23rd September, 2010
When he was appointed the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, IÂ knew that three great challenges faced Prof. Attahiru Jega and his team. These were:
i. The problem of time,
ii. The problem of financing, and
iii. The problem of re-investing confidence in INEC.
Of these three problems, I reckoned that of time was the most challenging while that ofÂ financing followed. The third problem is very critical but stems from how the first andÂ second problems were handled. Again, the third problem, being attitudinal, needed so muchÂ positive actions and right steps to helm in among a very cynic and pessimistic people whoÂ had almost given up on the electoral system and had consigned it to another relic of theÂ malfunctioning state we are burdened with. Because it draws heavily from human input, itÂ is subjective and remains the most sensitive of the three problems.
Jegaâ€™s INEC decided to take the second challenge of finance before the rest, probablyÂ urged on by the saying that money answereth all prayers but no sooner had it gotten itsÂ hefty budget approved for it than it found out that it had merely side-stepped the greatÂ challenge time posed to its pronounced desire to give Nigerians an election they canÂ swear with in 2011. It took only the scathing public derision of the INEC election timeÂ table for this critical election for Jega to face squarely one of the most importantÂ problems he has to face at the time of his appointment. He has therefore gone back toÂ Nigerians with another request-this time to be granted a little more time to ensure thatÂ a credible election is conducted in 2011. One would have expected this request earlierÂ than now because all point to the fact that Jega will need more than the time frameÂ allowed by what some say are our law books and the time he was empanelled to do thisÂ important task, to conduct the 2011 elections and return a credible and acceptableÂ outcome.
One vital area Jega needs sufficient time to tidy up is on the issue of votersâ€™Â registration. Because Nigerians have rightly identified an authentic voterâ€™s register,Â far from the macabre concoction by the immediate past INEC leadership, as the engine roomÂ that drives a credible election, they rightly perforated the tentative Jega time tableÂ that allocated just two weeks to register voters all over the country. Because it was aÂ joke, many felt Jega must have knowingly used that to stir and drive the demand for moreÂ time to do a thorough job. Of course, Nigerians were not amused and that sparkedÂ countrywide doubts about Jegaâ€™s capability to do free and fair polls in a matter ofÂ months.
Now that he has asked for time, it is wise and judicious to grant him this latestÂ request. I note that most Nigerians are getting discomfited by Jegaâ€™s persistent demandsÂ and that in itself, has created fears on whether the man is indeed capable of the task atÂ hand. But then, I believe his request for more time is justified only if it is for aÂ little added time to do a proper votersâ€™ registration. With sincerity, I believe Jega canÂ pull off the other activities on his present timetable within the allotted time frame. WeÂ should give Jega a time not exceeding one added month for him to tidy up and after that,Â let him not give us further excuses to doubt his competence and commitment to conductingÂ a credible election in 2011. I donâ€™t buy the hogwash about the sacredness of theÂ electoral act or such other hocus pocus. Let us make room for him to perform and grantingÂ him enough time to do a proper work should be one of the indices to having him succeed.
After granting him this latest favour-for that is what it seemingly is- we must wait onÂ Jega to throw more light on the coming election, especially as regards the process andÂ system of voting for the election. This is very important towards dealing with the thirdÂ afore-listed problem, which has to do with the re-invention of faith in INEC and itsÂ activities. This is a critical factor in having a credible election and without that,Â Jega is struggling in vain. One believes it is time Jega came to the streets with hisÂ plan for 2011. What electoral system is he adopting for the critical polls? Where do theÂ people effectively tap in to ensure the process is made credible? How will he stop theÂ politicians from hijacking the said process and tilt the process in their illicit favour?Â How will the citizenry assist within the framework of the given process to check theÂ excesses and interference of politicians? How credible are his Resident ElectoralÂ Commissioners who are his field officers in the states? What measures has he to trackÂ proceedings in each of the 120,000 polling units in the country? What direct relevanceÂ will be the Direct Data Capture Machines in detecting electoral fraud especially as itÂ relates to multiple voting? How will his favourite voting process deal with the notedÂ shortfalls of the process now in place, which has stood out for its porosity to theÂ influence of desperate politicians?
These and many other critical questions must be answered by Jega within his preferredÂ framework for the election. He must invite the devil to send his advocate to punch holesÂ in his plans and fine tune whatever process he deems best for the election. Public debateÂ must be courted to make it much more adaptable to the people and as the election dateÂ draws near, Jega must be explaining every process to Nigerians, taking their questionsÂ and proffering answers where needed. Like Humphrey Nwosu, Jega should be attacking theÂ basics of the election by now, explaining every bend to curious Nigerians and takingÂ their fears along. He should be simplicizing the process we are to adopt, engagingÂ fervent debate on the process and inventing ingenious ways of empowering the citizenry toÂ police the process against notorious political perverts for that remains the greatestÂ armor he has for a credible election. It should be noted here that any process that lacksÂ the input of the ordinary citizenry will come to a certain grief, as the 1999, 2003 andÂ 2007 electoral charades did. He should be outlining newer and more meaningful roles forÂ election observers, monitors, the media and other critical apolitical stakeholdersÂ necessary for the conduct of a credible election.
All said, let Jega have his latest request for time extension, as he had his firstÂ request for a huge war chest but let him woo the Nigerian citizenry through his actions.Â Let him deal with the accumulating doubts about his capacity to deliver with his actionsÂ henceforth and let him work real hard to re-invest the dawdy electoral process with theÂ confidence of the people. He should be creative as well as forceful in selling his ideaÂ to Nigerians and courting them as critical stakeholders in the conduct of a free and fairÂ election in 2011. He has taken care of the first problem that confronted him on ascensionÂ to duty, he certainly will get the second problem way behind him but he will need extraÂ effort to tackle the third problem. Here, human factors will be imputed and creativity isÂ called for if he must get Nigerians to trust the system to give them a credible electionÂ in 2011. He may get more time to get his acts right but he has no time to work to get theÂ confidence of the Nigerian people on the process so he must hit the ground running asÂ fast as his legs will carry him.
â€¢Peter Claver Oparah wrote in from Lagos. E-mail: [email protected]