by Eric Osagie
For once, we must learn to apply the same yardstick for every Nigerian. If it was Professor Maurice Iwu that was involved in this exercise, we all (including this writer) would have been calling for his head.
An elephant that delivers a mouse. That’s how the late Chief Moshood Abiola would have described the performance of Professor Attahiru Jega, Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC. Jega is the elephant of whom we expected great things. Of whom we expected to move the mountains. To make the seemingly impossible, possible. To take us out of the comity of backward African nations, which never seem to get things right in the conduct of elections.
We were wrong. What was to be his first litmus test, his first election, last Saturday, he flunked. The election was abruptly aborted when it became clear that the electoral umpire was ill-prepared to conduct the election.
In many polling booths, INEC’s men and materials were nowhere to be found. Even when you found them, they had none or insufficient materials to conduct the business of the day. Nigerians, it was quite clear, were more prepared for the National Assembly polls than the electoral body. The eventual postponement of the election, when many Nigerians were turbo-charged for the exercise, constitutes a sad anti-climax, which leaves sour tastes in the mouth.
Given his somewhat impressive credentials as a fire-spitting former academic, who led the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, in its battle against the Ibrahim Babangida administration and his reportedly commendable leadership of the Bayero University, Kano, where he was vice-chancellor before his appointment, Jega has a lot of goodwill going for him. He has the support of majority of Nigerians. He’s had his way with most, if not all, of his demands. His agency has received over a million dollars (over N100 billion naira) for the National Assembly election.
When he addressed newsmen last Friday after the National Council of States meeting, Jega was upbeat. He assured us he had tied all loose ends and was raring to go. Less than 24 hours later, the same Jega was on air, pleading with Nigerians to understand why he cancelled the polls.
Since his poor outing, the nation has been sharply divided along the line of those who contend that the INEC helmsman rather than being vilified for the shift (to today, as at the time of writing this piece), should rather be commended for summoning the courage to halt a flawed process. Better to cancel the exercise and have a credible one than go on and face a barrage of criticisms over a sham election.
The second group wants Jega nailed for leading Nigerians out when he knew he was ill-prepared. Why all the hype about being battle-ready when he didn’t have ammunition in his arsenal to prosecute the war? And why should we believe him that the shifted polls will be better than the one aborted? If he had between seven to eight months to prepare for the polls and couldn’t get it right, what then is the assurance that he would pull the magic in less than 48 hours?
For me, there is only one word to describe Jega’s handling of the electoral exercise so far: Inefficiency. Let’s not beg the question. Let’s not call a dog, monkey. INEC’s outing and later cancellation, shows a body, ill-prepared.
I do not understand the courage some people are talking about in Jega’s apology or accepting full responsibility for the botched Saturday poll. A man fails an exam and announces that he has failed, what is the courage displayed in that, when, in any case, it is clear to all and sundry that the man hasn’t done well? As for accepting full responsibility, who should share the responsibility of his dismal performance? If the vendors failed to deliver as promised, why has no one named them or their companies? Are they ghost contractors or companies?
For once, we must learn to apply the same yardstick for every Nigerian. If it was Professor Maurice Iwu that was involved in this exercise, we all (including this writer) would have been calling for his head. Apart from the ordinary Nigerian and a few opinion leaders and the opposition parties, I can’t hear the voice of the civil society, denouncing this sham outing. Is it because he is one of them? Instead of blaming Jega for his shoddiness, they are calling for understanding. Yes, we need credible polls and we need to support INEC to succeed, but let’s also point out this man’s failings. Let’s also collectively let him know that he has failed us, even as we hope he will redeem his name in subsequent outings.
…And the shame of Anambra guber election
The above piece, published on the 4th of April, 2011, during the National Assembly poll, was this columnist’s attempt to draw attention to what I thought was the overrating of Prof. Jega’s competence. When I did that piece, I was heavily criticised by admirers of the INEC helmsman, who felt I was being unnecessarily critical of the man.
Jega, surely, improved on his performances after the 2011 polls. His conduct of the Ondo and Edo elections in 2012, even though witnessed avoidable hiccups, was generally acceptable.
We were looking forward to an encore in Anambra 2013. The electoral commission, sadly, proved that what happened in Ondo and Edo was an accident, not the product of a methodical or tactical process, leading to a desired end.
The November 16, 2013, Anambra election, revealed the underbelly of Jega’s INEC’s planlessness. If after several months of planning, the process could still be marred by the usual and lazy “logistics problems” of late arrival of voting materials, distorted voters’ register, disenfranchisement, among others, you don’t need any soothsayer to predict that the forthcoming 2015 general elections would certainly not fare better.
I expected Jega to be conciliatory in his Friday’s press conference, announcing a supplementary election for November 30, 2013. But he betrayed an attitude of ‘take it or leave it.’ He accepted that the elections were far from perfect; he agreed his men messed up; he didn’t argue with the fact that INEC let Anambrarians and Nigerians down but his voice had the air of arrogance unexpected of a public officer.
He spoke as if he was doing Nigerians a favour by presiding over INEC, when he ought to know that it is a privilege to be in the position he occupies. When a man bungles an election, he apologises outrightly and promises to do better, not the sophistry or attitude of ‘we did our best, and you have to go for another election whether you like it or not.’ Jega sounded like a headmaster, dishing out instructions to his students, not people, who had invested resources, energy and time to run for elections. This kind of posture by public officers should have no place in this country. Public servants are servants not masters of the people they serve. Who pays for the millions lost in a rescheduled election?
However, it is not only Jega that should be blamed for the Anambra guber fiasco. The political gladiators must also carry the can for what happened last Saturday. They took so many things for granted and failed to do the needful at critical times. And INEC simply compounded the woes. There were also reported incidences of monetisation of the election, as voters were allegedly financially induced by candidates and parties. Do we blame INEC for such crookedness and subversion of the electoral process? Certainly not. Desperate moneybags and their supporters were no less liable for the Anambra fiasco.
Do I then support the call for a total cancellation of the exercise? No. Instead, voting should be conducted in disputed areas as well as places the elections were either cancelled or failed to take place for whatever reasons. If INEC yields to total cancellation because one or two aggrieved candidates are crying foul, what happens if those raising hell now win and others who lose, ask for a fresh cancellation? INEC would then spend all the time on just Anambra poll. One cancellation will lead to other cancellations. Where anomalies are observed, you re-run the elections there. It will be preposterous to say that the whole exercise was marred by rigging or malpractices in the entire state.
In areas where things went well, let’s uphold the results there, and conduct fresh elections in areas where proven malpractices or mago mago took place. Where the parties and candidates are dissatisfied, the judiciary is there to adjudicate.
Anambra imbroglio will, hopefully, be resolved one way or another soon and we can only hope Jega and his team would have learnt useful lessons to overcome the recurring and seemingly insurmountable “problem of logistics”, rearing its ugly head every now and then. 2015 is around the corner and no excuse is good enough for not getting it right!
Read this article in the Sun Newspapers
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