By Kalu Okoronkwo
The states of Kogi, Bayelsa, and Imo serve as prime examples of the pivotal role off-season elections play in Nigeria’s democratic experimentation. While the spotlight often shines on the grand stage of national and state elections, it is the off-season elections that wield a subtler, yet equally significant, influence on the country’s political scenery.
The gubernatorial elections in these states and others, including Anambra, Edo and other such states, are more than mere regional events. They hold the potential to shape political dynamics, and national inferences, thus revealing their unique nuances, challenges, and their far-reaching impact on Nigeria’s political panorama.
Unfortunately, the Nigerian political journey so far has not been a pleasant one, as its electoral process is often marred by irregularities, controversies, and voter apathy. These have far reaching implications on its significant impact on the nation’s governance and representation. In the shadow of the more celebrated general elections, off-season elections often wrestle with challenges that demand our attention.
Off-season elections refer to electoral processes that are held outside the usual general election cycle. It has since gained prominence, but more often suffer from a lack of attention and a myriad of problems. It is essential for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to address these issues and ensure that off-season elections are conducted transparently and fairly.
A robust democracy is built on the principle of free and fair elections. Off-season elections are a crucial component of Nigeria’s democratic process. INEC must ensure that these elections are conducted with the same level of integrity and transparency as general elections to strengthen the country’s democracy.
For instance, one of the most significant challenges faced during off-season elections is low voter turnout. The majority of voters tend to participate more actively in the general elections, while off-season elections often witness a significantly smaller number of voters. This disparity can undermine the legitimacy of off-season election results.
Addressing the challenges associated with off-season elections will boost voter confidence. When voters see that their voices are heard and their votes count, they are more likely to participate in all elections, including off-season ones.
Ensuring that these elections are free and fair is crucial to maintaining equal representation and accountability in Nigeria’s political landscape.
Incidences of electoral irregularities should be intentionally minimized as the off-season elections have been notorious for electoral voter suppression, ballot box stuffing, and vote-buying. These irregularities can compromise the integrity of the electoral process and undermine public trust in the system.
Heightened security concerns that usually associated with off-season elections through the absence of a large-scale national security operation, as seen during general elections, can lead to security breaches, voter intimidation, and violence, discouraging voter participation and endangering the democratic process. The security agencies, most times, pay lip service to the concern of voters during off-season elections, thus heightening fear among the citizenry.
A shadow of doubt still looms over the nation’s democratic progress in terms of security breaches during elections. Taking the three focal states for the November 11, 2023 off-season elections, the trio have been hot beds for political maneuverings and escalated violence, especially Imo and Kogi states.
The story of off-season elections in Imo State is a compelling saga of political power play. Known for its vibrant political scene, Imo state has been a stage for intense battles for the governor’s seat. Off-season elections here often serve as an arena for incumbents and challengers to test their mettle.
Kogi, with its diverse demographics and complex ethno-political dynamics, presents a unique case in the realm of off-season elections. The state has experienced its share of turbulence and intrigue during off-season contests. Gubernatorial elections in Kogi have, at times, been marred by controversies, thuggery, ballot snatching and other vices leading to legal disputes and calls for election cancellations.
Bayelsa State, on the other hand, is peculiar in a way. The State serves as a microcosm of Nigeria’s broader struggle to balance resource allocation and sustainable development hence, off-season elections in Bayelsa State resonate with the challenges and opportunities that come with resource abundance. Bayelsa state gubernatorial election is shaped by the desire to harness the wealth from the oil sector for the benefit of the local population.
There is need for INEC to also increase public awareness and voter education during off-season elections as it tends to receive less media coverage and public attention compared to general elections. As a result, many voters remain unaware of the dates and candidates, further contributing to low voter turnout.
The success or failure of off-season elections in Imo, Kogi, and Bayelsa States will further shape peoples opinion about INEC still smarting from perceived failure to organise a credible general elections in February and March. While each state presents a unique narrative, they collectively reflect the enduring quest for equitable representation, good governance, and the advancement of Nigeria’s democratic ideals. As off-season elections continue to shape the destiny of these states, they remain integral to the larger story of Nigerian politics, one of twists and turns, and the enduring hope for a brighter political future.
A transparent and equitable electoral process fosters national unity by reducing tensions and grievances that may arise from allegations of electoral fraud.
Nigeria’s international reputation is significantly influenced by the transparency and fairness of its electoral processes. Fair off-season elections will reflect positively on the country, attracting foreign investments and strengthening diplomatic relations.
Off-season elections are a vital aspect of Nigeria’s democratic journey, contributing to local and state-level governance and representation. To uphold the principles of democracy, strengthen voter confidence, and ensure equal representation, it is incumbent upon INEC to address the challenges associated with off-season elections. Transparency, fairness, and security must be prioritized to right the wrongs in off-season elections and secure the future of Nigeria’s democracy. Only by addressing these issues can Nigeria move closer to a more inclusive and thriving democratic system that serves the interests of all its citizens.
Kalu Okoronkwo, a leadership and good governance advocate wrote from Lagos and can be reached via [email protected]