Minna (Agenzia Fides) - "Even if the youths and fringe groups do not succeed in putting in power the political leaders of their choices, they have started something – a new movement that will bring about a ‘New’ Nigeria". Thus the bishop of the diocese of Minna, Luka Sylvester Gopep, tells Fides what is happening in the country in view of the next political elections, scheduled for February 25, 2023. "If we look at what is happening in other countries like Kenya and even what happened in Gambia, we see that our young people are following a trend which is rising very fast in Africa".
On February 25th, Nigerians will be called to the polls to elect the next President of the country. The representatives of the Senate and the House will be elected on the same day. Governors will be elected on March 11.
According to the Bishop of Minna, the elections represent a precious opportunity to see Nigeria return "to its rightful place among the nations", and a concrete opportunity to try to elect "people who care about the common good and who will not pillage our common inheritance to satisfy themselves, their families, patrons and friends.
The considerations offered by the Bishop regarding the electoral process underway highlight signs and dynamics that fuel hopes. "In fact - Bishop Gopep notes - this is the first time the young people in Nigeria, the professionals and other usually neglected groups have made statements. Everyone wanted to register to vote and get their permanent voters’ card (PVC)".
Young people and people without power have used social media to express their intolerance for the present situation and ask for a change: "Nigerians from all walks of life, ethnic groups, religious backgrounds, political affiliations and cultural and economic standings, are rising and making a serious request to the political elite – they want Nigeria to begin to change to become a country that truly lives up to the expectations and desires of the people". And if young people and fringe groups come out and vote, according to the Bishop of Minna, there could be "a massive political tsunami in Nigeria. Our history could take another course and Nigeria would be the place we all will be proud to call our home".
Nigeria - Bishop Luka Sylvester recalls - returned to democratic government in 1999 after a long period of military governments led by generals who took power through coups. These 23 years constitute the longest period of civil democratic rule in the history of Nigeria. "We give thanks to God for this achievement. We are equally happy that we have a new electoral law (the 2022 Electoral Act) which, if used correctly during the general elections of 2023, will bear great fruits for democracy in Nigeria".
In the considerations of the Bishop of Minna, expectations and hopes are accompanied by a realistic vision of the problems, factors of disintegration, corruption, oppression and conflict that threaten the present and the future of the country: "So many obstacles have continued to sabotage the fulfillment of an authentic and lasting democracy. Nigeria is characterized by a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural setting which continues to influence its socio-political “ecosystem”. These differences - explains Bishop Gopep - have been manipulated and played on by politicians and selfish leaders of our country. These people had always relied on the support of their religious and tribal bases to win elections or rather manipulate electoral processes in Nigeria".
The Country continues to witness numerous episodes of violence and unrest linked to the candidates' belonging to certain tribal contexts. Faced with this scenario, "political parties should sanction an equal representation of all groups present in Nigeria. Now the choice of two Muslims to run for the presidency on the platform of the ruling part, the APC, has been causing a lot of ripples in Nigeria. This will surely affect the the electoral process and the outcome of the elections, if the government and the Nigerians do not implement adequate countermeasures to avoid the escalation of conflicts".
Another critical point is the weight of money bag politics and economic resources used as conditioning factors in the electoral process. "Many candidates", notes the Bishop of Minna, "god-fathers and sponsors to participate in the elections, and then exploit their position by plundering public funds to repay their debts, offering important government positions to their 'benefactors'".
There are other grey areas that risk sabotaging and undermining the electoral process, starting with the many factors that threaten the security of civil coexistence. Terrorist groups such as Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) - the Bishop remarked - "have destroyed the social lives and the structures of communities in the North East and West regions of the country. The same armed groups, as well as bandits, kidnappers and rampaging herdsmen have made life difficult for people living in the North Central area and parts of the north-west. This will make it difficult for people from these areas to participate in the elections. Some of the villages cannot be accessed because they are under the authority of the terrorist groups".
The question of insecurity - adds Bishop Luka Sylvester - can be used as a tool in the hands of politicians, individuals and groups in power to scare the voters. Governments need to start investing in peace between communities, especially in conflict areas, in order not to jeopardize elections. Furthermore, "It is the duty of the Federal Government and the National Assembly to ensure that the funds are distributed on time", so that the INEC, the electoral body, has sufficient time and resources to deploy materials needed at each polling centre. This will ensure that communities in remote and hard-to-reach areas participate in the electoral processes.
In addition, the authorities must establish rules to ensure that those who commit crimes against the proper conduct of elections are prosecuted by law enforcement.
The laxity in the implementation of electoral laws - recalls the Bishop of Minna - in recent years has favored "an alarming increase in the incidents of violence against innocent voters, vote buying at polling stations, ballot box snatching by thugs of candidates, and intimidation of the general population, as well as the manipulation of election results to favour some candidates. These bad events have deterred so many people interested in politics from coming out to contest and there is an increase in general voters’ apathy in many parts of Nigeria". In this context - adds Bishop Luka Sylvester - even the judiciary "must be independent and must strive to manage cases transparently and in full compliance with the constitution of Nigeria and the electoral law of 2022". The Bishop also recalls the responsibilities that involve the entire electorate. All Nigerian citizens with the right to vote "have a duty to God, their country and families to register to vote, go out en masse on the days of election and vote". Nigeria "does not belong to oligarchies that have settled in the chambers of power for countless years". For this reason - concludes the Bishop - "We will continue to pray for God’s special intervention. We will also engage one another so that our contributions as Nigerians to the electoral processes in 2023 will help to bring about the Nigeria of our dreams", a country in which future generations can grow and prosper "for the good of the African Continent and humanity in general". (AP) (Agenzia Fides, 12/11/2022)