Paul Oluikpe.

With the February, 2015 presidential elections looming, a lot of security concerns became immediately apparent as political parties traverse the country’s landscape canvassing for votes and unfolding their manifestos. The historical landscape of Nigeria’s politics is littered with profound samples of election violence. At independence this nascent giant was hailed and propped up by Britain, its former colonial occupying power, as an example of the English expertise in developing and liberating her subjects. As a result Nigeria’s leaders were courted far and wide by nations willing to identify with its goodwill and potential greatness in the comity of nations. At long last, a nation populated by a third of the black race, was rising, and  rising fast. Youtube videos of its 1960s era leaders speaking before the United Nations General Assembly, and holding bilateral meetings with President Kennedy and visiting industrial and commercial sites in the developed world testify to its goodwill and prospects in that golden era. To add to its good fortune, massive oil reserves were discovered, further consolidating its image as a potential regional economic powerhouse.

But as the nation progressed and began to teeter on the brinks of disintegration and economic malaise in the late 1960s, the performances of its leaders came into question. Nigeria became a pariah nation, lacking in gravity but full of depravity in all specters of achievement. From then on, things went downhill on all fronts and parameters of governance, security and development.

Nigeria’s national elections have become indelible signatures of violence and wildness. Most recently, in 2011, many National Youth Corps members lost their lives while engaging in the lawful and constitutional business of conducting elections. Such sense of insecurity was, and continues to inform election processes in the country. And as the 2015 elections approach, there is this reminder, this bell that tolls silently but chillingly at the back of people’s minds, of possible election-related violence. This possibility might stifle and constrain turnout on election day,and  possibly hand victory to the wrong contestant; an outcome that may further deepen the  already pervasive sense of hopelessness. Some analysts have questioned the rationality of conducting elections amidst the current state of anarchy in the North East with Boko Haram running wild and free, and hacking hapless citizens to death. A lot of Southerners who live and ply their trade in the North, but travelled down-south for the Christmas holiday, are manifestly hesitant to return to the North before the elections for fear of imminent threat of bodily harm. Thus, hanging in the air like a thick cloud is a collective apprehension of the real possibility of what many fear  – a nightmare of violence, an orgy of looting, arson, and murder.

Security of life and property is one of the most cherished ideals of any enlightened society regardless of partisanship, tribe and ethnic affiliation. A regional giant like Nigeria has everything to gain by demonstrating leadership and example in violence-free elections. It is thus necessary that politicians rise above the all-or-nothing mentality that has shaped politics in the past, and has led to despicable acts of inhumanity and violence against innocents. They need to realize that election violence sets a society back on all fronts with loss of lives and property, social upheaval and fracturing of communal relationships. After the smoke clears, the damage done to relationships, both ethnic and partisan, continue well into the future and provide the basis for future fault lines, hence legitimizing and consolidating a vicious cycle of chaos and lawlessness. This is not where a sane society wants to find itself.

The mistakes of the past must not be repeated. The Rwanda genocide serves a more recent example of a society let loose on the fangs of hate, envy and parochial sentiment. We need not cite Bosnia and other societies of recent decades, where the state of affairs had been reset by violence and political instability. Nigeria’s leaders have a lot at stake in advocating for credible and peaceful elections come February. A promising economic outlook lies ahead as evidenced by a growing Gross Domestic Product, and the gradual return of Direct Foreign Investments in the country. For all these reasons, the United States, Britain and other developed nations should take a deeper interest in the affairs of Nigeria to ensure peace and stability, especially in this February’s Presidential elections.