Jega, INEC and the Burden of Credible Elections by Abubakar Usman
Prior to the appointment of Professor Attahiru Jega to head the Independent National Electoral Commission INEC, the election conducted under Professor Maurice Iwu was one that lacked credibility in all ramifications. There were reports of massive rigging in the form ballot box snatching and stuffing, multiple voting and falsification of results. Aside the wide condemnation that greeted the outcome of that election in the home country, the international community also lent their voice to denounce the election as any that meets international best practices, such that hopes were lost in the democratic process.
However, with the coming on board of Professor Attahiru Jega, the lost hope was rejuvenated largely because of the antecedents of the new helmsman particularly at Bayero University Kano. Prior to his appointment as the Chairman of INEC, Professor Attahiru Jega (OFR) was the Vice Chancellor at the Bayero University, Kano. He was at one time the president of the Academic Staff Union of Universities during the military regime of General Ibrahim Babangida. During the Military regime, he was one of the few unrepentant optimist that fought and believed that Nigeria will one day be freed from the shackles of the military; and that democracy will not only prevail but will become a way of life and when the country embraced democracy, he also was a factor to reckon with. Events that trailed his appointment as INEC Chairman however, presents a perfect opportunity for those records to be messed up.
The registration of voters, which was the first major assignment he carried out since his appointment, was fraught with a lot of problem. While eligible voters trooped out en masse to exercise their civic responsibility, Jega’s INEC fell far short of what was required to get every willing persons registered conveniently. I personally had to go to my home town to get registered after several efforts at registering in Abuja. the sad side of the story was that I couldn’t vote when the time for elections came, because I don’t reside in my home town.
The 2011 general election conducted by Jega, although adjudged to be an improvement to the 2007 elections conducted by Professor Maurice Iwu, which I consider as unworthy of been used as a basis of comparison, did not meet the expectations that greeted Jega’s appointment. The elections were marred with the usual ballot box stuffing, ballot box snatching, multiple voting and falsification of election results usually associated with elections in Nigeria. The words of consolation is usually that there is nowhere in the world where elections are perfect.
Some school of thoughts will argue that Jega did not have the time to adequately prepare for the 2011 elections, but did he not have time to conduct elections of states which did not participate in the General election, especially considering that they were staggered? The recent gubernatorial elections in Edo state is a perfect example. There were reports of election officials not deployed in sufficient numbers in some polling units, prompting party agents to step in and assist the election officials in the accreditation of voters. There were incidences were many prospective voters were disenfranchised following the omission of their names or photograph in the voters register. The problem of late arrival of election materials and delay in the commencement of accreditation and voting, which has plagued Nigeria’s elections in the past, was also observed in many polling units.
Although, the Edo election was a great improvement to the others conducted in recent times, one had expected to see a near perfect election given the ample time INEC had to prepare and the number and caliber of personnel drafted to oversee the election, because little incidences like those highlighted above are strong enough to cast doubt on the credibility of an election. According to Agbo Godwin “Credible elections are elections conducted free of any form of malpractice, acceptable by the voters, other countries and the losers convinced”.
My believe is that Professor Jega and indeed INEC have learnt from these myriads of problems that have confronted elections in Nigeria, particularly the ones he organized. The 2015 elections is another opportunity for him to prove to Nigeria’s that he has what it takes to conduct elections that are credible and acceptable to all Nigerians. Jega has recently assured Nigerians that the 2015 elections will be the best ever conducted in the country, but he must realise that the task of conducting a credible election goes beyond mere promises. He must put in place strategies to block all loopholes that have bedeviled previous elections in Nigeria.
Jega must realize that the conduct of a credible election starts with the voters register and therefore should work hard in consolidating and updating the existing voters register to accommodate all eligible and willing prospective voters. The voters register should be seamlessly integrated in a data base and the process of continuous registration institutionalize so as to ensure that no voter is disenfranchised on the day of election.
One of the major problems that have marred elections conducted by INEC is the issue of logistics, especially in the delivery of voting materials to election venues. INEC must look critically into this area by developing a model in which election materials and personnel can be delivered to the remotest village at the required time.
The need for the conduct of a credible election in Nigeria is not only apt, but expedient if really we are desirous of overcoming the enormous task and challenges confronting us as a nation.
“If Africa’s most populous state can hold a credible process, it would help signal an end to a democratic reversal in which governments have gone through the electoral motions but rarely offered the real thing.’’ – Financial Times.
I am Abubakar Sidiq Usman
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