INEC: TO WHOM MUCH IS GIVEN
Watching the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC) Prof. Attahiru Jega being drilled by the Senate Committee on INEC and members of the Appropriation Committee led by Senator Iyiola Omisore to justify the fund the commission had requested to conduct a fresh voters' register and other logistics in connection with next year's elections, was exciting. But it raised vertigo as well.
For the first time since he assumed office, the Chief electoral umpire was visibly ruffled and seemed buckled under pressure. Nothing makes a man widely believed to have the spirit of leadership when he is put on the spot for hours on end and made to look like a liar.
Such perception can shred anybody's confidence. At a point at the plenary questioning, the INEC boss looked expressionless, as if asking himself: 'Have I forgotten why I am here, and come on, what are these distinguished senators trying to do? Yes, Senator Omisore was the most overbearing of them all.
He wanted to put a badge of fudging the facts on the INEC leadership before the committee when he questioned the veracity of the budget it has put forward. Each time, with hands gesticulating and voice rising, Senator Omisore seemed blasÃ© and would ask: 'where did you want us to get this hefty amount you're requesting, unless you expect government to raise this money through bond.' Sen. Omisore looked every inch like a headmaster scolding an erring pupil. You don't blame him. Things about money are not small matters. Even among the best of friends, money can throw spanners in the works. In Nigeria where money has become the central issue in our pork-barrel politics, money has become the currency of influence. The one who holds it, or controls the authority to disburse it, can determine a lot of things.
The truth of the matter is that the Appropriation Committee in any parliamentary democracy and the person who heads it often feels like he is holding the invisible key to the treasury. He is regarded as the unofficial exchequer, the equivalent of a Finance Minister. You can now begin to understand the authority and influence that Senator Omisore wields. It's a blunt instrument of power that he can use to make or break or even cunningly use it to alter the course of a key electoral process. This awesome power often do have a gigantic political consequence. One of the fears was; could Sen. Omisore be the agent provocateur ready to hand over to critics of INEC, the ammunition to scuttle next year's election.
Thank goodness reason prevailed at last and Prof. Jega-led INEC got its prayers answered, perhaps, 'exceedingly, abundantly and above all' that it asked for. No doubt, the budget presented by INEC appeared on paper astonishingly huge. But, as they say in this country, 'good soup, na money make am.'
The task before Jega is enormous. No doubt about that. And he has promised that the commission would in his words that for the first time, the 'votes will count'. An authentic voters' registration is undeniably the first step in this process. Only if he will not be like a leader who came to office promising to bring change and end up becoming its captive.
'To whom much is given, much is expected'. That is certainly the message that President Goodluck Jonathan, the Senate, and House of Representatives have jointly passed to INEC. Anything short of a transparent, fair and credible election next year will do.
Starving INEC the money it needed would have been an alibi to make the critics' wishes come true. The presidency and the National Assembly were all acutely aware of the risk of falling into this trap. It's a booby trap only wished for one's own worst enemy.
For President Jonathan, credible election next year will no doubt, be the main yardstick to judge his presidency. His legacy will also depend largely on the credibility of next year's polls. It was his first promise when he took over power in the unusual circumstance he thought was most unlikely. He has not failed to repeat that promise almost everywhere he goes, home and abroad. He had, in his letter to the senate when he parceled the request for the N89 billion he wanted approved for INEC, said, the 'request for additional funds (to INEC) is to cover the cost of procuring electronic equipment and other ancillary expenses related to .. a fresh voter registration exercise as well as the procurement of additional ballot boxes'.
That it took the Senate just 15 minutes adjournment last Tuesday to pass the votes and approved N87.7bn, less than N1.8bn that the president asked for, was a measure of his support for INEC. That the House of Representatives concurred with it despite few reservations was a profound reassurance that Prof. Jega has no reason not to deliver on its promise. Never before has the commission been given this kind of support even when the N33bn margin profit would have been provided ammunition to scupper the fund INEC asked for. There was no filibuster nor finicky dancing around the imperativeness of adequate funding for INEC. What happened in both Houses last week was clear bipartisanship which is the hallmark of passing key legislation. As the senate President noted, 'we have gone the extra mile to do this so that INEC can deliver credible election in 2011'.
The ball is now left in the court of Jega. But the curious thing abut the post that he occupies is that while he takes all the blame and scurrilous attacks when things go wrong. Even though he holds the roadmap on the direction to go, he is only the captain of courage while the Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs), Presiding Officers and Electoral Officers are the trinity that determines success or failure. Former governor of Cross River state, Mr. Donald Duke, recently captured the dilemma of INEC chairman when he said 'the chairman of INEC has little or no bearing on the success of election. That's the truth. To me, it's actually immaterial because he is the head of administration, he takes the brunt. The best he can do is perhaps draw up a blueprint but the implementation of that blueprint is a outside his control.'
That, indeed, is the burden on the Chief Electoral umpire. It is the gritty truth that the critics of the immediate INEC boss, Prof. Maurice Iwu, were blinded to see. Pray, Jega doesn't run into that kind of sabotage and greed of some RECs and other electoral officers when the time comes. And time is fast approaching to see if the sum is the total of the whole. Lack of adequate funding has been severally cited as the main reason why those charged with conduct of elections have compromised themselves. And now, that aspect of need has been given, perhaps adequately taken care of. Will Jega not be at the receiving end when that time comes, less than five months away? Can he trust the RECs? Public service often brings acute public discomfort in Nigeria. It is a deep anguish which Jega may soon begin to see as they may come in torrents.
I see Jega's assurance of a free and credible election next year in which 'all votes must count,' as a force of his conviction. But the ultimate success comes all in the electoral process join hands with him. Election is like a football. It's a football. It's not a squad. Two people are enough to form a squad, but election is beyond football. It requires more than 22 players on the field of play. INEC chairman is just the referee. That's why he is the Chief umpire. To realize the 'dream' that Jega foresees requires much more than money. The attitude of our politicians who play the game with the mindset to win at all cost is something that must closely be monitored. Nothing has been done to address that.
Our politicians are like the beasts in our electoral process that must be tamed if we must achieve a transparent and credible poll next year and even beyond. Who can tame these beasts that perpetrate violence and rigging? This is beyond what INEC and its staff can do. The trick that our politicians play to win election are so many that needs one with a nose of the mind. They are always ahead of INEC and even the law enforcement agencies. Here lies perhaps the biggest danger in our electoral process.
For many Nigerians who are still dripping with disappointment with INEC, this is time to shade their doubts and lend their support for the commission. But Nigerians can hold their final cheer until after the elections next year.