helmsman in Nigeria.
However, to ensure a free and fair poll for the National Assembly, presidency and the State Assembly, adequate security measures must be put in place to guarantee the safety of the people coming out to cast their votes. It is essential that voters aren’t intimidated by hired miscreants at every polling station across the country, particularly in the almost hidden rural communities. Every Nigerian must be enlightened, encouraged and supported through both the print and electronic media. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) must ensure that every eligible voter registered should be allowed to cast their vote. One of the ways to achieve this is by beginning voting early and the immediate collation of election results electronically. The justice system must quickly and effectively serve aggrieved persons, political parties or groups who are victimized by illegal or illegitimate electoral practices.
This period in the history of Nigeria is not only going to bring change to the economic, social and cultural system, but I hope it will also rewrite her entire political history, bringing it into the realm of peaceful society, bringing employment opportunities for all, prudent management of her vast human and natural resources and respect of citizens’ fundamental human rights. If nations like the United States, South Africa and Ghana can conduct a free and fair election, then Nigerians can get it right as well.
David Opeyemi is a U of M student born in Nigeria and believes that Nigeria can hold a free and fair election and begin to fulfill the aspirations of her people.