No doubt, the recommendations of the Justice Uwais Electoral Reform Committee (footnotes and all) presently before the National Assembly is a worthy document, capable of ushering in the much desired electoral reforms and the envisaged credible polls.
However, the credibility of the human beings needed to drive the electoral process and the involvement of credible persons who would contest in the polls are the most crucial. The task before us at the moment therefore, is not so much to adhere strictly to the footnotes of the electoral reforms, as a document, but to go all out, without further delay, in search of credible hands that would execute the promise of credible polls made by the President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, in near and far away places.
To kick-start the process, in line with his promise, the President recently appointed the INEC chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega and other credible Nigerians who would run the electoral process. The credibility of these referees has been lauded at home and abroad, but what about the credibility of the players or candidates at the polls?
Sadly, there has been a paucity of credible candidates in elections in Nigeria and the reasons are obvious. From 2003 to 2007, to be precise, elections in the country were dominated by violence, money politics and one-party syndrome. These ills have chased away some credible contestants who could not muster the required violence, as a credential, for contesting elections. Money politics has also pulverised elections in the country; thus, only the rich could qualify for the polls, chasing away credible persons who could have contested elections, but could not do so because of financial constraints. Again, the one party syndrome that characterises present-day Nigerian politics has not only led to the emergence of feeble-fisted opposition parties, but also put credible contestants at bay, since they do not belong to the ruling party.
Certainly, Nigeria needs credible polls, but what is needed most, right now, is to woo credible contestants to the race. If the political thuggery, money politics and one-party syndrome that usually characterise the polls are removed by 2011, more credible contestants will emerge and join the race with confidence. On the contrary, if the status quo remains, only “tough-heads” and “money-bags” who may not be credible persons; yet, tailor-made for the turbulent and murky waters of Nigerian electioneering, will still emerge in the forth-coming elections, and this will only give birth to incredible leaders, even if the polls are free and fair.
What then is credible poll? In the Nigerian context, do credible polls centre on an impeccable character, or logistics, or both or none of these? Certainly, an impeccable character drives credible polls, and not the other way round. Perhaps, the problem with Nigeria is not so much the constitution, or electoral reforms or even documented guides that read as a riot act of democracy, but the general lack of the right attitude or a befitting human character. The day Nigeria finds noble, humble, sincere, self-less, God-fearing, dedicated, compassionate men and women to run the machinery of government, every other thing will work overnight-credible polls, abundant power supply, transparency in office, etc, etc. Nigeria needs footprints, not footnotes! The quest for credible polls must therefore begin with the search for credible persons who have left their footprints on the sands of our time. The man-hunt must begin now, before posterity again leaves us behind by 2011. We must immediately point the torch in all directions and search for genuine leaders, in all spheres, who can truly deliver the dividends of true democracy to our estranged people. Let us look for these patriots everywhere: in the political arena, in the universities, in our churches and mosques, and even in the market place, if need be. Closely associated with the effort to source for credible contestants in the polls to ensure the emergence of credible leaders, is the need to revitalise the battered psyche of the Nigerian electorate. The electorate also needs to leave its footprints on the sands of time by voting right in 2011, without being vulnerable to the ills of political thuggery, money politics and the one-party syndrome which usually dominate our polls. Perhaps, the name of the ruling party should be re-examined as the present one apparently connotes despair for the electorate. Biblical wisdom even cautions against putting new wine in old skins. A mere change of name might do some magic. Besides, new contestants in the race could believe that the goal-post has shifted, so they could now play with confidence and aim at scoring good goals. The general consciousness of the electorate and that of the contestants in the new dispensation in 2011, therefore need to be overhauled, not just through propaganda but through convincing enlightenment of the citizenry.
Nigeria is on the threshold of history in 2011. What matters now is not so much accuracy or perfect figures of credible polls, or footnotes of the recommendations of the electoral reforms, but the concerted effort of all Nigerians, in all walks of life, using the ballot-box as a mere metaphor, to source and install sincere and compassionate leaders who would salvage our dear country from the shame of a mismanaged destiny.
Bobo Agava, resides in Port Harcourt.