20th September, 2010
The release of the 2011 general elections timetable by the Independent National ElectoralÂ Commission, INEC, has increased the tempo of political activities but most voters areÂ apprehensive of the two weeks allowed for the compilation of a new votersâ€™ register.
Their apprehension stems from past experience when voters were disenfranchised through noÂ fault of theirs. Prior to the 1999 elections, a similar exercise was carried out and atÂ the end of the day, there were several unsavoury tales of inability of the electorate toÂ register. In some cases, it was the fault of the officials drafted to conduct theÂ registration, but in several others, it was due to voter apathy. Whatever the cause, weÂ must guide against the same problems. Materials for registration must arrive in good timeÂ while voters should be sensitised at least two weeks before the commencement of theÂ exercise. Registration centres too must be adequate to avoid people going to register tenÂ streets away from where they reside, which in the past, turned off potential voters whoÂ did not want to face such hassles just to register to vote.
It should also be noted that in the past, voters could not find where to vote. We believeÂ that voting centres should not be too far from where voters had registered to vote. TheÂ inability to find where to vote had in the past made voters turn back and go home. SuchÂ cases are often not helped by INEC officials who act as if they donâ€™t care if one votesÂ or not. ThisÂ cavalier attitude by INEC officials must be avoided. INEC should alsoÂ reconsider the time-frame for registration as we believe the two-week period may not beÂ enough for the exercise.
INECâ€™s first big assignment under Prof. Attahiru Jega will be the registration of votersÂ for the January elections. Not a few Nigerians want INEC to get it right but the greaterÂ fear is: does Jega have competent and honest staff to prosecute the job?
Many times logistics had been more of a problem than corruption but when both areÂ combined, we have an impossible situation which ends up with all sides blaming oneÂ another.
Already, controversy is trailing the award of contract for the supply of Direct DataÂ Capture Machines. Nigerians are asking what criteria was used to award the contract toÂ Hailer, Arante and Zinox when world-class manufacturers like Samsung, HP, Acer, Dell andÂ Toshiba also bid for the contract.
The greater fear now is that the machines may not be delivered on time to meet INECâ€™sÂ registration time table. But Prof. Jega on Saturday in Calabar, while speaking withÂ Resident Electoral Commissioners, REC, said â€œINEC has almost concluded the procurement ofÂ sophisticated machines and equipment required for the registration exercise. We have alsoÂ commenced the recruitment of over 360,000 staff that are needed for the voterÂ registration and the development of new software.â€
All sounds very well but we all need to play our part towards the success of the nextÂ elections. It is heartening that non-government organisations have taken the lead inÂ sensitising Nigerians on the need to register, vote and make sure their votes count.Â Government at all levels , NGOs, churches, mosques, schools and other social groups mustÂ begin to sensitise their members on the need to be part of the registration which beginsÂ on 1 November, 2010. The success of this exercise will lay the foundation for a free,Â fair, credible and peaceful elections inÂ 2011.