The right to vote is a human right. Citizens through the exercise of this right confer on their government the legitimacy that underpins the acquisition and exercise of power.
For a country as diverse as Nigeria and with its trying political history, the process and exercise of this right in elections is also an opportunity to forge deeper bonds of nationhood.
Adults alone may vote but when they do, they reflect their ambitions and aspirations for their children as well as the lessons of their history. Voting is, therefore, both a right and a sacred duty exercised by willing and living adults as custodians of a trust from the past and on behalf of both themselves and their future.
Everyone should take it seriously. No one should knowingly impair its exercise or deliberately pre-determine its outcome. Laws – both national and international – exist to govern the administration of voting and the exercise of the right to vote.
These laws regulate what is or isn’t acceptable around elections. They’re designed to keep the churches and mosques out of partisan politics, prohibit violence and incitement to violence, and make voting a safe experience for those that administer or participate in it.
In Nigeria, however, the records suggest that voting has always been dangerous and the laws that govern its conduct have not always been respected or obeyed by those who should. There is a well-established habit of tolerating election violence in Nigeria and granting impunity to those who orchestrate, perpetrate or benefit from it because it can guarantee a pre-determined outcome.
The result is that the exercise of voting on a national scale has increasingly become a periodic test for coexistence in and the stability of Nigeria, around which fears of violence are rife and death and displacement are commonplace.
This frightens citizens, residents, neighbours and friends of Nigeria everywhere. It also perpetuates an unfortunate caricature of a country incapable of governing itself. A country endowed with Nigeria’s wealth of human and natural resources as well as talent must find the will to call time on this.
On March 28 and April 11 2015, Nigeria will, for the 5th time in 16 years and only the 8th time since Independence in 1960, undertake perhaps the closest and most competitive election in its 54-year history.
Addressed to Nigeria’s leaders, politicians, communities, citizens, and friends, this report and advisory explains why the country must turn the page on a long and worsening history of election violence.
To continue on that trajectory, this report demonstrates, would seriously endanger not just Nigeria or the human rights of its citizens but the peace and security of an entire region whose stability and fate is tied inextricably with that of Nigeria.
Chidi Anselm Odinkalu, Ph.D. (LSE) Professor Bem Angwe
Chairman, Governing Council Executive Secretary
The above piece is a Forward to the pre-election report and advisory on violence in Nigeria’s 2015 general elections issued by the National Human Rights Commission of Nigeria.
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