22nd December, 2010
By Peter Claver Oparah
For the third time in recent times, I have read the INEC Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega warn us not to expect perfect elections in 2011. From all possibleÂ indices, that warning has become his most passionate response to our collective and unflagging demand for electoral sanity in 2011, which peaks as thatÂ important date nears and not much groundwork seems to be on ground to suggest the country is walking out of the woods of shambolic elections.
Ordinarily, it would have been easy to take Jega’s admonitions and temper our demand for credible elections in 2011 with the possible human limitations thatÂ come to play, especially in Africa where remnants of macabre elections litter the landscape but we must be careful to dance along with Jega in his news song.Â If we are not careful, the song itself will be just a prelude to yet another electoral nightmare in 2011 considering that little has been done to point theÂ way on how the coming election will depart radically from the same parody that has arrested the progress of the country since 1999.
When Jega came, in a blaze of popular acclaim, not a few Nigerians vouched that he would conduct a credible election if he sets his mind to do that. GivenÂ his past record in ASUU leadership, many believed that Jega will not allow himself to be twisted in the narcissist dance of politicians of easy virtue butÂ will deliver a process that will meet international electoral standards in credibility. As he settled down to clear the fog precipitated by a twisted andÂ completely mangled process, Nigerians were ever ready to mobilize the goodwill and the needed accouterments Jega needed to succeed. That was why he did notÂ find it hard getting the huge budget he asked for and was able to get the additional time he requested for. At every turn, Nigerians were ready to surpriseÂ Jega with their support and this was more pronounced in the ranks of opposition, civil society groups and other relevant stakeholders outside the rulingÂ party, which has been the biggest beneficiary from fraudulent elections in recent years.
In an earlier report, I had warned Jega that granting him all he desires comes with a certain condition and that is the conduct of an election every NigerianÂ must be proud of at the end of the day. I had warned him to stray carefully because he will have no excuse for failure. I think that warning is stillÂ relevant and Jega must be at his very best to ensure he does not flunk on this critical assignment. With the days drawing so close, I believe that it behovesÂ Jega to come out straight and tell Nigerians, in detailed form, how he aims to achieve free and fair election in 2011. It is time he lays his action plan onÂ the ground and allow Nigerians to criticize, condemn, tinker and approve such game plan. So far, he hasn’t done that and all we still hang on to for any hopeÂ of a credible poll in 2011 is the integrity of Jega. This is not, by any means, an elastic caveat and Jega must know that soon, and very soon, cracks ofÂ doubt will emerge to even question the content and quality of his integrity, if Nigerians are not made to know the route chart to a free and credibleÂ election.
With the persistent warning that we should not expect a ‘perfect’ election in 2011, I fear that our expectations of a free and fair polls in 2011 standsÂ imperiled. I am afraid that after getting the hefty budget he asked for and after getting the time extension we gave him, Jega is preparing Nigerians forÂ just another election in 2011-a euphemism for another bizarre electoral fraud next year. He should prove me wrong on this by what he does to firm the promiseÂ of a free and fair election and I will be very glad. I am beginning to feel that the task overwhelms Jega and that while it does not corrode on hisÂ integrity, it rather challenges his capacity to give us a credible poll. I can say that this fear is not deep rooted but remains at the very recess of myÂ mind. It could be erased or even whittled down but then, that is Jega’s task. He has to tell us in clear and understandable format, how he wants to deal withÂ the ennui of electoral fraud. He has to open his mind to the suggestions of Nigerians and be ready to wield the stick no matter whose ox is gored.
He has to depart the realms of theory and migrate to the realms of practice. He has to test his strategy against the pessimism and doubts of Nigerians. GivenÂ such openness, it will be easy to mobilize Nigerians to tag along with him on this critical project. While he keeps those that do not quite require massÂ input close to his chest, he must tell Nigerians the bends and turns the coming election will take and wait for them to advise where necessary so that theÂ conduct of 2011 elections will be a general task all must build into. That was the strategy Humphrey Nwosu adopted in 1993, which gave us, as yet, the freestÂ and fairest election in the chequered history of the country’s electoral process. I doubt if Jega is hoping to build nothing on nothing as his predecessor,Â notoriously tried to do but if he should attempt this vain mission, he stands the risk of taking with him, his much vaunted integrity.
Right now, the country needs to know the voting system that would be adopted for the 2011 elections and its ruggedness with a people that are not averse toÂ shrifts and sharp practices to gain electoral advantage. He must be creative to come out with ways and means to arrest this predilection to tamper with theÂ choices of the people. Where do the people come in and what back up do they have from INEC and the system to prevent such howling violence done to theÂ electoral system by desperate politicians? How can the new electoral process arm the people, as a mass organ, to enable them check the manipulatoryÂ tendencies of politicians? What are the effective checks that would ensure the rich and the powerful are not allowed to walk away with another bizarreÂ license with the system for their self serving purposes? What are the inbuilt checks and balances necessary to free the on coming elections from the grips ofÂ those in power at various levels of governance in the country?
As at now, Jega and his team should be able to explain the process, from the polling booth to the final collation centers; at the ward, local government,Â state and federal levels. The detailed steps through which the system will travel should be very clear and cadent to Nigerians so that they will act asÂ effective police against the inclination to pervert the system for selfish ends. How will the ballot papers be guided from the desperate reach ofÂ politicians? How will INEC ensure that each polling booth gets the requisite number of ballots and censure they are ringed from extraneous influences andÂ infiltration by desperate politicians? How will INEC ensure that accountability in the ballot papers and materials sent to each polling booth is maintainedÂ so that at the end of the day, what is returned matches what was sent? How will INEC ensure that its materials are not counterfeited? All these speak of aÂ need for a rugged electoral audit process to ensure that what comes out of the coming polls tallies with the real efforts and expectations of Nigerians.
It is saddening to learn of the theft of some of the Direct Data Capture machines recently imported into the country and the seeming incoherent reaction ofÂ INEC to that very sad and ugly development. That was a very unfortunate way to start the process of a free and fair election because we can safely establishÂ the interface between such act and the strings of shambolic elections we have been saddled with in recent times. One hopes that INEC can come out to giveÂ Nigerians a comprehensive explanation on how it hopes to frustrate the intents of those that masterminded that dastardly act. I think the answer to thisÂ pre-emptive strike by unrepentant electoral fraudsters lies with data so INEC must show how it will safeguard its authentic data against corrosive efforts ofÂ desperadoes that anchor their relevance on fraudulent elections.
All said, Jega should not bother himself about what a perfect election is. Nigerians know that there are no perfect elections anywhere in the world but theyÂ know what approximates a perfect election and it is either Jega is going to give it or he is not. He should do everything to give us an election we all canÂ acclaim as free and fair and leave that perfection aspect as merely an academic exercise. He must not hope to play pranks with Nigerians and if he believesÂ he cannot pull this through, he can throw in the towel and allow another person to do it.
He should not try to prepare us for another electoral heist in 2011 by this his new found warning against perfect elections. It is not Jega’s duty to tell usÂ not to expect a perfect election but it is his job to give us a perfect election. He is not sent to INEC to preach of the impossible but to work for theÂ possible. We know how to define a good election and how to identify a horrible parody when we see one. If he hopes to use the present persistent warning thatÂ we should not expect a perfect election in 2011 to give us another mish mash of concocted jeremiad, then he should have a re-think because we have passedÂ that level of thinking. He should know that he is on the very cutting edge of history and the less he tries to prepare us for another boring walk on theÂ frequently taken but less desirable road of electoral chicanery, the better for him and Nigeria.
â€¢Oparah writes from Ikeja, Lagos.