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Election bureaucracies, Office of the Citizens and the future of democracy in Nigeria

By Samuel Akpobome Orovwuje

Never be disappointed and never lose your hope and fortitude when all that you see around is only shadows. Because if there are shadows, there must also be sources of light nearby. Find them, take them with you to illuminate your trail and make shadows disappear!” – John Baldwin

For the first time in two decades, young Nigerians came out in droves to elect a new government. They were at the forefront of a critical mass rising up against treacherous politicians and their collaborators.

The conduct of the 2023 general elections in Nigeria suffers from a continuing general crisis of election bureaucracies. The announcement of the results was a signal for political violence to be unleashed across the country. It is beyond doubt that the process was marred by irregularities and below global best practices.

Generally, when there is chaos around state institutions, leaders should reflect on how that affects the citizens. Does it bring out the leadership skills and desire to organise, communicate and respect the aspirations of citizens? It is crucial for public leaders in a chaotic situation to pause and rethink their process failures and challenges in the interest of the common good. The sad reality of bureaucracies is that they are characterised by a partisan-political staff and, to a large extent, the politicisation of appointments to the extent that the public servants have become shamelessly partisan.

Bureaucracies in Nigeria lack the focus on credibility, rigour and the important social obligation of conducting elections. INEC as a public institution has a responsibility to promote transparency, credibility and self-censorship. Therefore, conflict of interest, confusion and mistrust have damaged the system in the eye of the public. The lack of all these key building blocks is suspect and it needs public scrutiny and interrogation beyond the election tribunals and, ultimately, the Supreme Court.

Specific key subject areas in innovation — with a focus on new technology (BIVAS) and data analytics — supply chain, inventory planning and materials management remain tailbacks in public policy and administration in Nigeria. Another big challenge that we need to note is how elections are delivered, with the unwholesome practices by treacherous politicians and bureaucratic appointees in the election governance value-chain. The key questions to ask are: How has geopolitics become more important in this election? How should it not be incorporated into the building blocks? How has geopolitics affected leadership recruitment at the national and state levels?

In the light of election uncertainty, along with a mix of claims and counter- claims, how do we prepare citizens for a future of managing episodic election disruption by compromised institutional bureaucracies of policing, state security and the armed forces? How do we maintain integrity from institutional corruption?

Interestingly, the changing demography of millennial and Gen Z is fast becoming the new determinant in shaping the future of a new republic. The implication is naturally a major change in voting behaviour and patterns. If we acknowledge how very different the millennial are from the compromised political elite and power mongers, then election bureaucracies are increasingly in trouble. For instance, the millennial are less loyal to the older generation and a lot more technology-driven compared with their Generation Y counterparts. Millennial are also known to hold very dearly the values of diversity, equity and inclusion — and these often reflect in their choices.

Therefore, if politicians and their corrupt bureaucratic surrogates do not pay attention to operational details and align with the changing technology correctness, political geography and the evolving standard of youthful and empowered citizens in driving credible leadership selection, then the treacherous politicians will be shown their way out in a manner that might threaten public peace. It should be noted that the youths are showing some signs of rebellion against the current political status quo and social conditions.

At this moment, the youth are not consistently able to avoid falling prey to political and ethnic war propaganda. The number of youths that are not interested in politics and public leadership has diminished quickly over the last two decades. There is an emergence of a sophisticated section of voters with very distinct electoral behaviour and values. They are digital first in their voting preferences and technologically savvy, detail-oriented and clear-minded on whom they want to lead them. They are unbending and unapologetic about their expectations of a new Nigeria.

Going forward, it is also in the interest of judicial bureaucracies to re-imagine their judicial pronouncements devoid of jurisprudential technicality. The legal fireworks of the presidential and governorship elections will be stiffer this year and only a judicial pronouncement with measured readiness for transparency, fairness and justice will be a sweet-savour and validate the supremacy of institutions to dispense justice without fear or favour.

The political elite that have been hypocritically dependent on illicit wealth, bribery and capture of state institutions are doomed. Candidates without legitimacy and sincerity of purpose to muster trust and credibility will struggle in this election cycle and beyond. A country built on the power of money, where the common man begs and a handful of the elite are parasitising, cannot thrive, and democracy without legitimacy and accountability cannot stand.

Citizens need to rise up to the challenges of corrupt bureaucracies and political jobbers and advocate for the right leaders who have the mindset and capabilities to change Nigeria for good. It is not enough to have the right mindset and capabilities. We need leaders that can build systems, structures and interventions that deliver hope and progress. We must tell political opportunists in high places that the cheap talk about democracy and the rule of law without action is sheer hypocrisy.

Lastly, Nigeria is currently on the verge of a new era that will deal a severe blow to corrupt episodic elections and leadership recruitment. The country has been under the burden of various internal contradictions, historical injustices and socio-economic unviability. Without a better leadership alternative, the country will go downhill into even greater chaos. The youths have revived hope that something other than this socio-political pain in the neck is possible.

Orovwuje is founder, Humanitarian Care for Displaced Persons, Lagos., 08034745325

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