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2023: More Polling Units, Please

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The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is currently conferring with stakeholders in Nigeria’s electoral space to reach a national consensus preparatory to creating more polling units in the country before the 2023 General Elections.
According to the Commission, these stakeholders include the political parties and such apex socio-cultural organisations as Afenifere, Ohaneze Ndigbo, Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) and the Pan-Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF). Other groups are the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Nigerian Supreme Council For Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) and civil society organisations.
While addressing the ACF in Kaduna recently, INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu, said that it was no longer feasible and sufficient to use the polling unit network established by the National Electoral Commission (NECON) 25 years ago for the current population of 200 million Nigerians.
“When the polling unit structure was established in 1996, it was projected to serve about 50 million registered voters. However, the number of registered voters for the 1999 general election was 57.93 million.
“This rose to 60.82 million in 2003, 61.56 million in 2007, and 73.52 million in 2011…” He said.
Yakubu further disclosed that the number of registered voters rose to 84.04 million in 2019, after dropping to 68.83 million in 2015, because the Commission embarked on a robust continuous voter registration exercise, in line with the law. He also claimed that every attempt made since 1996 to recreate the polling unit structure had failed owing to several reasons.
It could be recalled that INEC had in 2014 planned to create 30,000 extra polling units but was heavily criticised mainly on the fear that it would end up engaging in a disproportional distribution of such polling units in a manner that foists dominance of one region of Nigeria over the others for political advantage as has already become the case with states and local governments creation.
The present stakeholder engagement seems to follow INEC’s promise in September 2018 to create new polling units after the 2019 General Elections, following its receipt of 3,789 requests nationwide for the exercise back then.
The varsity don who was recently sworn in for a second tenure as the nation’s electoral umpire-in-chief, revealed that his Commission is now in receipt of a total of 5,747 requests from communities and groups across the country but would prefer to convert the existing 57,023 Voting Points and Voting Point Settlements to polling units. He claimed that this decision was less likely to attract serious criticisms from major stakeholders and the general public.
INEC’s proposal to the stakeholders is contained in its document entitled “The State Of Voter Access To Polling Units In Nigeria”. It is based on enhancing access to polling units and for which the Commission has opted to ensure three things: First, adequacy of polling units as prescribed under Section 42 of the Electoral Act of 2010 (as amended); second, location of polling units in places that are considered conducive for voters to participate freely in the electoral process and ensure that the environment at specific units remained conducive to positive voter experiences; and third, maintaining adequate safety and security of voters, especially in the context of the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic.
In other words, INEC is aiming to ease access of voters to their ballot boxes by decongesting overcrowded polling units; ensuring even distribution of voters in order to achieve 500 voters per unit; locating polling units more effectively within trekking distance of voters given that there is usually restriction of movement on Election Day; relocating polling units from private properties and other unsuitable places to public buildings and neutral grounds; and creating polling units for new settlements not serviced by the existing ones.
Much as one agrees with INEC that time is long overdue to add more polling units to the nation’s electoral process, the body must also endeavour to tread carefully. After all, it is always advised for the mouth with an aching tooth to chew with caution. Our electoral institutions had, in the past, goofed wantonly and most irreversibly. So, going forward, every one of their intentions has become suspect.
Having so warned let me also draw attention to another interesting aspect of the ongoing INEC consultation with stakeholders. The electoral body has announced its new resolve to scrap the situation of polling units in private properties, palaces, political party offices, disputed properties, government houses and such inaccessible locations as forests and shrines. Indeed, it irks me to think that this kind of aberration has been tolerated in the country for close to three decades.
My concern here is that the stakeholder groups INEC is engaging with are mostly membered by beneficiaries of this anomalous system of situating polling units. Most of our top politicians, retired military chiefs, royal fathers, religious leaders, opinion leaders and captains of industry are guilty of this. Was the strongman of Ibadan politics not rumoured to have had so many polling units in his compound while he lived? It will, therefore, be a herculean task for Yakubu and his commissioners to extract a tacit nod from these people on this particular matter.
By the way, why would INEC list government house polling units among those to be relocated? Are such places no longer regarded as public buildings? Well, except if the Commission is viewing it from the angle of easy accessibility; else one would have argued that the exercise is needless since several First Indigenes had been ousted from office even after doctoring the outcome of proceedings at such polling locations.
Lastly, like the INEC boss warned at the Kaduna confab, millions of eligible Nigerian voters may not exercise their electoral franchise in 2023 if the existing number of polling units is not expanded and restructured now.

 

By: Ibelema Jumbo

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Flooding And Environmental Sustainability

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Last week, on the 27th of May, 2021, the people of Rivers State celebrated the 54th anniversary of the creation of Rivers State. The state has achieved so much in terms of infrastructure and human capital development. It has achieved good governance and not so much good governance in some dispensations. The present dispensation has given the people more hope to celebrate the dividends of statehood.
However, the common failure of many societies across the globe is the failure to conquer their environment as God commanded. What we see is the ravaging of the environment which has made it more vulnerable to environmental disasters, which include flooding and desertification. Rivers State has 60 percent of its 10,500 square miles and beyond covered by water, and large areas of mangrove and rainforest. Its flora and fauna are of enormous natural resources. The struggle to sustain this God-given environment has been a great task.
The Niger Delta environment has endemic challenges which require scientific and deliberate consciousness of the inhabitants to mitigate. It also requires immediate solutions as the people in the region who are ravaged by flooding cannot wait for medium and long term plans to mature. There is the need to start from what can be dealt with immediately to provide shelter to the people, what can give the people safe home, on dry lands in the face of drowning floods. Enough consciousness has been created to the world at large by the United Nations.
On the 5th day of December, 1972, the United Nations General Assembly through Resolution 2997 in Stockholm, Sweden created the World Environment Day celebration to sensitise all member-nations on the need to ensure environmental safety and sustainability. The environment is the only human habitation known to man. This will remain the case until the superpowers find another solar system habitable.

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Trust Deficit And Governance

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Trust deficit has come to be a common refrain in the polity used to explain lack of trust in government pronouncements and programmes. Its foundation is rooted in political party soap box promises and manifestoes that are never kept. Sir Walter Scott (1808) wrote “Oh, what a tangled web we leave, when first we practice to deceive”.
Reflecting on this truism, it is clear that those who prevaricate in their speech or actions cannot be trusted. Their social capital budget will be fraught with deficit.
They are persons or institutions whose words or actions are of double standards.
They who betray the common trust, thrust upon them by Nigerians are many and varied.
If trust in Nigeria were a national budget, it’s deficit profile would be more than 90 per cent.
We often hear social commentators in Nigeria say, “you can’t trust anybody in power”. This may be in the context of Frayed political relationships among and between those in power and the people they govern. It is about mutual distrust.
It is important to state that trust is a two way traffic; those who govern must be trusted and the governed must trust the system for it to work and generate positive impact.
Stephen Covey placed trust as an important ingredient in any relationship, be it political, social or economic, when he said “Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It is the fundamental principle that holds all relationships.
Sadly, the political ecosystem in Nigeria has eroded these values. Can Nigerians as a people continue to dwell on the pessimism expressed by William Shakespear when he said “Don’t trust the person who has broken faith once”?
Will this perception not create a web of complex social relations and a complexity of failures and retrogression in the polity, if strictly adhered to? What can a people do without trust?
Frank Grane a social Psychologist gave an ambivalent view when he said “you may be deceived if you trust too much, but you will live in torment unless you trust enough”. Trust deficit simply refers to a degree of lack of trust.
The term deficit in this context implies that there is trust but not enough trust because of broken promises in the system. People now choose who and what to trust.
In political relations which talks about social contract, huge promises are made to the people. The people on their part often bask in the euphoria of expectations, which are broken. So they make choices or effect a change of leadership based on those expectations.
Lady Gaga on trust, said “Trust is a mirror, you can fix it, if its broken, but you can still see the crack in that …reflection”. This explicates the danger in trust deficit in a polity where a people are afraid to trust in their government and functionaries.When trust deficit becomes systemic, it becomes a dangerous phenomenon in governance.
How can a people trust the harvest unless they see it sown.
There is trust deficit in police relations with the people of Nigeria.
Bail is free means bail is not free. Police is your friend means police is your enemy. Election will be free and fair means it will be rigged.
Boko Haram has become inevitable and the military cannot contend with it. When the spokesman of the Federal Government of Nigeria says “I do not lie”, many evidence will point to the contrary; he lies most of the time. The promise of Federal Government to mend the East West road has beccome an unending wait and only when MEND strikes that a portion will be white washed with alsphat. The Military Prevarication on the Lekki Toll Gate debacle is a source of distrust. How can a civilized group claim that no one died in that protest?
Poor ethnic relations in Nigeria is another source of distrust. An Ijaw man does not believe that an Hausa Fulani man at the helm of affairs can protect his interest.
In a similar view an Igbo man can hardly accept that a Yoruba politician is out to protect his political interest.
Among the minorities the story is the same, mutual distrust prevails. Political distrust among the ethnic groups in Nigeria is rooted in the nature of the colonial administration where the country stood on a tripod of centrifugal polity.
There were three regions in Nigeria. The East was dominated by the Igbo, West Yoruba and North Hausa Fulani. Unfortunately every region/ethnic group was inclined to fight for their interest rather than national interest. The interest of the minorities are also not taken into consideration.
Bad governance and military coups have further created distrust in the system where the struggle to govern by different geographical regions took over the merits of democratic values.
Class distrust has heightened as a result of growing poverty in Nigeria.
This has even take a demographic dimension. The youths do not believe that the class of persons they refer to as ancestors because of their age can governor this country well any longer.
This mutual distrust can also be seen in the stereotyping of youths as a bunch of irresponsibles. The fallacies above are unfortunate, because age has nothing to do with leadership. This type of distrust is retrogressive.
The growing spate of infrastructural deficit is a function of distrust and a result of rivalry among groups and the political class. A leader emerges and concentrates in the development of his clime rather than spreading the joy. He does so with the conviction that if he does not do it the next leader will abandon his people.
When trust and sincerity of purpose exist, true spirit of governance will unfold to allow development take a foothold in Nigeria. Many believe that restructuring will mitigate mutual distrust in Nigeria.

 

By: Bon Woke

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At A Time Like This…

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At a time like this when Nigeria is drifting off the radar, like a ship without compass, something needs to be done. A time when multitude of voices are resonating in different directions, some too distant to make much sense, others raising valid arguments and near solutions.
In all Nigerians need clear messages and solutions to the myriads of conundrum that confront the survival of the nation. The caliber of the purveyors of these timely calls-to-order is important. We Nigerians need mass action, but the nation needs voices too.
Every change begins with conscientization. Between the states and the federal government, the state is in a better place to call for an effective and meaningful structural changes in the country. This is why the present apprehension being expressed by the leadership of the National Assembly over the 12 point communiqué raised by the Southern Governors in their meeting in Asaba, should be scrutinized and taken with a pinch of salt.
The Governors have important roles to play in the Nigeria question because they are closer to the people. They have raised the bar by coming out despite their respective political party affiliations, to speak the minds of Nigerians. The Governors did not speak _tongue in cheek. They did not exonerate themselves while talking about the failure of government because the business of government is not restricted to the Federal Government alone. They have only declared the obvious position that leadership starts from the top. If the right thing is done from the top it will trickle down to the grass root.
They have called the Federal Government to order and they speak the truth. This is the message the leadership of the National Assembly should take home. The fact that the state Governments need to begin the restructuring from their backyards by looking at the independence of the judiciary and local Government Administration does not and cannot detract from the axiomatic fact that there is convolution of powers at the center which must devolve to the states and local government. According to Henry Adams “chaos was the law of nature and order was the law of man”.
The above refers to the tendency of society to jump into anarchy while it is incumbent on men at a certain time and space to realize the need to bring law and order to bear. If this is the time that 17 Governors of Southern Nigeria have woken up to call the country to order, so be it. Let the leadership of the national assembly come down from their high horses and work with the governors to legitimize their call through legislation and the follow up legal frame work. The intendment of any grand norm is that all the arms and segments of government should work in synergy for the good of the people. The governors’ call for total ban on open grazing by herdsmen in the country which has generated more heat than light is timely. The addendum that efforts should be put in place to encourage ranching will go a long way in encouraging the optimization of the diary and meat industry in Nigeria. The ban will go a long way in deescalating the current violence in the country. The leadership of the National Assembly should realize the fact that this is a timely call as the herdsmen conflict is the most volatile issue in Nigeria today. It is responsible for the replication of violence across Nigeria.
Every section of the country especially in the south and middle belt seems to be copying and pasting the licentious savagery due to the latitude given to the herdsmen. They seek self-help in different legitimate and illegitimate means.
Today the country sits on a keg of gun powder. The call for state police by the Governors has become very important. The various states of the federation have now seen the need to set up quasi community policing structures with different names and apparatus of operations. These vigilante groups have proven to be very potent in supporting effective policing operations in the various states. They therefore make the call for state police plausible. In Rivers State a local vigilante group which started in Omoku and spread to different parts of the state has proven that the involvement of the local populations in policing is a very effective tool for crime prevention and control. OSPAC, as it is originally called in Omoku has diminished the invincibility of cult groups and kidnappers in many parts of Rivers State. These vigilante groups can be seen manning security posts at police stations in Rivers State to defend them against the invading “unknown gun men” who recently had an unfortunate hunting spree at police and J.T.F installations in Ikwerre, Emohua, Abua and Obio/Akpo local government areas.
A state police structure will surely be more effective. Devolution of powers to the Federating units of Nigeria is surely the way to go, but Nigeria needs a constitutional process to realize this dream.
Politics and Governance involve the equitable allocation of resources and it defines who gets what and how.
The call for fiscal federalism by the governors must be taken seriously .Most importantly, the President needs to address the nation on these issues and set the pace for a jaw jaw among the various interest groups in Nigeria.
There is a dire need for a radical review of the current revenue formula; many have called for a return to the first Republic era where states or regions enjoyed the bounty from their resources. However, there is a current and recurring agitation for resource control where states will have control and utilization of their resources and pay tax to the centre. If this happens states will be forced to look in wards rather than go for handouts at the center every month.
The President has kept quiet enough. His silence could be misconstrued as an endorsement of the conflagration engulfing the country, especially as it concerns the ills perpetrated by herdsmen who are his Fulani kinsmen.

 

By: Bon Woke

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