Let Jega Have His Time Extension but Let Him Start Running.
When he was appointed the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission , I knew that three great challenges faced Prof. Attahiru Jega and his team. These were; i. The problem of time, ii. The problem of financing, and iii. The problem of re-investing confidence on INEC.
Of these three problems, I reckoned that of time was the most challenging while that of financing followed. The third problem is very critical but stems from how the first and second problems were handled. Again, the third problem, being attitudinal, needed so much positive actions and right steps to helm in among a very cynic and pessimistic people who had almost given up on the electoral system and had consigned it to another relic of the malfunctioning state we are burdened with. Because it draws heavily from human input, it is subjective and remains the most sensitive of the three problems.
Jega's INEC decided to take the second challenge of finance before the rest, probably urged on by the saying that money answereth all prayers but no sooner had it gotten its hefty budget approved for it than it found out that it had merely side-stepped the great challenge time posed on its pronounced desire to give Nigerians an election they can swear with in 2010. It took only the scathing public derision of the INEC election time table for this critical election for Jega to face squarely one of the most important problems he has to face at the time of his appointment. He has therefore gone back to Nigerians with another request-this time to be granted a little more time to ensure that a credible election is conducted in 2011. One would have expected this request earlier than now because all point to the fact that Jega will need more than the time frame allowed by what some say are our law books and the time he was empanelled to do this important task, to conduct the 2011 election and return a credible and acceptable outcome.
One vital area Jega needs sufficient time to tidy up is on the issue of voters' registration . Because Nigerians have rightly identified an authentic voter's register, far from the macabre concoction by the immediate past INEC leadership, as the engine room that drives a credible election, they rightly perforated the tentative Jega time table that allocated just two weeks to register voters all over the country. Because it was a joke, many felt Jega must have knowingly used that to stir and drive the demand for more time to do a thorough job. Of course, Nigerians were not amused and that sparked country wide doubts about Jega's capability to do free and fair polls in a matter of months.
Now that he has asked for time, it is wise and judicious to grant him this latest request. I note that most Nigerians are getting discomfited by Jega's persistent demands and that in itself, has stemmed fears on whether the man is indeed capable of the task at hand. But then, I believe his request for more time is justified only if it is for a little added time to do a proper voters' registration. With sincerity, I believe Jega can pull off the other activities on his present timetable within the allotted time frame. We should give Jega a time not exceeding one added month for him to tidy up and after that, let him not give us further excuses to doubt his competence and commitment to conducting a credible election in 2011. I don't buy the hogwash about the sacredness of the electoral acts or such other hocus pocus. Let us make room for him to perform and granting him enough time to do a proper work should be one of the indices to having him succeed.
After granting him this latest favour-for that is what it seemingly is- we must wait on Jega to throw more light on the coming election, especially as regards the process and system of voting for the election. This is very important towards dealing with the third afore-listed problem, which has to do with the re-invention of faith in INEC and its activities. This is a critical factor in having a credible election and without that, Jega is struggling in vain. One believes it is time Jega came to the streets with his plan for 2011. What electoral system is he adopting for the critical polls? Where do the people effectively tap in to ensure the process is made credible? How will he stop the politicians from hijacking the said process and tilt the process to their illicit favour? How will the citizenry assist within the framework of the given process to check the excesses and interference of politicians? How credible are his Resident Electoral Commissioners who are his field officers in the states? What measures has he to track proceedings in each of the 120,000 polling units in the country? What direct relevance will be the Direct Data Capture machines in detecting electoral fraud especially as it relates to multiple voting? How will his favourite voting process deal with the noted shortfalls of the process now in place, which has stood out for its porosity to the influence of desperate politicians? These and many other critical questions must be answered by Jega within his preferred framework for the election. He must invite the devil to send his advocate to punch holes in his plans and fine tune whatever process he deems best for the election. Public debate must be courted to make it much more adaptable to the people and as the election date draws near, Jega must be explaining every process to Nigerians, taking their questions and proffering answers where needed. Like Humphrey Nwosu, Jega should be attacking the basics of the election by now, explaining every bend to curious Nigerians and taking their fears along. He should be simplicizing the process we are to adopt, engaging fervent debate on the process and inventing ingenious ways of empowering the citizenry to police the process against notorious political perverts for that remains the greatest armor he has for a credible election. It should be noted here that any process that lacks the input of the ordinary citizenry will come to a certain grief, as the 1999, 2003 and 2007 electoral charades did. He should be outlining newer and more meaningful roles for election observers, monitors, the media and other critical apolitical stakeholders necessary for the conduct of a credible election. All said, let Jega have his latest request for time extension, as he had his first request for a huge war chest but let him woo the Nigerian citizenry through his actions. Let him deal with the accumulating doubts about his capacity to deliver with his actions henceforth and let him work real hard to re-invest the dawdy electoral process with the confidence of the people. He should be creative as well as forceful in selling his idea to Nigerians and courting them as critical stakeholders in the conduct of a free and fair election in 2011. He has taken care of the first problem that stared him on ascension to duty, he certainly will get the second problem way behind him but he will need extra effort to tackle the third problem. Here, human factors will be imputed and creativity is called for if he must get Nigerians to trust the system to give them a credible election in 2011. He may get more time to get his acts right but he has no time to work to get the confidence of the Nigerian people on the process so he must hit the ground running as fast as his legs will carry him. Peter Claver Oparah. E-mail: