28th March, 2011
The announcement by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, last week barring governors and all political office holders from moving around on election days is commendable, though many have kicked against the move.
Prof. Attahiru Jega, Chairman of INEC had in Abuja on Friday said such politicians would only be allowed to cast their votes in their respective polling stations after which they could go back to their homes.
In the past, political office holders were allowed to move around to allegedly monitor the polls, though they were more of a hindrance than help and many times they have helped in perpetrating fraud or caused confusion during which opposing parties traded accusations or even blows.
This time, INEC plans to deploy over 36,000 ad hoc staff to the 120,000 polling units across the country. INECâ€™s ad hoc staff are expected to be deployed to man the units while regular members of staff would be deployed to man the sub-units. All very well, but political office holders, if they want, can get around the restriction of movement by using their surrogates, which include thugs and party officials.
These are the people INEC has to be wary about because most of the time, they are the ones who cause confusion by snatching ballot boxes and fighting with perceived opponents at the polling units.
Policemen posted to polling units too must be wary of causing confusion as it has been known to happen, when in the course of some minor misunderstanding, they start shooting into the air to allegedly bring a situation under control, and would-be voters run for dear life while the election riggers have a field day stuffing ballot boxes or even carting them away.
INEC must also watch out so that its staff, ad hoc or otherwise, are not compromised. Unlike what happened during the voter registration, INEC must pay its staff as and when due. The staff must not become beggars who drool at the sight of dirty money offered by unscrupulous party agents or representatives of politicians.
Prof. Jega must also stand firm on INECâ€™s decision that voters stay at the polling stations after casting their votes until the ballots are counted. Some political parties have lauded the decision while others, including the ruling Peoples DemocraticÂ Party, PDP, have kicked against it. INEC must decide how it wants to conduct free and fair elections next month and not allow itself to be distracted from the task at hand.