19th February, 2015
By Ayo Oyoze Baje
Why do we like to deceive ourselves in this country? Why are we given to believing half-truths, sheer political propaganda and fiction over verifiable facts and figures? These were the poignant questions that agitated my mind over the past weekend. As recent events have unfolded, the Prof. Attahiru Jega-led Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, was obviously not prepared to hold free, fair and reasonably credible elections had it gone ahead with the presidential poll on 14 February, 2015. So, why all the hoopla over the shift in the date for the polls, when the political temperature was inching closer to the boiling point? The tension, exacerbated by heated campaigns of calumny by political gladiators was palpable, was it not?
Yet, there were other fundamental electoral flaws staring us all in the face. The issues range from shoddy Permanent Voters’ Card (PVC) distribution, some still being printed in China, lack of manuals to train ad-hoc staff, to the insistence by INEC to use the untested card reader. The other is the more volatile allegation that so far its PVC distribution is skewed in favour of a particular presidential candidate.
For instance, at least 23 million eligible Nigerian voters would have been disenfranchised had the election gone ahead as earlier scheduled. They had no access to their PVCs. The distribution in several states across the country leaves much to be desired. An aged eligible voter has tried 19 times in one of the South-Eastern states without success. That of Lagos, the acclaimed Centre of Excellence hovered at 38 per cent. And there, allegations are still rife that there is a deliberate ploy by enemies of the Nigerian state to exclude people of the South-South and South-East geo-political zones resident in Lagos to have the opportunity to vote for candidates of their choice. It is no less cheery in Ogun State. Going by a related magazine story conducted by the state OGTV aired on Sunday, 15 February, 2015 many eligible voters are yet to have theirs, after several futile efforts.
In a similar vein, Mr. Leo Ogor, the Deputy Minority Leader, Federal House of Representatives, representing Isoko, Delta State recently expressed his reservations in a media chat with The Guardian on Sunday. “My worry is that most people in my constituency will be disenfranchised. I’m worried. It is wrong for somebody who is eligible to vote to be disenfranchised on account of PVC.”
He added, “why use card reader in this election that is not tried before? It’s like a newly graduated doctor starting his career with heart surgery!” The polls shift therefore, provides yet another window of opportunity for INEC to get its acts together.
While AIT’s Gbenga Aruleba describes the poll shift as an act of God, it was for me and millions of peace-loving Nigerians one good sigh of huge relief. Prior to that date, it was as if Nigeria was literally preparing for war. From vendors’ stand through places of work to beer parlours and campaign offices, it has been a heated exchange of verbal missiles between supporters of the PDP’s incumbent President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan and General Muhammadu Buhari of the APC. Sad to note, that the media, which in tougher times maintained its neutrality has now taken sides. That remains a topical issue for another day.
But for now, INEC has to find credible answers to the serious allegation that the distribution of the much sought after PVCs is meant to favour Buhari. Only recently, Jonathan’s Campaign Organisation alleged that Jega has been hobnobbing with the opposition APC which he has stridently denied. While some Nigerians are still calling for his immediate sack, in spite of the President’s insistence he has no intention of doing so, a political interest organization, the Credible Alternative Alliance(CAA) led by Alhaji Balarabe Musa says that Jega has questions to answer. Still on the matter, Mr. Yinka Odumakin has described the allegations as weighty. The spokesman for the Yoruba socio-cultural group Afenifere has called for investigation into it and if found guilty, he should not only be sacked but made to face trial.
On his part, Dr, Tunji Braithwaite of the defunct National Advance Party (NAP) says that “some of the allegations against Jega these days are weighty and he needs to clear his name, otherwise, I don’t think he can be trusted to conduct the 2015 general elections any longer.” And should the allegations be true, ”then it is very costly and is something capable of throwing the country into chaos.” That indeed, is the crux of the whole matter.
As things stand, should INEC conduct the forthcoming elections with millions of voters disenfranchised, as well as having PVCs distributed in states perceived as the stronghold of any particular candidate, while employing the use of untested card readers, there may not be any light at the end of another long and hideously dark political tunnel.
Nigerians should be saved the physical and psychological trauma of queuing for hours on end, day after day to collect PVCs which their Indian counterparts get in school as soon as they are of voting age of 18.
My passionate and patriotic appeal to the Jega-led INEC is to heed the call of the peace-loving Nigerians, including some lawmakers to revert to the use of Temporary Voters Card (TVC) and desist from using the querulous card reader until it is well tested. If not, the possibility of conducting elections that are potentially capable of undermining the peace and unity of our great country Nigeria is imminent.
From one’s interaction with a wide spectrum of the Nigerian society, most of us cherish the peace we all currently enjoy. My appeal therefore, goes to the political actors at all levels to STOP CAMPAIGNS OF CALUMNY AND HATE. So should their supporters, the mass media and our elder statesmen. We must not undermine the efforts of our founding fathers. We should promote the little things that bind us together as four years is not an eternity.
•Baje wrote from Lagos