by Sonala Olumhense
“I must tell you that we have caught some high-profile double registrants and we may be able to start with them in terms of prosecution,” a high-profile Nigerian official said in March 2011.
His name: Attahiru Jega, the chairman of the so-called Independent National Electoral Commission. He was speaking at the National Summit on Free and Fair Elections in the weeks before that year’s elections.
“For the first time, we are saying that if you violate the law, we have the capacity to apprehend and prosecute you,” he declared, sounding self-assured about dealing with those prominent crooks who, he said, “feel confident that they will get away with whatever they do.”
For a moment, my hopes did soar. Then I realized he had actually said, “capacity,” not “intention.” That you have the capacity to serve does not mean you do.
But again, one must be hopeful, even supportive. Critics of the cynics say we are not supportive of the key national institutions upon which a successful democracy rests. We must support the police. We must support the electoral commission. We must support the military. We must support the bureaucracy.
It is three and a half years since Professor Jega declared that INEC “caught some high-profile double-registrants,” that is, high-society criminals who had tried to rig the 2011 elections.
He did not say that he would prevent them from voting in the elections, or from being voted for, or even from voting for themselves at least twice before breakfast and three times after dinner.
When the elections were over, he did not say that any of those people had been stopped from voting, or from influencing the elections in some way.
Nigeria’s voter registers have sometimes been hilarious, featuring ghost voters and under-age voters alongside known voters in the same wards, sometimes even in the same families. Our electoral commissions have been known to publish final registers with the same glaring inconsistencies they presented in the preliminary list.
We have had electoral registers in which people like Nelson Mandela and Milton Obote have registered, and voted. So have the likes of Mike Tyson and Ibn Battuta and Muhammad Ali and Hillarity DoubleMachine.
In 2010, Jega pledged to put a stop to all that, towards which he spent an astonishing $585 million to produce an electoral register of 60 million Nigerians. That was the register he presented as containing powerful Nigerians who were determined to rig the elections.
“For the first time,” the former university chief bragged as he admired his own work, “we are saying that if you violate the law, we have the capacity to apprehend and prosecute you…”
“For the first time.”
When he said those things, I joined legions of Nigerians sitting in the popular stands of the political stadium to watch Professor Jega deliver justice. We believed what he implied: that injustice is incompatible with democracy.
But here we are. It is October 2014, and he is preparing the country for the 2015 elections, trying to say all the correct things, but without doing the fundamental: he is not providing the confidence he is on the side of democracy rather than the “prominent crooks” who can buy as many places as they want in his electoral register.
As is often the case with Nigeria’s institutions, he has failed to honour the patriotic necessity to make action speak louder than words.
In December 2013, for instance, Jega declared he might need nearly N93 billion for the 2015 elections. At a stakeholders’ forum organized by the Senate Committee on INEC, the Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre in Abuja and DFID Nigeria, he dismissed suggestions that the cost of the 2011 elections was too high.
“Our estimate is that the cost of the election per voter, which is an international standard for viewing the cost of election, is coming down in Nigeria.”
He went on to discuss the Naira-and-kobo-value of the election, but said nothing about the actual value: that of justice and democracy.
Not one big man has seen justice since Jega discovered how they manipulated his prized electoral register. And now, Jega is about to sell—or buy—another election, depending on how you read it. Taking advantage of his dereliction of duty some of the people in his black book have moved on to better things, including elected office. And this is the soil in which Jega wants to nourish Nigeria’s democracy?
The chairman’s failure to bring those criminals to book suggests he either has something to hide, or that he thinks Nigerians are fools. How does he sleep at night knowing that, by implication, he is protecting the very people he said he was going to prosecute? How does he sleep watching some of them run for office, and win?
He continues to say the “right” things, including declaring last August that the commission would not allow security operatives in masks during the 2015 general elections. That followed a developing trend where the army, many of the soldiers in masks, is deployed to election duty.
Remember, those masks clearly proclaim that their wearers are present to undertake nefarious, anti-democracy activity. The INEC chairman curiously showed no outrage; he never questioned who was responsible for them, or why. I speculate that was because he knew it would be an uncomfortable question for people he approves of, just like the question of ACTUALLY prosecuting the high-profile multiple registrants.
“Security agents who are deployed on election duties should not be masked, the doctrine of transparency requires that they should be identifiable,” was all he would say.
So, should we trust INEC and Jega when they say, “If you violate the law, we have the capacity to apprehend and prosecute you;” that it is wrong to rig an election?
And if he were to say that, as he has, what would his word be worth? In the past electoral cycle, masked security men, like high-profile double-registrants, have been allowed to do what they want to do in order to get the election results that they want.
Jega has had no problem letting these criminals, violating the law with impunity, go. I take it he has had less trouble letting go those who were never publicly caught.
The same Jega, who is about to conduct what I imagine would be his final election, is saying, in effect, “trust me…trust me…”
I don’t. His INEC has not earned true credibility. Let us talk about this critical agency ahead of the elections, not when it is too late.
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.