The Governor of Rivers, Nyesom Wike, has urged Nigerians not to allow the 2023 general elections to fail.
He said the failure of the election will increase political polarisation, exacerbate social fault lines and set Nigeria’s democracy backwards.
According to his Media Assistant, Kelvin Ebiri, the Rivers governor gave the charge at the Rivers State Government-sponsored 2023 Port Harcourt International Conference themed, ‘Deepening Democratic Culture and Institutions for Sustainable Development and Security in Nigeria’, that held in Port Harcourt on Thursday.
The conference had former President Olusegun Obasanjo delivering a keynote address titled, “Respecting the Principles of Democracy.”
Wike said barely one month away to the 2023 general election, Nigerians are hoping and praying for it to herald the deepening of democratic culture, the rule of law and good governance in the country.
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The Rivers governor noted that the opportunity to elect a new president of the federation and 30 state governors should be a success because it would consolidate and strengthen the roots of democracy in the Nigeria polity.
“In a democracy, periodic elections are the only legitimate means for the peaceful transfer of power from one party to another. Since 1999, Nigeria has had six general election circles, but none was considered substantially clean and fair.
“The outcome of the 2003 general elections was rejected at different levels by the opposition and the losers, and litigated up to the Supreme Court. The outcome of the 2007 elections led to protests, riots, the loss of several lives, and the destruction of property in particular sections of the country.”
Wike recalled that even President Musa Yar’Adua had promised necessary electoral reforms when he publicly denounced the process that brought him to power because it was severely flawed.
According to Wike, the 2011 general election also suffered a similar experience and was litigated by the opposition to the Supreme Court.
“None of the defeated contestants believed they lost fairly and blamed the umpire, the security agencies and politicians for undermining our democracy with brazen electoral fraud,”
The Rivers governor noted that the 2015 general election, though considered rigged, recorded some improvements with the use of the smart card reader and the emergence of opposition candidates as the winners of the presidential election.
He stated that the 2019 general election was equally problematic and rejected as highly compromised by the opposition and litigated up to the Supreme Court.
“In Rivers State, we battled the military in the 2016 and 2019 re-run and general elections with pure courage and determination to secure our victory and retain our mandate with the sweat and blood of innocent citizens,” Wike said.
Wike noted that when the government compromises the integrity of elections through election management agencies, it denies citizens their constitutional right to elect the leaders they want and can hold accountable.
Conversely, he emphasised, when elections lack integrity, the leaders who emerged from outside the people’s will are illegitimate.
“Such leaders without trust are likely to be authoritarian, divisive and incapable of effective governance. Serial election rigging threatens our democracy and constitutes an existential challenge to the nation’s future stability.
“Therefore, deepening democratic culture and institutions for sustainable development and security is important to us as a nation, and free and fair elections with integrity remain the only path to achieving this objective,” Wike said.
Speaking further, governor Wike said the new electoral law, especially with the provisions of the use of technology, holds the prospect for a brighter democratic experience for Nigeria if implemented effectively.
However, he stressed, that beyond the legal regime, political parties’ internal practices and external electioneering behaviour must conform to democratic norms and standards.
“The efficiency of the judiciary in interpreting and enforcing the existing regulatory regime, including the laws, regulations and guidelines beyond reproach and the capacity and consistency of INEC and the Security Agencies to be firm, impartial and independent in the discharge of their functions are most crucial.
“Safeguarding and deepening our democracy lies with every citizen. We must have the courage to stand up for justice, the rule of law, an independent and courageous judiciary, and our rights and freedoms to vote and be voted in a transparent election,” Wike said.
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