Is Jega A Figurehead? By Azubuike Ishiekwene
The chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Attahiru Jega, has been getting a heavy beating since Saturday. He deserves it. After months of preparation, millions of naira and a curfew that locked down Anambra State for 12 hours, Jega could still not organise an election in a state that is not among the top 10 on the country’s voter league table. Jega’s INEC disenfranchised 1.3million in a state with 1.7million voters, yet the election might go on till the latest ship to Mars returns next August.
What is this? Jega has blamed everyone but himself for the mess. He blamed the electoral officer in Idemili North, Okeke Chukwujekwu, for the delay in the delivery of voting materials and for messing about with result sheets. He blamed politicians for enlisting his staff to subvert the process. And he blamed the candidates for lacking the spirit of sportsmanship. The only thing he has not done is blame the country for giving him the job.
I am surprised. Alarmingly surprised. I cannot, for the life of me, reconcile the Jega overseeing the mess in Anambra with the Jega who has made some of the toughest calls in his professional life and not a few since he became INEC chair – including the registration of the APC and PDM, in spite of pressure on him to do otherwise. How can he continue with an election where 76 per cent of the voters was disenfranchised? Why is he behaving as if it’s all right for candidates’ names to disappear from the register while multiple registers are used openly?
Jega has put the lion’s share of the blame on the electoral officer in Idemili North, spreading the rest of it on the rest of us like Blue Band on bread. As if he was at gunpoint, he concealed the name of the offending electoral officer, expecting that we should be content to hear that he has handed over the fellow to “the appropriate authorities”. Jega is not as helpless as he is pretending to be. He can – and must – do the right thing. He should cancel the election and follow through with plans to bring all those responsible for the electoral fraud to justice.
I laughed long and hard the day after the election, when Jega said it was not in his powers to cancel the election. Seriously? In April 2011, after a false start to the general elections, Jega made a broadcast during which he cancelled the National Assembly election in some states because, according to him, continuing it would have compromised the integrity of the process. In the same month, INEC’s returning officer in Anambra Central, Professor Charles Esionone, cancelled the senatorial election result in the contest between Chris Ngige and Dora Akunyili because 22,000 votes were donated to Akunyili. How can Jega suddenly say he lacks the power to cancel elections even if the result makes Robert Mugabe look like a saint?
The exclusion of the name of the PDP candidate, Tony Nwoye, from the voter register alone was, in my view, sufficiently ridiculous ground to question the Saturday vote. In 2007, the Kogi State election petition tribunal cancelled the governorship election in the state because Abubakar Audu’s name was missing from the ballot. There is no point in comparing one monstrosity with another, but if Nwoye’s name was not in INEC’s register and he was therefore not qualified to vote, how can the votes for him – a non-enrolled candidate – be counted as valid? And the scandal of it all: the Abuja branch of Nwoye’s party, the PDP, generously applauded the result of the election in which its own candidate was unable to vote, while Jega was happy to heap the blame on a scapegoat.
Why is Jega unable to look at the Anambra farce in the face and call a farce a farce? Some have suggested that he is a figurehead. They say his aides simply line up enough travels to keep him flying from pillar to post while they dismantle the place, brick by brick. I find this hard to believe, but I’m increasingly worried that the dyed-in-the-wool radical and cookie-tough son of the district officer appears to be softening. Which, like standing in the middle of the road, is even more dangerous than taking sides.
If Jega learnt anything from the initial fiasco of the National Assembly election in 2011, it remains to be seen. It is disheartening that seven months after he said, “the challenge for us as we move towards 2015 is to learn the lessons of all elections and continue to plan and improve on the conduct of subsequent elections” Jega has learnt nothing other than how to make a meal of a scapegoat.
Does he think we’ll just shrug it off and move on? From the reaction of the outraged women who seized the streets of Awka and elsewhere in Anambra after the election, Jega and his men must know by now that we will not just move on.
Instead of ramming voters through sham elections and hoping to dump the mess on tribunals, Jega must decide now whether he really wants to continue to do the job or if someone else should take his place. He will not get a third chance to do a good job once. Enough.
Power Has Changed Legs
Fifteen years ago, the reverse would have been the case. If Africa had five slots at the World Cup, nearly all five would have been snapped up by North Africans, notably Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria, leaving the rest of the continent to scramble for the remnant.
How times have changed! Three out of the five countries representing the continent in Brazil next year – Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana – are all from West Africa, leaving the Algerians and Cameroonians with just a wiggle room to get through. Football power has changed legs, because the world just got flatter!
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