by Levi Obijiofor
Would Jega accept responsibility for the botched governorship election in Anambra State? No, he won’t. It is just not his style. He is too perfect to be faulted by anyone. As chair of INEC, he perceives himself as a superstar and an infallible man
The Anambra State governorship election that was conducted last Saturday, 16 November 2013, has turned into a farce owing to unparalleled levels of irregularities and malpractices committed by corrupt officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). As a reflection of public outrage at the poor conduct of the election, a group of women assembled along the road leading to the INEC office in Awka a day after the election to protest the manner in which INEC conducted the election. The angry women would not have done so if the election was credible and fair.
During the election, devious INEC officials conspired to deny voters and some of the governorship candidates their right to vote and be voted for through a range of puzzling malpractices such as absence of voters’ names in the registers officially endorsed by INEC as authentic, late arrival of election officials and election materials to the voting centres, and inadequate supply of voting materials in many voting centres. All these combined to frustrate many voters to the point where they had to leave the polling booths in anger. Their unfortunate departure resulted in one outcome: they could neither participate in the election nor vote for the candidates of their choice.
Because of the blunders committed by INEC officials, there is now the probability that the outcome of the election will be contested in the law courts because the result will be deemed to be neither reliable nor valid.
Despite all the hand wringing and dodging of responsibility by INEC chairperson Attahiru Jega, what INEC officials did last Saturday in Anambra State did not resemble a governorship election conducted in a fair and credible manner. The so-called election was by all means a pilot test to determine how far INEC could go to conduct an election that is heavily prejudiced with predetermined outcomes.
Upholding the result of the governorship election in Anambra State will be equivalent to pulling off electoral fraud in full view of the people of Anambra State. Anyone who endorses the result of that blemished governorship election would have given INEC a blank script on which to write the name of its preferred governorship candidate. Does INEC have the moral authority or power to impose on the people of Anambra State a governorship candidate whose election will attract public indignation? Should INEC be allowed to perpetrate electoral heist and get away free?
In the governorship election in Anambra State, INEC shamelessly compromised even-handedness for massive fraud and injustice. If what happened last Saturday represented a test run of what we should expect in the 2014 governorship election in Ekiti State and the presidential election in 2015, we must be prepared for a landslide election result that will privilege a presidential candidate preferred by INEC. No one should be deluded into believing that INEC is capable of conducting free, fair and credible elections in 2015. If INEC failed to conduct a state governorship election without rancour and self-inflicted disruptions, how could anyone expect the organisation to put up a better performance across the country in two years’ time?
It was pathetic listening to INEC boss Attahiru Jega at the weekend as he struggled to explain the malpractices that tarnished the integrity of the election in Anambra State. All he did was to evade responsibility for the logistical blunders that marred the election.
The hallmark of an effective leader is willingness to take responsibility in good times and in bad times. Last weekend, Jega did not behave like a credible and effective leader. He dodged his responsibility as the general overseer of the governorship election in Anambra State when he equivocated on national television rather than provide sound explanations for the disaster that his officials created during the election.
Here is Jega’s response to public anger over the miserable way INEC conducted the election. In his reaction to allegations that INEC did not provide sufficient election materials or that the election materials arrived late at some of the voting centres, Jega said: “We made all the preparations and decentralised the process of distribution of materials in order to ensure that they get to the polling units in time for the commencement of the election. That was before Saturday. Unfortunately and regrettably – we are humans. We can do all the preparations, but if people are determined to subvert the process, one way or the other they will subvert it.”
Who are the “people” whom Jega accused of undermining the election process? That was a clumsy excuse. Would Jega accept responsibility for the botched governorship election in Anambra State? No, he won’t. It is just not his style. He is too perfect to be faulted by anyone. As chair of INEC, he perceives himself as a superstar and an infallible man. Rather than take responsibility, Jega picked on an unidentified INEC official as a scapegoat. He said: “Our electoral officer in charge of Idemili North LGA, for inexplicable reasons, messed up the distribution of ballot papers and result sheets. That was the cause of the delay in the distribution of materials in Idemili. All materials were to have been distributed by Friday evening, but for some odd reasons, they made sure that they held onto some of the result sheets, and they also gave wrong result sheets to different polling units.”
Who are “they”? Are the people being referred to not employees of INEC? That ws an awful remark from the chairperson of an election commission that is responsible for conducting elections nationwide. As he struggled to put together believable explanations, Jega used more imprecise and generic term to absolve himself of culpability in the election mess.
Jega’s admission that INEC officials messed up the election will be valuable evidence when the governorship candidates take their case to court to challenge the official result. The nation is fast losing confidence in Jega and INEC. Right from the moment he was appointed to head INEC, Jega asked for money to overcome logistical problems that overwhelm officials during elections. The government obliged him. But the government has not received value for the money it spent on INEC and Jega.
The failure of INEC to conduct a hitch-free governorship election in Anambra State is confirmation that the government cannot use money to buy everything, including an effective election commission, a competent chairperson and dedicated senior officials. Money cannot buy conscientious and committed men and women who will manage the conduct of elections without fear or favour.
Regardless of the outcome of the Anambra State governorship election, one indisputable fact is that INEC messed up the process. While many voters were calm and shunned violence during the governorship election, clumsy INEC officials did their best to deprive many people their right to vote. It is disgraceful that Tony Nwoye, one of the governorship candidates, could not locate his name or his parents’ names in the voters’ register. This is ludicrous. It mocks all prior pledges by Jega to improve on previous elections. Unfortunately, rather than improve, INEC has fallen into a deep hole from which it might be difficult for the government to rescue the commission.
In Anambra State, INEC presided over an election in which it violated its own rules. You would expect that, presented with an excellent platform to oversee the conduct of the election, INEC would demonstrate exceptional skills in managing the governorship election. No, that did not happen. Rather than make the best of a commendable situation, INEC’s officials and agents committed the greatest fraud in the history of elections in Anambra State. Tony Nwoye, the governorship candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), said in exasperation that he had never seen or experienced the sinister scale of the rigging that was perpetrated by INEC officials during the governorship election last Saturday. He was absolutely right.
Voters take governorship election and indeed all other forms of election very seriously. This is why INEC officials, including Jega and the resident electoral commissioner, should have done their best to ensure there will be no logistical problems during the election. In the second decade of the 21st century, it is an embarrassment that INEC is still grappling with logistical problems of how to conduct hitch-free elections at the state level.
Among the problems that featured prominently during the governorship election in Anambra State were the following: nonexistence of voters’ names in the voters’ registers; delayed arrival of voting materials; inadequate election materials; and the dreadful decision by the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) members to declare a strike on election day because they alleged INEC did not pay them their entitlements and allowances. When you add all these, what you get is a potpourri of complaints by angry voters who were deprived their right to vote.
Soon after the appointment of Jega as the boss of INEC, there was so much dancing on the streets and optimism about the man’s magical powers to produce credible and fair elections. All that optimism has since fizzled out following poor performance by INEC in local elections since the last federal elections. Many people have argued that Jega is not omnipresent and therefore cannot be present in all voting centres to prevent malpractices. That argument cannot stand. Jega is the boss of INEC. In that context, he must take responsibility for the failure or success in the conduct of all elections. INEC, as election umpire, is expected to act transparently and independently at all times.