Rescheduled April, 2011 General Elections: An Explanation
A welter of reactions have trailed the decision of the Independent National Electoral Commission to reschedule the April, 2011 General Elections. Much of these have been positive and the Commission should naturally be most appreciative of this gesture from Nigerians and critical stakeholders in the electoral process. Elder statesman, General Yakubu Gowon has commended the leadership of the Commission for its sincerity of purpose and called on Nigerians to sustain the understanding and support which they have so far given the Election Management Body (EMB) in its single-minded effort to deliver free, fair and credible elections at least for the first time in our annals.
David Mark, President of the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has also expressed similar sentiments while Mohammed Garba, President, Nigeria Union of Journalists and the leadership of Nigeria Labour Congress, Abdulwaheed Omar, have both enjoined Nigerians to remain calm and not to be discouraged by the postponement which they said affects all political parties.
Saturday, April 2, 2011 was the day the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had set aside in its widely publicized time table to kick start a process that was designed to terminate on Saturday, April 16, 2011 with the conduct of Governorship/House of Assembly Elections.
So much was put in the preparations leading to what would have been a historic poll in this country, all things being equal. Massive infrastructure was put in place by the Commission; a development which facilitated successful compilation of a national voters' roll in readiness for the polls. For the first time in our annals, Nigeria can boast of a credible register of voters with a data-base of well over 73 million registered voters.
In terms of human capital, members of the National Youth Service Corps whom the Commission has engaged to handle the polls at the polling stations level, were better trained than hitherto. Over 400,000 of them were recruited to ensure an average of three officials per polling unit, including supervisory officials who had been recruited to superintend the polls. Little wonder, these young patriots demonstrated incredible skills in their impressive handling of the accreditation process in few places where it was done last Saturday.
With all these in place, INEC was doubly sure that poll results would be announced 48 hours after the poll would have been taken: a feat which would have been the first in our experimentation with electoral democracy.
In the realm of security, a lot was also in place. Working through the instrumentality of Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Security of Elections, the Commission was able to elicit from the security agencies a harmonized operational plan, designed to effectively secure personnel, materials, as well as the electorate during the polls. Plans were also underway to deploy Electronic Surveillance Technology to help monitor electoral activities in strategic places, especially in those places which had been characterized by the security agencies as flash-points. Short Messages Services (SMS) telephone numbers and telephone hotlines were also put in place to assist voters to make distress calls or report irregularities wherever they occurred.
On their part, the 63 registered political parties had committed themselves to a code of conduct which was emplaced to regulate the behavior and conduct of political actors before, during and even after the polls. With all these arrangements, it promised to be historic polls which outcome was to be significantly different from the other polls organized before now. Regrettably, this was not to be. What went wrong if we may ask? The answer is not far-fetched.
In planning elections world-wide, so much emphasis is placed on the security and sanctity of extremely sensitive electoral materials such as ballot boxes and papers, results sheets, among others. In our clime, the security of these items has become so much of a problem because desperate political actors who have persistently refused to play by the rules have in the past tried to undermine the integrity of election process. These they have always done through connivance with the few bad eggs in the Commission to sabotage its efforts through diabolic counterfeiting of these materials.
Drawing immensely from the-not-so-pleasant experiences of the past, the Commission in its wisdom decided to outsource the printing of its result sheets and ballot papers. The vendor, as the INEC Chairman said on Saturday April 2, 2011 after his nation-wide broadcast, had given all assurance that these result sheets would be delivered by the Thursday preceding the planned elections. Painfully, we have been told, the Commission waited in vain up till Friday during which the Vendor promised to deliver the items. Again, he failed to keep faith with his promise but assured that result sheets would be delivered on the day of the polls timeous enough for INEC to deploy them to the polling units in readiness for the elections. In order to achieve this objective, the Commission, its leadership disclosed during the nation-wide broadcast, had sought and obtained the services of about 10-12 aircraft from the Nigeria Air Force which were on ground ready to air-lift this very important electoral material as soon as it was delivered by the vendor.
Regrettably, this was not be. The vendor's aircraft landed Murtala Mohammed Airport, Lagos at 9am - an hour behind the commencement of accreditation of voters preparatory to the polls. Some other electoral body, analysts have averred, would have gone ahead with the polls which would have dragged on well into the night. Predictably allegations of vote rigging under the cover of darkness would have been the aftermath of this process were the elections to be handled this way. Professor Jega and his new Commission would not contemplate such a thoughtless arrangement, hence its recourse to telling Nigerians the truth of the matter.
It would be recalled that since this new INEC came on board in July, 2010, it has persistently promised Nigerians sincerity, truth and transparency as its creed. To give effect to this commitment, Professor Attahiru Jega's INEC has always striven to be up front with Nigerians, telling them exactly how things are, sharing with them their successes and difficulties as an election management body. What happened on Saturday April 2, 2011, according to the INEC Chairman, presented an opportunity for the Commission to further demonstrate to Nigerians and the international community, its unswerving commitment to these lofty ideals. He said the development was a national emergency which was most unanticipated and with an uncommon courage and frankness, Professor Jega went on to tell the nation that things had not 'proceeded smoothly as expected with the elections,' saying the vendors had blamed the late arrival of the result sheets on diversion of his flights to Japan which is currently groaning under the yoke of a national disaster - the March, 2011 Tsunami.
Agreed, result sheets are central to our elections and their integrity but the ferrying of relief materials to the Japanese victims of the Tsunami is a humanitarian effort which had to be taken at the expense of our national elections. Appreciating the fact that the Japs are members of our common humanity, our hearts should naturally go out to these victims whose nation has been obliterated (over half of it) by the disaster. Rather than take issues with the vendor as some public opinions have suggested, INEC in the wisdom, considered it pertinent to suspend the poll and quickly communicate this development to Nigerians and the international community as well. This initiative, to the watchers of our democratic experiment, was a practical demonstration of the new Commission's commitment to its creed which underscores sincerity, truthfulness and transparency in its dealings with Nigerians and stakeholders in the electoral process.
The decision, no doubt, is a weighty one but it is, according to the INEC Chairman, 'a very important step in further ensuring the credibility of the elections'. This explains why his appeal for understanding has cut so much ice with Nigerians all cross the socio-political strata.
It is also worthy of mention that the Commission, by this singular act, has demonstrated its capacity for profound appreciation of the immense sacrifice our compatriots made last Saturday through the unprecedented voter turnout that was witnessed at the polling stations throughout the country. Equally worthy of note is the sacrifice made by both domestic and international observers who have already committed much resources to the deployment of personnel to observe the election process. Ditto the political parties who would once again commit huge financial resources to canvass for votes during the one week break the postponement has occasioned.
However, the apology so profusely given to all Nigerians, including the stakeholders for the hardship this decision has caused them is a welcome development. This apparent strength in seeming weakness is what has greatly endeared this new INEC to Nigerians to the extent that they have now freely given their unalloyed support to enable her deliver on its sworn mandate of organizing free, fair and credible elections in this country.
Since the announcement, 'several representations have been made to the Commission urging it to consult more widely to ensure that the two-day postponement is enough to address all the logistical issues that may militate against a successful conduct of the re-scheduled elections'. This much was disclosed by the Secretary to the Commission, Abdullahi Kaugama who in a statement yesterday (April 3, 2011) said the overwhelming sentiment as has been expressed by stakeholders, especially the political parties after a meeting with them same day, is that the election be further re-scheduled.
He said a cross-section of stakeholders, including political parties and civil society organizations have canvassed this view point and having considered the wide ranging counsel of Nigerians, INEC has decided to re-schedule all the elections to Saturday April 9, 16, and 26 respectively.
While thanking Nigerians for their enthusiasm and support for the Commission and the electoral process, the INEC Scribe assured them that their sacrifices have not been lost on the Commission, adding that INEC was now more determined to ensure free, fair and credible 2011 elections.
That the Independent National Electoral Commission under Professor Jega is determined to give Nigerians free, fair and credible elections, is not in doubt. Its sincerity of purpose has elicited renewed confidence of Nigerians in the ability of the Commission to deliver on its mandate. Fears hitherto expressed have also been allayed by the resolve of its leadership to avoid mistakes of the past in order to guarantee tremendous success in the delivery of our national elections. All that needs to be done by Nigerians is to sustain their support and goodwill which has seen the Commission through since its assumption of duty in July last year. This collective responsibility is a must as all eyes are on this giant of Africa. Adama Modibo Garba
Flat B66, Post-Service Homes,
Azhata, Abuja, FCT.