The passion for credible polls, come 2011, has become so palpable that whenever it is being talked about, it whips up sentiments with such unimaginable intensity. Its echoes resonate across the length and breath of the country. The government itself is so serious that it has made it a recurring mantra. President Jonathan at every given opportunity reassures Nigerians, and indeed the international community that we can get it right this time by having a free, fair and credible election in 2011. And he made good his promise by putting the right foot forward in his appointment of an acclaimed man of integrity and renowned activist to umpire the 2011 elections. For the National Assembly, they legislated that from 2011, the nation’s general election should take place in January instead of the previous April timing. They reasoned that this time will allow all litigations and elections petitions to be sorted out within 90 days before swearing-in on May 29, thereby curbing the scenario of having a prolonged court judgement that sometimes last two to three years into the tenure of those involved. Plausible as the new law seems, there are so many concerns that it brings to bare. A major one among these is the revelation by Prof. Atahiru Jega after their retreat in Oyo that the present voters’ register is replete with massive inadequacies and demanded a compilation of a credible voters register putting the cost at about N74 billion which must be provided within weeks or salvage the existing one. According to an INEC Commissioner, having a credible voters register means having 80 per cent of the herculean task solved. Nigerians themselves are resolute in their demand for new voters register as it is seen as the only reliable foundation for the process.
Besides, there is the issue of the Amended Constitution which the National Assembly is saying does not need the President’s assent because it has passed through two-third of the states thus an Act of Parliament, while Olisa Agbakoba (SAN) has gone to court praying it should not come to force until the president gives his assent. Every other logistics that can make credible polls achievable is tied to this Amended Constitution and January 2011 is barely four months away. Where do we go from here? The Tide on Sunday, this week sampled the views of some people on whether the January 2011 date is feasible. Excerpts:
Past. Caleb Ajagba, National Coordinator ITPI
A look at the level of preparedness of INEC and the political class would reveal that:
* Structures for a credible election are not yet in place – Review of voters is yet to be done and if this is not done a lot of people especially those who have just turned 18 years or not register earlier would be disenfranchised.
* Fund required by INEC to put all these structures in place is not released to them yet.
* Political parties are not ready. There is a lot of intra party crisis rocking most of the parties.
* Parties are yet to conduct primaries to select candidates who are to stand in an election that is barely 4 months or about 120 days away.
* Electorates don’t even know those they are voting for. The implication of this is that electoral apathy is likely to persist if candidates aspiring to various offices are not known. When candidates are relatively unknown money politics is fuelled since candidates would resort to buying votes if they cannot reach the masses to canvass for votes.
* Manifesto of the parties are not available on the basis of which electoral promises would be made to the masses by the various parties to convince them to vote for their candidates.
A credible election is not just one where there is absence of ballot stuffing and hijacking of electoral materials or outright violence and intimidation of voters by political opponents and their paid agents.
Rigging and subversion of mandate of the people can and will occur when:
* Qualified electorates are disenfranchised due to lack of registration of qualified electorate.
* Where there is no verifiable list of registered voters on constituency basis
* Where there is little or no voter education or enlightenment
* Where there is no well coordinated and understood electoral promises based on clear-cut manifesto that can assist the electorates to make informed electoral decisions.
* Where there is poor delimitation of electoral constituencies, hidden polling stations and unavailability of voting materials on election days.
So my suggestion is that the elections should be postponed till April 2011 and all structures should be put in place. 2011 elections are so crucial to the survival of this nation that we cannot afford to toy with it due to shoddy preparations. It is better delayed to enable INEC put all structures in order if we want a credible election than a rush into it and thereafter be confronted by a tale of woes and unending litigations.
SP Lucky J. Yowika (Rtd)
To get the 2011 elections right is a task that must be done. It is not going to be a tea party, anyway. And the manner in which everyone is calling for a free, fair and credible polls suggest that the people want it free, and will do anything to assist the INEC get it right. Youth bodies, women groups and their male counterparts are daily coming out through paid and none paid publicities calling on the Federal Government to do all within its capacity to get an election outcome reminiscent of 1993 which have been adjudged the best so far done in Nigeria.
Skeptics however are of the opinion that INEC cannot conduct a free and fair polls with the short period of January 2011 given to it by the National Assembly through the recently electoral act. As a result they are putting forward the suggestion that the election be shifted to April, 2011 or thereabout. They have a point, no doubt, but forgot the fact that Nigeria is a system where the more time we have, the more we perform woefully.
Is our economy better because we have spent 50 years as independent? Has our administration performed better with time? Is there any way in which we as a people are doing better because as a nation we are ageing? Yes, I sincerely support the majority of Nigerians who are optimistic that INEC can churn out even a better election than in 1993, with good planning and the right logistics put in place within the limited time. The structure has now been put in place with the appointment of Prof. Jega as INEC boss, and his State Assistants. Majority of our critical populace have given kudos for the appointments and the people are united in their admission that Jega’s unblemished reputation will help in no small measure in the attainment of the required results.
Professor Jega himself has not hidden the fact that he can get it right once his request of N74b, and necessary enabling environment to assist him perform is granted . He has gone ahead to fix time table for procurement of materials, preparation of an ideal voters register and the attainment of other logistics vital for the achievement of a credible polls come January 2011. So why doubt him? His impeccable and credible records as Asuu President and V/C of Bayero University, Kano etc lends credence to the fact that he is a man of his words.
The man is obsessed with putting in place a credible voters register which will be time tested and which will also form the backbone of future elections in Nigeria, insisting that even though a credible voter register is not a “sine qua non” to credible polls, getting a credible voter register is like getting almost 80 per cent of an election right. The way the National Assembly and the government is supporting Jega means nothing less than a credible elections come January 2011 will be achieved. The international communities are not left out in terms of promises of support. We need prayer outside these supports, this time around.
Chief Mike Nwielagi – State Chairman, Congress for Progressive Change
I believe strongly that what is worth doing is worth doing well. I see January time table as very tight. If you ask me, I will say a latitude be given Jega and his people to do a very good thing. We have been complaining about poor elections all this while, it behoves on the INEC now to find time for themselves in order to cover all areas effectively and conduct a free and fair election. There is no need for us to rush and then do a shabby thing. If you allow me, I will say they should beg for time.
Even though they are saying they can conduct the election in January, the January date is not sacrosanct. They can ask for time and then use political approach to it to ensure that the National Assembly makes an enabling law in such a way that the April date is being guided. This is because we have had enough of poor election in the country and the President himself has promised both here and abroad that we are going to get it right this time by conducting a free and fair elections. But beyond the President, there is the commission that is going to conduct the election, there is the security agency that has to be trained; there must be enough awareness for people to be able to know what they are supposed to do on that day. So that we can now boast of an election that is litigation free; it is a yardstick for free and fair election. No election is 100 per cent free. But one measure is that “what do people feel and say about it?” the observers, what do they say? And then the participants are there serious fall out of the election that would lead to dispute? So I think the April date is more feasible than the January date. But baring all these and the INEC comes out to say they are ready for January date then so be it. But they should not be stampeded in to doing it when they are not ready. It is not proper that we keep shifting election. If there is need for us to wait till April the commission should come out and tell us that they need time.
Engr. Kingsley Onyejekwe-MD, Kingchi Engineering Nigeria Ltd
I want to understand what INEC is saying. Is INEC saying that our voters’ register is not comprehensive and therefore requires updating or is INEC saying that they do not have a realistic and credible voters’ register or still is INEC saying that they are using biometric data gathering system to give us realistic and credible voters’ register?
I strongly believe that things should be done properly. Democracy is a government of numerical determination and as such the process should start from knowing the actual population strength that are expected to produce the would-be leaders of this country. If Jega led INEC says they want to do it aright this time, we should support him. However, Iwu led INEC should be subjected to EFCC’s quizzing to unravel the circumstances that must have led to this mess of voters’ registers saga that is likely to cost the country seventy four billion naira as reported by some media.
Also doing this, will in turn serve as deterrent to the present INEC executive to do a good job.
Biometric data collection method of compiling voters’ register is the best thing that can happen this time around for the following reasons.
* It will filter and reduce duplication of persons
* It will help in capturing true identity of voters
* It will assist in making sure that actual votes count
* It will reduce rigging to the bearest minimum